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August 31, 2007

A Little Friday Humor

You may have seen this around in one of its many versions (I got it as an e-mail), but it still makes me laugh. Good for a Friday...

The Washington Post's Mensa Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners. Read them carefully. Each is an artificial word with only one letter altered to form a real word. Some are terrifically innovative:

1. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which
lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.
            
2. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
            
3. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people, that
stops bright ideas from penetrating. The Bozone layer,
unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.      

Continue reading "A Little Friday Humor" »

The Peking duck wasn’t enough

Just one more reminder of the grim reality of China's forced abortions: Yang Zhongchen's unborn daughter was killed because he didn't offer a big enough bribe.

Playing games with common sense

Remember all those fun summer nights spent playing flashlight tag with the neighborhood kids, or the hours of TV tag and freeze tag and ghost in the graveyard? It appears all the myriad variations of tag may soon be relics of the past.

What I'm really wondering, though, is how someone can chase you against your will. If you don't want to be chased, don't run. Problem solved. It's not much fun to chase someone who is standing still. If the teachers and parents had a little common sense, they would explain this to the kids who are complaining and playground tag would remain a fun recess activity.

Say what you will about tag, and kickball, and other "dangerous" games like Red Rover, but it seems rather coincidental that childhood obesity has become such a big problem at the same time that we're banning these very active playground pursuits.

That’s why they call it UNDER-wear....

Mark Earley is correct to say, as he did in yesterday's BreakPoint commentary, that many teens long to see stores offer more modest clothing. As Wendy Shalit notes in her book Girls Gone Mild, even clothing for pre-teens and toddlers is out of control. Visit the mall these days, and you will find--for pre-teens, mind you--French maid costumes, including garter belts. A Halloween costume company features "Child Pimp and Ho Costumes." You'll find shirts for toddlers with slogans like "Shopping Ho" and "lust" emblazoned across the chest.   

Unbelievably, when schools try to instill some sartorial discipline, it's the parents who give them grief. Shalit describes how a school in Arlington, Texas decided to institute a "cleavage crackdown"--and met resistance, not from students, but from a parent:

One student, Tyler Edwards, nodding with enthusiasm, said, "I think it's good that they're doing it"---the pressure to wear plunging necklines was getting out of hand. But a parent, Tom Pederson, found it necessary to vent his concern about the new dress code to a local reporter: "It puts a little bit of a policeman approach to the educators, and they really need to focus more on teaching."

Shalit also describes Chicago parents who were incensed when a teacher told their eighth-grade daughter to go home and change into something more in keeping with the school's dress code. The girl was, according to the teacher, either wearing a see-through shirt with no underwear beneath, or was wearing underwear and nothing else--both popular trends at that school that year. According to the teacher,

Her parents called up and there was a big powwow with the principal about his attitude and how--you know--Did he have bad thoughts? Was he lewd? And stuff like that. It was the principal's and the teacher's problem, according to the parent. That was the first time that we took seriously that there were parents that really didn't share our values.

I really don't know what to say about all this, except the obvious: Some clothing manufacturers are evil, and some parents are idiots.   

Blog-a-Book: Jeeves in the Offing II or Maybe III

Jeeves_and_wooster In a previous post, I told the story of my abysmal failure at using the “Dog Whisperer’s” technique to show the dog who the leader was. This past weekend I went again to visit Papa Moreland and his doggies. Only this time I wasn’t so certain of my ability to use the “Dog Whisperer” techniques, so with a more cautious manner, I approached the moose of a Labrador retriever, Luke, whom I’ve given the sobriquet The Brat. 

Before I could begin my second doggie psychology therapy session, Papa put Luke outside. Oh how I squirmed -- my limited time was being eaten away with (enjoyable) people conversation! Finally, the pressure became too great, and I made a break from the humans to venture outdoors to “chat” with The Brat.   

The Brat’s got the command to “sit” down pretty well, but he doesn’t stay there—he edges ever closer to his target—in this case me and my “petting” hand. I thought I had things under “Whisper” control, which was especially important because The Brat had just been cavorting in a muddy yard. My intension was to pay attention to him, make him mind, and also keep him from ruining my outfit. I saw him edging my way so I decided to try the Whisperer’s mommy-hand-to-the-side-of-the-throat technique to keep the 100-pound Brattling in his place, but lickety-split he sidled up to me and soon I was covered in red.   

To be brutally honest, Round II once again went to that big beautiful black-coated Brat. For a second, I titled my ear toward heaven wondering if I heard the tinkle of laughter, but no, it must have been the wind.

This event brought to my mind one scene in Jeeves in the Offing which includes a dachshund named Poppet, a cat named Augustus, a human named Upjohn, and a lake.

Continue reading "Blog-a-Book: Jeeves in the Offing II or Maybe III" »

Next time someone tells you God doesn’t have a sense of humor . . .

Ricky_bobby . . . tell them about the dog once named Ricky Bobby Baby Jesus who's fighting terrorism in a Muslim country.

(Photo courtesy of the Washington Post)

August 30, 2007

A Modest Proposal

Anyone else read Jonathan Swift's satirical pamphlet A Modest Proposal in high school? For me it was just about exhilarating as The Scarlet Letter. Now I'm realizing that every boring reading assignment had a purpose. In his Proposal, Swift criticizes 18th-century Irish nobility for their harsh treatment of the poor, by suggesting that instead of allowing the poor to burden them, they ought to just eat all of the children. Problem solved.

