Mere Links 01.07.15
Wednesday, January 7, 2015, 10:00 AM

5 Reasons to Pray for Other Churches
Eric Bancroft, Ligonier Ministries

“What’s wrong with that church?” she asked me in a hushed voice as she leaned in close. There I stood in the lobby of our church in 2008 with one of the members looking for insider information. “Which church are you talking about?” I responded, genuinely confused. “The one you prayed for this morning during worship,” she said.

Europe’s Empty Churches Go on Sale
Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal

Hundreds of Churches Have Closed or Are Threatened by Plunging Membership, Posing Question: What to Do With Unused Buildings?

Jesus may have been tried here: Archaeologists uncover Herod’s palace
Michele Chabin, Crux

The site where Jesus may have been tried, prior to his crucifixion, is now open to the public for the very first time.

Congress is still really religious and really Christian
Domenico Montanaro, PBS Newshour

Despite a growing number of Americans who say they are religiously unaffiliated, Congress is dominated by those who identify with a religion.

Mere Links 01.06.15
Tuesday, January 6, 2015, 10:00 AM

Catholics Fight for Freedom in Washington, D.C.
Robert E. Laird , Crisis Magazine

The Catholic University of America and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., are the latest targets of legislative and judicial moral relativists who severely threaten the religious freedom of Catholic educational institutions from pre-schools to universities, as well as other Catholic services.

Libya violence: Militants kidnap Coptic Christians in Sirte

Masked gunmen in northern Libya have kidnapped 13 Coptic Christian workers from Egypt, just a week after seven others were abducted.

What Christianity Contributes To China’s Economic Rise
Brian J. Grim, First Things

What has fueled China’s remarkable economic growth that has lifted more than 500 million people out of abject poverty and positioned it to become the world’s largest economy?

Flirting with Death
Richard M. Doerflinger, Public Discourse

Did New Jersey’s Assembly approve an assisted suicide bill without understanding it? The bill is bad public policy, shot through with dangerous loopholes and contradictions that threaten to push many vulnerable citizens of New Jersey toward death.

A New Era for Cuban-American Relations
Tuesday, January 6, 2015, 9:04 AM

Among the 2014 winners are the infamous Castro Brothers of Cuba. On these pages, I have written about the persecution of Christians under the Communist regime of Cuba. In late October, I described how religious freedom remains deeply suppressed in Cuba. After Fidel Castro, Cuba’s dictator, seized power in 1959, all Christian broadcasts were canceled.  The next year, all Christian publications were halted, and all Christian schools, whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, or non-denominational, were closed.  Ordinary Christians and their leaders were labeled “social scum” and jailed in Cuba’s notorious labor camps.  Even Christmas and Easter were abolished. Regulations were enacted by the Communists that forbid the sale of paper, ink, typewriters, computers, and mechanical parts for photocopiers and printing presses to any religious organization. And in spite of all the imprisonment, persecution and onerous regulation, today Christian churches in Cuba are flourishing, and are filled to overflowing. Last October, the Cuban Communist government announced that they would allow construction of the first new Roman Catholic parish church in 55 years. The new church, funded by Roman Catholics from Tampa, Florida, is expected to hold 200 worshipers when completed.

Before Christmas, Mr. Obama surprisingly announced that the United States and Cuba will once again enter into diplomatic relations for the first time since 1961. Mr. Obama’s decision could pave the way for a number of agreements between the two nations, but importantly for Mr. Obama and his allies, will facilitate remittances to Cuba by Americans and will expand commercial sales and exports of American goods and services. Under Mr. Obama, the export of goods to Cuba from the United States have dramatically declined to $359 million last year, compared with a high of $711 million in 2008. (Did you really think that there was an embargo?) The decrease in trade has troubled corporate supporters of Mr. Obama. Following Mr. Obama’s announcement, The New York Times reported:

PepsiCo wants in. So do Caterpillar and Marriott International. Within hours of President Obama’s historic move to restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba, companies in the United States were already developing strategies to introduce their products and services to a market they have not been in for the better part of 50 years — if ever. “Cuba is a potential market for John Deere products and services,” Ken Golden, a spokesman for Deere & Company, a leading maker of farm and construction equipment based in Illinois.”

Of course, Mr. Obama, as much as he might like to do so, cannot unilaterally end the embargo against Cuba with the stroke of a pen. (Ending the present embargo requires a change in the law, and while Messrs. Obama and Raul Castro have begun the process to restore diplomatic relations, legislation allows the president to lift the economic embargo only if full democratic elections are held and a free-market economic system introduced. And can we really expect that a Republican-controlled Congress will provide funding to build a new embassy in Havana?) So why are the Castro Brothers winners? As a result of this announcement, Mr. Obama has thrown an economic lifeline to the Castros and the Cuban communists. The Cuban economy is deeply troubled. Although some mild reforms were instituted by Raul Castro in 2010-2011, but the results have been disappointing with no improvement in Cuba’s economic decline. Average monthly salaries remain less than $15, meat consumption per capita is lower than it was in the 1950s, and even cell phone subscriptions per capita are among the lowest in the world. Further, notwithstanding the assertions of filmmaker Michael Moore, Transparency International has determined that Cuba has pervasive corruption in this socialist paradise. Venezuela’s waning support for the authoritarian Cuban kleptocracy has, in light of Venezuela’s economic collapse, made the Cuban economy much worse.

