Month: July 2016

Earlier this week, two assailants loyal to ISIS entered a church in St. Etienne, near Rouen in France. They forced the 86 year old priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, to kneel and then slit his throat. The attackers were later shot by police.

Fr. Hamel was remembered as a kind and quiet man, who loved his work and chose not to retire when he could have done so. “He was loved by all. He was a little like a grandfather”, stated one mourner.

Further information available at New York Times”.

This goes into our category of “Reflections of the Fall”. A company that had a strong reputation for quality has stumbled, and then lied to hospitals about it, at the cost of dozens of lives lost due to bacterial infections.

After each outbreak, Olympus contended that its scopes did not cause the infections and blamed the hospitals for not cleaning them properly. The company treated each case as an isolated incident, not telling the U.S. hospitals that they weren’t alone.

“Olympus’ silence on this important issue was unethical, irresponsible and dangerous,” said Dr. Andrew Ross, chief of gastroenterology at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, where 18 patients sickened by tainted scopes died and 21 more were infected.

Read more at LA Times.

More than 80 people were killed, including 10 children, in the latest atrocity.

The man who used a truck to fatally mow down dozens of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France, has been identified by authorities as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel, a French-Tunisian resident of the southern coastal city.

You can read more at CNN or news venue of your choice.

Our prayers for people of France, echoing the words of an Orthodox prayer for times of trouble:

Lord of the Powers be with us, for in times of distress we have no other help but You.
Lord of the Powers, have mercy on us.

(From Orthodox Prayer site).

Another celebrity wedding was just celebrated, in a show of opulence and grandeur such as only royal families and A-list starlets can muster. At a fairy tale setting, a castle in Scotland, the knot was tied between the pop singer known as Ciara and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. As with other celebrity weddings, this is not their first time making such a commitment–he was married before, and she has a child by a past fiancé. However what stands out in this case is that they chose to recommit themselves to their Christian faith and follow the biblical ideal of abstinence from sex before marriage. They endured no shortage of criticism, including from Khloe Kardassian.

We applaud the choice of these our brethren to make a deliberate choice to follow a hard path, both as a personal commitment to their Lord and Savior, and as a public witness to others. As Wilson put it, “we decided to do it Jesus’ way.”

Celibacy and abstinence are choices that can really bless us. It isn’t all privation and misery. We lose some tickling of the flesh but gain entry into deeper joys. Take the following example, of one who has abstained from sex for periods of time, not for religious reasons, but on the suggestion of a yoga teacher:

The first few months kind of sucked, he admitted. He was depressed and anxious. But then an amazing thing happened: Squire started waking up in the morning and laughing with a feeling of what he calls “ethereal joy.” And his interactions with other people became deeper and more meaningful than his sex-based relationships.

“Everything in our society is geared toward objectifying people into body parts so it’s all about the arms, thighs, butt or crotch,” said Aurin Squire, a 36-year-old playwright from Queens. “Celibacy allows you to take a holiday from constantly objectifying people.”(NY Daily News).

So, thank you Ciara and Russell, for giving us a bright moment amidst the grim newsfeed of violence, terrorism, and crass politics. Thank you for being a witness to the Christian faith. Thank you for reminding us to “do it Jesus’ way”. May God bless your lives together.

The incidents over the past few days have shocked a populace that is becoming used to reports of violent police encounters.

Yesterday CNN reported on the sad case of a Falcon Heights, MN man who was shot after being stopped for a broken taillight. He was reaching to get his wallet. His female companion in the front seat streamed video images to Facebook as he slumped over and died from his wound.

This followed quickly on the heels of the shooting July 5 in Baton Rouge, LA of a man named Alton Sterling. Vigils and memorials are being held to this man who was shot at close range after he had already been subdued. As in the other case, witnesses with smartphones recorded the incident.

