Captain Thin

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Just reading through The Catholicity of the Reformation, edited by Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson. In their introduction, Braaten and Jenson remind us that the word “Catholic” was first used to refer to Christians by St. Ignatius of Antioch, when he wrote to the church in Smyrna that “Wherever the bishop appears there let the congregation be, just as wherever Jesus Christ is there is the Catholic Church.”

It’s a good reminder to us all that the catholicity of the church depends ultimately on Christ’s presence. “The church is catholic when the living Christ is present,” as Braaten and Jenson rightly interpret. And that catholicity manifests itself in visible ways. Braaten and Jenson again: “The catholicity of the church includes many things: the Scriptures, apostolic tradition, sacraments, ecumenical creeds, worship, and the ministry.”

Sadly, we do not experience this catholicity in its full glory this side of eternity. “There manifestly are degrees of catholicity,” the editors write. “The full catholicity of the church—its completed integrity and comprehensiveness, its wholeness—is finally an eschatological reality in which the pilgrim church now participates through God’s word and the sacraments but which she does not yet fully possess.”

We yearn for that day. We are the catholic church, for Jesus Christ is present among us, as St. Ignatius writes. But His presence among us awakes in us a desire for unity with our separated brethren. For indeed, Christ Himself tells us that His presence in us goes hand in hand with His desire that we would be one. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them,” He says, “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

But we know this unity is not to be accomplished by the sacrifice of truth. For in this prayer, Christ also tells us that He prays we would be made unified not only in words or actions but in truth. “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” he prays (John 17: 17). We are to be one in Christ and in the Truth of His Word.

May Christ, present and working in us, draw us at last to that glorious unity. And may His prayer—that we might be One—be ever our prayer too.

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luther-playmobil

In news that took everyone by surprise, Playmobil has announced that a new figurine of Martin Luther has become their fastest selling toy ever. Their initial run of 34,000 figurines sold out in less than 72 hours (see Deutsche Welle’s report here).

The set was released in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (which will take place in 2017—five centuries after Luther first posted his 95 theses on the Castle Door in Wittenberg). The Playmobil set features a little Martin Luther, complete with scholar’s hat, academic gown and quill. He comes also with an open Bible, which reads (in German) “Here ends the Old Testament” on the left page and “The New Testament translated by Doctor Martin Luther” on the right—a reference to Luther’s famous translation of the Scripture into German, a work often considered the first German classic (much as the King James Version is considered a classic in English).

Demand for the toy far outstripped supply, and so Playmobil has announced they will be making more figurines of the little Luther. The next batch should be ready by the end of April. Sadly, however, it doesn’t appear that the toy will be made available to purchase by English speakers anytime soon.

It seems the little toy was made in a partnership with Nuremberg’s Tourism Center, and so the toys have been directed for sale in that area of the world. As it currently stands, you can pre-order the Playmobil Luther from Nuremberg’s Tourism Office for a scant €2.39 each (plus tax and shipping). Regrettably, they only ship to addresses in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.

When the figure first hit headlines, I tweeted Playmobil about getting one. They seem to confirm that he’s only available in the above three countries.

Maybe that will change in the future, given how widely popular the toy has been (the rapid sell-out has garnered news coverage from many English publications, including The Guardian, The Telegraph, Slate, and Newsweek). There’s certainly interest in North America for the toy. I know more than one organization (churches, for example) who might actually be interested in a bulk purchase.

In the meantime, however, you could always ask a friend in Germany to order one for you. Apart from that, you might be stuck trying to get one on Ebay where (last I looked) it seemed to be going for ten times the original cost (plus shipping).