Of course, it was an absurd analogy--an absurd analogy that made an excellent point. But, what if Swift wasn't joking? What if disregard for the poor was truly analogous to killing a nation's children? And, what if this was not a "modest proposal" but a raw reality?

Now, allow me to make a less than perfect jump to a possible example of this graphic reality. Two days ago, Catherine spoke of the shocking betrayal of Tutsi people during the 1994 genocide by the Rwandan church. There was no gathering place known for more mass killings of the Tutsi than church buildings. Some clergy, like the pastor in Immaculee Ilibagiza's account of survival, risked their lives to save the Tutsi in their parish. Many more turned an indifferent cheek. Others ratted out the Tutsi they were pretending to protect.

Antoine Rutayisire, vice president of Rwanda's Unity and Reconciliation Commission, turns the tables on the West's pointing finger. Last year, in an interview with my friend Laura Waters, who is creating a film on reconciliation in Rwanda, Mr. Rutayisire pulled a "Jonathan Swift," although, unlike with Swift, there was no satire involved. He said:

I often tell people that when it comes to social issues, ethnicity, other social issues, the church is always lagging behind. In every country. Far worse even in your countries. . . . someone cornered me about where was the church during the genocide, and I said, right where your church is now . . . allowing babies to be killed.

Dark victory

The wonderful news:

Taliban kidnappers Thursday released the seven remaining South Korean hostages and handed them over to Red Cross officials, Afghan and Taliban officials said.

On Wednesday, Taliban militants released a total of 12 South Korean hostages, part of the group of 19 Christian aid workers who have been held for nearly six weeks [two had been executed and two released prior to this].

The kidnappers freed the 10 women and two men in three separate groups, a day after South Korea announced its team of negotiators in Afghanistan had reached a deal with them.

The not-so-wonderful news:

Under the terms of an agreement reached on Tuesday. . . Seoul promised to halt all Christian missionary work in Afghanistan.

Personal Jesus

In her latest Washington Post column, Sally Jenkins has a few words to say about Michael Vick's finding "convenient religion." Actually, the words are those of her father, the great Dan Jenkins:

"I'm so pleased Michael Vick found Jesus. I remember when Bonnie and Clyde found Jesus. It was during those moments when Ranger Captain Frank Hamer was peppering their car with machine-gun bullets. I also remember when John Dillinger found Jesus. It was just after he walked out of the Biograph Theater in Chicago, and federal officer Melvin Purvis said, 'Hold it right there, Johnny.' "

I get his point and I can hardly fault the Jenkins' skepticism, especially when, as Sally Jenkins noted,  "Paris Hilton packed a Bible when she went to prison, too."

But there is one small correction I'd like to offer. Bonnie Parker knew about Jesus long before Frank Hamer and company riddled her and Clyde's car. In one of her poems, entitled "The Trail's End," Parker foresees (not that it was all that difficult) how it would end for her and Barrow:

They don't think they're too smart or desperate,
They know that the law always wins;
They've been shot at before,
But they do not ignore
That death is the wages of sin.

Like a lot of people, believing in sin was easy for Parker -- it was grace and forgiveness that was incredible.

My Last Night on Earth, Again

Getting back from two weeks traveling around Africa, seeing beautiful countryside, meeting unusual people with unbelievable stories of forgiveness, can kind of make normal life seem, well, rather a little too normal. So last night, I was trying to remind myself of a few things I know, like this quote from Piper that I like so much:

"We waste our lives when we do not pray and think and dream and plan and work toward magnifying God in all spheres of life. God created us for this. . . "

It's always a challenge to remember the urgency of what we were put here to do, and to try to keep the mindset of pushing out the borders of the kingdom everyday. So as I was reminding myself of some of these things, I took out a letter written by one of my favorite lyricists, Linford Detweiller of Over the Rhine. I printed his letter out several years ago and keep it tucked in my journal for just such occasions. You can read the full piece here, but here are just a few snippets that help me remember my time here is short and I need to spend it well for the Kingdom:

Continue reading "My Last Night on Earth, Again" »

Quest for heroes

Alyce reviews M. E. Hawke's new book, One Perfect Hero: Jesus and the Five-Dimensional Narrative, on the main BreakPoint site:

The recent surge in popularity of comics-turned-action movies has shown us something. No, it isn’t that we are preoccupied with men in capes and tight shiny suits scaling towering city buildings. Although we are. They have revealed that we are fascinated with and desperate for the concept of a hero.

A further example of this is how, in the wake of any tragedy, people eagerly identify “heroes” in the events, individuals who performed especially brave deeds. Why do we yearn for such figures, even in a modern pessimistic society? Why do we embrace, retell, and cherish their stories?

In her book One Perfect Hero: Jesus and the Five-Dimensional Narrative, M. E. Hawke offers an answer: We long for heroes because we long for God in the person of Jesus Christ. She sets the Godhood of Christ within the context of the Bible as literature: “The Bible showcases the best examples from each category in all of literature because Jesus Christ is the perfect story hero.”

Read more to find out whether or not the book sucessfully follows through on this premise. And here's a bit of good news: Alyce and Jess are both staying on as bloggers although they've succesfully completed their Prison Fellowship internships. A warm welcome to both of them as permanent Pointers!

