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March 30, 2007

For the Least of These

Lwi Last night I went to a fundraising gala for Living Water International, a non-profit ministry that brings clean water and the living water of Christ to countries where access to this basic necessity of life is limited. More than 1 billion people in the world lack access to clean drinking water. And nearly half of the world's population suffers from diseases related to the lack of access to clean water. We heard about how the ministry drills wells changing the lives of people across the world.

Former Ambassador to the U.N. Agencies for Food and Hunger, and three-time nominee for the Nobel Peace prize, Tony Hall was the keynote speaker. Most recently Hall has written a book with Tom Price called Changing the Face of Hunger: One Man's Story of How Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, and People of Faith are Joining Forces to Help the Hungry, Poor and Oppressed. Among the stories that Hall shared was one about meeting with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.

He shared how Mother Teresa put the palm of her hand up to his. "For the least of these," she said, emphasizing each word of the five-word phrase as she moved each of her five fingers to touch his. This was the one thing she wanted the ambassador to remember. Five words--one important message.

God, use our hands for the least of these.

(Photo courtesy of Living Water International)

TMI

"We're living in the too-much-information age" is how Jessica Hopper starts off a review of two new memoirs, Rebecca Walker's Baby Love and Anne Lamott's Grace (Eventually). Of Walker's book, the latest entry in the mommy-come-lately genre, Hopper writes, "Baby Love reads less like a book than a compendium of mass e-mails Walker might've sent to let distant friends know how her second trimester was going. Her aimless and chatty rants should be instantly familiar to anyone who's killed an afternoon randomly cycling through Blogspot accounts."

After looking through only four pages of the book, excerpted at ABC News's website, I'm inclined to agree. By the time I'd seen Walker hash out her fears and insecurities and depression and mood swings and her own mommy issues with her baby's father, and her own father, and her mother, and her builder/contractor, and the woman who does her eyebrows, and her Tibetan doctor, and random women in the maternity store, and her midwife, and random women at benefit dinners, and her friends, I'd concluded that if she really wanted to borrow a song title for her book, she should have gone with Toby Keith's "I Wanna Talk about Me."

But that's not even the half of it.

Continue reading "TMI" »

Nightmares

As you probably know, many of the men behind bars have children. (If you didn't know that, please click here to remedy your ignorance. Actually, click there even if you did know that. Thank you.) If you're like most Americans, including -- I'm ashamed to admit -- me, you "view these men — dope sellers, petty thieves — as fathers in name only, with few ties to their kids." I mean, come on, really, what percentage of them lived with their kids at the time of their arrest? Ten percent? Fifteen?

Try half, which is not that much less than the national average (66 percent) and pretty remarkable given the background of most of these men.

This is my way of saying that if you have 20 minutes in which you are not otherwise doing something absolutely vital, please read "The American Prison Nightmare" by Jason DeParle over at the New York Review of Books.

In his review essay, DeParle accomplishes a feat he graciously attributes to one of the books he's reviewing, Punishment and Inequality in America by Bruce Western: he makes the reality and impact of American mass incarceration "less vague." He describes the way that our criminal justice system in which, as governor Mike Huckabee (bless him!) and our own Pat Nolan put it, "We lock up a lot of people we are mad at rather than the ones we are really afraid of," at the very least compounds the tragedy of the black underclass.

Much about black underclass life is tragic, but the racial imbalance in the prison population is particularly extreme. For example, while blacks are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed, they now go to prison eight times as often. We are used to thinking of prison as at least partially a byproduct of the larger tragedy of poverty; Western depicts it as a cause. Through mass incarceration, he writes, "the poor are made poorer and have fewer prospects."

Continue reading "Nightmares" »

Who wrote the history books?

You may think you're used to hearing about this kind of tripe being taught in schools, but every once in a while it just hits you all over again.

"If the story of the hunt were told by the lion, what a different story it would be," Tingle said. "And that saying applies to human culture. ... When you win the war, you get to write the history books about the war, in [your] language, with [your] heroes. That's how it works."

And that, kiddies, is why your parents and brothers and sisters are shelling out their cash to see a film that glorifies those magnificent Persians and the way they wiped out some pathetic little bunch of Greek losers whose names no one even remembers anymore.

Oh, wait.

Fear of Living

The late Henry Fairlie once wrote about what he called Americans' "fear of living," that is, their exaggerated and, at times, crippling, sense of danger and risk associated life's normal activities.

What Fairlie wrote twenty years ago (he died in 1990) is, if anything, triply true now. I thought of him while reading "Let Kids Outdoors" by L.J. Williamson in yesterday's Los Angeles Times. As someone who literally grew up on the streets, not because I didn't have a home but because you couldn't play stickball in your living room (no one had family rooms where and when I grew up), I nodded in agreement when Williamson wrote,

Our hyper-anxiety about the safety of children is creating a society in which any outdoor activity that doesn't take place under the supervision of a coach or a "psychomotor activities" mandate from the state is too risky to attempt.

An example: My son's school has a written rule that students in grades K-4 may not ride their bicycles to school. My son and I cheerfully ignore this restriction; I think school rules belong on campus, not off. As we ride together each day, I remember the Huffy Sweet 'n' Sassy I rode to school when I was a kid. Hot pink, with a flowered wicker basket, it stood out among the other bikes parked in the crowded racks, its tall orange safety flag flapping in the breeze.

Now my bike was a stringray with a banana seat but I can make the requisite imaginative leap.

Continue reading "Fear of Living" »

Prayer for a partner

One of the issues that Prison Fellowship has long tried to highlight and address is prisoner re-entry. We've all heard the skepticism that surrounds "jailhouse religion," and part of that skepticism arises because the faith commitments that men and women make in the crisis of a prison term don't always hold up in the very tough reality of post-prison life.

If you've filled out a job application recently, you know that employers ask whether you've ever been convicted of a felony. For those who have to check that "yes" box, the search for employment can be frustrating, not to mention the search for housing, for a welcoming church, for law-abiding friends, and on and on. Thankfully, there has been some attention in recent years to the difficulties that ex-offenders face, partly because of our efforts to raise awareness for this issue.