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cpso-logo

You will likely have heard of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s (CPS) draft human rights policy, which would (in its current form) restrict physicians’ rights to freedom of conscience and religion. The new policy would require physicians with moral or religious objections to certain procedures (like abortion or euthanasia) to nevertheless facilitate such procedures by referring patients to a doctor willing to conduct such procedures—effectively forcing dissenting physicians to act in ways contrary to conscience, even though these rights are guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The CPSO is accepting comments from the public on the draft policy until February 20, 2015—which is tomorrow (Friday). I encourage you to make your concerns known by visiting their website here. To that end, I’m posting below the letter I have sent the CPSO. Feel free to draw attention to some of the same issues in your own letters.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons in Saskatchewan (CPSS) recently published a similar draft policy. I’ll be adapting my letter to the CPSO accordingly, and sending one to them as well. I hope you will too. You can contact the CPSS at communications@sps.sk.ca.

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An open letter to the CPSO on their draft human rights policy

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to express my deep concern over the draft human rights policy released by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario in late 2014. As it currently stands, the policy would compel physicians to act contrary to their consciences, forcing countless doctors to provide services, or facilitate the provision of services, which they consider wrong for moral or religious reasons.

This is reprehensible.

Not only does such a policy ignore the basic rights of physicians, it also undermines confidence in the medical system at large. By forcing physicians to act in ways they consider immoral and unethical, the CPSO signals to wider Canadian society that it is not concerned about the personal integrity of its members. In fact, it suggests the CPSO considers personal integrity something to be discouraged among physicians.

In Canada, we are privileged to enjoy a number of rights and freedoms. I am pleased to see the CPSO committing itself to upholding these rights by producing a draft human rights policy. I am aghast, however, to see that a document purportedly devoted to respecting these rights nevertheless severely undermines the rights of physicians.

The draft policy correctly notes that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects physicians’ right to freedom of conscience and religion, but it is clear that the policy fails to appreciate the full implications of this right. Physicians ought not be forced to refer patients for treatments that the physicians, for reasons of conscience or religion, find objectionable. To require otherwise is to make the objecting physician a party to the treatment he finds objectionable

It’s all very good to say that physicians have the right to freedom of religion and conscience, but it must be further recognized that these freedoms apply not only to thought but also to action. It is not enough to say “Alright, you may believe such and such. You do not need to perform the act yourself, but you must refer patients to someone who will.” If, for example, a physician is opposed to abortion or assisted suicide for reasons of conscience or religion, forcing them to refer a patient for such a procedure impinges directly on the physician’s freedom. The physician will understand herself morally culpable for the final act, in that she facilitated its being carried out. She will have been forced to act in a way contrary to conscience.

As the Nova Scotia Supreme Court recently reminded us, and as the CPSO’s draft policy itself notes, rights in Canada are not hierarchical. When the rights of one individual come into competition with the rights of another, they are to be balanced. “If there are competing rights the issue is whether there are alternative measures by which both rights can be accommodated,” Justice Jamie Campbell writes in his judgment on TWU vs. NSBS. “That involves a consideration or whether one right has been disproportionately affected or the other disproportionately privileged.”

It seems clear that, if the CPSO adopts its draft policy without significant alteration, then the rights of physicians to freedom of conscience and religion will be disproportionately affected—and thus, that their freedom will be infringed upon. As Justice Campbell explains, “An infringement is made out when the claimant sincerely maintains a belief or practice that has a nexus with religion, and the impugned measure interferes with the claimant’s ability to act in accordance with those beliefs in a way that is more than trivial or insubstantial. Trivial or insubstantial interference is interference that does not threaten the belief or conduct.”

Requiring physicians to facilitate a treatment they consider morally objectionable, perhaps even evil, is neither trivial nor insubstantial. Consequently, the draft policy as it stands infringes upon physicians’ rights.

The CPSO should rewrite its draft policy to more clearly protect the freedoms of physicians, including their right to act in accordance with conscience in choosing not to refer patients for treatments they find morally objectionable.

Sincere good wishes,

Mathew Block
Communications Manager
Lutheran Church–Canada

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Religious-Freedom-FT

Last week brought good news for those concerned about religious freedoms in Canada. The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia found in favour of Trinity Western University (TWU), in a case that pitted the Christian institution against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society. In his judgment, Justice Jamie Campbell is clear that the law society’s attempts to block graduates of TWU amounts to religious discrimination.

