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« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

July 31, 2007

Who’s the mystery guest?

Silhouette Check in tomorrow morning for a Point exclusive: the first part of a four-part interview with a very special guest!

DIY Abortions

I'm sure there's much more to this tragic story -- the deaths of four preborn children in Maryland at the hands of their mother -- that will emerge in the coming days and weeks. For now, it simply seems more than a bit sadly ironic that the mother's name is Freeman and the apparent father's name is Godman.

Re: Russian Bear

Diane,

I actually think the Russian problem is a bit more complex than can be captured by dropping the f-bomb ("fascism") on the situation. Yes, there is much to be concerned about, particularly from a human rights perspective, but having lived in Ukraine for a year ('93-'94 ... okay, so it was eons ago), I can say with conviction that the Russian and Ukrainian people often think about their lives and freedoms very differently than do we. Do they want "freedom?" Well, yes. But they -- especially Russians -- also want their country to be great. And they want a higher quality of life than they've been experiencing since the USSR's dissolution.  There's a real, latent nationalism there, and Putin has tapped into it.

Then there's the security situation you mention ("[G]iven Russia's ties to Islamofascist regimes ... she's too dangerous to ignore."). But it's actually the Islamic population within their own borders that concerns them greatly.

Spengler does a nice job of describing that problem in this entertaining faux dialogue between President Bush and President Putin:

Continue reading "Re: Russian Bear" »

The Russian Bear Awakes

The title "Sex for the Motherland: Russian Youths Encouraged to Procreate At Camp," certainly grabbed my attention, but the rest of the article by British journalist Edward Lucas made chills go down my spine. The article is fairly lengthy, but well worth the read if you want to know about the rise of fascism in the not-so-former Evil Empire. It frustrates me that the American news media can't find the time to report on Russia since it's so busy serving up the daily-drizzle about Lindsey, Britney, and Paris. Yet, given Russia's ties to Islamofascist regimes (Iraq under Saddam and Iran), she's too dangerous to ignore. 

Beware: Ugly Jewelry May Be Coming to a Store near You

Rough_diamond With a heavy heart, I must tell you that the other day Gina read and passed around an appalling Wall Street Journal article to a few of us here at Breakpoint. Vying for a niche in the rich novelty market, top jewelry companies like De Beers and Tiffany are selling as finished product un-cut and un-polished diamonds. Gina sums up the problem, “I know there are lots of different styles of jewelry, but this is just plain UGLY.” Unfortunately, people are buying it and it isn’t cheap. 

Gina is absolutely correct. Mankind, or most of mankind, craves beauty, and the crafting of jewelry is a perfect example of man being a co-creator with God. What’s lacking from these stones is the refining dedication of an artisan, who turns an ugly piece of rock into a gem which sparkles brilliantly like sunlight flashing on a body of water.   

As Russian philosopher and theologian Nicholas Berdyaev aptly wrote in The Destiny of Man, "God created man in his own image and likeness, i.e. made him a creator too, calling him to free spontaneous activity and not to formal obedience to His power. Free creativeness is the creature’s answer to the great call of its creator. Man’s creative work is the fulfillment of the Creator’s secret will."

Berdyaev is expressing a high view of man and his freedom to create in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. The antithesis of truth, goodness, and beauty is degeneration. When people believe they are truly autonomous and stop acknowledging their status as co-creators with the Creator, they start producing ugliness, like this “novelty” jewelry.

Re: Thought for the Day

Gina,

That quote about academia reminds me of Stanley Kurtz' posts over at The Corner yesterday (here and here), in which he advocates eliminating tenure for professors. Of course, Kurtz is concerned with the effects of the obvious ideological groupthink more than the quality of writing and concludes thusly:

More than anything else, the conversion of tenure from a protector of academic freedom into an instrument of ideological exclusion is responsible for the destruction of the campus marketplace of ideas. Tenure is the cornerstone of the campus political-correctness problem, and even beginning a serious effort to remove it would almost certainly shake up the entire academic system. The time to consider a serious campaign to eliminate academic tenure has come.

I'm not a writer, and if Jim Gleeson were to deign to review my posts, he could have some fun at my expense. But I am deeply concerned with the current dearth of instances of the marketplace of ideas. Where is it, after all, that one can freely debate politics and (more importantly) faith, if not the college classroom? The workplace? No, that's considered poor taste. Church? Sure, so long as you are going to spout the proper, conventional maxims, pulled from the "correct" Christian authors and pastors.

We need more instances of the marketplace of ideas. That requires creative thinkers to generate new venues for such marketplaces, but it also requires taking back ground that's been lost. Including the universities. I don't know if eliminating tenure is the answer, but I don't know of any better ideas either.

What Will They Think of, Next?

Why is it that the release of a movie, a book, or a video game system can spark such a cultural phenomenon? If James Emery White is correct, it is not the allure of the "new" that is so intriguing, but the thrill of the "next."

Turn on the TV and you’ll find “America’s Next Top Model” on CW and “Next” on MTV.

There are even stores specializing in the “next” through “fast fashion,” such as H & M and Zara, which replace their entire line of clothing every few weeks.

Our preoccupation with “next” has replaced our earlier fascination with “new.” The difference? New is what something is; next suggests a special insight.

Christians can be captivated by “next” as much as anyone.

Just think church. Pastors often joke about a “migratory flow pattern” among Christians in their community who are constantly church-hopping to the “next” thing in church life. They move from one church to another, looking for the next hot singles group, the next hot church plant, the next hot speaker, the next hot youth group. Many times they end up full circle where they began, because their original church suddenly became “next.”

Continue reading "What Will They Think of, Next?" »

Thought for the day

"There's a certain degree to which academia prepares you to write badly."

--Jim Gleeson, winner of the 2007 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for bad writing

(Note: There are a few naughty entries listed here.)