Amores Perros

Trouble Sometimes something is so wrong that it forces some of us to interrupt our vacations and the rest of us into a stunned silence.

This story is just such a "something." The woman who famously said that only "little people pay taxes"

. . . cut two of her grandchildren out of her $4 billion fortune, but left her largest bequest to Trouble, her tiny white Maltese.

A source said the $12 million trust was created to care for the dog, who once starred in ads for the Helmsley Hotels.

Helmsley even stipulated that the dog be buried beside her and her husband, Harry, in a five-star mausoleum that will be maintained with a $3 million perpetual-care trust.

Since I think that inherited wealth can be pernicious on many levels, I don't care about Helmsley cutting out her grandkids. But $12 million for her dog? Her dog!

E.J. Dionne noted that this story broke "a day after we learn that the number of Americans without health insurance has gone up by roughly 2.2 million." Some of you will see the connection as a non sequitur; for others, including me, the phrase Cows of Bashan comes to mind.

Blog-a-Book: Cyrano’s Loonier Landing

Cyrano2 In Act III, Cyrano may have become the Chuck Norris of wit -- delivering an endless supply of (rhetorical) lashings, himself impenetrable to an almost inhuman degree. His words have not only stolen the heart of the woman of his dreams, albeit through another's mouth, but he brilliantly fends off her would-be paramour by bantering as a crazy person. He is unfazed, and seemingly unable to be fazed.

The centerpiece of this display is the famous balcony scene, where Christian and Roxane have a romantic exchange -- in verse -- the former being coached by Cyrano from his hiding place in the shadows. Prior to that encounter, Christian had attempted to impress his love by his own poetic affection. He failed, and, in a rather cold response, she left and suggested he try again later. With Cyrano's assistance, however, Roxane is thoroughly charmed and enamored; Cyrano is, in turn, elated that she has been so moved by *his* words even more than Christian's looks.

Continue reading "Blog-a-Book: Cyrano’s Loonier Landing" »

August 29, 2007

Dark night of the soul

Under Jason's post on Mother Teresa, Diane asks:

Regardless of what we may learn about her inner struggles (what Christian doesn't have them?), she wanted those letters burned after her death. Shouldn't her wishes have been respected?

Good question. This is a tough issue and always has been. On the one hand, it’s been instilled in us that the wishes of the dying should be respected, and for good reason. On the other hand, would you really want to be the person responsible for depriving the world of the works of Mother Teresa—or Virgil, or Kafka, or Hardy? No matter how imperfect their works may have looked to them, they look pretty darn good to us. The mere act of putting a match to them would make me feel like a Philistine, on the level of the executive who reportedly brushed off Fred Astaire’s screen test with “Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little.”

Anyway, getting back to Mother Teresa’s spiritual crisis, another commenter, Carter Johnson, goes so far as to suggest that maybe her feelings of emptiness meant that she was following the wrong Gospel. I don't believe that. God has promised to be with us always, but that doesn't necessarily mean we'll always have what Dorothy L. Sayers called "lovely feelings." Sometimes we will, and they're important, but they're not guaranteed and they're not why we believe. I really like what Chuck Colson has to say on the subject in his BreakPoint commentary today:

Continue reading "Dark night of the soul" »

Just War (Jus in Bello) Is Really Hard...

...which is why you only enter into it (jus ad bellum) as an absolutely last resort. Especially against Islamist terrorists, as Victor Davis Hanson points out:

Several governments have defeated Islamic insurgencies, but usually only after about ten years, and adopting policies of summary executions and carpet bombing or shelling.

The Algerians in the 1990s finally stopped the so-called Islamic Salvation Army. The Russians decimated Chechnyan separatists. Syria’s Hafez al-Assad brutally exterminated several groups loosely affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, most infamously by the thousands at the town of Hama.

But so far, no recent military has succeeded in defeating a radical Muslim terrorist insurgency, while subject to a constitutional government and an absolutely free media.

Hanson further points out that this war, and the strategies we employ in it, are fundamentally different than those of our nation's past: 

Continue reading "Just War (Jus in Bello) Is Really Hard..." »

Attack Dogs of Christendom

David Aikman's recent article over at Christianity Today has some wise words for us (especially me) to keep in mind as we blog here at The Point. He's not arguing that we need to sweep our differences under the rug, but that we should be especially careful how we discuss issues. We need to keep in mind that unbelievers are reading what we are writing, so we need to make certain that they hear a spirit of Christian unity and love than transcends our theological disagreements or our different ways of applying God's Truth in our own lives. Here's how he ends his article:

No attribute of civilized life seems more under attack than civility. If Christians blast each other from here to eternity with characterizations that differ little from the coarse vulgarity of cable TV, where on earth is the witness that brings grace and savor to our crumbling civilization? Where is the gentleness, modesty, and wisdom with which we are supposed to shame those who mock and accuse the Body of Christ from outside? Christians should set an example. By all means criticize fellow Christians if necessary, but do so with grace.

RE: ’The rest is just conversation’

Gina,

That's Stuttaford for you. Some of his opinions make tons of sense. Others make you scratch your head. As always, it comes down to worldview, and he's made it clear in numerous places that his is an agnostic, utilitarian one.