“People have the right to attend a private religious university that imposes a religiously based code of conduct. That is the case even if the effect of that code is to exclude others or offend others who will not or cannot comply with the code of conduct. Learning in an environment with people who promise to comply with the code is a religious practice and an expression of religious faith. There is nothing illegal or even rogue about that. That is a messy and uncomfortable fact of life in a pluralistic society. Requiring a person to give up that right in order to get his or her professional education is an infringement of religious freedom.”

My article on the story went live at First Things this past Thursday. Read it here: “A Victory for Religious Freedom in Canada: Christian University Wins Case Against Provincial Law Society.” Since writing that, Christianity Today has published a story of their own, in which they kindly reference my piece. And I’m thankful to The Gospel Coalition for linking to my post in the “#Right Now” section of their Current Events page.

I’m glad to see the story getting wider attention outside of Canada. After all, TWU may have won its case against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, but it still faces court battles with the law societies of Ontario and British Columbia. Prayers are needed now as much as ever.

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Chaucer

Perhaps you’ve heard of Paul Strohm’s recent book The Poet’s Tale: Chaucer and The Year that Made the Canterbury Tales. And perhaps you’ve read the picture he paints of Chaucer’s living quarters during that time.

Noisy. Cramped. Dingy. And foul smelling. These are the primary descriptors we can apply to the scene, according to reports. The Spectator has a lovely summary of it all.

“Chaucer occupied a single bare room of about 16’ x 14’. The only natural light would come from ‘two (or at most four) arrow slits’ tapering through the five-foot thickness of these walls (the towers were a defensive feature) to an external aperture of four or five inches. ‘Light, even at midday, would have been extremely feeble. Arrangement for a small fire might have been possible. Waste would be hand-carried down to the ditch that lapped against the tower and dumped there.’

You can imagine how cosy it was in winter. And the noise! Chaucer slept directly over the main London thoroughfare. Every morning at first light the portcullis would go rattling up, and thereafter ‘the creak of iron-wheeled carts in and out of the city, drovers’ calls, and the hubbub of merchants and travellers pressing for advantage on a wide but still one-laned road, probably made sleep impossible, five-foot walls or no five-foot walls’. That’s if he could hear anything over the incessant bong-bonging of bells from each of the three churches within a couple of hundred feet of his front door.

Meanwhile ‘a stench wafted from the open sewer known in its northern extension as Houndsditch that ran (or festered) just outside the city wall’; Houndsditch was so called because of the many dead dogs dumped there. In addition to rotting garbage, dead dogs, and faecal waste from the next-door Holy Trinity Priory (‘a populous foundation’, Strohm tells us jauntily), you’d find ‘the occasional human corpse’. ‘And then,’ Strohm adds with excellent tact, ‘there was the matter of felons’ and traitors’ rotting heads…’ This was an occupational hazard of living in a gatehouse tower.”

It provides some remarkable insight on the conditions Chaucer had to put up with as he wrote his remarkable poetry.

Still, not everyone is pleased with the description Strohm is painting of Chaucer’s home. And surely the most significant person disputing the account is… Chaucer himself?

FOR THE RECORD MY PLACE IN ALDGATE DOTH SMELLE GREAT AND YS WELL APPOINTED WYTH IKEA FURNITURE, THANKE YOW,” Chaucer (ahem) tweeted earlier today. “Herkeneth, goode folk of @ProfileBooks and @VikingBooks – MY PLACE AT ALDGATE YS LOVELYE AND DOTH NAT SMELLE BAD. YT YS COZY NAT CRAMPED.”

Seriously, the person (people?) behind Chaucer Doth Tweet—ie, “Le Vostre GC”—is doing great work today. Some more examples:

“YF MYNE APARTMENT YN ALDGATE WERE REALLYE THAT BAD HOW KOUDE ICH SLEEPE YNOUGH TO WRITE ALL THOSE DREAM VISIOUNS?”

“MYNE APARTMENT YN ALDGATE NYS NAT ‘CRAMPED’ – ICH AM A PIONEER OF THE ‘TINYE HOUS’ MOVEMENT.”