Knowing the importance of aftercare, we are always glad to see employers who are willing to give ex-offenders a chance, and we are all the more glad when those employers are Christians who can also encourage ex-offenders in their Christian walk. One of these individuals is Scott Saunders of Just Foam, a southern California supplier of surf board cores. According to this article, "Saunders started Just Foam about two years ago to provide employment for former convicts and people in rehab programs."

This week, his factory went up in flames.  Amazingly, as the fire was razing his building, Saunders was doing a Bible study on God's faithfulness. He's planning to relocate and rebuild the business. I'm praying that his handling of this personal and professional crisis will be a strong witness to the ex-offenders he employs and the surfing community he serves. Will you join me in praying for this brother in Christ?

Be still my heart

Someone, though not the first person who would have come to my mind, is calling Steven Spielberg on that naughty little habit of buttering up totalitarian governments. (The link to the actual editorial is here, but it's subscribers-only.) Now if only the rest of the world could figure out that holding the Olympics in Beijing may not have been the best idea ever to come down the pike.

March 29, 2007

’Pretty Much Precisely’

Did I really write "pretty much precisely" earlier today?

Yes, yes I did.

Ouch. I'm no writer, but even I know that's brutally nonsensical.

[Note to Self: Using "colorful idioms?" Fine. Becoming The Point's "colorful idiot?" Not so fine.]

Feel the love

Christianity Today has a great article online about how churches can help individuals reeling from the impact of divorce, in a way that offers healing and models God's love in an appealing way.

After decades of feeling like any mention of divorce signaled acceptance, churches are now waking up to the ministry opportunity they have and are hosting divorce recovery workshops that are available to anyone in the community, not just churchgoers. As unchurched people are given practical tools and loving grace to navigate through the stormy aftermath of a divorce, many of them experience the warmth and community of a church for the first time. One workshop leader was quoted in the article as saying, "When people feel that we're serious about what we do, they'll say, 'Tell me about your church.' A lot of people come to St. Andrew's because they see something authentic here. They see genuine caring and love, and they want to be a part of that."

We live in the midst of a broken, hurting world populated by broken, hurting individuals. It can be frustrating sometimes to see the results of that brokenness in the sin and cultural decay all around us. But it is precisely into this broken, hurting world that we are called--to be God's instruments of grace and mercy, to be that city on a hill, that lamp on a lampstand. Divorce recovery workshops for parents and children are so powerful because they are a merciful act in an often unmerciful world. It's encouraging to me to see the church responding to the brokenness of divorce with grace and love--and to see those who experience that grace and love finding healing for their hearts and their souls.

Are Apes Worthy of Human Rights?

Monkey Over five months ago, on this site, I asked “Are Chimps People?” I posed that question after reading about ape specialists in a BBC News article who had concluded, “Sort of.”

Now it seems that some folks are less ambivalent. A recent BBC News piece indicates rising sentiment that our simian friends are not only people, but are entitled to human rights. Among the justifications experts cite:

  • Chimpanzees differ from humans by only 1% of DNA. (The DNA of a banana is 25% similar to that of humans. Does that mean a banana is one-fourth a person?)
  • Great apes recognize themselves in a mirror. (I’ve seen my sister-in-law’s Rottweiller do likewise.)
  • Apes can learn and use human languages through signs or symbols. (But I’ll bet no one is holding their breath for the arrival of The Great Simian Novel.)
  • Great apes have displayed love, fear, anxiety and jealousy. (And they also display a capacity for violence, cruelty, rape, murder, stealing, and the like. Yet I’m not aware that anyone pressing that they be held morally accountable for such behaviors.)

One ethicist sums it up this way: “[A]pes possess cognitive and emotional faculties that make them worthy of moral consideration.” Of course by those criteria, certain humans may not be so worthy.

Continue reading "Are Apes Worthy of Human Rights?" »

Iraqi refugees: Practical steps?

A correspondent named Jinny writes to us, "I just read Breakpoint about the Iraqi translator (March 27, 2007). [We also covered the story here.] Is there anything I can do, other than pray?"

Excellent question, Jinny. The short answer is, I don't know. So I'm passing the question along to my fellow bloggers, as well as to any of our readers who might be equipped to handle it. What can we do for Jina Russell and others in her position?

Gore’s Faith ... and Call

In response to yesterday's post about Al Gore, climate models and scientific evidence for Catastrophic Global Warming, reader Scooterwmn comments:

For the life of me I cannot understand anyone even listening to Al Gore. He lost me years ago when he claimed to have invented the internet. Anyone else remember this big LIE???

An implicit question in Scooter's comment is "Why are people listening to Al Gore?"

Actually, I heard one of Gore’s speeches a few weeks ago on NPR. I was struck by how compellingly, at least in this instance, he called for everyone to make real, meaningful changes in how they live their lives. Everyone! It was a global call to change how each of us lives, in no uncertain terms. 

And I thought: “See, this is precisely what we, The Church, don’t do well. We don’t say to everyone: 'You are part of a Huge Problem. And you need to change, big time, in order to solve it. You need to do something that you don’t want to do, or don’t think you want to do. But it’s critical that you do; you need to change. Everything depends upon it.'" But that’s pretty much precisely what Gore did, and did well. But that clarion call goes against the grain of the seeker church movement and much of the church marketing that has watered down the Gospel.

Sir Bono

Sirbono Okay, so I just read that they've made Bono a Knight. I'm not kidding. Unless the BBC has a new satire column I don't know about, this is legit.

Last week Kristine mentioned an article by Steve Beard on BreakPoint's website about Bono's faith. Well, we know that our faith is rewarded in Heaven; apparently sometimes it's rewarded here on earth too. And I must say knighthood seems like a pretty cool reward.