Re: Light Summer Reading

I like Crime & Punishment a lot, although I find the end rather unconvincing. The great novel I can't stand and find virtually unreadable is Moby Dick. The book is like passing a kidney stone. It would make a great short story -- unfortunately it's 600 pages long so we get bad cetacean biology and 132 different ways to say "I love the sea" and "Sailors, especially whalers, are colorful."

Any cracks about Dickens will get you an angry albino Sperm Whale in your shower.

A Question of Faith

Some of us bloggers at The Point have been having a little tête-à-tête offline, inspired by this article on Donald Miller's book Blue Like Jazz, about this thing called “faith.” We thought we'd let you in on some of our ramblings so that you could join the conversation.

You’ve heard the charge: “Religious belief is nothing more than blind faith.” Considering Paul’s remark “We live by faith and not by sight,” that charge seems spot on. But is it?

Standard dictionary definitions characterize faith as confident belief in something for which there is no proof. That aligns well with Paul’s definition: “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” But if faith is beyond “sight” and proof, on what does our confidence rest? On what basis are we to believe that the Bible is true, Jesus rose from the dead, and that God exists? Because the Bible teaches it, the pastor preaches it, or because Grandpa believed it, so it’s good enough for me?

Considering the Great Commandment--“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”—it is clear that, at some level, “confident belief” must have a rational component, as opposed to a purely non-rational (and certainly not irrational) basis. In other words, our relationship with God is based partly on the weight of logical argument and/or material evidence. While neither amounts to “proof,” they are adequate to give us certainty about the central tenets of the faith.

Now it’s your turn to pipe in… What is faith? What is the basis for confident belief? How broadly do you think our certainty should apply?—to belief in God only, to the central doctrines of the faith, to everything in the Bible? What role does mystery play in Christian faith? Is too much emphasis being placed on certainty in Christian circles?

July 30, 2007

Last Week’s Sojourn at a Thursday Next Lecture

Let’s face it, some people have it all, like the ability to write complex plots and excellent oratorical skills which leave people laughing in the aisles. I’m not exaggerating when I say Mr. Fforde (the extra f and e are silent) could take home a tidy sum if he agreed to appear on Comedy Central.

Laughter aside, in the Q & A session, one fellow asked him if he read all the books he wrote about. Will wonders never cease—Fforde replied that at a minimum he read the main novels he used as plot devices (or characters) in his books. Another person asked him his top 10 all-time favorite books. After a rather convoluted and funny spiel about reading and books, he neatly evaded the question.

Now here’s the real story behind the Fforde/Moreland/Dalfonzo picture saga: I was supposed to be the photographer, but Gina loaded my arms with parcels while she had her book signed then quickly slipped away with camera in hand. I was feeling pretty disheveled after working all day and standing in a bookstore with 20 million other fans for 2½ hours, and after seeing distinct signs of heat and weariness upon other fans, I could only image a very crumpled looking Kim posing beside a nicely groomed man. Gina, on the other hand, was sporting a wrinkle-free blouse and looked fresh and collected.

Alas, I have to admit that Gina took a pretty good picture of me. Nevertheless, I swear, the next time I’m going to take charge of her camera!

Besides Gina, Diane, and me, are there other Fforde fans lurking about? If so, tell me about your favorite scene or character. I don’t want to spoil too much of the suspense, but somewhere in the first three books there’s a scene where Thursday Next escapes a dastardly fiend and plops herself into a book where the landscape is bucolic, and its inhabitants mild and smiling. Can you tell me in what book it occurred and what were the inhabitants' intentions toward Thursday?

Keep Chief Justice Roberts in your prayers

The Chief Justice suffered a seizure and a fall this afternoon (H/T NRO). It sounds as if he's recovering well, but you might want to take a moment to say a prayer for his complete recovery.

(You might also want to take a moment to mourn the state of our political discourse.)

Art for art’s sake

Seventh_seal Legendary filmmaker Ingmar Bergman died today at age 89. I won't pretend I was a devotee, because I never saw more than a few snippets of his films. I am a film buff, but my tastes run more to Cary Grant being dashing or Gene Kelly splashing in puddles than Death showing up for a game of chess.

Nevertheless, my attention was caught by this quote reprinted in the New York Times (via Cinematical), from this minister's son who rejected faith and yet was fascinated by it:

"I want to be one of the artists of the cathedral that rises on the plain. . . . I want to occupy myself by carving out of stone the head of a dragon, an angel or a demon, or perhaps a saint; it doesn't matter; I will find the same joy in any case. Whether I am a believer or an unbeliever, Christian or pagan, I work with all the world to build a cathedral because I am artist and artisan, and because I have learned to draw faces, limbs, and bodies out of stone. I will never worry about the judgment of posterity or of my contemporaries; my name is carved nowhere and will disappear with me. But a little part of myself will survive in the anonymous and triumphant totality. A dragon or a demon, or perhaps a saint, it doesn't matter!"

Philistine that I am, I still wouldn't deny that Bergman was a gifted man. But it strikes me as tragic to have had so great a gift and yet so misunderstand its purpose -- to think that the purpose of creating was the act of creation itself, rather than the result.

Blog-a-Book: Christ, ’Christian Realism,’ and True Horror

Peacock2 In a letter to a close friend, referred to only as “A,” Flannery O'Connor talks about the reactions to her short-story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find, in the title story of which, a character called the Misfit murders an entire family.

I am mighty tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man brutal and sarcastic. The stories are hard but they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. I believe that there are many rough beasts now slouching toward Bethlehem to be born and I have reported the progress of a few of them… when I see these stories described as horror I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.

Flannery, writing later to the same individual, endeavored to clarify the concept of “Christian Realism”:

The term "Christian Realism," has become necessary for me, perhaps in a purely academic way, because I find myself in a world where everybody has his compartment, puts you in yours, shuts the door and departs. One of the awful things about writing when you are a Christian is that for you the ultimate reality is the Incarnation, the present reality is the Incarnation, and nobody believes in the Incarnation; that is, nobody in your audience. My audience are the people who think God is dead. At least these are the people I am conscious of writing for.

