There really is something called the American Name Society. Kent Evans, who teaches psychology at Bellevue University in Nebraska, is the president, and he says that people who follow these things are amazed at the soaring popularity of "Nevaeh" as a name for baby girls. It is now in the top one hundred names, the fastest rise since records have been kept on these matters. Apparently it all goes back to the appearance of Sonny Sandoval of P.O.D., a Christian rock group, on MTV in 2000, when he introduced his baby daughter Nevaeh. "Heaven spelled backwards," he explained.
I have long been fascinated by this name business. Especially the names of girls, who are much more frequently pinned with novelty names, while boys are, more often than not, given names with some serious historical resonance, usually religious in nature. Spelling and saying sacred words backwards is a curious practice, however, associated as it is with witchcraft and the legendary Black Mass. The headline of the report in the Times has a very different angle. "And if It's a Boy, Will It Be Lleh?" Cute, but not very likely, I think.
London's Daily Telegraph has a respectful obituary on Jaroslav Pelikan. It lists most of his notable books but, like other obituaries, omits Acts, a volume in the Brazos Theological Commentary that came out last year, and is, in my view, one of his most notable achievements. Some critics had long complained that Pelikan's five-volume magisterial work, The Christian Tradition, had ducked some of the most controversial questions about the tradition by skirting the first century. His marvelous commentary on the Book of Acts can be viewed as making up for that omission.
Then there is this in the Daily Telegraph: "He taught for three years at a university in Indiana, then at Concordia Seminary [St. Louis], from where he had graduated." I feel the pain of friends at Valparaiso University. "A university in Indiana" indeed! For Pelikan and those of us who came out of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, Valparaiso University--known as Valpo--was not just a university in Indiana. It was where thinking in the Missouri Synod pushed the envelope.
Although some of the patterns in Christian education that are detailed in Fr. James Burtchaell's important book, The Dying of the Light, are evident enough at Valpo, it is still a seriously Lutheran institution. I was reminded of this while reading Richard Baepler's excellent history of Valpo, Flame of Faith, Lamp of Learning, in preparation for delivering the annual Huegli Lecture there next year. For those of us of a certain age, Valpo was, above all, the visionary O.P. Kretzmann, who was president for years and years. I am among the many who trace their early formation in significant part to the influence of O.P. and to Valpo conferences on theology, ecumenism, liturgy, and church and society.
"A university in Indiana." I suppose that in the U.K. they've hardly heard of Lutheranism. And they're obviously not attentive to basketball.
My friend Charles Ford of St. Louis University tells me there will be a conference at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, observing the centennial of the birth of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The dates are Thursday and Friday, July 20 and 21. Distinguished scholars will be attending to Bonhoeffer as a confessional Lutheran theologian. The very confessional Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse said that "the longer Bonhoeffer lived, the more Lutheran he became." That is in sharp contrast to many others who accent Bonhoeffer's "religionless Christianity." My view is that he became ever more Catholic, which is not necessarily incompatible with his becoming ever more a certain kind of Lutheran. For more information on the conference, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Paul Hollander has over the years chronicled America's "political pilgrims," meaning anti-American Americans who do obeisance at the shrines of utopian visionaries from Josef Stalin to Chairman Mao. The shrine du jour is Venezuela, from which luminaries such as Harry Belafone, Jesse Jackson, and Ramsey Clark have returned to report that they have seen the latest future that works. Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy writes in the current Weekly Standard:
When Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez met with the Pope earlier this week, he assured Benedict XVI that he is a Christian. And he told the press that he has a special friend who is one too. Sort of.
"Our Bolivarian revolution is very Christian and I have a friend who isn't Christian, but lately has said he is a Christian in the social aspect: his name is Fidel Castro," Chávez announced. "I talk to [Castro] a lot about Christ each time we see each other, and he told me recently, 'Chávez, I'm Christian in the social sense.'"
Chávez calls Jesus Christ a socialist and a revolutionary. And that's the kind of Christ he wants to follow. It is not clear how much the Pope was persuaded. The Vatican has criticized efforts by Chávez's revolutionary government to curtail the influence of the Catholic Church in Venezuela. Chávez has called the Catholic Church's hierarchy a "tumor," while Venezuelan Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara has accused Chávez of aspiring towards a dictatorship.
It will be no surprise if we soon see left-wing American clerics investing Chávez with a mystical reverence previously reserved for the likes of Fidel Castro and, during the 1980s, Sandinista honcho Daniel Ortega. Indeed, the canonization of Chávez in some quarters has already begun.
Political pilgrims tell us, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton, that socialism has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried. Except for Fidel, of course, and now Hugo Chavez. Play it again, Sam.