It reminds me of some words from my favorite candidate for '08 elections, who warned against being overly caught up in a desire for worldly esteem and praise. He does give some thoughts, however, on what we should do when we do receive praise. He says:

Holy Scripture warns us, then, against the inordinate desire or earnest pursuit of worldly estimation and honor. It teaches us that God calls Christians to renounce or forego these absolutely and voluntarily. But what about the case when others do bestow these honors on us for actions intrinsically good? When this happens, and we have not solicited them, Scripture teaches we are to accept them as given by Providence for a present comfort and a reward for virtue. Moreover, God instructs us that, in our general behavior and in the little particulars of our conduct, we should watch for opportunities of doing little kindnesses. ....

In the judgment of the true Christian, credit and reputation stand on ground not very different from riches. He should not prize them too highly or desire and pursue them with too much concern. However, when the hand of Providence gives them to him, he is to accept them with thankfulness and use them with moderation. He should be able to relinquish them, if it becomes necessary without murmur.

Continue reading "Sir Bono" »

At last

A candidate we can all get behind!

Exposing the Achilles’ Heel of Evolution

You know the script. A school board moves to allow teachers to “teach the controversy,” and the Darwin Leviathan awakens in fear of another ruse to sneak creation into the classroom. But is that really the fear—a transgression of the church-state barrier? Joe Renick thinks not.

Renick, who helped draft a piece of “academic freedom legislation,” argues that the Darwinist panic “is not that Biblical Creationism will be taught in public schools…but that the evidentiary weakness of Darwin's theory will be exposed.” He goes on to contend that a critical evaluation of the explanatory power of evolution is a threat to the religion of materialism. And that’s enough to give an entrenched evolutionist vapors.

Renick makes these and other good points in a recent commentary.

March 28, 2007

Sexuality in a void

Vigen Guroian, a Wilberforce Forum fellow and professor of theology and ethics at Loyola College, picks up the theme of purity on campus in an article first published in BreakPoint WorldView magazine:

Sex is deeply and seriously disordered at the basic level of college life. As one young Loyola College co-ed wrote, “Here we can do everything we were told at home was wrong, and no one really cares, and no one is responsible. It’s like we live in a glass bubble; only no one looks in.”

What goes on every day in co-ed dormitories and apartments is far more significant than what comes into public view. How colleges structure and arrange student life and the supervision, or lack thereof, that they give to our sons and daughters determines a lot about their behavior at college and the attitudes toward the opposite sex that they take with them into life.

Guroian is poignantly reminded of the moral and spiritual void in which so many students exist every time he meets a new class:

The wisdom of in loco parentis was that it is the college’s responsibility to ensure that our children are not “left alone.” In my classroom, I announce to my students: “You no doubt think of me as just another professor. But I think of you as my children.” I wish that you could see the surprise and also the sense of relief on their faces.

Read more.

’The Truth is Not a Defense’

Un Angela Wu, a friend and the International Director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, testified today before the United Nations at the fourth regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Speaking out against the trend of defamation of religion laws, Ms. Wu said, "These laws are passed under the guise of protecting small religious communities, but in fact they only help the dominant religious majority."

The press release also mentions:

Ms. Wu and The Becket Fund recently helped reverse the conviction of two Australian pastors who were threatened with jail time for violating an anti-vilification law (The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act) after reading from the Qur’an and comparing Islam and Christianity. The case is to be retried, after the Supreme Court of Victoria threw out an earlier conviction of the pastors in December, 2006.

The pastors were told that unlike in traditional defamation of persons suits, the “truth is not a defense” against the anti-vilification law. Ms. Wu told the Human Rights Council that defamation of religion laws are a perversion of what defamation laws are supposed to do, and force the state to police ideas. Pakistan, on behalf of the OIC, is currently proposing a resolution that would combat defamation of religions.

Continue reading "’The Truth is Not a Defense’" »

Gore’s Faith

Perhaps I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the Catastrophic Global Warming prophets are finally seeing their message reach the long-sought level of popular acceptance necessary for policy change, precisely at the same public moment that they are being hammered by high-profile experts and previously sympathetic media voices for gross exaggerations and poor science. Bummer for them. 

Michael Barone's related piece "Gore's Faith Is Bad Science" has been the topic of much offline discussion over the last few days. Barone writes:

[Gore] starts off with the science. The world's climate, he reports, is getting warmer. This accurate report is, however, not set in historic context. World climate has grown warmer and cooler at various times in history. Climate change is not some unique historic event. It is the way the world works.

Not this time, Gore says. What's different is that climate change is being driven by human activity -- to wit, increasing carbon dioxide emissions. Which means, he says, that we have to sharply reduce those emissions. But what the scientists tell us is that some proportion of climate change is caused by human activity and some proportion by natural causes -- and that they can only estimate what those proportions are. The estimates they have produced have varied sharply. The climate change models that have been developed don't account for events of the recent past, much less predict with precision events in the future.

As I've noted before (here and here), climate change models are the entirety of the case for Catastrophic Global Warming. Without them, there's nothing. Zilch. And, as I've explained in those posts, statistical models are fundamentally unable to determine that a warming catastrophe is at all likely to occur. So the only evidence for Catastrophic Global Warming -- statistical models -- are wholly unable to serve as said evidence.

But as my friend Roberto Rivera (who I want to be if and when I grow up) notes, discussions about "multivariate statistical models" tend to glaze the eyes of most folks.

Continue reading "Gore’s Faith" »

Standing Alone

China I caught on NBC nightly news last night an amazing clip about one man in China taking a stand against greedy builders and corrupt officials. Talk about courage to stand all alone.

A Call for Prayer on the Capitol Steps

Today at noon, Congressman Randy Forbes and 19 other members from both sides of the aisle will hold a press conference to call America to prayer. We ran a BreakPoint on what is called the Congressional Prayer Caucus back in August. Mark Earley commented:

What is the most powerful room in the United States Capitol? Ask some members of Congress and you would probably hear this: Room 219. It’s the room closest to the House Chamber, and its walls have been privy to some of the most pivotal discussions of our history.

Recently, however, Room 219 just got a whole lot more powerful. How so? You see, in Room 219 some of the highest elected officials of our land are bending their knees in weekly prayer gatherings—openly declaring, not their power, but their dependence on the power of God.

