23 February 2007

CBC Interview with geneticist Francis Collins

Dr. Francis Collins lives in both the scientific and the religious worlds. He’s a leading geneticist; in fact, he was the head of the Human Genome Project. The project mapped the code of DNA—which Collins called the “first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God”. He is also a believer: not just in God—but in a God who hears prayers, who cares about souls—and who wants nothing more than a relationship with each one of us. Mary Hynes talks with Francis Collins about his journey from atheism to belief.

Dr. Francis Collins’ book is called The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. It’s published by Free Press.

Listen to this fascinating interview here.

21 February 2007

From the “Mother Nature” department…

A local story for my fellow Minnesotans, from the Duluth News-Tribune:

Muskrat wreaks havoc in tire shop

A recent break-in at an Iron Range tire shop had grown men screaming and jumping on desks.

What was first believed to be a giant rat by employees returning to work after a weekend turned out to be a misguided muskrat. The rodent had wandered through the front door sometime during a three-hour span Jan. 26 while the shop’s interior was being painted.

Following the animal’s trail was aided by the white footprints it left after getting into some paint.

“I was the first one into work that morning and the first one out,” said Shannon Bergman, an off-the-road tire salesman at Taconite Tire, a Goodyear dealer in Virginia. “I walked in and in the waiting area I saw this big rat, and I took off.”

Then chaos broke loose.

“It was pretty humorous,” said Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Conservation officer Dan Starr, who filed a report on the invasion. “Here were these big, burly outdoors guys running around screaming.”

For the exciting dénouement, click here.

17 February 2007

Archbishop Janani Luwum, d. 17 Feb 1977

Janani Jakaliya Luwum (1922 – 1977) was the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 and one of the most influential leaders of the modern church in Africa. He was murdered in 1977 by either Idi Amin personally or by his henchmen.

He was ordained a deacon in 1955 and a priest in 1956. He served in the upper Nile Diocese of Uganda and later in the Diocese of Mbale. In 1969 he was consecrated bishop at Gulu in northern Uganda. After five years he was appointed archbishop of the Anglican Province of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Boga (in DR Congo), becoming the second African to hold this position.

Archbishop Luwum was a leading voice in criticizing the excesses of the Idi Amin régime that assumed power in 1971. In 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest to dictator Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances. Shortly afterwards the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason.

On 16 February 1977, Luwum was arrested together with two cabinet ministers, Erinayo Wilson Oryema and Charles Oboth Ofumbi. The same day Idi Amin convened a rally in Kampala with the three accused present. A few other “suspects” were paraded forth to read out “confessions” implicating the three men. The archbishop was accused of being an agent of the exiled former president Milton Obote, and for planning to stage a coup.

The next day, Radio Uganda announced that the three had been killed when the car transporting them to an interrogation center had collided with another vehicle. The accident, Radio Uganda reported, had occurred when the victims had tried to overpower the driver in an attempt to escape. When Luwum’s body was released to his relatives, it was riddled with bullets. Henry Kyemba, Minister of Health in Amin’s government, later wrote in his book A State of Blood, “The archbishop had been shot through the mouth and at least three bullets in the chest.” According to the later testimony of witnesses, the victims had been taken to an army barracks, where they were bullied, beaten and finally shot. Some reports say that Amin himself pulled the trigger.

“Archbishop Luwum was an exceptional leader with a holistic vision, pastoral compassion and evangelistic fervor. He had a well-integrated theology of church and mission that acknowledged with gratitude the work of western missionaries who brought the Gospel to Africa. At the same time, he also challenged the Church in Africa to inculturate the gospel so that Christ would incarnate African cultures. He went beyond the limited evangelical understanding of church and mission of his generation and spearheaded a holistic political, socioeconomic and integrated development of church and nation. He was a charismatic and evangelical leader who was equally ecumenical and at home among liberal Christians; animated for the cause of world evangelisation as much as he was passionate for theory and praxis of liberation and justice in Africa.”

Find out more about Janani Luwum here and here.

New Testament Scholar Bruce Metzger Dies at 93

Metzger was well known for his work in New Testament textual criticism. He served on the committee that produced the United Bible Societies’ Greek New Testament and wrote several books on textual criticism.

He did extensive work in Bible translation, serving on the committees of both the Revised Standard Version and the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. He took over as chair of the NRSV committee in 1975, serving in that position for the fourteen years it took to complete the revision process.

