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Bird Wars

So, I live about a 90 minute driving distance from Toronto.  Does this mean that I am a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays?  Not really.  I am not a huge baseball fan, but occasionally I'll watch part of a game.  But I don't have any undying allegiance to the Blue Jays just because I happen to live where I do.  And besides, I don't like the actual bird, the Blue Jay.

This neighbourhood is filled with blue jays.  This morning, I saw my cat stalking something in the ferns at the back of the house.  Then, I saw him dart across the lawn.  Next, I saw a huge blue jay perched on the wrought iron fence.  He was making disparaging noises at my cat.  Yesterday, when I was picking some weeds out of my flower bed, there was a big one above my head, perched in the cedar tree, yelling at me as if to say "Get out of my flower bed."  Cheeky brat; I wished I had a spray pump bottle, because I was close enough to really nail him.

The blue jays in this neighbourhood are nasty to all the little pretty birds, like sparrows, chickadees and finches.  I even saw one harassing a little woodpecker in my front yard.  The only good thing about the Blue Jays is that they reign supreme over the crows who continually vie for supremacy.  There was a lot of cackling last night around 7:30, but they made no inroads, and this morning, it's mostly the Jays that I am seeing.

But the worst part is that the blue jays chase the cardinals out of the yard.  I love the sound and sight of cardinals, but the blue jays don't let them stay.   Early in the spring, we see the cardinals, but after a while, the blue jays chase them out.  I was out walking yesterday, and I did hear cardinals singing, but it was not on my street, and I was kind of sad about that. I love to see them.  Occasionally, we will get an oriole or two, and I have hummingbirds already, but I miss the cardinals.

Because of my distaste for blue jays, the bird, I have made it a point on principle not to like the Toronto Blue Jays.  I'm currently in the market for a baseball team to root for.  Perhaps I should turn my attention to the Cardinals?


Put away the trumpets

In Martyn Lloyd-Jones's book Studies on the Sermon on the Mount, he deals with the issue of  fasting (Matthew 6:16-18), and specifically about not announcing to the world that we are fasting in order to be seen by men.  He extends this argumet to other areas:

Any announcing of the fact of what we are doing, or calling attention to it, is something which is utterly reprehensible to Him, as it was in the case of prayer and of almsgiving.  It is exactly the same principle.  You must not sound a trumpet proclaiming the things you are going to do.  You must not stand at the street corners or in a prominent place in the synagogue when you pray.  And in the same way you must not call attention to the fact that you are fasting.

But this is not only a question of fasting.  It seems to me that this is a principle which covers the whole of our Christian life.  It condemns equally the affecting of pious looks, it condemns equally the adoption of pious attitudes.  It is pathetic sometimes to observe the way in which people do this even in the matter of singing hymns - the uplifted face at certain points and the rising on tiptoe.  These things are affected, and it is when they are affected that they become so sad.

Ouch.  Pretty direct statement there.  I wonder what that means for the song leaders who persist on closing their eyes when they are leading the singing.


Marriage and Family in Puritan Thought

This chapter regarding marriage and family in Puritan thought was one that I looked forward to very much from the moment I scanned the table of contents of A Quest for Godliness.  I have a degree in history, and of all the areas of history that I studied in school, social history was my favourite.  Marriage and family are part of social history.  When I took a history that focused on Canadian women specifically, and therefore family and marriage, I really enjoyed it, the feministic bent notwithstanding.  I enjoy very much hearing about families  throughout history.  While this chapter was shorter than I would have wished, I enjoyed it nonetheless.

When people think of Puritans in conjunction with marriage and family, it is often assumed that they had very harsh, utilitarian ideas about marriage and family.  That may have been true for some, but it was certainly not by design.  The Puritan views on marriage and family were in harmony with the Reformers, who reacted to the rather negative view of marriage that was held by the Medieval church.  Thomas Aquinas was reputed to have believed that a female child was the result of an embryo gone wrong;  the only use a woman was to a man was for procreation.  Aquinas believed that women were mentally and physically inferior to men and was not alone in is views.  Chrysostom did not believe that Adam and Eve could have had sexual relations before the Fall.  Augustine had no problem with the process of procreating, but held that the passions  accompanying the marital act were sinful.  Knowing a little bit of Augustine's past, i.e. his own tendency toward passion as a young man, makes this conclusion not so surprising.  The shame he had regarding his own sordid past obviously shaped his thinking in this area.  The Reformers, and the Puritans after them, held a different view of women and marriage.  The Puritans celebrated marriage as a biblical ordinance.  Thomas Goodwin said, "There is no such fountain of comfort on earth as marriage." 

Wholehearted, mutual love between husband and wife was assumed to be the model.  It was not a fleeting, momentary feeling.  The Puritans believed that one must marry someone he or she would be able to love for a lifetime.  Puritans clearly endorsed the teaching that love is a choice, and not just an emotion.  While a feeling such as affection or attraction can motivate the choice to love, the feeling on its own is often not enough to sustain a marriage.  The Puritans would have supported the belief that we must choose to love.  However, they did recognize the necessary attraction that brings couples together such that they choose to place their love with a certain individual.  The Puritan John Rogers said this:

Marriage love is oftime a secret work of God, pitching the heart of one party upon another for no known cause; and therefore when this strong lodestone attracts to each other, no further questions need to be made but such a man and such a woman's match were made in heaven, and God had brought them together.