As you say, Steyn nails it, summarizing nicely:

Only one hundred people out of 300 million get to be U.S. senators. Granted a wide public tolerance for creeps and weirdoes, an understanding that one will not solicit sex in airport men's rooms is about the minimum entry qualification.

The fact that there are a surprising number of what Steyn calls "creeps and weirdoes" among the (supposed) elite who represent us on Capitol Hill is a reminder that the sin nature -- which Stuttaford cannot acknowledge -- is not a respecter of status.

In fact, status is one of its most effective pressure points.

’The rest is just conversation’

Andrew Stuttaford goes way off-base in his reaction to the Larry Craig scandal:

Frankly, I don't care very much about the "dignity and character" of elected officials. Their job is to govern effectively, honestly and minimally. The rest is just conversation.

How exactly would one govern "honestly" -- or even "effectively" -- without character?

Mark Steyn makes a couple of good points in his response to Stuttaford, but be careful, it's not suitable for younger readers. Nor, for that matter, is the scandal itself, which is why I haven't gone into detail about it here. I just couldn't resist pointing out what a sad pass we've come to if we don't even understand why our public officials should have character.

Thought for the Day from Alexander Solzhenitsyn

"It is time in the West to defend not so much human rights as human obligations."  -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Forgiver and the Forgiven

As we've said, Zoe and I have just returned from two weeks of interviewing some 25 people in Rwanda: survivors, killers, and experts in the field of reconciliation. One of our main observations from the trip is that of the people who have been forgiven versus the people who have forgiven them, the forgiven often seem more plagued with despair than the forgivers. It has caused me to wonder: is shame more devastating than grief or loss? Is shame more difficult to be truly healed from? If so, why?

Does this ring true in your personal experience? Have you found it easier to find peace in the midst of your suffering than to know peace in the midst of your shame? Is it easier to move on after forgiving than to move on after hurting someone else if we truly understand and feel sorry for the nature of the pain we've caused?

Blog-a-Book: ’Not for any gains’

Prayinghands Next time someone tells you that Christians only believe in God because they're afraid of hell, you might share this with that person.

O God, I love thee, I love thee --
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
   In the everlasting burning.
Thou, thou, my Jesus, after me
   Didst reach thine arms out dying,
For my sake sufferedst nails and lance,
Mocked and marrèd countenance,
   Sorrows passing number,
   Sweat and care and cumber,
Yea and death, and this for me,
   And thou couldst see me sinning:
Then I, why should not I love thee,
Jesu so much in love with me?
Not for heaven's sake; not to be
Out of hell by loving thee;
Not for any gains I see;
But just the way that thou didst me
I do love and I will love thee:
What must I love thee, Lord, for then? --
For being my king and God. Amen.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

As you can see, the Book of Uncommon Prayer has some pretty great selections from Hopkins. But I noticed that my favorite is missing. Fortunately, Diane has already posted it here, so you can have a Hopkins twofer!

August 28, 2007

Different does not mean bad

Over at Wittingshire, Amanda Witt shares two very different stories of children with Down syndrome: Olivia and Daniel. Both stories make clear that it's the people who think these children have nothing to offer, who would rather dispose of them than make the time and effort to care about them, who are the losers. Sadly, as Amanda writes, "For all our culture's emphasis on diversity and tolerance, that's a truth too few of us really know."

Re: Betrayal

Mural2 I, too, returned with Catherine from Rwanda. And, I, too, saw the blood-stained altar, the bullet-pierced ceiling, the crypt of skulls and femurs, and the stacks of family coffins. As I climbed the steps from the dark corridor containing the remains of thousands who had died in that church, I glanced up and saw a purple blossom on a leafy overhang. A second later, a little child passed by on the other side of the fence, his backpack jostling up and down. He smiled at me shyly and kept on his way.

We visited a second genocide site, this one where 5,000 lost their lives. Bones lined the shelves on the back wall of the church. Clothes draped down the sides of the sanctuary like ghosts hovering over the pews. At the very front of the church, behind a pile of shoes, I noticed a small mural of the life of Christ. One of the last frames showed the Stone rolled away.

Skulls, blossoms, blood, smiling children, death, resurrection--I was gripped by the raw juxtaposition of horror and grace.

Death has left an oozing gash across Rwanda's flesh, but Christ continues to stitch up the memory of the slaughter with gentle fragrances of his grace and promises of resurrection.

"O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"
-- I Corinthians 15:55

The Crisis of Mother Teresa

Motherteresaindia In the current cover story of Time Magazine and a new book that compiles letters of Mother Teresa to her superiors, we learn that in her entire life as a nun, while being celebrated for her work, she experienced "darkness," "dryness," and "loneliness" of spirit. In fact at one point she questioned the existence of God. Mother Teresa believed in and loved God, she just couldn't feel or hear Him. She confessed in 1979 at the time she received the Nobel Prize, “Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.”

Just like her, all of us and all the great saints in the Bible and history experienced some kind of spiritual dryness. It has become part of our journey and finding God the highlight of our testimonies.