Metzger’s legacy will not soon be forgotten. Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, called Metzger “one of the great Christian statesmen and New Testament scholars of the last century”. Bock praised Metzger’s “balanced, irenic approach to debated questions” and noted that Metzger stayed connected to the church during his teaching years at Princeton Theological Seminary.

“He was a great man, one of the giants in the land of New Testament scholarship,” writes New Testament scholar Ben Witherington. “But most importantly, he was a profoundly orthodox Christian man, and I have no doubt he is hearing even now the heavenly benediction, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; inherit the kingdom.’ If the measure of a man is seen in the lives he has touched for good and for God, then Bruce Metzger was one of the great saints of the last century. May God raise up such giants once more and show us the way forward.”

For more, click here and here.

16 February 2007

Philip Melanchthon, 1497-1560

Today marks the 510th birthday of this great Protestant reformer.

Born Philipp Schwartzerd, he entered the University of Heidelberg at the tender age of 12, where he studied philosophy, rhetoric, and astronomy/astrology, and was known as a good Greek scholar. Refused the degree of master in 1512 on account of his youth, he went to Tübingen, where he pursued humanistic and philosophical studies, and later, theology. There he became convinced that true Christianity was something quite different from scholastic theology as it was taught at the university. With his reforms strongly opposed at Tübingen, he followed a call to Wittenberg as professor of Greek, where he aroused great admiration, including that of Martin Luther. Luther’s influence brought him to the study of Scripture, especially of Paul, and so to a Protestant understanding of salvation.

The Augsburg Confession (1530), a foundational document of Lutheranism, was largely his work. His importance for the Reformation lay essentially in the fact that he systematized Luther’s ideas, defended them in public, and made them the basis of a religious education. While Luther scattered the sparks among the people, Melanchthon by his scholarship and irenic spirit won the sympathy of educated people for the Reformation. Alongside Luther’s strength of faith, Melanchthon’s many-sidedness and calmness, his temperance and love of peace, had a share in the success of the movement.

As a Reformer Melanchthon was characterized by moderation, conscientiousness, caution, and love of peace. These qualities were sometimes dismissed as betraying a lack of decision, consistency, and courage. It can be shown, however, that his actions stemmed not not from anxiety for his own safety, but from regard for the welfare of the community, and for the quiet development of the Church.

His humility and modesty had their root in his personal piety. He laid great stress upon prayer, daily meditation on the Word, and attendance of public service. In Melanchthon is found not a great, impressive personality, winning its way by massive strength of resolution and energy, but a noble character hard to study without loving and respecting.

For more about Philip Melanchthon, click here. For more than you ever wanted to know, click here.

15 February 2007

Thomas Bray: Forgotten Visionary

February 15 is the day when the Episcopal Church remembers Thomas Bray, and so a few words about this largely overlooked hero of the past.

Thomas Bray was born at Marton, in Shropshire, in 1656 and died in London in 1730.

He was educated at Oswestry School and All Souls College, Oxford University. After leaving the university he was appointed vicar of Over Whitacre, and rector of Sheldon in Warwickshire, where he wrote his Catechetical Lectures. Henry Compton, Bishop of London, appointed him in 1696 as his commissary to organize the Church of England in Maryland, and he was in that colony in 1699-1700. There he developed a successful scheme for establishing parish libraries in England and America, out of which grew the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (SPCK).

On Bray’s return to England he found the work of his society had so increased that it seemed better to constitute one of its departments into a separate society; and thus the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG) was established in 1701.

Bray envisioned a library for each parish in America, funded by booksellers and stocked with books donated by authors. These libraries were meant to encourage the spread of the Anglican church in Britain’s colonies, and as such were primarily composed of theological works. It was a major endeavor, as at the time the only other public libraries in the American colonies were at a small number of universities.

The people of the colonies seem to have taken comparatively little interest in adding to the libraries by the purchase of “good and godly books”, and as those already in the libraries became antiquated and worn out, the libraries lost their usefulness and mouldered away in the corners. Bray was in advance of his. There were two serious defects in his plan: it made no provision for addition of books from time to time to these libraries, and there was no disposition on the part of the people of the colonies to maintain and increase the libraries at their own expense.

Nevertheless, a recent writer speaks of him as “a striking instance of what a man can effect, without any extraordinary genius and without any special influence. It would be difficult to point to any one who has done more real and enduring service to the Church of England. He cannot be reckoned among our great divines, but his writings produced more immediate practical results than those of greater divines have done.”