The picture of love being like the drawing of a lodestone was great, I thought.

The Puritans were also thoroughly practical in the choice of spouses, looking at crucial issues such as character, values, and reputation.  There was a period of espousal, akin to our modern engagement, a publication of banns, the actual wedding, celebration and consummation.  The couples were instructed from Scripture at all stages leading up to the celebration of the marriage.

Society at the time was patriarchial and male leadership in the marriage relationship was the standard, based upon creation, ie. man was created first, the consequences of the Fall, and Paul's comments in I Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5.  There was also a cultural aspect apart from biblical injunctions.  Despite this belief in male leadership, there was the understanding, according to Galatians 5, that men and women were equal before God.  The leadership structure was carried over into the entire family.  It was the father's responsibility to ensure spiritual instruction through public worship, private worship, and in the catechising of the children and all members of the household, including servants.

We are so fortunate to have been left quite a body of literature regarding what the Puritans taught, specifically through their sermons.  The Puritans wrote their sermons down, thus giving us a window into their theological thought.  As regards the family life from the perspective of the wife, there is always an imbalance in the volume of available writings for the simple fact that a wife didn't really have time to write much.  I would like to know more about what the Puritan wives thought and did.  How deep was their theological understanding?  What did they think about God?  How did they transmit this to their children and other people?  I'm sure there is a volume out there somewhere, but of course, that involves purchasing and reading another book!


The love of Story

I had a conversation with my pastor a few years ago and the subject of story-telling came up, specifically the use of stories in sermons.  He shared how he noticed that when he used personal stories to make his points, all eyes would be looking up at him, whereas at other times, as he explains the text, it was not as noticeable. 

We all love stories.  That is a known fact.  And yes, Jesus used stories to teach. 

Sometime last year, I saw the The Thirsty Theologian was sharing excerpts from Leland Ryken's book How to Read the Bible as Literatature.  It sounded good, and I decided I wanted to read it.  Furthermore, I have a daughter who is working toward being an English professor, and I wanted to read it and then give it to her.

I am just a few pages into the book, an I found something quite interesting, as I expected I would.  Ryken talks about the experiential aspect of literature and how it contributes to our understanding of Scripture:

The stories and poems of the Bible achieve their devotional purpose whenever they reinforce a reader's general sense of the reality of God, or produce an awareness of what is moral and immoral, or influence a person's estimate of what is valuable and worthless.  We are affected by more than ideas when we read literature, though, of course, ideas are part of the total experience.  We read literature not primarily to acquire information but to contemplate experience and reality as a way of understanding them better.  One of the rewards of reading literature, including the Bible, is that our own experiences and beliefs are given shape and expresssion.

I have confronted evangelical believers who have been quite offended when I have referred to the Bible as literature.  It is as if they assume that the Bible cannot be literature and revelation at the same time.  That, however, is the most unique thing about Scripture, I think.  It is literature, but it is the only one of its kind.


The Beautiful Prayers

Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments on Matthew 6:5-8:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

With respect to the sentiment of praying so that others might see us, Lloyd-Jones says this:

Another form which this takes is the terrible sin of praying in public in a manner which suggests a desire to have an effect upon the people present rather than to approach God with a reverence and godly fear.  I am not sure, for I have frequently debated this matter with myself, and therefore speak with some hesitancy, whether all this does not apply to the so-called 'beautiful prayers' that people are said to offer.  I would question myself whether prayers should ever be beautiful.  I mean that I am not happy about anyone who pays attention to the form of the prayer.  I admit it is a higly debatable question.  I commend it to your consideration.  There are people who say that anything that is offered to God should be beautiful, and that therefore you should be careful about the phrasing and the diction and the cadence of your sentences.  Nothing, they say, can be too beautiful to offer to God.  I admit there is a certain force in that argument.  But it does seem to me that it is entirely negatived by the consideration that prayer is ultimately a talk, a conversation, a communion with my Father, and one does not address one whom one loves in this perfect polished manner, paying attention to the phrases and the words and all the rest.  There is surely something essentially spontaneous about true communion and fellowship.

I think there is something to be said for balance in prayer.  There is nothing more irritating to me than hearing someone pray in a service and it is completely apparent that he is not prepared.  The prayer is full of stuttering and "ummm" and  "Lord God," or "Father" is uttered every fourth word.  At the same time, I agree with Lloyd-Jones here about the prayers that seem to be designed to "wow" others.

There was a young man who was part of our youth group who seemed to me arrogant and potentially rebellious.  He often had an attitude which was superior and condescending.  However, he was very charming and outgoing, and some of the leaders thought quite well of him.  I never really trusted him.  I was told, however, that he was a "beautiful prayer" and that made up for everything. His beautiful prayers were always said in a small group time with leaders present.  While they may have been beautiful, often his life demonstrated something else.  Time bore out my conclusions about this young man.