If you'd like to join in covering this country and its leaders in prayer you can sign up at www.prayercaucus.org. Even if you don't sign up, remember that we are instructed by Paul to pray for those in authority.

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

The press conference is a good reminder, but the notion that praying for those in authority pleases my God, is an even better one.

March 27, 2007

Re: Narcissism Posing as Humility

Diane Singer had a great summation of the state of the Western church's self-indulgence. Opposite to the idea of the warm fuzzy churchgoers or the “forgive yourself” yoga devotees, John Thomas, marriage counselor and Boundless contributor, contrasts true repentance with the popular idea of feeling sad or bad about said action with a nod to our good buddy God in heaven. 

Thomas writes, “True repentance bears fruit, and looks like this: it offers nothing to God but spiritual poverty and a desperate heart desiring to change.” Thomas asserts that we should really be lamenting, “Oh, God, my choices must have broken Your heart! Please forgive me.” 

With true forgiveness from God, we can look ahead with excitement to the transformation which will take place in our hearts and minds—either in leaps and bounds or by trickles—which will influence our everyday actions.

When Having Everything Just Isn’t Enough

Havidol Picking up on something Faith mentioned earlier:

Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder, or DSACDAD, is sweeping across America. Did you know over 50% of people over age 18 may be suffering from some form of DSACDAD? And DSACDAD is a progressive condition that may get worse over time. The good news is there's now a solution. HavidolMild side effects include: impulsivity induced consumption, inter-species communication and terminal smile.

Yeah right.

It seems congratulations are in order for Australian artist Justine Cooper, who took her frustration with big pharmaceutical companies that market ad nauseum drugs for non-deadly conditions, and turned that frustration into a witty example of artistic satire. That's right, Ms. Cooper designed both the disease, DSACDAD, and its cure, Havidol. Say it aloud and you'll catch the meaning in her tag line, "When more is not enough."

The website and the gallery exhibit, which just closed, are catching a little bit of heat. They offer a two-pronged critique of culture. One part is the critique of society's constant pressure, as an article in The Scientist describes: "our sense of never being good enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, or successful enough." And of course, there's the critique of the pharmaceutical companies who are marketing such drugs, with the net effect that  "everyday life is pathologized and then can be medicalized." 

Hats off to Ms. Cooper, who used her creativity to provide a provocative critique of an aspect of modern culture that many of us have just come to accept as normal.

Germans Fight Infanticide

German officials are doing everything they can to up their birth rate. Last year, they promised government subsidies for women who would give birth in 2007. And now, as Faith reports, they're promoting "Baby-Drops" to halt the growing number of infanticide cases. "Baby-Drops" (or Baby-Klappe hatches) allow women to drop off their unwanted babies at hospitals anonymously. Yes, there is criticism from clergy and charities, but pragmatism seems to rule out the vulgarity of this new option for distressed moms.

Supporting Our Troops

The Christian Science Monitor has a great article about how ordinary Americans are supporting the troops. Read it, and see if there's some way you can encourage one of our wonderful service members while he or she is far away from home. Whatever your feelings about the war itself, please don't forget these brave men and women who are in harm's way, and their families who sacrifice so much.

Pray for Tony Snow

The president's spokesman's cancer has returned.

I have C. S. Lewis's lament -- from 1961 -- running through my head: "Cancer, and cancer, and cancer . . . " Sadly, some things never seem to change.

And they say there are no role models anymore

From the Washington Post:

Until I graduated from high school, I watched as friends and classmates grew more obsessed with becoming what in the 1920s was called the "It" girl. We all knew -- from magazines, TV and societal mores -- that to be accepted one had to be hot. This meant wearing the latest fashions, designed for model-thin people and showcasing as many curves as possible. It meant going to parties where one rebelled, along with everyone else, against adult restrictions and where one hoped to be recognized by the girls as having "it" together and by the guys as being sexy. To attain this status, girls did the usual: starved themselves, dressed "fashionably" and gossiped incessantly to establish themselves and, with calculated innocence, to rip other girls to shreds.

I was reminded of all of this by an article in The Post's Health section last month, "Goodbye to Girlhood; As Pop Culture Targets Ever Younger Girls, Psychologists Worry About a Premature Focus on Sex and Appearance." [Ed. note: We blogged on that article here and here.]

It is incredibly difficult for any girl or young woman to withstand the continual onslaught. I know it was for me. In the end, I was able not only to survive but to thrive in this environment because of my parents, my faith and my life experiences.

Continue reading "And they say there are no role models anymore" »

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater ... literally

When yesterday's BreakPoint commentary popped into my inbox, I first took note of the interesting topic: when babies are less than human. The commentary went on to discuss two stories that seemingly had nothing in common. But at the root they had everything in common: human rights. The right to have it all... "all" being relative.

This seems to be a common problem in the carnal world. Rights. (On a side note, you got to love the article here about the new drug, Havidol. I'll admit, I laughed out loud with this one.)

Abortion may be the most notable, controversial right of all, but I'm not here to discuss it. In my opinion, even if by a miracle we decided to abolish abortions of all kinds, it wouldn't solve the problem. As de Tocqueville noted in his writings, you can't change a nation (or the world for that matter) by changing the law... you change a nation by changing the mores (morals) of the people who compose it. So let's look first at some mores, shall we?

I think baby-drops would be a good place to start. Beware, if you are like me you'll soon find yourself sucked into reading every repulsive story on the page, disgusted by the utter insensitivity of it all. Perhaps I should rejoice that the government cares enough to provide a drop-box for your baby, but I would hate to see myself so calloused. What baffles me more is why mothers have so calloused themselves?

Continue reading "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater ... literally" »

Thought for the day

From George Gilder (via Amanda Witt at Wittingshire):

The tale of human life is less the pageant of unfolding rationality and purpose envisioned by the Enlightenment than a saga of desert wanderings and brief bounty, the endless dialogue between man and God, between alienation and providence, as we search for the ever-rising and receding promised land, which we can see most clearly, with the most luminous logic, when we have the faith and courage to leave ourselves open to chance and fate.

