My blog posts revolve around my interests and vocation as a historian: the intersection of history and contemporary church life, the intersection of history and contemporary politics, serendipitous discoveries in archives or on research trips, publications and research projects, upcoming conferences, and speaking engagements.
I also blog for two other organizations, the Canadian Baptist Historical Society and the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.
The views expressed in these blogs represent the views of the authors, and not necessarily those of any organizations with which they are associated.
Damaging historical documents in libraries and archives is vexing for those of us who value such treasures. Making notations in the margins of print material is also troubling (but sadly it can be common).
Of course, notations in the margins of historical documents can be humorous or insightful. See this article in The Atlantic for some fun and fascinating examples.
It should also be noted that there are people who invest a great deal of attention to what is called "marginalia" - the study of notations in the margins (see article here and and here). In fact, there is concern among marginaliaists over the introduction of digital books and the concomitant loss of writing in the margins.
All that said, writing in the margins can be a problem. The other day on one of my research trips I came across such a notation, ironically, coming to the defence of historical documents. The comment was "People who cut pages out of Church Minutes burn in hell forever."
While having the author of the notation come to the defence of the historical records may have warmed the heart of the librarian, at least one reader found the theology was suspect. And responded with the quip: "Ouch. Vicious. I don't think God cares that much."
And that little exchange in the margins was my serendipitous moment for the day.
It is not often that a biography kickstarts a re-imagining of how I envision my calling as a seminary professor. Yet that is what happened with my recent reading of Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Thomas Nelson, 2010). I had read books on Bonhoeffer before, and even had students write a paper on Eberhard Bethge, ed., Letters and Papers from Prison (1953). Yet for some reason this biography struck a few chords.
There are rules in every aspect of human engagement – sports, work, family – including international relations. Behaviour in some contexts may seem odd if you don’t know the rules, but once the rules are known everything begins to make sense. More specifically, for those familiar with the four rules of international relations related to “spheres of influence” there is little about the war in Ukraine that is surprising.
Western Media on Russia and Ukraine: A Brief Case Study in Propaganda, Deflection, Laziness, and Fog of War
NOTE: I made this post one week before Russia formally recognized Donetsk and Luhansk. I doubt I would have said what I did about the possibility of a Russian invasion once that recognition occurred. Nevertheless, I keep this blog up despite my being wrong about the possibility of a Russian invasion partly to keep me humble but also partly to show just how things change and how all estimates of potential actions are always in flux and need to adapt on the basis of new information. That said, I think my comments about how Russia sees Western and NATO actions are still correct.
One of the difficulties of determining if a military conflict fits within the classic “just war criteria” is that it is tough knowing what is actually going on in any hot spot. Current reporting on the supposed looming Russian invasion of Ukraine is a case in point – something that makes for an informed opinion very difficult indeed.
“In Christians, the State, and War: An Ancient Tradition for the Modern World, Gordon Heath argues that the pre-Constantinian Christian testimony regarding the state’s just use of violence was remarkably uniform and that it was arguably a catholic, or universal, tradition. More specifically, that tradition had five interrelated and intertwined constitutive areas of consensus that can best be understood as parts of one collective tradition. Heath further argues that those five related areas of an early church tradition shaped all subsequent theological developments on views of the state, its use of violence, and the conditions of Christian participation in said violence. Whereas the sorry and sordid instances in the church’s history related to violence were times when the church drifted from those convictions of consensus, the cases when Christians had a more stellar record of responding to the horrors of the world were times when they lived up to them. Consequently, the way forward today is for Christians to forgo beginning with the just war-pacifist debate, and, instead, to begin by letting their views on war and peace be shaped by that ancient tradition.”
You can order the book here. (click)
My blogging experiment started around the same time as Covid, and, quite naturally, a number of my first blogs were related to coping with the pandemic. Over time, however, I noticed my blogging shifting from the subject of coping to that of politics. Increasingly my concern was with the use and abuse of the pandemic by politicians and media, and this blog continues that focus by lamenting what I see as the normalization of hate for political gain.
Niall Ferguson notes that “the worst time to live under imperial rule is when that rule is crumbling.” His point is simple; scapegoating inevitably rears its ugly head and the targeting of minorities ensues in times of unrest, uncertainty, and fear. Sadly, that is now the case in Canada.
Image from https://botanwang.com/articles/202109/〖微历史〗是谓“民主革命的伟大胜利”.html
One of my Chinese friends recently sent me this image. He knew I loved hockey and thought - quite correctly - that I would enjoy the image. The caption reads "In 1929, the hockey team of Yenching University had a friendly competition with that of an American university." (The name of the other university is not identified.)
Yenching University was founded by American Presbyterian missionary Stuart Leighton, one of the most important and influential missionaries in China during the first half of the twentieth century. And it looks like the western missionary effort included the introduction of the great game of hockey.
Like many Canadians, I look forward to Canada displaying its hockey prowess in the upcoming Winter Olympics. Sadly, this year we will not be able to send NHL players. But we still hope that our male and female hockey teams bring back Gold! We have read much about the readiness of the Chinese Olympic team, but, based on this picture, the Chinese have been preparing for almost 100 years.
R. A. Fyfe, Photo from the Canadian Baptist Archives
“Who are some heroes among the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec (CBOQ)”?
That was a question asked at a recent presentation I was making on the subject of Baptist history and polity. I was not happy with my weak answer, and since that time I wondered how I could redeem myself.
Lo and behold, the other day I came across an image of “Baptist Heroes of Canada” and thought my moment of redemption had come!
Declining attendance. Rising disbelief. Vacant churches. Deficit spending. Lack of leaders. Harsh divisions. Loss of power. Increasing hostility. Those descriptions fit the experience of many in the post-Christendom western world. And for some, the future of the western church looks grim with no hope of returning to the glory days of the past.
I just finished my World and Writings of John Wesley course and submitted final grades. But even though I am formally done with teaching the course, I can’t stop thinking about a sermon John Wesley preached entitled “Of Former Times” based on Ecclesiastes 7:10.: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.” (NIV)
I recently found this prayer in the Observer, the United Church's bi-weekly periodical. While it is published in the 1 August 1942 issue - right in the middle of the Second World War - I think it is still a prayer that could be used today (perhaps without the King James language).