A sense of distance from the Lord hurts but it’s a demonstration of God’s love to let us feel broken and move us to daily pursue Him. Dryness is also God’s way of testing and refining our faith. To teach us that faithfulness is not because we “feel” God but because we trust God. Despite Mother Teresa’s inner struggles, she did not depend on her feelings but pressed on to do what she was called to do. She said, “You don’t have to be a saint to do good… you need willing hands not clean ones… If we wait for our souls to be totally clean, our time on earth will be swept away.” And finally she said, “When I finally see Jesus, I will tell Him that I loved Him in the darkness.”

What an excellent example of faith in the trustworthiness of God.

Betrayal

Altar_cloth2 As some of you know, I just returned from a two-week interviewing trip to Rwanda. While there, one of the places I visited is a church in Nyamata where thousands of Tutsis were slaughtered while seeking refuge during the ’94 genocide. Our guide, a woman who lost all her children and her husband in that church, seemed to be among the walking dead, her eyes vacant and glassy. She pointed out the blood-soaked altar cloth and the stains from where babies’ skulls were smashed against the wall.

Descending down a narrow corridor, we followed her blindly into what turned out to be a basement crypt lined with shelves upon shelves of skulls of those slaughtered there. The sights--now 13 years removed from their realities--left me nauseous, light-headed, and in tears. It is a picture of the ultimate betrayal and one that will not soon be erased from my memory.

Then today, I read Nina Shea’s Monday Washington Post article on the plight of Christians and other non-Muslims in Iraq. Beheadings, bombings, burning in acid--these are just a few of the grotesque punishments inflicted on this group that makes up just 4% of the population in Iraq and 40% of the fleeing refugees. Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds may disagree on a lot, but they find agreement in one area: inflicting pain on the Christian minority. While the situation in Iraq is not purely analogous to the one I saw in Rwanda, I can’t help but feel that to ignore the plight of the Iraqi Christians is similar to the actions of the Rwandan priests who allowed killers to come in and slaughter their congregations. Whatever our opinion on the rightness or wrongness of the war in Iraq, the truth remains that without policies put into effect to protect these Christian and non-Muslim minorities, a too-early withdrawal may leave the blood of these men and women on our hands.

Blog-a-Book: A different kind of grace

Prayinghands Here, a little child, I stand,
Heaving up my either hand;
Cold as paddocks though they be,
Here I lift them up to thee,
For a benison to fall
On our meat and on our all.

--Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Wikipedia tells us that paddocks, in this context, is another word for toads. Nowadays it might be considered a bit unusual to teach your child to pray, "Dear Lord, I lift my toad-like hands to you . . ." But you've got to admit, at least it's a bit of a change from the standard "God is great, God is good . . ."

Open thread: ’Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality’

My conversations with Brian keep scrolling off the page, so if you don't mind, Brian, I'll post a quick update and a blog-wide request.

In response to my question about his basis for scriptural interpretation, Brian referred me to Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality by Jack Rogers. I've never read this book. I would like to take a look at it, but this is a bad time: I'm already drowning in reading material, both required and unrequired. Has anyone else here read this book (or, alternatively, would anyone like to read it) and if so, would you be willing to share with the class -- er, discuss it here? I'd like to hear your points of view on the book and its arguments -- including yours, Brian, if you have the time and inclination to tell us more about it.

August 27, 2007

More thoughts on those ’difficult psalms’

I'll say this much for raging insomnia: It gives you a chance to catch up on your reading. The other night I finally managed to finish Chris Tiegreen's Violent Prayer, which I put on the recommended reading list months ago when I was only partway through it. I can't recommend this book highly enough. Not only does it teach some rarely heard but desperately needed truths about prayer, but it (finally) soothed me to sleep at 3 in the morning. Not that it's boring -- quite the contrary. But it is, in a strange way -- considering that it's all about fighting a very real battle with a vicious enemy -- comforting. I think that's precisely because it does acknowledge that the battle and the enemy are real, because that means acknowledging that prayer is just as real -- that it's not some passive exercise but one of the most powerful weapons we have.

It also has a chapter subtitled "Praying the Difficult Psalms," which elaborates on what Diane wrote on that subject last week. I haven't yet read the article she linked to, but this section of Tiegreen's book is so far the best treatment of this tough topic that I've ever read. A sample:

. . . We live in a different day than the Old Testament psalmists. In that day, Israel was the expression of the kingdom of God, and hostile nations were the expression of Satan's enmity. God's mercy is forever -- it doesn't change between the testaments -- but the nature of the clash of kingdoms certainly does. . . .

Today, we've been given a commission to send the gospel of grace into the whole world. . . . So we don't pronounce curses on our enemies, because our enemies aren't earthly kingdoms. But back then, they were. And that makes an angry psalm much more palatable.

So how do we use them in our worship?

Continue reading "More thoughts on those ’difficult psalms’" »

Kids watch the darnedest things

Captivity If you had any doubt at all about whom a lot of R-rated movies are being pitched to, check out some of the nominees (link contains some mild profanity) at the recent Teen Choice Awards. Call me old-fashioned, but the idea of Hostel II, Saw III, Captivity, and Knocked Up on the list of nominees for an award show geared exclusively to the under-18 set is making me gag.

Fighting dirty

Two recent examples show just how low the culture of rage and disrespect (one tenet of which is "If you dare to disagree with me, no treatment is too bad for you OR your family!") has brought us.

1. From the article Kim just posted about Dr. J. Michael Bailey and his research on transgendered women:

Dr. Conway, the computer scientist, kept a running chronicle of the accusations against Dr. Bailey on her Web site. Any Google search of Dr. Bailey’s name brought up Dr. Conway’s site near the top of the list.