Reinhold Niebuhr summed up our predicament:

Nothing worth doing is completed in one lifetime.
Therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing true or beautiful makes
complete sense
in any context of history.
Therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous,
can be accomplished alone.
Therefore we are saved by love.

These are the fundamental laws of economics, business, technology, and life. In them are the secrets of wealth, and poverty.

Where are the witches?

Not to continue to rehash this topic, but I came across an op-ed today and enjoyed reading what this Reverend had to say. It was refreshing to read his Christian response, although brief. I had never equated the current issue of sex offenders with that of historical witch hunts. Do you think that connection is right on, or too extreme?

March 26, 2007

Time Out

Catherine, I read the Time cover story on public school Bible literacy classes, too. I wonder how many readers caught the author's own ....illiteracy? Misinterpretation?

Describing the favorite biblical ignorance case of Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero, David Van Biema writes:

In 1995 a federal appeals court upheld the overturn of a death sentence in a Colorado kidnap-rape-murder case because jurors had inappropriately brought in extraneous material--Bibles--for an unsanctioned discussion of the Exodus verse "an eye for eye, tooth for tooth...whoever...kills a man shall be put to death." The Christian group Focus on the Family complained, "It is a sad day when the Bible is banned from the jury room."

"Who's most at fault here?" Van Biema/Prothero ask. "The jurors, who perhaps hadn't noticed that in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus rejects the eye-for-an-eye rule, word for word, in favor of turning the other cheek? The Focus spokesman, who may well have known of Jesus's repudiation of the old law but chose to ignore it? Or any liberal who didn't know enough to bring it up?"

Or, possibly, none of the above?

Continue reading "Time Out" »

Narcissism Posing as Humility

Ron Rosenbaum has written an eye-popping article called "The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga"  that drew my attention, even though I'm not a pratictioner beyond a few yoga-styled stretching exercises that I find useful for limbering up in the morning. The title intrigued me, though, so I read the whole article -- and found some disturbing parallels between the "commodification and rhetorical dumbing-down of yoga culture" Rosenbaum complains about, and what I see happening too often in the Western Church. 

Rosenbaum spends most of his time sarcastically critiquing a December article in Yoga Journal  called "Forgive Yourself," which tells of one woman's journey to forgive herself (ha) for hurting her boyfriend 20 years earlier. Her first step is to "Google-stalk" the guy, and repeatedly try to make contact with him over a period of several months, until he finally gives her a "what part of no don't you understand?" message. Rosenbaum's tone is hilarious, especially when he points out that the so-called yoga experts -- instead of telling her to get over it and move on with her life -- give her more rituals and routines to follow in order to achieve self-forgiveness, including sending herself flowers once she has achieved this goal. 

At that point, I was gagging right along with Rosenbaum -- not at how yoga has been twisted to fit this woman's "narcissism posing as humility" but because it smacks too much of the theraputic culture that has infected Western churches, where lessons drawn from the timeless and eternal Word of God have been jettisoned in favor of warm and fuzzy messages about how you can feel better about yourself. The truth about our deeply flawed and sinful nature is lost; the Savior who was crucified to pay the penalty for our sins becomes an indulgent guru who tells people to endlessly focus on themselves as a way of dealing with their failures. It's all about "me, me, and me" -- not about Jesus Christ and His plan for redeeming us and then transforming us into "instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13) in His service. 

Rosenbaum obviously did not have Christianity in mind when he wrote this article, but Christians can read the article and weep over the same type of self-worshiping distortions to our faith. And, in the case of Christianity, it's a far more serious deception, since it attacks the only truth that will lead people to salvation: that we are hopelessly lost sinners in need of the One and Only Savior, Jesus Christ.

Taking the ’Prison’ out of Prison Reform

In my daily combing through the news, I came across this article on prison reform, if you could call it that, which got me pondering. Former inmate turned activist Ms. Angela Davis spends her time pursing avenues of prison reform. But her reform is as extreme as it gets: remove prisons altogether. Do I have your attention? Then read on.

At first glance I thought Ms. Davis right on the money in what she had to say. Only a few lines in I came across this quote: "One of the biggest problems society faces is recognizing the humanity of prisoners." Bingo! Finally, someone gets it! But my joy was shortlived as I continued reading.

The biggest social problem is discovering what drives people to commit such serious crimes. [Davis] wants more thought to go into what is wrong with criminals and what motivates their actions rather than the measures society takes to punish them.

"We need to disarticulate crime and punishment," she said.

One interest of Davis's work is the possibility of prison abolition. She compared this idea to that of abolishing slavery - both were initially seen as too radical to implement.

Hmmm. Now you all know that I work for Justice Fellowship, the criminal justice reform arm of PFM. I know how necessary prison reform is, but I'd also be the first to say that prisons aren't completely unnecessary.

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Bioethics on the Lamb

Chimera I'm not sure which part of this story is more disturbing -- the potential for unpredictable moral and biological consequences, or the fact that the news appears to have been shared on a BBC program called "Animal Farm."

Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer.

Professor Esmail Zanjani, of the University of Nevada, has spent seven years and £5million perfecting the technique, which involves injecting adult human cells into a sheep's foetus.

Aside from the simple "ick" factor, which might at least be enough to cause us to think twice about this kind of brave new science, there seems to be a sort of "forgiveness is easier than permission" mindset in the foregoing of public discourse about such breakthroughs. Whatever the intentions, this is not just simple medicine.

Even if I hadn't seen a few too many sci-fi movies, the imagination does not have to strain to see that this is dangerous territory.

On Campuses, Purity is a ’Relic’

In reaction to college campuses marked by condom machines in dorms, student-run porn publications, and "Desperate Coeds," some students are forming abstinence groups in hopes of turning around the sex-saturated culture. At Harvard, one such group sent freshmen a valentine with the message: "Why wait? Because you're worth it."

Seems that didn’t sit too well with peers of a more modern viewpoint. Coed Rebecca Singh grumbled: "I think they thought that we might not be 'ruined' yet. It's a symptom of that culture we have that values a woman on her purity. It's a relic."