For Flannery, the reality of the Incarnation, like Jeremiah’s fire sealed up tight in his bones, formed the demarcation between horror and her patent “Christian realism.” So what happens when the audience that thinks God is dead addresses horror? Works like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness in which the epically evil Kurtz screams out that very word when confronted with the blackness of the human heart, and movies like the recently released film Sunshine.

Continue reading "Blog-a-Book: Christ, ’Christian Realism,’ and True Horror" »

Re: Light summer reading

It's been many years since I had to read Crime and Punishment as an undergraduate, Kim. About all I can tell you is, never, ever try to cram that one at 1:00 in the morning.

Pot Calling Kettle

Las_vegas I haven't made up my mind about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). But I do know what I think about this story.

RENO, Nev. - Nevada is among the states with the most dramatic increase in average temperatures the last 30 years, according to a new study that examines the impact of global warming across the country.

[Snip]

"The scientific evidence of global warming is incontrovertible, and Nevada is feeling the heat more intensely than most of the rest of the U.S," said Stephen M. Rowland, Professor of Geology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

[Snip]

"Nevadans are starting to understand that global warming is affecting us right now, and that our elected officials need to start making some tough choices to protect our quality of life," said Kyle Davis, the Policy Director for the Nevada Conservation League and a member of the Governor's Climate Change Task Force.

What I think is that it's impossible to imagine a place with a bigger per capita carbon footprint than Las Vegas. Nevada is a place whose very existence is based on a deliberate, systematic and wanton disregard for the natural order. So, please shut up! Or at least have the decency to turn down the lights.

Is Anyone There? Light Summer Reading

A long-time friend of mine, Dan Sullivan, asked me to join his quarterly book club. I agreed to do so, but for one reason or another, have failed to show up for the discussions.

However, here on The Point, I’m making a public pledge to show up for next month discussion on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

I have a confession to make: Despite really wanting to, I have never made it past the first few chapters of a Dostoyevsky novel. For work (thanks to Chuck), I skimmed through then read a biography about him, Dostoyevsky: The Years of Ordeal, 1850-1859 by Joseph Frank, which I can heartily recommend. (Since Dan is a big Dostoyevsky fan, I bought him a copy. Putting him on the spot: Good sir, have you read it yet?)

My sentiments about Dostoyevsky and other Russian writers is well expressed by P. G. Wodehouse in his novel Jill the Reckless:

No wonder Freddie [Rooke] experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a hard day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city reservoir, he turns to the cupboard only to find the vodka-bottle empty.

After expressing this sentiment to Dan, who has read Crime and Punishment seven times, he suggested I first read the novel lightly, going deep only in places.

Is anyone else in blog-land trudging through Crime and Punishment?

Pope Endorses Evolution

In light of the “many scientific proofs supporting evolution," Benedict XVI called the controversy between creationism and evolution an “absurdity.” Is the Bishop of Rome abandoning creation ex nihilo for the Darwinian narrative? Hardly, though that’s the impression one might get from a recent news release.

While Pope Benedict gives credit to evolution for our understanding of life, it’s not the “evolution” embraced by the Darwinian faithful or that portrayed by the media.

Like most knowledgeable theists, the Pontiff accepts the validity of limited change and adaptation through genetic variation and natural selection—namely, “micro-evolution.” (The development of pesticide-resistant insects and drug-resistant bacteria are textbook examples.)

What he (like most theists) clearly rejects is the catechistic creed of naturalism that a gradual, unguided process of Nature is responsible for the origin and panoply of life—that is, “macro-evolution.”

That Benedict endorses micro- versus macro-evolution is evident from his statement that while “evolution” answers certain questions about life, it fails to account for how “it took a path that arrived ultimately at man.” Curiously, the news article left out that qualification.

Such carefully chosen excerpts are sure to help religious naysayers overcome their resistance to the genius of Darwin. After all, even the Pope must admit “that evolution can co-exist with faith.”

Gosh, Michael, Tell Us What You Really Think!

I didn't watch the YouTube debate between the Democratic hopefuls the other night, but evidently Michael Reagan did -- and he wasn't happy about it, as his article "The Hollywood Culture Takes Over" indicates.  First, he derides the whole Hollywood culture -- "the culture of the coke-snorting, booze-soaked Hollywood of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan and the rest of Tinseltown's decadent and far-Left celebrities." Then he lambasts CNN for turning over the Q&A sessions to "a weird conglomeration of clownish inquisitors" -- such as a "sock puppet asking about global warming" and an "AK47-toting fanatic" asking about gun ownership.  Michael's disdain for the whole YouTube debate -- and for anyone who accepts such a farce as legitimate public discourse -- can be heard in his final words:    

When the culture of Hollywood dominates the political discourse you end up having debates that tell the American people nothing of substance. Politics becomes a spectacle something like the Academy Awards where the participants show up in their most glamorous attire, mutter a lot of meaningless dialogue, celebrate each other's celebrity, while the media ogles from the sidelines. The Hollywood-ized debates are stupid.  The other night, CNN went a step further and made them asinine.

I'm sure some of our bloggers saw this debate. What do you think? Is Michael Reagan on target or off?

Run Away from the (Komen) Cure

Breastcancerribbon Right to Life of Montgomery County, Md., reports that Planned Parenthood has been sued for not reporting instances of child sexual abuse, including of an 11-year-old girl in California, a 12-year-old in Arizona, and a 16-year-old in Ohio. In Connecticut, according to their newsletter, On the Beat, "A 22-year-old-man was arrested for impregnating and having a 14-year-old aborted three times in six months. Newspaper reports say it was the girl's mother who alerted authorities, not the abortion facility."