The site also included a link to the Web page of another critic of Dr. Bailey’s book, Andrea James, a Los Angeles-based transgender advocate and consultant. Ms. James downloaded images from Dr. Bailey’s Web site of his children, taken when they were in middle and elementary school, and posted them on her own site, with sexually explicit captions that she provided. (Dr. Bailey is a divorced father of two.) Ms. James said in an e-mail message that Dr. Bailey’s work exploited vulnerable people, especially children, and that her response echoed his disrespect.

2. From Leslie Carbone's blog:

Political consultant Joe Stanley . . . has admitted that he bought the domain name olddominionblogalliance[dot]com--do NOT go there--and redirected it to the Web site of an organization that promotes child molestation. . . .

Continue reading "Fighting dirty" »

Torture by the Politically Correct Police at an Institution of Higher Learning

Psychologist J. Michael Bailey, from Northwestern University, was placed on a rack and the screws were plied mercilessly.

You see, Dr. Bailey published some unpopular scientific explanations that run afoul of the campus’s thought police, and found himself in a cauldron of bubbling vituperation.

I’ll let you read the details of his case in this New York Times article, but his story is a reminder that racks and screws, even figurative ones, have ruined many a career and have caused untold misery in the victims' personal lives. 

Lastly, actions like these PC hunts have a chilling effect on academic freedom, which will ultimately affect freedom countrywide.

I'd like to start a list of PC victims starting with four people who quickly come to my mind: Guillermo Gonzales, Iowa State University; William Dembski, Baylor University; Richard Sternberg, Smithsonian; Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist.

Feel free to add to the list.

An exception to the rule

Tonydungy Under Roberto's recent post about the increasingly thuggish culture of athletics, James Willis comments,

I totally agree Roberto, but if there is blame to be had it can only be on the fans. Anyone that supports these sports in any way gives tacit approval to the lifestyle of the players and the decisions of the managers. Occasionally there is a believer that really tries to stand for something in these sports, but they are unceremoniously cut off, ignored or even [chastised] if they persist in a bold witness. Is it time for all Christians to consider their involvement in these things?

That's a completely understandable feeling. Still, as Travis points out in a new article on the BreakPoint site, there are still a few good guys left in sports -- including one of the best-known figures in football.

What makes [Tony] Dungy an anomaly is that he recognizes his representation of Christ as an infinitely greater calling than managing a football team. Other players and coaches, even on the Colts, have shared a similar burden, though few have been granted the exposure of Coach Dungy in recent years. And few have offered so consistent an example of class and faith, withstanding the pressures of the job, the media, and circumstance. He remembers who is in control, even during the bad days—even during the really bad days. Therein lies the real core of Coach’s journey.

Read more -- and even if you're among the justly disillusioned sports fans around here, you just might find yourself refreshed.

Thought for the Day from John Stott

... [Thousands] of people still ignore Christ's warning [in Luke 14:25-30] and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called "nominal Christianity." In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their convenience. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.

(from John Stott's Basic Christianity 107). 

August 24, 2007

More from End Credits

I am glad to hear from CNN.com that major movie studios are putting more effort into creative movie end credits. I'm always bothered how people are quick to get up and the janitorial service start cleaning up the movie theater once the end credits of a movie started. For me, a movie is not over until the last letter or trademark rolls up. Watching the end credits is actually giving credit to the men and women who worked hard to produce the movie that entertained or inspired us. Just like what this blogger, who has the same sentiment said, "Leaving the cinema without staying for the credits is like eating dinner at somebody's house without saying thank you to the host."

Something to think about when you go out to the movies this weekend.

When a Blessing is a Curse

Mark Galli has just published an article in Christianity Today called "When a Blessing is a Curse" that tackles those pesky imprecatory prayers in the Bible, and asks why we are so often uncomfortable with them. What sparked his musings was a recent call by a California pastor (Wiley S. Drake) for his followers to pray for the "deaths of two leaders of Americans United for Separation of Church and State." 

While Mr. Galli comes to the conclusion that "Rev. Drake appears to have no love for his enemies but merely wishes them cursed," he nevertheless believes that some types of imprecatory prayers need to be in our repertoire, as in this case: "Love always seeks the other's good, to be sure, but seeking the other's good is a complicated thing. How many parents have wished and hoped that their drug addicted son would hit bottom, would come to the point of complete misery and hopelessness -- so that he would see God was his only hope? If this is not an imprecatory prayer, I don't know what is.... [Is] there not a way to pray for consequences, for pain -- for judgment! -- that leads to redemption?"

I know there is since I have uttered such prayers on several occasions and I have (thankfully) seen God's gracious and merciful answers as He worked to "turn around" His prodigal children. Sadly, I have rarely heard pastors teach the necessity of this kind of prayer, perhaps because it flies in the face of the dangerously impotent "let's just love everybody" version of Christianity that exists in our country.

Mr. Galli shows us a better way: "...[We] are a naive and sentimental people if we equate love with mere social grace and think that niceness will successfully confront the massive and intransient evils of our day, individual and corporate. Redemption -- personal, social, and cosmic -- comes only through suffering. The paradox is that while we should not wish pain on anyone, it seems to be a perfectly love and realistic act to pray for it." 