A culture, I might add, that values other "archaic" concepts like courage, wisdom, self-control, and perseverance.

Mid-Afternoon Thoughts on Watching NCAA Midwest Regional Finals

It's tip-off time: Oregon versus Florida. Whom do I root for? Well, I've lived in Florida and I've heard of Oregon. Actually, I'd like to live in Eugene but my friend Dave the Swede (not his real name) tells me that it might be tough to find a good Catholic parish there. Call me neutral.

(Did you know that the Oregon duck is based on Donald Duck? Walt Disney was friends with an Oregon bigwig and gave his personal OK.)

Since when has Florida's all-America center been called "Joe Kim" Noah? I'm not the kind of guy who insists that people trill their "Rs" when pronouncing my name but "Joe Kim" sounds terrible. His father is a French-speaker from Cameroon and his mother is from Sweden. Somehow, I doubt that either of them calls their son "Joe Kim."

Speaking of terrible, it's time for a TV time-out, which can only mean one thing: millions of women across the country are annoyed at their husbands and boyfriends for immediately changing the channel. Sigmund Freud famously asked, "What do women want?" The answer apparently is to watch commercials like the one in which some guy claiming to represent "Coke Zero" wants to sue "Coke." Now, I'm old and somewhat irony-impaired but I don't get it: aren't they both part of the same blood-sucking, culture-trampling, imperialistic multinational? I'm missing something. Help me.

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Biblically Illiterate

Bibleliteracy To some extent, growing up reading the Bible put me at a distinct advantage in school, particularly in English class. I can remember this happening on occasions from elementary through college. I attended public schools throughout K-12, and a private, but not Christian college. 

In tenth grade, I explained to the rest of my class the biblical allusions in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath and filled in spiritual blanks as we read Dante’s Inferno. In eleventh grade I enlightened my English class about Song of Songs, the biblical landscape that Toni Morrison borrows so much language from in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Beloved.

In college, as an English major, my role as biblical explicator to a biblically illiterate community continued. Writing a paper on Robinson Crusoe, I explored how spiritual awakening represented an important crux in the novel. My professor was somehow ignorant of this crucial part of the plot and the allusions to biblical texts. He also seemed wholly negligent about taking into consideration Daniel Defoe's own strong Christian faith that would have colored his writing. Pointing out such things wasn’t braggadocio; it was simply that no one else in class had familiarity with the most important book in Western literature. I became a translator.


Time magazine’s cover story this week is on the topic of Biblical literacy. The Bible Literacy Project, started by Centurion graduate Chuck Stetson, is prominently featured. And the story focuses on the debate about whether teaching the Bible has any place in public schools. For me, there’s no question. Sure, educators need to be careful about how they do it, but my own public school experience highlights both the need for it and the dearth of knowledge about the best-selling book of all time.

The Edwards Decision

I was stunned to hear of John Edwards’s decision to continue with his presidential bid after learning about the return of his wife’s breast cancer--a virulent stage-four malignancy with metastasis in her bone and possibly lungs. Yes, I know, this was not John’s decision, it was “their” decision. Yet one wonders whether blind ambition or plain naiveté was at play here.

If that sounds harsh, consider that according to the DNC, John Edwards is in fourth place behind former candidate and current global-warming wonk Al Gore, with a mere 6% party support. And in terms of charisma, vision, innovative ideas, and experience, there are other equally or better qualified Democratic Party hopefuls. But more importantly, there are the condition and prognosis of Mrs. Edwards.

Doctors concede they can only manage her cancer, not cure it. In other words, Elizabeth Edwards is terminal. Yet, although he vows to “be there” when needed, John Edwards insists, “The campaign goes on, the campaign goes on strongly.”

I hope for the sake of his wife and family, Mr. Edwards has a clone somewhere. A presidential campaign is a grueling 24/7/365 commitment; and so is caring for a spouse who is dying, comforting children who are losing their mother, and filling the gap for a weakened partner. How someone could think they could keep all these plates spinning is beyond me.

Six years ago I was diagnosed with a terminal cancer.

Continue reading "The Edwards Decision" »

March 23, 2007

Think about it

Jana Riess at The Review Revolution has an insightful review up on latest book phenom The Secret (which Martha discussed previously here).

Riess points out, "The logical reverse of extreme positive thinking -- which asserts your responsibility for every good thing that happens in your life -- is that every nasty thing that ever happens to you is, correspondingly, entirely your fault." How is it your fault? Because you thought negative thoughts.

As an example, The Secret's author asserts that obesity isn't rooted in genetics or bad eating habits, but rather focusing on fatness. The solution: Don't even look at someone who is fat, lest it cause you to think fat thoughts. Riess very aptly applies the ridiculousness of this mindset to our every day experience:

By this logic, I should have ignored the guy in a wheelchair I saw in the airport last night, instead of sharing a smile and some small talk. I should have made him feel invisible! What was I thinking? Now I will become paralyzed too. Damn. And I wasn't even in the war.

Speaking of wars, famines, natural disasters . . . if you are a victim of any of those things, that is also entirely your fault. You summoned the famine to yourself because you were afraid of starving, see? And 9/11 victims must have been so worried about terrorism that they became vulnerable to terrorist attack. Byrne says flat out that people who perish in large-scale tragedies had it coming because they were participating in negative thinking on a massive human scale. So Jews in the 1930s were targeted not because of other people's racism, but because of their own pessimism and oy-my-aching-pogrom mentality.

I can't help but be reminded of that famous and favorite verse from Isaiah 29:11, which in the King James Version reads, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." Despite what this pop-new-age-psuedo-spiritual movement would have me believe, the thoughts that really determine my life's course are His, not mine. And frankly, that's pretty reassuring.

Re: If I Felt Better

Well, to complete the "Roberto has a cold" trilogy, I finally scored some pseudoephedrine. I had to go to Cotsco for some other stuff (for instance, Kraft cheese in the "David-sized" package: 4 pounds) and I was kind of hoping that for my trouble I would at least get a Costco-sized box of pseudoephedrine.