Well, of course Planned Parenthood didn't report the assaults--it would have meant the loss of--what does an abortion go for these days?--hundreds of dollars in subsequent abortion fees. Remember these child rapes the next time someone tells you that all Planned Parenthood cares about is the well-being of women.

Remember them, as well, the next time someone asks you to donate to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the breast cancer awareness orgainzation. Why? Because Komen has, according to public records, given huge donations in at least 22 states to Planned Parenthood for breast care services. However, as On the Beat points out, "Breast exams by PP have decreased tremendously." So what is PP spending all that money on? Even if PP spends the Komen money on breast health care, the fact that the abortion giant is receiving this money frees up PP's other funds for such things as contraception for underage girls, abortions, grotesque sex education programs, and other monstrosities.

If that weren't bad enough, Komen endorses embryo-destructive research--which means the organization is willing, in theory, to see embryos killed in order to help breast cancer patients.

My own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago (and survived) so this is an important issue for me. Rather than giving to Komen, or taking part in their runs, why not donate to one of the many worthy breast cancer organizations listed here? Just ignore the Komen Foundation, unless you'd like to fill out the little box inviting you to tell your breast cancer story. I did--explaining why I wasn't donating to them.

Be careful what you parody

At long last I got my hands on the new Thursday Next novel (thank you, Borders Express, which apparently had the only copy left in my corner of northern Virginia). So far I'm enjoying it as expected. But I confess that one particular satirical passage gave me pause:

"Incredibly enough, reality TV has just gotten worse."

"Is that possible?" I asked. "Wasn't Celebrity Trainee Pathologist the pits?" I thought for a moment. "Actually, Whose Life Support Do We Switch Off? was worse. Or maybe Sell Your Granny. Wow, the choice these days makes it all so tricky to decide."

Bowden laughed.

"I'll agree that Granny lowered the bar for distasteful program makers everywhere, but RTA-TV, never one to shrink from a challenge, has devised Samaritan Kidney Swap. Ten renal-failure patients take turns trying to convince a tissue-typed donor -- and the voting viewers -- which one should have his spare kidney."

It makes me nervous when people write stuff like this about TV, especially reality TV, because it seems as if, without fail, the wildest parodies people can make up always end up coming true sooner or later. It's as if the reality TV gods keep tabs on these things and make them real just to punish the irreverent. "Samaritan Kidney Swap? Brilliant! Now, which network should we shop it to?"

Continue reading "Be careful what you parody" »

Islam in the Spotlight

The Washington Post and Newsweek have undertaken an interesting project: to dissect the often uneasy relationship between Islam and Western ideals. This has included a magazine cover story and a week-long discussion on the On Faith blog site (to which Chuck Colson contributed).

This is as relevant and necessary a topic to address as there could be on this multimedia stage. But it's hard not to notice that most of the voices in these features address Islam from a moderate, liberal, perhaps even secular viewpoint. What is largely missing is a doctrinal defense or apologetic of the tenets of the Muslim religion, or any support for the violent strain of the faith that has made its presence so maddeningly known.

The absence of the latter isn't so bad, perhaps -- after all, we all want the condemnation of "moderate" Muslims to drown out the insane actions of the radicals. Yet it's not always made clear why Islam is so incompatible with acts of terrorism. As Chuck asks, "Why is there not a more concerted effort to take back the Muslim faith from those who use it for ideological gain -- in my opinion, the advancement of fascism?"

The Newsweek story, on the other hand, seems to focus primarily on the quest of American Muslims to blend in seamlessly with the rest of the public -- a quest made more difficult following September 11. Again, however, this approach draws more upon cultural or ethnic differences than the religion that creates them, and its foundational worldview or truth claims.

So while this is a debate that is worth presenting in national publications and websites, has it really told us anything about Islam? Or is it just another reminder that, by the way, most Muslims aren't terrorists? A fair point, but it doesn't explore the nuances of the belief system held by terrorists, or the belief system held by non-violent believers.

’We Are Not Our Behavior’

"We are not our behavior...."

The line jumped out at me as I read a recent article on sex offenders. The quote from an offender began, "I... realize there is goodness in me, that God doesn’t make crap." It seems, however, that many would disagree.

I'm well aware that there are a plethora of feelings out there in regards to the topic of sex offenders. Clearly, if one views criminals as the scum of society, then one probably sees sex offenders as the fungus that feeds on the scum (to partially quote from My Best Friend's Wedding). And society is afraid of this fungus.

That's exactly why I bring up the topic again. Society deserves the truth. It's time to squelch the fearful myths of the public and shed some light on this dismal topic -- both for our benefit, and for the benefit of the offender.

Continue reading "’We Are Not Our Behavior’" »

July 27, 2007

Too Weird for Words

What do the following have in common?

1) Michael Jackson
2) Filipinos
3) The Backstreet Boys
4) Prisoners

Yes, it's creepy, and you might not believe it, but the BBC sure does.

Scott Thomas revealed

It turns out Scott Thomas, of New Republic "Baghad Diarist" fame, is Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp. He has revealed his identity, which turns out to be that of a soldier, husband of a TNR staffer, and a creative writer (link contains profanity).

It's interesting that this guy (this link also contains profanity), with wide experience of overwrought young creative writers, more or less called it days before Beauchamp came forward. That is, he got the MFA part wrong, as far as I know, but he seems to have a pretty good understanding of the mindset.

It's also interesting, as Mark Steyn points out, that Beauchamp calls his critics' disbelief a slur on his character. "How DARE you deny that I'm the kind of person who would make fun of a disabled woman to her face!" is rather a weird defense, to say the least.

Anyway, though Beauchamp has identified himself, he still has yet to explain how a Bradley Fighting Vehicle is capable of slicing an average-sized dog in half. Stay tuned . . .