Open Thread: God’s Warriors

The CNN series God's Warriors with Christian Amanpour pulled in a huge audience according to Drudge. Many of you must have watched it. I caught the last 30 minutes of the 6 hour series. The part I watched covered Christian homeschoolers, Christian environmentalists and the teen-focused Battle Cry movement.

I did not see the rest of the series. Amanpour closed the series saying her job was to report what was going on (implying that she was not there to apply spin). Did she succeed? Was it a fair depiction of Christianity? Thoughts?

Revealing the More Excellent Way

It is no secret that American culture does not often proclaim chastity as a virtue. Most every corner of media and education seem designed to create or encourage lustful impulse. If that isn't discouraging enough, Roberto notes in his latest column at Boundless that young evangelicals may be as susceptible to that pull as anyone. The question is, how do we convince them to counter the culture?

Today love often has to wait a dozen years or even more while being surrounded by nearly-constant reminders of what it is you shouldn't be doing. If it's difficult to exercise what Rosin called "inhuman discipline ... over [one's] hormones" for three or four years; imagine what doing so for 12 or more years must be like.

This isn't an excuse or even an explanation: It's taking note of the larger context in which teenagers and young adults are expected to be continent, never mind chaste. If anyone is talking about this confluence of biology and culture in Christian circles, it's escaped my attention. (An obvious exception are my friends at Boundless and Pure Intimacy.)

But you can't fight a hegemonic culture with curricula -- no matter how well-designed -- and pledge cards alone. You need to create an alternative culture. By "alternative" I don't mean taking the dominant culture, sanding away the most obvious objectionable bits, i.e., those relating to sexual mores, adding a bit a "God talk" and, as my family says, "¡huepa!"

Continue reading "Revealing the More Excellent Way" »

Re: Rout, Rout, Rout for the Home Team

Travis: I couldn't disagree with you more.

One, it wasn't sad. It was glorious! I can't get enough of the coverage of the game. Any indignity inflicted on "Havana Pete" Angelos, who tried to keep baseball out of Washington all those years is, by any reasonable measure, a triumph for truth, goodness and light. I have nothing against Orioles fans, at least the ones who know that Washington and Baltimore are two separate cities, but their owner is another matter.

Two, you and I live in Washington, not Baltimore. The home team's name is spelled N-a-t-i-o-n-a-l-s or "Nats" for short, who, by the way, took three of four in Houston.

No Intelligence Required

Just in time for the 2008 celebration of Chas. Darwin, a film about scientific imperialism will be coming to a theater near you. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed starring Ben Stein promises to be an expose about the academic freedom or lack thereof of those who question the orthodoxy of Darwinism. The movie trailer can be viewed here. I’m hoping it will also address the fate of those who challenge the party line on global warming and stem cell research. It will be released nationwide on Darwin Day, Feb. 12, 2008. Stay tuned.

August 23, 2007

Rout, Rout, Rout for the Home Team

No David versus Goliath analogy. No good-and-evil metaphor. Not even an appeal to hope. Last night's Orioles game was just sad.

Meanwhile, ESPN's Page 2 puts together a hall of shame with the biggest wallopings ever.

Reliving the horrifying past

Recently, I wrote about the need to remember the Armenian genocide for BreakPoint WorldView magazine. An article in today's Los Angeles Times describes the renewed trauma that elderly survivors of the Jewish Holocaust face as old age and dementia bring their long-buried memories of brutality to the surface. It's not uncommon for Alzheimer's and dementia to cause people to relive the past, but usually we think of old women playing with dolls again, not the terror of a nursing home patient who thinks the Nazis are coming through the front door.

Can an Actor Become President Again?

Obviously one can become governor, just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger!

So what do you think about Fred Thompson for president? Can this Law and Order actor pull off the presidential scene professionally as well as he does on TV?

Yes, it’s a little early to be discussing the presidential election, but since I’m curious, I would love to see what you think.

Bullwinkle Beware!

Oh sure, he was cute as a cartoon with his pal Rocky the Flying Squirrel, but it seems the Norwegians are in league with Boris and Natasha. According to this shocking article, moose are being blamed for global warming. Apparently someone has discovered that a single moose can belch enough methane to out-pollute a car driving 13,000 kilometers. (Of course, being an American who never believed my elementary school teachers that we'd eventually convert to the metric system, I have no idea how far that really is.) The good news is that cars rarely survive an encounter with a bull moose, so driving 13,000 kilometers in a moose-infested country is probably unlikely.

Scientists on the verge of creating life

If you thought it couldn’t be done—well, think again. According to a recent release, scientists are confident that they will create artificial life within a decade. If you wonder what they mean by “create” and what they mean by “life,” Mark Bedau, chief operating officer of ProtoLife of Venice, Italy, explains that researchers will make a cell “from the basic chemicals in DNA.” This “protocell” will have

- A container, or membrane, for the cell to keep bad molecules out, allow good ones, and the ability to multiply.

- A genetic system that controls the functions of the cell, enabling it to reproduce and mutate in response to environmental changes.

- A metabolism that extracts raw materials from the environment as food and then changes it into energy.

Sounds like a mighty tall order to me, even if you believe that life is nothing more than a bag a chemicals in the right quantities and right configuration. Come to think of it—wouldn’t it be a whole lot simpler to start off something with all the ingredients in place, like a dead biological cell and figure how to bring life back into it?