Now, handing over your driver's license and waiting while they run a check may not be a big deal to you but if you look like me -- a big Latin guy wearing shorts, high socks and a tee-shirt -- you wonder about the outcome of the transaction. What runs through my fevered imagination is straight out of the Mind of Mencia (proceed with caution on that link).

Clerk 1: Does he check out?
Clerk 2: So far, so good. But I don't know . . .
Clerk 1: I know what you mean. A beaner in shorts asking for pseudoephedrine . . .
Clerk 2: Exactly! His whole look screams "extra cholo."
Clerk 1: Yeah, like that fashion designer Sean Juan!
Clerk 2: Let's not take any chances. I'll call the DEA and you call immigration.

After all of this agony, I got the same-sized boxes you get at Target or Rite-Aid. Bummer. But the trip turned out okay. In addition to cheese and bread, I also got great deals on Acetone, Denatured Alcohol, Lye, Rat poison, Starting Fluid, Paint Thinner, Toluene, Xylene, Red Phosphorous, Lithium Metal, Drain cleaner, Iodine, Anhydrous Ammonia, Camp Stove Fuel, and Coffee Filters.

The right not to feel ’uncomfortable’

Niqab The New York Times reported recently that British authorities are considering a ban on full-face veils, or niqabs, worn by Muslim students in British schools.

British authorities proposed new rules on Tuesday to allow schools to forbid Muslim students to wear full-face veils in class, reflecting a wider debate over Britain’s relationship with its Muslim minority.

The recommendation was the latest episode in a saga of rancorous discussion of the full-face veil, known as the niqab. Last October, Prime Minister Tony Blair described the niqab as a “mark of separation” that made “other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable.”

The Department of Education published the new guidelines after a court in Buckinghamshire rejected a 12-year-old Muslim girl’s demand to wear the niqab in class last month.

The proposed regulations, which have yet to be formally adopted, said the individual right to “manifest a religion or belief” did not bestow a right to demonstrate faith “at any time, in any place or in any particular manner.”

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George P. signs on for eight-year tour of duty

I was delighted to see this story on the Politico announcing that President Bush's heartthrob nephew, George P. Bush, son of Florida Governor Jeb Bush, has just been accepted in the Navy Reserves as an intelligence officer, where he will serve eight years.

Why is this good news? Because, as Kathy Roth-Douquet and Frank Schaeffer write in AWOL: The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service--and How It Hurts Our Country, far too few of our elites are willing to set aside their personal and career plans to don a uniform for a few years.

Bush--a young man who grew up in a wealthy family, and is the nephew of a sitting president and the son of a sitting governor--is about as elite they come. Bush is, moreover, the chief operating officer and part-owner of a successful real estate development firm.

As the Politico notes, after Bush finishes his intelligence certification, he "can volunteer for active duty or be deployed." (Note to the cynical: Plenty of Reserve officers have served, and continue to serve, in the Middle East).

George P. says he was inspired to join the Reserves after attending the commissioning ceremony of the USS George H.W. Bush, an aircraft carrier. "My grandfather's my hero, and what really sold me on the ultimate decision was having the chance to see the CVN-77 be commissioned under his name," Bush says.

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Suckled on Revenge, Part III

Fire The most heart-breaking aspect of A Long Way Gone is Ishmael Beah's loss of his own family before being forcefully recruited/coerced into the life of a child soldier.

Honestly, I can't fathom the pain he must have experienced. After being separated from his mother, father, and younger brother during the initial attack on his village, Ishmael spends about a year in survival mode with a band of other boys and his brother Junior. With no word on his family, and brutal atttacks happening all around him, it is hard to imagine his family even surviving. As I read the book, I had given up hope of Ishmael ever seeing his parents again. To add to the pain, eventually, he is also separated from his brother Junior.

This in itself would be a cruel journey, but to me there is nothing worse than what follows.

Finally, Ishmael gets word that his family has survived and is--miraculously--together living in a nearby village. He and his traveling companions are approaching the village when they see a man they had once known from their home-town. He tells Ishmael that his family is alive and looking for him, but he asks for help with a bananna crop as he is taking Ishmael into the village to find them. This slows them down a bit. In the interlude, RFP forces sweep into the village. As Ishmael narrates (Warning: violent material follows):

Continue reading "Suckled on Revenge, Part III" »

Federalism, Tweakers & Toilets

I'm still sick, so I'm going to presume upon your good will and rant some more. What gets me even angrier about the hassles associated with sinus relief is the fact that the tweakers on whose behalf I'm congested don't live anywhere near me: they're most likely on the west coast or in "fly-over country" somewhere.

Despite what you no doubt have read or heard, there is little, if any, evidence, that the "meth epidemic" has spread or is spreading across the country. Stated parochially, while meth abuse may be a major problem in Oregon and Oklahoma, it's not one in the Washington, New York or Boston areas. As former New York Times columnist John Tierney wrote,

Like addicts desperate for a high, [law-enforcement officials and politicians who lead the war against drugs] declared meth the new crack, which was once called the new heroin (that title now belongs to OxyContin). With the help of the press, they're once again frightening the public with tales of a drug so seductive it instantly turns masses of upstanding citizens into addicts who ruin their health, their lives and their families.

There was no compelling or even mildly interesting reason for Virginia's or New York's being forced to adopt the same rules regarding the sale of pseudoephedrine as Oregon or Oklahoma. Yet, that's what happened.

This is hardly new. More examples of ignoring local conditions and imposing a "one size fits all" approach are as close as your bathroom. We all take showers in what are, in effect, chrome lawn sprinklers. And, as for the toilet -- do I really have to go into detail?

Continue reading "Federalism, Tweakers & Toilets" »

Thumbs up for Florida

Finally, someone's getting a clue. As you may remember from my previous rant, I have an issue with, well, pretty much every aspect of the current approach to handling sex offenders. And from the number of thoughtful comments attached to my rant, it's pretty clear others do as well.