Simpsonize Me

Oh, this is too fun. Upload your picture (or that of your best friend, your spouse, your 7th grade teacher, your boss, or your pastor) and see what they'd look like if they lived in Springfield. I haven't gotten it too work yet; it keeps rejecting my photos--Doh!--but if I get one to work I'll try to post it. In the meantime, there are some examples up at After Ellen blogspot. If you simpsonize yourself, post your pic and share with us!  Everybody needs a laugh on a Friday!

Indulge yourself -- for a good cause

Bead_bracelet My turn to suggest how you can use your baser instincts to help the poor! :-) In all honesty, the last place I expected to find a way to reach out to suffering Ugandans was in the pages of my September issue of BeadStyle magazine. More often, that's where I go when I'm looking to indulge myself.

But here we have an intriguing blurb on how you can actually combine those two goals:

BeadforLife is a nonprofit organization that creates jobs for a group of Ugandan people fleeing war or living with HIV/AIDS. Before joining the group, which BeadforLife calls Kakwanzi power, these 39 women and one man earned less than $2 per day. Today, they earn $145 per month. The artisans recycle calendars, posters, and pamphlets from local markets, cut the paper into strips, roll the strips into beads, and varnish each bead twice. The beads are not painted; the brilliant colors come from the print on each page. A 2-oz. (57g) bag is $12.

BeadforLife's website shows just how beautiful the results of this unusual process can be. (The image at right is based on a BeadStyle design using these beads.) If you're a beader, or interested in getting into beading -- I'll warn you right now, it's highly addictive and rather messy to boot -- this looks like a great way to spend some of your bead budget.

Dear Sy,

I think Gina's point is about demographics and Reverend Longcrier seemingly representing most voices of a certain voting bloc instead of a minority (used in the broader sense of the word).

You seem to have a problem with most arguments made on this blog regarding abortion and homosexuality -- do you suggest these behaviors are compatible with a Christian worldview, or simply that the arguments themselves are lacking?

Re: Nigerian Money Scam

Diane, your post brought to mind one of the funniest articles I've read in a long time, "How To Trick an Online Scammer Into Carving a Computer Out of Wood," in the June 2007 issue of the Atlantic Monthly. It tells the story of a online subculture of people, known as "scam-baiters" . . .

the avengers of the Scamosphere, who’ve arisen to take on “419” con artists, the scammers who pose in spam e-mails as agents for the widows of deposed finance ministers of Dubai or vice chairmen of the Ivory Coast Cocoa Trading Board . . .

The legions of scam-baiters seek to con the con artists, often with remarkable artistry of their own. They tease the scammers with promises of payments that don’t arrive, with wired funds from banks that don’t exist, with Western Union money transfers that go awry. They lead the scammers on wild-goose chases to pick up checks from couriers who don’t materialize, insist the scammers perform ridiculous stunts, and ask them to pose with demeaning signs to prove their commitment to the transaction. Blinded by the same greed that blinds their marks, the scammers take the scam- baiters’ bait and, often as not, end up as heads on the virtual wall in the scam-baiting Web sites’ “trophy rooms.”

As the title suggests, the masterpiece of this genre was getting a would-be scammer to carve a Commodore 64 out of wood. The counter-scam, "performed" by Mike Berry, who had previously "induced scammers to write out entire novels by hand, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy and most of the Harry Potter series," was said to have "a postmodern, meta feel to it, the counter-con being a piece of performance art about the creation of a work of art."

I laughed so hard, I almost cried. Then I felt kind of guilty because, as the article suggests, there's something sadistic about all of this. Funny but sadistic.

Continue reading "Re: Nigerian Money Scam" »

Nigerian Money Scam

Nearly every week, I receive emails from people in Nigeria who want to send me money, supposedly from a now dead, long-lost relative. Mostly, I just laugh and delete these messages. However, out of curiosity, how many of our bloggers have had this experience? 

Hopefully, none of us have been foolish enough to fall for this scam -- a potentially dangerous one as well as one that can cost victims loads of money, as revealed in an article at the ECFA website

Related to Zoe's post on knowing where your charitable dollars go, I recommend that you consider giving to organizations with the ECFA stamp of approval. She's right: there are entirely too many religious scam artists out there taking money for their own personal gain. Didn't we learn anything from Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? 

Re: Cold snap in hell

Whatever you do, do not fail to click on Roberto's link below. The caption about "Jesus the mule" (second photo) is not to be missed.

Cold Snap in Hell: Film at Eleven

Mule The Roman equivalent of "when Hell freezes over" was cum mula peperit: "when a mule foals." Mules, as you probably know, are donkey-horse hybrids. Whereas a horse has 64 chromosomes and a donkey has 62, mules have 63. Since an even number of chromosomes are needed to reproduce, mules are sterile.

Apparently, no one bothered telling Kale, a mule in Colbran, Colorado. As the Denver Post told its readers,

[Laura and Larry Amos] spotted a foal peeking out from between the front legs of one of their favorite black mules, Kate. They tore outside to save the baby from the male mules - the johns - that were trying to stomp the little critter and the other female mules - the mollies - that were trying to steal it.

And then the Amoses began to ponder how the foal had fooled mule sterility, a phenomenon first noted by the Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Genetic tests have confirmed that the foal is Kate's offspring, which leaves scientists wondering "how?" and leaves me also wondering "what does it mean?" According to the Post, when a similar event "reportedly happened in Morocco five years ago, locals feared it signaled the end of the world. In Albania in 1994, it was thought to have unleashed the spawn of the devil on a small village."

My take isn't as dramatic as either of these: what do you think that the seemingly-impossible birth of a donkey-like creature in a key swing state augurs? That's right.

Do You Know Where Your Money Is Going?

This is a question we ought to be asking ourselves every time we pull out our checkbook for that monthly donation to Compassion International, International Justice Mission, or . . . Prison Fellowship. But, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that most times we slip that check in the mail and forget about it.