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also note here that “Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog.” It is, appropriately enough, HouseofFame.Blogspot.ca.

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ch-cvrs

“Similarly, we wouldn’t publish cartoons likely to dismay or outrage mainstream followers of other religions​….”

So wrote David Studer, CBC’s Director of Journalistic Standards and Practices, in an email explaining why the news broadcaster will not be publishing offensive cartoons of Mohammed published by Charlie Hebdo, the magazine targeted by Islamists in Paris yesterday in a brutal attack that left 12 dead.

Studer’s email, the CBC News report tells us, was simply a reminder of “CBC’s long-established policy” on publishing images offensive to religious believers. The meaning is clear: the CBC’s historical practice is to not publish images that could reasonably be deemed offensive to particular religious groups.

Based on that declaration, we would expect that the CBC has never published images that would “dismay” Christians, right?

Yeah, not really. A quick search for Andres Serrano’s infamous “Piss Christ” shows up a couple of hits on CBC. In case you’re unaware of this “work of art,” it features a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine.

There’s a picture of it on a Q entry from July 21, 2010: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2010/07/21/is-art-replacing-religion/

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

A year later, CBC published another image of “Piss Christ,” this time on its main news site (see here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/arts/french-museum-reopens-after-crucifix-art-attacked-1.1075952) . The news story in question? Someone offended by it had damaged the work. So apparently it’s okay to portray an image offensive to Christians when a member of that faith violently reacts to it. But not so much if the offended in question are Muslims.

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

CBC screen grab taken January 8, 2015.

“We are being consistent with our historic journalist practices around this story,” David Studer writes on the CBC’s decision not to publish Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of Mohammed, “not because of fear, but out of respect for the beliefs and sensibilities of the mass of Muslim believers about images of the Prophet.”

It might be consistent with their journalist practices when it comes to Islam but clearly it’s not when it comes to Christianity.

Now, I’m not saying CBC should pull the “Piss Christ” images from its site. I certainly find them objectionable as a Christian, but I recognize we live in a country that allows freedom of speech. Instead, I’m simply pointing out a clear double-standard.

Kudos to CBC’s Neil Macdonald for disagreeing publicly with the stance of his network. His report “Religion, Satire and where we draw the line” clearly spells out the difference in action. He was not allowed to show the Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Mohammed. But a Charlie Hebdo cartoon of Christ? Apparently that’s just fine.

CBC can say it’s simply respecting its historic practice of not publishing images offensive to members of religious groups. But when we actually examine those historic practices for ourselves, we see it’s simply not the case.

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God-in-the-flesh

My Christmas article for this year is up at The Canadian Lutheran.

“When it comes to Christmas, the picture of the baby Jesus asleep in a manger is etched in our cultural consciousness. We imagine the little Lord Jesus laying down His sweet head in the hay, while stars twinkle away in the sky. How easy it is to forget that this little child is also, in a way beyond our understanding, the God who made the universe. He is the Word who spoke creation into existence (Genesis 1:3 ff; John 1:1-3). And He is the One who continues to sustain creation—the One who holds all things together and gives them being (Colossians 1:17; Acts 17:28).”

But, as I note, that good creation fell. So I ask the question:

What sort of Saviour could heal and utterly ruined creation? What Saviour could restore the relationship between humanity and God? It could be no mere man for any human born would himself inherit the sinful nature of our first parents Adam and Eve. And yet it must be a man if justice were to be done; humanity had sinned and it was humanity that must pay the price for that sin.”

Thus begins my meditation on the mystery of the Incarnation—an event that brings forgiveness for sinners and restoration to a broken creation. Consequently, we celebrate not only Jesus’ birth at Christmas but our rebirth as well.

As we celebrate the birth of Mary’s son Jesus we therefore also celebrate our adoption as children of God. For it was the one that made possible the other. ‘To all who received Him, He gave the right to become children of God,’ St. John tells us (John 1:12). All who are in Christ are made new. ‘Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation,’ St. Paul explains. ‘The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5:17).”

Read the whole thing in “God in the Flesh: The Meaning of Christmas.”

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