Today, we are told that five Dallas police officers were killed by snipers, and more injured, apparently in retaliation for the previous shootings. Today is the the deadliest day for law enforcement since 9-11:

The ambush began with gunshots that killed five officers and sent screaming crowds scrambling for cover. It ended when a Dallas police bomb squad robot killed a gunman after negotiations failed. (CNN)

As in other recent tragedies we pray for the souls of the departed, and for God’s comfort to be given those who have to cope with the loss of their loved ones. We pray for the power of God’s Holy Spirit to restrain men from the violence that can so easily erupt in these confrontations.

We call our nation’s guardians to exercise restraint and discretion in their interactions with us.

And of course, we call all humanity to repent of wickedness and turn to the Lord. We point out that a wider embrace of the gospel of Jesus Christ would engender peaceful behavior and respect for law, that would make incidents such as these much rarer.


Boats laze on beautiful cold waters, overlooked by the turrets of an ancient walled city. Today Konstanz is primarily known as a tourist destination. It is something of a byway, a diversion from the bustle of other parts of Europe. This was not always so. Behind the calming ripples of the lake and the charming medieval facades lurks a riveting tale.

By the early 15th century, power struggles in Europe had led to an unprecedented crisis in the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. At this time there were not two but three claimants to the title of Pope. Each one commanded the loyalty of some of the states of Europe. The pope from Avignon, Benedikt XIII, had been abandoned by France but was still recognized by Aragon, Castile, Sicily, and Scotland. John XXIII was acknowledged as pope by France, England, Bohemia, Portugal, parts of the Holy Roman Empire, and numerous Northern Italian city states, including Florence and Venice. Gregory XII was still favored by Poland, Bavaria and parts of Germany.

(The Konzilgebäude in Konstanz, Site of the Council)

A council was convened in 1414 at the imperial city of Konstanz in order to settle this mess once and for all. The subsequent proceedings saw the resignation or deposition of all three popes, and the election of the future Martin V as pope over the reunified western church. Gregory XII seems to have made out the best, being granted a bishopric and status as legate of Acosta, where he lived out his final years in peace. His cardinals were allowed to retain their status, thus satisfying the concerns of his powerful backers.

Benedikt refused to step down and was deposed and excommunicated by the council; He was forced to flee to Pensicola Castle, under the protection of the King of Aragon. There he died in 1423.

In a dramatic move, Pope John XXIII fled Konstanz disguised as a postman. Ultimately he was captured in Freiburg and returned to Konstanz, where he was tried and found guilty for a sordid list of crimes, including piracy, rape, incest, and heresy. His release from imprisonment was only secured after a huge ransom was paid by the Medici family of Florence. He died just a few months later, and was enshrined in one of the most magnificent tombs in Christendom.

In a high water mark for “conciliarism”, the council granted itself primacy over the affairs of the church. The famous decree Haec Sancta Synodus, made the bold claim that the council obtained its authority directly from Jesus Christ. The text can be read here. For a brief moment, an alternative power structure could have emerged in the West, in which popes submitted to a higher authority of councils. This was not to be, as the overreach and increasingly radical direction advocated by the next council in Siena essentially frightened the pope and heads of state. Papal supremacy was reasserted.

Intersecting with this moment in history is an important commemoration for Protestant Christians. It was at this council that John Wycliffe was condemned (posthumously) as a heretic in 1415. His writings were banned and it was ordered that his body should be removed from consecrated ground. Later, in 1428 this order was carried out and his corpse was exhumed, burned, and the ashes cast into the River Swift.

(Engraving of Jan Hus)

More memorably, the reformer John Hus was summoned in person to defend his teachings before the council. Hus had been influenced by Wycliffe, and had arisen as a popular voice for reform in Bohemia. He had enjoyed the support of common people as well as the nobility. The Council condemned him as a heretic and turned him over to be executed. Although he had been promised safe conduct to and from the meeting, he was told afterward that promises made to heretics were non-binding. The stone on which he was burned to death can be seen today.