Fellow donors, beware!

This week, WORLD Magazine ran an excellent article about Wall Watchers, an independent financial watchdog for other nonprofit ministries. Wall Watchers began when founder Rusty Leonard, former investment consultant, realized that one of his clients knew more about his stock returns than his donations. This red flag sent Leonard on a scavenger hunt to track down the financial statements for the organizations he himself supported.

The results were disturbing. Several of the ministries Leonard contacted either couldn't, or wouldn't, supply him with financial information. For example, Wall Watchers claims that Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), an organization that claims to have global impact for Christ, stashes away $340 million in cash and short-term investments, a profit-margin comparable to Microsoft. And, according to Wall Watchers, Benny Hinn Ministries, a ministry that conducts Miracle Crusades, doesn't broadcast the fact that Mr. Hinn drives both a Mercedes SUV and a convertible, both valued at about $80,000.

Thankfully, Leonard and his staff discovered that these organizations were the exception, not the rule. Most of the ministries they contacted were more than willing to hand over papers that showed they had impeccable stewardship track-records.

But this should be a lesson to us all that before we fill in that memo line, we should check out Wall Watcher's "naughty or nice" list, Ministry Watch.

Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week #7 & #8

Pavarotti I must say, it was a thrill having Roberto fill in for me last week and provide the Weekly Must-Have. It was like having Chuck Yeager fly your plane. Like having Luciano Pavarotti sing your opera. Like having Mario Andretti drive your car. Like having Barry Bonds pinch hit for you.

Wait ... not Barry Bonds. Maybe Mark McGuire.

No ... how about Jose Canseco? Hmmm, no. Well, you get the picture.

Actually, I'll be honest: If the scientists at BALCO ever develop a Riverabolic steroid, I'll be the first in line. No doubt about that.

Anyhow, this week's Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week is, to make up for my previous absence, a double-shot of two fantastic tunes:

Continue reading "Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week #7 & #8" »

July 26, 2007

The road less trodden

Fforde2 Last night, Jasper Fforde, author of mystery fantasy comedy novels much loved here at The Point, gave a reading from and took questions about his latest, Thursday Next: First among Sequels. Kim and I battled D.C. traffic and a woefully unprepared bookstore ("What do you mean YOU'RE SOLD OUT OF THE NEW BOOK??") to be in attendance. Despite the inconveniences, we and the other 20,000,000 or so fans jammed into the small space had a terrific time. That's Kim you can see peeking over Mr. Fforde's shoulder in the picture -- which you can see better if you click on it -- and you can all thank me for the tussle I had (a) to get her to be in the picture at all and (b) to get her to let me post it here.

It's hard to believe anyone can have as prodigious an imagination as the creator of Literary Detective Thursday Next, but having gotten a glimpse into some of that imagination's mysterious interior workings (one of the author's literary inventions was inspired when he happened to be in a museum shop and thought to ask them if they had any dodo cloning kits available), I came away even more inspired and awed. One of my favorite parts of the talk, though, was when he was talking about how his love of taking "the road less trodden" -- a nicely Anglicized version of Frost's famous line -- led him to make his heroine into a one-man woman. He had thought of making her a character with a checkered dating history and lots of annoying ex-boyfriends, when it occurred to him that it would be something new and different nowadays to let her enjoy domestic bliss instead. Which turned out to be, I think, one of the most endearing things about a very endearing series.

At least, if one's definition of domestic bliss can include having one's husband eradicated by the Goliath Corporation for a couple of years while a mnemonomorph called Aornis Hades tries to erase all your memories of him.

But that's all in a day's work for Thursday Next. If you're one of those Potterphiles forlornly wondering what on earth to read now -- or even if you're not -- might I suggest you give these delightful books a try?

Sins of the mothers

Chuck Colson talks in today's BreakPoint commentary about Wendy Shalit's excellent Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be Good. As the title suggests, the book examines the way many members of the younger generations have found that the sexual libertinism preached by their elders leaves only emptiness in his wake, and are choosing something better for themselves. For instance:

“I knew that my arguments [in my first book] . . . might be challenged,” Shalit recalls now, “but nothing prepared me for the tongue-lashings I would receive from my elders. . . . [Feminist writer] Katha Pollitt called me a ‘twit.’ . . . The Nation solemnly foretold that I would ‘certainly be embarrassed’ and regret my stance ‘in a few years.’”

Well, it’s now been a few years, and Wendy regrets nothing. . . . Shalit is still convinced that true strength and happiness come not from deadening one’s emotions and having sex for fun, but from practicing modesty and self-restraint.

And guess who’s on her side?

As Shalit recounts, “To find out why modesty is more appealing to younger people, [feminist writer Katha] Pollitt might have talked to her own daughter, Sophie, who . . . was disgusted by contemporary sexual norms.”

Read more. And watch this space for more on Girls Gone Mild.

Blog-a-Book: ’Jeeves in the Offing’

Jeeves_and_wooster Since I have recently been writing about the divine notion of laughter and joy, I thought it appropriate to pick a P. G. Wodehouse novel for blog-a-book. Besides laughter, another aspect of comedy is truth. Some suggest that comedy is really a falsification of reality, but as author Adam Thirlwell writes in the Guardian Unlimited, “There is no reason why comedy should force you to falsify….Only false comedy falsifies.” Comedies provide us with glimpses of our foibles and follies. That said, above all else, P. G. Wodehouse’s highest mission, and he said so himself, was to entertain. (See Wodehouse in His Own Words.)

While Wodehouse’s comedies are timeless, I think we can all relate to the absurdities and funny situations which arise in the Wooster and Jeeves universe. Wodehouse set his Wooster-and-Jeeves comedies in a time in which he was familiar—England’s Edwardian era. 