Continue reading "Scientists on the verge of creating life" »

Rationalism or Smuggling?

Uber skeptic Michael Shermer is at it again. This time, however, he calls on his atheist brethren to be less militant. Why?

1. Anti-something movements by themselves will fail.
2. Positive assertions are necessary.
3. Rational is as rational does.
4. The golden rule is symmetrical.
5. Promote freedom of belief and disbelief.

Though Shermer starts out arguing pragmatically, he slips up and makes a couple of moral arguments. He argues based on the ultimate transcendent moral value (in his worldview): Human freedom. 

Shermer says, "A higher moral principle that encompasses both science and religion is the freedom to think, believe and act as we choose, so long as our thoughts, beliefs and actions do not infringe on the equal freedom of others."

Notice how Shermer smuggles in the language of natural law? Words like "higher" and "principle" seem oddly out of place to one whose worldview is that ultimate reality is matter in motion.

Kudos to Shermer for attempting to calm down the militants. Without transcendent moral principles, however, his moral argument can be defeated by simply asking "says who?"

Re: MLA blurb

Kim, I'm just annoyed that someone affiliated with the Modern Language Association couldn't be bothered to stick an apostrophe after a plural possessive noun. The queer theorists aren't the only ones who are frustrated.

You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me!

I have to admit, I had a great time trying to read a little Modern Language Association blurb which is floating about college and university listserves. (See below.) 

My suggestions are read it first, then laugh a lot, and then finally analyze words and context.  I’ll start us off with a couple words. In the first sentence, the word "conjunction" makes me think that the Association is trying to establish a logical relationship between the groups, like "eco-feminism" and "queer science." 

The next word I'll look at in that sentence is “generative,” meaning “queer nature studies” produce other little queer-ish ideas. I’m not sure why they see these exploding ideas—oops—I mean a generative notion “problematic” except for the fact that the Associates of Modern Language gurus are out to impress others with their torturous use of multi-syllabic “English” words. With so much obfuscation or stupefying verbiage, no one will question their literacy, or knock askew their mantle of legitimacy.

Okay, it's your turn to analyze.

"Queer Nature"

This panel seeks to explore the productive conjunction between queer studies and environmental studies crystallized in the problematic - but extremely generative - notion of "queer nature." It will situate itself within existing scholarship in ecofeminism and queer critiques of science, but it will push beyond these limits by exploring the profound queerness at the heart of the human and other-than-human world. It will, at once, take seriously queer theorists historical frustration with the naturalization of nature, especially in terms of the violent repercussions of naturalizing a heteronormative nature, but it will also take seriously environmental theorists call to figure the other-than-human world into our ethico-political theory and praxis. "Queer Nature" will fill in a gap, a gap sadly, and vaguely, at the core of both queer and environmental studies.

August 22, 2007

Blog-a-Book: A ’Masculine Fantasy?’

My summer reading has taken a few twists and turns. Besides getting distracted by reading Crime & Punishment, The Reagan Diaries, and an assortment of other small readings, I did set out, at the beginning of summer, to write several blogs about Jeeves in the Offing. Alas, I woke up the other day realizing that I’d gulped instead of savored the novel, making nary a note about either its cleverly worded sentences or hilarious scenes to continue my efforts to help garner a few more Wodehouse fans. Don't worry though, I promise to reread sections so I can post another review.

Before I do, I ran across an old article I had read before in the New Criterion article by another Wodehouse fan, Roger Kimball, titled "The Genius of Wodehouse." In his article, Kimball mentions Wodehouse’s authorized biographer and family friend, Frances Donaldson, who says that only one in ten Wodehouse fans are women. Shock! Gasp! Choke! Donaldson said Wodehouse’s Bertie and Jeeves books are “masculine fantasy,” which “women as a whole” don’t care to read. 

I know I started reading these novels in the '70s, and most of the people I know who are Wodehouse fans are also women. Here’s my question: what, if anything, changed over the years that make Wodehouse’s “masculine” novels palatable to women?

Thought for the Day

The misery of man is derived from his idolatry, from his partly conscious and partly unconscious effort to make himself, his race, and his culture God. This idolatry is not broken until man is confronted with the real God, and find his pride broken by the divine judgment, and learns that from this crucifixion of the old proud self a new self may arise, and that this new self has the fruits of the spirit, which are love, joy, and peace.

-- Reinhold Niebuhr from Love and Justice

How does your garden grow?

Cornfield According to this article in the New York Times, that question is on the minds of more and more religious folk these days. Organic farming methods, humane treatment of animals, and fair wages for workers top the list of concerns.

On organic farming:

“Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”

On humane treatment of animals:

...[Myron and Catherine Horst] put their chickens out to pasture during the day, gather the eggs by hand, and move them back to shelters at night. It is far more work then keeping them cooped up or caged, but for the Horsts the Bible’s promise of dominion “over every living thing” entails responsibilities as well as rights.

And on fair wages for workers:

Roy Brubaker, a Mennonite who grows strawberries, blueberries and vegetables on his 20-acre farm near Mifflintown, Pa., said: “My faith tells me that workers should be fairly paid. I have never paid the minimum wage. That is not the biblical standard for a living wage.”