Poggius Floretini, a Roman Catholic priest, described Hus’s death in a letter to a friend, Leonhard Nikolai:

Then Hus sang in verse, with an elated voice, like the psalmist in the thirty-first psalm, reading from a paper in his hands: “In thee, O Lord, I put my trust, bow down thine ear to me.” With such Christian prayers, Hus arrived at the stake, looking at it without fear. He climbed upon it, after two assistants of the hangman had torn his clothes from him and had clad him into a shirt drenched with pitch. At that moment, one of the electors, Prince Ludwig of the Palatinate, rode up and pleaded with Hus to recant, so that he might be spared a death in the flames. But Hus replied: “Today you will roast a lean goose, but hundred years from now you will hear a swan sing, whom you will leave unroasted and no trap or net will catch him for you.” Full of pity and filled with much admiration, the Prince turned away.
(From “the original Bohemian”, blog by Andrew Wilson at ThinkTheology).

It is interesting that “Hus” sounds like the Czech word for “goose”. He launched a movement that succeeded in breaking Bohemia away from Roman Catholic control. He was a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation, and his works influenced Martin Luther almost exactly one century later.

(Note: Images used are in the public domain)

If only the U.S. Episcopal Church had more such leaders it might have retained an evangelical zeal and orthodox theology, and avoided its current trajectory toward progressivism.

“With God’s grace and wisdom Bishop Salmon turned the Diocese of South Carolina, once a theological battlefield, into a family with our eyes on Christ.” (Rev David Dubay, on this remembrance page of the website for the Diocese of South Carolina).

We mark the passing of one of the great moral voices of our age. Elie Wiesel survived Auscwitz and felt compelled to write about the Holocaust: “I wrote feverishly, breathlessly, without rereading. I wrote to testify, to stop the dead from dying, to justify my own survival.” (1995, from memoir)

He is best known for his subsequent great work Un di Velt Hot Geshvign, (“And the World Remained Silent”), which was translated into English and republished in the US as Night in 1960. He subsequently published additional books, served on college faculties, and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.

His “New York Times” obituary observes:
But by the sheer force of his personality and his gift for the haunting phrase, Mr. Wiesel, who had been liberated from Buchenwald as a 16-year-old with the indelible tattoo A-7713 on his arm, gradually exhumed the Holocaust from the burial ground of the history books.

It was this speaking out against forgetfulness and violence that the Nobel committee recognized when it awarded him the peace prize in 1986.

“Wiesel is a messenger to mankind,” the Nobel citation said. “His message is one of peace, atonement and human dignity. His belief that the forces fighting evil in the world can be victorious is a hard-won belief.”

You can read more about him at New York Times

Another entry in our Reflections of the Fall series:

A 19 year old girl named Hannah Cohen was returning home from Memphis after receiving cancer treatment at St. Jude’s Medical Center. She was approached by a TSA agent after she set off the metal detector.

“They wanted to do further scanning, she was reluctant, she didn’t understand what they were about to do,” said her mother Shirley Cohen.

Cohen told us she tried to tell TSA agents her daughter is partially deaf, blind in one eye, paralyzed, and easily confused, but said she was kept at a distance by police.

“She’s trying to get away from them but in the next instant, one of them had her down on the ground and hit her head on the floor. There was blood everywhere,” said Cohen.

You can read more here:

This is sad on many levels. Of course it is unfortunate that Islamic terrorism has been on the rise. Events like the tragedy of 9-11 have necessitated enhanced security at airports. To some extent, scuffles like this are the price we have to pay for security.

Also, there has been a lot of violence, perhaps one could even say an epidemic of violence, on the part of law enforcement in our country. This is but one of a sickening number of cases where we have seen misunderstandings escalate into brutality. A few that pop to mind are the killing of a beloved family pet as the police raided the wrong house, the killing of an autistic child who had threatened his grandmother, and the paralysis inflicted on a foreigner who didn’t understand when police asked him to stop.

As Christians we must try to reflect Christ’s light into the world. We pray for God’s aid to those who need it in these situations. We should be in solidarity with those who are victims, and do whatever we can to raise awareness and call our leaders to account. We should try to do our part to change things for the better.