In Jeeves in the Offing, Wodehouse quickly sets a humorous tone with the dialogue of a simple telephone call between Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, our loveable protagonist, and his Aunt Dahlia. After answering and establishing the identity of the caller, Bertie greets her warmly with “A very hearty pip-pip to you, old ancestor.” So starts this comedic tale which will be filled with frustrated lovers, a lie, a libelous article, and purloined items, along with a spot of blackmail.

Wherever Bertie goes, trouble is soon to follow. Bertie is honorable and lovable, but his Wooster Code of Honor (let's call it the W.C.H.) tends to land him in dire straits where he has to call upon his faithful and erudite butler, Jeeves, to help disentangle him or his friends from a predicament. In the foreword of Wodehouse on Crime, Isaac Asimov says the code of honor includes never sullying a woman’s name and promptly responding to situations with “act of chivalry and kindness.” Because of the Code, Bertie goes along with harebrained schemes against his better judgment.

Although readers love him, Wooster’s English landscape is positively littered with people who for one reason or another loathe the fellow. While Bertie is an intellectual lightweight, he has plenty of admirable qualities--chief among them that he isn't above a spot of larceny for a good cause. 

Speaking of Harry

Christianity Today has a piece up about various ministries and their perspectives on Harry Potter, and how different views can be found even within the same ministry. The Point and BreakPoint radio are among those mentioned. Read it here.

RE: ’Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’

Obviously, my earlier post on the last Harry Potter book has generated a lot of controversy: Are these books Christians should be reading or not? I've been listening to this debate for years now, and have been asked the question many times by people who know I'm both an English teacher and a Bible teacher. My answer has always been "yes" -- but with certain reservations, of course.

First, as an English teacher (someone who loves "fiction") and as a Christian (someone who loves "Truth"), I know that there is only one perfect book in existence: the Bible. All other products of the creative impulses God gave to men and women fall short of perfection: sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. We're each going to have issues that will determine what we deem worth reading -- or limits to how much hard mental work we're willing to do to glean gems of Truth from these less-than-perfect products of man's imagination. Frankly, I have had to wade through a lot of novels that weren't worth the time or trouble, no matter how many times my teachers said, "This is a literary classic everyone should know."   

Second, years of steering students through works of literature have taught me that some students (for a variety of reasons) never seem able to get beyond a superficial understanding of a given work, while others are able to see subtle details and, thus, arrive at a more accurate and deeper understanding of the writer's themes and purpose. I believe that much of the controversy over reading Harry Potter stems from this distinction. From the beginning of the series, some Christians have dismissed them out of hand because the characters are witches and wizards. The Bible forbids witchcraft, thus the books are evil. Period. My answer to that is simple: if you believe it's a sin for you to read the Harry Potter books, then it is. Or, to adapt Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 10 about eating meat offered to idols, "Your conscience won't allow you to read Harry; mine does." 

Why? Because anyone who has read the series from beginning to end can tell you that the witchcraft depicted in these fantasy novels has nothing to do with the type of occult activities forbidden by the Bible. Even real-world Wiccans scoff at the idea that Rowling is writing realistically about what they do. By the very nature of the genre, the setting and many of the events depicted within are short on verisimilitude: brooms don't fly, hippogriffs and dementors don't exist, doors don't unlock when we wave a stick at them, spiders don't talk, people aren't naturally divided into two camps--Muggles or magicals, etc. Kids above the age of five get this, even if many adults don't seem to.

But while the setting is unrealistic, the underlying meaning of the story is something every Christian should appreciate: our willingness to sacrifice ourselves to save and protect others, the value of love and friendship over power and control, the ongoing battle between good and evil (both within and without) that we must all come to terms with, and the realization that death is not the end of life.

Continue reading "RE: ’Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’" »

Daughter Dearest

At the New Republic Online, Sacha Zimmerman says that Lindsay Lohan is "allergic to the word 'no.'" I have a theory as to why she -- and others like her -- are "allergic," but, first, let me address those who think that any time one of us writes about a celebrity or pop culture trend we turn The Point into a "tabloid." Two things:

  1. I disagree.
  2. Tough.

Back to being allergic. Stories like Lohan's bring to mind Roberto's Law of Parenting Number 3: a minor child should never be the principal means of support for a middle-class (or better off) family. It disrupts/distorts/demolishes the parent-child relationship too much.

It's bad enough when parents live vicariously through their kids' academic, artistic or athletic achievements. We've all seen how that can twist people and screw up their kids. Imagine if Tiffany or Jason is paying the bills or is the ticket to a lifestyle they'd only previously dreamed about?

Parents are supposed to take care of their kids, who, in turn, later take care of their parents. I am supposed to be Roberto, the son of Perpetua and Josue -- that is the direction in which identity is supposed to flow.

Continue reading "Daughter Dearest" »

The Sixth (Feline) Sense

Cat If you find this cat at your doorstep, you'd better call the funeral home.

What Would Luther Do?

Would Luther have supported same-sex unions? Mark Tooley looks at what we know of Luther's beliefs to see on which side of the debate this Reformation hero would have fallen. Read more at the American Spectator.

Re: Virtual Reality

Faith, not fair: I thought that your post was about this song. You wonder "why?" First, there are lyrics like

And I'm thinking in what a mess we're in
Hard to know when to begin
If I could slip the sickly ties that earthly man has made
And now every mother can choose the color of her child
That's not nature's way
Well that's what they said yesterday
There's nothing left to do but pray

I think it's time I found a new religion

Then, of course, there's the hat.