Writing in Foreign Policy, Javier Corrales recently wrote the following:

Remarkably, an important group in this conservative, pro-normalization coalition has been organized religion. The conservative evangelical lobby, a key constituency of the GOP, is fully behind normalization. Christian Conservatives look with envy the fact that the Vatican has negotiated with the Cuban government a sort of monopoly over Christianity. (No organization enjoys more autonomy in Cuba than the Roman Catholic Church.) Protestants and Evangelicals in the United States want to end this and begin evangelizing. But they need the embargo to be lifted in order to make inroads into Cuba’s Christian market.

I am not so confident of Mr. Corrales’ conclusion, and Mr. Corrales provides scant support for his contention. However, I am sure that Christians worldwide want to see all Cubans presented with the claims of Jesus Christ, and to see many Cubans come to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. But they have been following Christ throughout the regime of the Castros. Nevertheless, while the United States and Cuba were in talks to restore diplomatic relations, an independent Cuban human rights group said yesterday that the Cuban government carried out a record number of detentions of dissidents and political activists last year. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation recorded 8,899 short-term detentions of dissidents and activists in 2014. That was about 2,000 more than the previous year, and four times as many as in 2010, said the group’s head, Elizardo Sanchez. The report also said dissidents inside Cuba do not know who is on the list of 53 whom the United States asked Cuba to release as part of the initial agreement announced by Mr. Obama. Neither the United States nor Cuba have made the list public. (Yes, why hasn’t that list been made public?) Further neither nation said openly whether any of those on the list have been released so far. However, a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said yesterday that the release of all dissidents (the 53 are merely a subset of all incarcerated dissidents) wasn’t a prerequisite for planned talks in Cuba between the Obama administration and Cuba, scheduled for later this month.

As examples of obnoxious Cuban law enforcement, among those arrested in recent weeks are expatriate artist Tania Bruguera, who was arrested three times since her return to Cuba to organize a performance art piece involving the installation of an open microphone in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The open microphone was set up so that Cubans could speaking openly about their country. However, the planned “performance” did not take place. In addition, there was also the arrest of graffiti and performance artist Danilo Maldonado, who was arrested in central Havana. What was his crime? He attempted to release two pigs labeled “Fidel” and “Raul.” He is charged with the crime of “disrespect for authority,” which carries a prison sentence of up to three years. It just seems to me that having survived the administration of ten American presidents, the Castro Brothers do not deserve our nation’s lifeline. And the people of Cuba, including the many Christian believers, Roman Catholic and non-Roman Catholic, deserve so much better from our nation. Please continue to pray for the Cuban people, and in particular for those on this prison island who are of the household of faith. I say, as Mr. Obama should have said, Viva la Libertad Para el Pueblo Cubano!

Mere Links 01.05.15
Monday, January 5, 2015, 10:00 AM

Gay Marriage Prompts Call for Clergy to Shun Civil Ceremonies
Mark Oppenheimer, New York Times

In its December issue, the conservative Christian magazine First Things published “The Marriage Pledge,” by Christopher Seitz and Ephraim Radner, both Episcopal priests and theologians who teach at Wycliffe College in Toronto. The pledge commits clergy members not to sign “government-provided marriage certificates.” Its online version has attracted 370 signers.

Doctors Killed His Mom Because She Was Depressed. Now He Speaks Out Against Euthanasia.
Kelsey Harkness, The Daily Signal

Just weeks ago, the world watched as Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old woman with terminal brain cancer, followed through on her vow to take her own life. After receiving a prognosis of six months to live, Maynard and her husband moved from San Francisco to Portland, Ore., where it was legal to obtain a prescription that would allow her to die when she chose.

The Church Needs the New Homophiles
Austin Ruse, Crisis Magazine

There is a group of Catholics who experience same-sex attraction. They accept the teachings of the Church on sexual morality. They do not act on their same-sex desires. They are chaste. They live lives of prayer, brotherhood and friendship, along with a sexual chastity that is proper to their station in life.

A Medieval Perspective On Modern Identity Politics
Carl R. Trueman, First Things

Advocates of LGBTQ rights often accuse their critics of living in the past, specifically in the Dark or the Middle Ages. In my case, I am guilty as charged. Indeed, while revising my Medieval Church lectures over Christmas, I was reminded of just how medieval I am by the new book from Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual.

In the Bleak Midwinter
Sunday, January 4, 2015, 7:00 AM

In the bleak midwinter
By Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Mere Links 01.02.15
Friday, January 2, 2015, 10:00 AM

What is the Worst Sin in the Bible?
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

Because the Old Testament records the historical pedagogy by which God prepared His People for the arrival of the Savior, it is hardly surprising that it says a great deal about what human beings were to be saved from—that is, sin. The Hebrew Bible conveys quite a bit about God’s attitude toward sin. This was a necessary part of the divine tutelage revealed in Salvation History.

