Captain Thin

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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augsburg-confession-600

You may have heard that Russell Saltzman, former editor of Forum Letter and a former dean of the North American Lutheran Church, is converting to Roman Catholicism. That news precipitated my most recent article for First Things, “The Evangelical Catholic Tradition: Reclaiming the Lutheran Heritage.”

In the article I explore Saltzman’s reasons for leaving Lutheranism vis-à-vis Jaroslav Pelikan’s, who famously converted to Orthodoxy in his 70s. As it happens, I had been reading one of Pelikan’s early works when I heard the news of Saltzman’s conversion, so the comparison seemed apropos.

I go on to note what both Saltzman and Pelikan have noted: that Lutheranism itself never intended to create a new church; the Lutheran movement itself was deeply catholic.

That the Lutheran tradition intended to be faithful to the catholic tradition does not seem to be in doubt with either Saltzman or Pelikan: “Philipp Melancthon’s profession that “the churches among us do not dissent from the catholic church in any article of faith” is understood to be an accurate assessment of the intentions of the historic Lutheran church. No, the problem lies not in the Lutheran tradition, according to these writers, but instead with contemporary expressions of Lutheranism.”

Saltzman notes a general dissatisfaction with those Lutherans who have rejected this rich catholic heritage. Pelikan, decades before his transition to Orthodoxy, noted similar concerns. To be sure, I agree, “contemporary Lutheranism may have its flaws” but this doesn’t change the fact that, “at its core the Lutheran tradition is deeply and fundamentally catholic. The riches of the catholic tradition are already ours, and at our best we embrace that heritage. I pray that our churches will delve deeper into that tradition.”

Read it all over at First Things.

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weird-mail

Sometimes we get strange things in the mail at work. Today is one of those days. I received a package with all sorts of… er, “useful”… information, including photocopies of some prophetic end-of-the-world magazines . One of the photocopied articles claims that the Vatican and Muslims are about to fight out a new Crusade over Jerusalem (because, you know, Catholics=Bad; who else would be responsible for a new crusade?).

Other important tidbits in the package:

1) A list of heresies (quite handy), which notes such heretical acts as the use of “wax candles” in church.

2) A “How-to” document on staying out of debt and keeping healthy. Last suggestion is “Refuse to do anything that will help create a one-world police-state, a one-world satanic-religion, or a one-world cashless society.” (Curiously it also suggests keeping a six-month stock of candles on hand in case of emergency; so I guess candles are okay unless you’re using them in church…)

3) A photocopy of a handwritten statement on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. But you can apparently reduce the danger by purchasing Tesla Purple Free Energy Plates. Good to know.

4) A note that only those who tithe exactly 10% (that’s before deductions, you sinner!), observe the Sabbath from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown (not Sunday, you heretics!), and use the King James Version of the Bible (drop that NIV and ESV, you reprobates!) will be saved. “Everyone else is under a curse and will be eliminated when Jesus Christ returns in the near future.” (One of the end-of-the-world article photocopies dates back to 1984, so I guess “near future” is a relative term).

The only odd thing I can’t understand is why they didn’t want to include a return address…

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lcc

On this day three years ago I began work as Communications Manager of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC) and editor of The Canadian Lutheran. It’s truly been an honour to serve the Church in this capacity.

What’s more, the position has opened up new opportunities along the way for further service to the Christian Church at large. Last year (on November 16), LCC’s board of Directors approved a request from the International Lutheran Council to have me serve with them in a communications capacity. And in March 2013, I was invited to join First Things as a regular blogger (which, given my full schedule, usually works out to once a month).

In short, it’s been a very rewarding, if busy, three years since joining LCC full-time. I can’t wait to get started on my fourth.

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altar-images-barna-2014

A little over a week ago we were talking about how more and more young Evangelicals prefer to participate in liturgical forms of worship. Now Barna has come out with a new study that tells us what kinds of buildings Millennials prefer to worship in. And there seems to be a definite lean towards more reverent concepts of sacred space than some might expect.

“Many churches today are explicitly constructed not to look and feel too much like a religious place,” Barna notes, “a stark contrast to the ancient cathedrals and churches of old—the very design of which was intended to help people experience the divine. How does this design shift impact worshipers?”

Let’s summarize some of their findings briefly. Most people rejected large auditorium style sanctuaries in favour of smaller sanctuaries. The vast majority prefer altars with large Christian symbols (like a cross or crucifix) as opposed to plain altar pieces. Most prefer stained-glass windows (of varying elaborate natures) to plain-glass.

In the end, the majority described their “ideal” church with these words:

Community (as opposed to Privacy)
Classic (as opposed to Trendy)
Casual (as opposed to Dignified)
Sanctuary (as opposed to Auditorium)
Quiet (as opposed to Loud)
Modern (as opposed to Traditional)

While ‘Sanctuary,’ ‘classic’ and ‘quiet’ are more often associated with traditional church buildings, less than half of survey respondents preferred the word ‘traditional’ over ‘modern,’” Barna explains, noting a bit of a “cognitive dissonance” here among young adults interviewed in the survey. “Many of them aspire to a more traditional church experience, in a beautiful building steeped in history and religious symbolism, but they are more at ease in a modern space that feels more familiar than mysterious.”

Barna’s Clint Jenkins notes that “it’s tempting to oversimplify the relationship between Millennials and sacred space,” as if they were looking only for that which is new and chic. But in reality, “most Millennials don’t look for a church facility that caters to the whims of pop culture. They want a community that calls them to deeper meaning.”

Deeper meaning. That’s what we talked about in our previous post on Evangelicals gone liturgical. “Grandeur hooked me,” Kelsey May explains, “but it wasn’t what made me stay…. The aesthetic of traditional churches appeals to me, but the substance behind it anchors me.”

Let’s make sure we offer that substance in every aspect of our church-life. Be it in liturgy or church architecture, the point is not to provide aesthetic experiences that are beautiful merely for their own sake: they are to draw us into a deeper and richer relationship with the Christ who calls us together.

See Barna’s summary of their sacred space study here.

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HT to Gene Veith for bringing this study to my attention.

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