But it looks like there may be some potentially good news for residents of the state of Florida. Florida lawmakers are among the first of the states to wake up and recognize that the scope of current law does not even come close to intelligent. Lawmakers are re-examining the issue of teenage sexual relationships in an effort to stop "ruining some people's lives." Good call, Florida.

The new senate bill would allow for juveniles to petition for their removal from the state registry if certain criteria are met. While this bill only touches the edge of a huge problem, it's still a step in a good direction.

Second Chances, the Risky Business of Transformation

Ready4work Yesterday I went to a White House Compassion in Action round-table discussion on prisoner re-entry. It was so encouraging to hear about the good things happening across this country with other faith-based groups who are partnering to help meet the needs of returning prisoners.

One of the programs highlighted today was the Ready4Work Re-entry Initiative, funded and developed by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Employment and Training Administration (ETA), the U.S. Department of Justice, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. This 3-year pilot was created to link returning prisoners to organizations that can provide case management, mentoring, job training and placement.

The results, though still preliminary, show extremely encouraging signs of success. Of the 17 pilot sites, 11 focus on adult ex-offenders and 6 on juveniles. Basically, through job training, mentoring, and frequent personal check-ins, as well as the connection to the faith-based community, not only are these ex-offenders given an opportunity to surmount aggressive obstacles to successful re-entry, but also the employers who agree to take a chance on these men and women are given the much-needed insurance that there is a community surrounding these people who have a stake in their beating the revolving door.

A couple of years ago I got to spend a couple of days with one of our IFI graduates who was at that time working with a Ready4Work pilot program in Houston called Moving Forward.

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March 22, 2007

If I Felt Better, I Would REALLY Be Angry

I'm in the middle of the mother of all colds. But I cannot not comment. In the spirit of Gina's excellent piece in CT and Martha's all-too-sensible for plea for clarification, I have a rant.

When you feel like a Columbian Mammoth is parked on your sinuses and your head is about to explode, what you need -- no, what you demand -- is pseudoephedrine, a.k.a. Sudafed. But, have you tried to buy some lately? You can't simply go down to the Giant and grab some from the "Cough and Cold" section. Noooooooo! You must take a chit, like the one Toys R Us uses for video games, to the pharmacist's counter. And for much the same reason: people who want the stuff are presumed to be potential criminals.

There, she will ask for ID and check your name against a registry of every American who has had a cold in the past few years. (That's what it amounts to since the vast majority of meth is made with pseudoephedrine from Mexico.) You will then have to sign a statement promising, on pain of penalty, not to get a cold again in the six months.

Okay, I made the last bit up but that's what feels like. To make it worse, pharmacies don't keep the same hours as the rest of the store. You must seek relief during working hours. 

Stated bluntly, because some losers cook the stuff up, smoke it and then spend their time taking apart every electronic and/or mechanical device within reach while their teeth rot and fall out, I, and every other God-fearing, tax-paying, law-abiding American, can't get relief and must sit around feeling miserable.

Continue reading "If I Felt Better, I Would REALLY Be Angry" »

Living the truth

In today's BreakPoint commentary, Mark Earley reports on a new book by James Sire, and why it has special relevance to the times we live in:

[Christian apologetics] means not just arguing the truth of the Christian faith, but living that truth every day. It means that instead of lashing out in response to attacks and insults, we bear them patiently and respond with Christ-like grace and love. Instead of going for the jugular in a conversation or debate with a nonbeliever, we listen and answer with respect. Instead of thinking we have all the answers, we are ready to be corrected and to learn.

When have we ever needed such an attitude more than we do right now?

Read more.

Re: Presentado

At the risk of joining the ranks of the presentados (only kidding, Roberto :-) ), I've got an article up at Christianity Today's site that goes a little deeper into the HPV vaccination controversy.

Transgressions of war coverage

In the days following the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, we've been hearing a lot of news about the noble purpose of the war, how fantastically our soldiers and Marines and airmen have performed, how the surge is beginning to work, and how glad the Iraqis are that the Americans are there.

Oh wait....that's NOT what we're hearing. We're being hammered with body counts, body counts, body counts (and graphic pictures) completely without context. Some 155,000 people die worldwide every single day, of all causes. That will come as news to reporters and editors at the Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, ABC News, etc., who apparently operate under the delusion that nobody ever dies anywhere in the world, ever--except in Iraq.

Here's a bit of context: Of the 3,219 American deaths in Iraq, 2,581 are combat-related. Six hundred thirty-eight died of other causes: accidental drowning, suicide, accidents, etc. This means all those stories about how more soldlers have been killed in Iraq than on Sept. 11 are bogus. The death of every American soldier--in or out of Iraq--is a tragedy, but the fact is, nearly 400 fewer soldiers have been killed in combat deaths in Iraq than were killed by terrorists on Sept. 11 (2,973). Lumping non-combat Iraq deaths with the combat deaths is sort of like counting among the 9/11 victims New Yorkers who died that day of cancer, AIDS, car accidents, etc.

Let's also compare the combat deaths in Iraq to combat deaths in other wars. During the Vietnam War, we lost an average of 18 U.S. soldiers per day for 7 1/2 years. In World War Two, we suffered an average of 221 combat deaths every single day for four years. Compare that with the combat deaths in Iraq--on average, fewer than two per day since the war's beginning--and you will more fully realize the extent to which the mainstream media is oppressively battering the American people into thinking we are suffering huge numbers of casualties for no apparent reason.

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Faith of a rock star

Bononewsm You've seen him trotting around shopping for Red products with Oprah. You've heard about how the Pope wanted to wear his sunglasses. Now you can read about Bono's very real faith, a faith which he shares so openly and eloquently that he does the very best thing possible--makes non-believers wish for a God like the one he believes in.

Steve Beard has an article over at the BreakPoint web site, a review of French journalist Michka Assayas's Q & A style book of his conversations with the rock star activist, that is well worth the read. I was especially taken with Bono's parsing of karma and grace:

The thing that keeps me on my knees is the difference between Grace and Karma.

You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "As you reap, so will you sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. . . . I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.

(Photo courtesy of Thunderstruck)