Understanding Conscience Claims as Claims of an Absolute Duty
Rick Plasterer, Juicy Ecumenism

Imperative in the struggle for liberty of conscience is the claim that the right of conscience is protection for an absolute duty. Without this there is no point in the struggle, nor can the general public or the civil courts understand the true nature of the claims being made, or why they should be accommodated.

Taking Aim At The Seven Deadly Sins
Brian Hedges, The Gospel Coalition

Seeing our sins as foolish and fatal attempts to find satisfaction apart from God should provoke both sorrow and hope in our hearts.

Study suggests faith influences one’s opinion about space exploration
Dennis Sadowski, Catholic News Service

How people value space exploration may just depend on someone’s particular faith. An analysis of the results of several national surveys by a University of Dayton political science professor found that Catholics are more supportive of the United States maintaining a leading role in probing the depths of space and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence than people of other faiths.

Mere Links 12.31.14
Wednesday, December 31, 2014, 10:00 AM

Fifty Days of Sundays

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

When, at the Council of Nicaea, the Church formally determined that Pascha should always be observed on a Sunday, that determination necesarily affected the final day of Pentecost. Thus, beginning and ending on a Sunday, the whole fifty days of Pentecost began to take on some of characteristics associated with Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection.

Don’t Just Make A Resolution—make A Habit
Joe Carter, The Gospel Coalition

If you want to keep your New Year’s resolutions this year, turn them into habits. Here’s how . . .

How To Make A New Year’s Resolution That Sticks
Tim Challies,

The most likely reason your new year’s resolution will fail is that you haven’t actually made a resolution—you have made a wish.

Middle Eastern Christians Flee Violence for Ancient Homeland
Tara Isabella Burton, National Geographic

Refugees flee Syria and Iraq to Midyat, Turkey, which clings to its diminished role as the heartland of the ancient Orthodox faith.

Touchstone Online – January/February 2015
Tuesday, December 30, 2014, 11:25 AM

With the arrival of the new issue of Touchstone (Jan/Feb 2015) also comes some added content on the Touchstone website. The Jan/Feb 2013 issue is now posted online and is available in its entirety. Take a look. There is much there we hope that you will find enlightening, edifying, and encouraging.

bigcover 26 01 228x300 Touchstone Online   January/February 2015An Engaging Proposal
Lessons on Courtship & Covenantal Marriage from Ancient Israel
by Ryan Messmore

Lost & Found in the Cosmos
The Alternate & Alternative Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft & C. S. Lewis
by C. R. Wiley

Sexual Iconoclasm
Russell D. Moore on Christian Honesty About the Harm of Fornication

Matter & Humanity
The Mind and the Machine: What It Means to Be Human and Why It Matters
by Matthew Dickerson
reviewed by J. Daryl Charles


Mere Links 12.30.14
Tuesday, December 30, 2014, 10:00 AM

For The West, Christian Hunting Is The Sport Of Lawmakers And Judges
Joy Pullmann, The Federalist

Washington DC’s City Council is moving to force religious K-12 schools and universities to pay for employee abortions and sponsor on-campus gay advocacy organizations.

Catholic Higher Education in Ruins
Robert Oscar Lopez , Crisis Magazine

Before there was Pope Francis, there was a different Francis from Assisi, Italy. Back in the twelfth century, St. Francis heard the call to fix a church falling into ruins. Now it is the twenty-first century, and this Francis ought to hear the call to fix Catholic colleges falling into ruins.

A Daily Reading Plan For Shakespeare’s Works
Matthew J. Franck, First Things

A couple of years ago, having twice gone through the Bible on daily reading plans, I wanted to tackle Shakespeare’s complete works with similar discipline. Unfortunately, after searching high and low, I could find no daily reading plan for Shakespeare. So I created one. . .

Unbroken: Long On Resilience, Short On Redemption
Jeff Robinson, The Gospel Coalition

Ultimately, ‘Unbroken’ suffers from a similar malady to Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ.’

The January/February issue of Touchstone
Monday, December 29, 2014, 11:04 AM

A selection of articles from the January / February 2015 Touchstone are now available online. Here is Senior Editor Anthony Esolen’s feature from the issue.

bigcover 28 01 227x300 The January/February issue of TouchstoneMission Nary Impossible
The Unevangelized May Be Better & Worse than Savages
by Anthony Esolen

. . . We Christians now must be missionaries to people who are better than the nihilism they do not know they profess. The old, sturdy Christian virtues remain in the wisps of etiquette, detached from one another and from the grace and example of Christ. An echo, a fragrance, a half-forgotten memory remain, and make it harder for us to persuade our well-fed and much-distracted fellows of the real moral vacuity.

We do not dwell in the City of God. We do not even dwell in the City of Man. We dwell in the Suburb of Man, beside and beneath civilization. We have neither the purity of the saint nor the gritty material squalor of London in the time of Dickens. We have hygiene and proper diet. We follow something cleaner and sillier than superstitions. We follow the news.

So the evangelist has his work cut out for him. . . .

Read the entire article here.

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