Re: Representing the constituency

Commenters Sy and Beth have been debating what my point was in this post -- specifically, whether I thought John Edwards came off looking good or bad -- and have asked me to weigh in. Glad to oblige. :-)

In fact, my point had very little to do with Edwards, unless he was the one that chose the questions that were asked of him. (I'm not very clear on how they were chosen, actually.) It had more to do with Reverend Longcrier, who forbore to mention that besides being a pastor of a church, he's a member of this advocacy group

What interested me was the blatant PR move. How do you publicly undermine your opponents? When a member of one of the groups most opposed to your cause (as my link to the Pew Forum showed, black Protestants have a higher rate of opposition to same-sex marriage than almost any other group in the nation) speaks for you in a national forum. Brilliant. It would be like a Catholic bishop asking a self-professed Christian candidate to support abortion in the name of religion.

July 25, 2007

Looking for a few good men and women

Hi everyone! I'm working on a story for an upcoming issue of Jubilee newsletter, our flagship publication at PFM. We'd like to highlight various ways that the daily BreakPoint radio commentaries or The Point blog have made a difference in your life.

In particular, I'm looking for concrete actions that you may have taken as a result of listening to one of our radio commentaries or reading one of our blog entries. For instance, did you read about our $100 challenge and put an idea into practice? Have you been spurred to get involved in local politics or have you shared a clearer defense for the faith after listening to our programs daily? Whatever your story, we'd like to hear it. Could you either leave a comment below with your email address so I can contact you or send me an email at Catherine_Claire@pfm.org. I'd love to hear your story and I'm sure it would encourage all of us here. Who knows, maybe the action you've taken would inspire other readers to action!

Suffering Starlets

Lohan Pop culture really isn’t my beat. I just don’t care about the kinds of things that fill the tabloids. And yet, I find the recent troubles of Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton fascinating. Not that I find their behaviors particularly surprising; no, when I say I’m “fascinated,” I mean I’m fascinated by our responses to their behaviors.

We react, of course, like humans do. Which is to say that our Pride kicks in and we think, “Those imbeciles! They have everything and look what they do! For shame!”

I’m particularly fascinated when Christians feel this way. Don’t get me wrong, there was a time when I’d have felt similarly. I, too, would have thought “For crying out loud! These women have wealth, fame, looks, fans, TV shows, movies, mansions, Ferraris … everything! And look how they squander what they’ve been given. Now they’re getting what they deserve.”

But, more and more, I’m gaining a conviction that far from “having everything,” these young women have absolutely nothing. Nothing that matters anyway.

How, precisely, do wealth, fame, looks, and the other tools of the pop culture fame provide anything that matters? In fact, don’t we see Jesus warn constantly about the trappings of wealth? Sometimes, it seems like we must think Jesus was joking in Matthew 19:23&24, Luke 6:24, and Luke 8:14 (ah, Jesus, that kidder!).

Continue reading "Suffering Starlets" »

You Look Just Like . . .

Matt_groening A post at the Undercover Black Man reminded of an exceptionally silly website I visited a while ago. After free but tedious registration (if you're not careful, you could be filling out a loan application), My Heritage will let you upload a picture of yourself and, using facial recognition software, tell you which celebrities you most resemble.

Like I said, I did this a while back but I'd forgotten how hilarious the results can be. Here are the celebrities I "most resemble" (in reverse order):

And the closest thing to a twin that My Heritage can find for me:

I'm intrigued at the software's insistence that, whatever my parents may have told me, I'm really a German/Jewish male or an Italian-American female.

You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay...

I've gotten some interesting responses to my blog entry about not being allowed to use the title "Mrs." when I fill out forms, including one from a royal personage. My husband responded, as well. He says a friend of his wondered how much attention professional organizations really pay to what people put on the registration forms for attendance at, say, a national convention. On impulse, instead of listing his proper title -- "veterinarian" -- the man wrote: "Ruler of the Universe." Sure enough, when he arrived at the convention and picked up his official nametag, beneath his name was "Ruler of the Universe." He spent the next five days wearing it.

I'm not sure there's any point to this story except that it's interesting that at the same time people are becoming more controlling about how we identify ourselves on paper, fewer people seem to be paying attention to what we actually put in those little boxes. Either that, or veterinarians really do rule the universe....

Virtual Reality

Picture this: Middle East turmoil brought right to your game cube. Your mission: facilitate peace.

Many of you familiar with my previous rantings re: Left Behind, Eternal Forces can probably imagine my annoyance when I initially heard about a new game called PeaceMaker. "Oh great, another cheesy game." Yet, PeaceMaker has sparked my interest. Imagine a positive, real-time game that, according to its website, "challenges you to succeed where others have failed." I like the sound of that.

Perhaps this type of game would be an educational tool as well, accurately teaching child and adult players about the ins and outs of real, current world events. Or perhaps it will be filled with the same meaningless propaganda that we see on the news every night.

But what do you think about allowing current situations to serve as story-lines for new games? Would playing a game about Middle East conflicts somehow desensitize us to the true horrors of the situation, or would it provide us a deeper understanding of the truth of the situation?

Blog-a-Book: ’He that lives must mourn’

Prayinghands The titles of the two poems by Charlotte Brontë (author of Jane Eyre) in The Book of Uncommon Prayer tell a heartbreaking story: "On the Death of Anne Brontë" and "On the Death of Emily Brontë." In the space of about eight months, Charlotte's brother had died of alcohol- and drug-related illness, and both of her brilliant and beloved sisters, with whom she had lived and worked so closely, had died of tuberculosis. Two other sisters had died in childhood, and their mother had died when Charlotte was five. (Charlotte herself, the longest-lived of all her siblings, would die shortly before her fortieth birthday.)

The tragedies that overshadowed Charlotte's life grant a special power and poignancy to the lines that show her battered but unshaken faith (from the poem to Emily):

My darling, thou wilt never know
The grinding agony of woe
  That we have borne for thee.
Thus may we consolation tear
E'en from the depth of our despair
  And wasting misery. . . .

Then since thou art spared such pain
We will not wish thee here again;
  He that lives must mourn.
God help us through our misery
And give us rest and joy with thee
  When we reach our bourne!