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September 28, 2007

Colson on A-jad and Freedom

And, to make it a trifecta, the third strong Friday column on A-jad's excellent Columbia adventure belongs to our own Chuck Colson, who reminds us of the true foundation of human freedom:

On the international stage this week we saw on display two visions for the world and its people: a vision of tyranny, a vision of freedom.

First at Columbia University, and later at the UN, we had a preening and blustering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the apocalyptically minded president of Iran.

While the invitation to speak at Columbia was outrageous, I do credit the students for asking the right questions. They forced attention on Ahmadinejad’s crimes, present and planned: the dream of an exterminated Israel; the death penalty for homosexuals; oppression of women and persecution for Iran’s Christian population; the quashing of political dissent; and the funding of regional terrorism.

Continue reading "Colson on A-jad and Freedom" »

Goldberg on A-jad and Columbia

In another humdinger of a Friday column about A-jad, Jonah Goldberg ends with an impressive roundhouse to the solar plexus of Columbia's defenders, making a strong point that I admittedly never considered:

[T]here’s been a lot of high-minded gasbaggery over this elusive idea of “academic freedom.” A more selectively invoked standard is hard to come by. Somehow, when former Harvard President Larry Summers, one of America’s most esteemed economists, told a group of academics that the distribution of high-level cognitive abilities may not be evenly spread out among men and women, activist feminist professors got the vapors and claimed, from the comfort of their fainting couches, that their hysteria could only be cured by Summers’ head on a platter. But Ward Churchill, a penny-ante buffoon who seems to have downloaded his Ph.D. from cheapdegrees.com, compares the victims of 9/11 to Holocaust planner Adolf Eichmann, and suddenly academic freedom demands Churchill keep his tenured job forever, at taxpayers’ expense.

More to the point, academic freedom wasn’t at issue in the Columbia case. Unlike Summers and like Churchill, Ahmadinejad wasn’t trying to explore the truth. Holocaust deniers aren’t truth-tellers, they are deliberate liars and hucksters. Ahmadinejad didn’t want “dialogue,” he wanted propaganda points. He was there as the mouthpiece for a dangerous, oppressive regime. But many opponents of the Bush administration think the Iranian regime has been inappropriately demonized, and the Columbia crowd thought they could help defuse tensions. The irony is that Columbia’s decision backfired, and the university actually magnified that alleged demonization.

But let’s not forget that Columbia didn’t have the courage to say honestly that it wanted to dabble in foreign policy and controversy, not free inquiry.

Noonan on A-jad and Presidential Candidates

We've had a lot of discussion this week about A-jad's visit to Columbia U. Peggy Noonan's thoughts on the matter are worth considering:

So much silencing. It seems so weak, so out of keeping with who we are. We love the tradition of free speech in America, but you don't want to judge its health by what we've done with it lately, or to it.

In 1960 the premier of the Soviet Union came and spoke in the United States. Nikita Khrushchev was our sworn enemy, and a vulgarian--sweaty faced, ill educated, dressed in a suit just off the racks from the Gulag Kresge's. I was a child, but I remember the impression he made. He took off his shoe and banged it, literally, on the soft beige wood of a desk at the U.N., as he fulminated. His nation had nuclear weapons. They were aimed at us.

...Khrushchev's trip and Castro's were all about propaganda, all about sticking it to Uncle Sam. And here's what happened: Nothing. Their presence hurt our country exactly zero percent. In fact it raised us high, reminding the world we are the confident nation that lets its foes speak uncensored. As an adult nation would.

Continue reading "Noonan on A-jad and Presidential Candidates" »

Fighting for Burma -- Part 2

Since my last post the other day on Burma or Myanmar, violence in the country is still escalating every day. The death toll is rising, including the death of a foreign journalist.

The situation reminded me of what Martin Luther King Jr. wrote on his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutually, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow provincial outside agitator idea.

Although MLK wrote this with Americans in mind, his words are still true for all, especially us Christians who are mandated by God to help protect and preserve the world in need. Wherever we are, we now cannot consider ourselves outsiders from other nation’s affairs and needs for democracy and peace.

In connection with this, I searched the Internet for information on Burmese Christians' participation in the pro-democracy rallies, but I can't find any (or maybe I'm looking in the wrong places). If anyone knows any updates or personal stories of Burmese Christians, and how they are dealing and getting involved with the demonstrations, please share it with us here on The Point.

Rollerblading Jesus?

Rollerblading Dave Shiflett has a great piece up at the Wall Street Journal about the "growing phalanx of religious action figures," including a Jesus figure that "comes in several incarnations, including a football player, skier, roller blader and the best-selling 'Baseball Jesus Sports Statue.'"

While the figures may, as one toy company claims, remind children that "Jesus is with us in everything we do, watching over us & involved in all of our acts & activities," Shifflett notes that one can only too easily imagine "a play session in which Jesus is sent rollerblading past Moses . . . perhaps screaming 'Out of the way, you geezer!'" (As the mother of two sons who used to enjoy playing with action figures, I can easily imagine far worse scenarios--boxing matches between Jesus and Goliath, for instance, or Samson getting his head twisted off and fed to the dog.)

Chuck had a few things to say about "Christian merchandise" a few years ago in this BreakPoint. More and more often, he said, we are finding Christian underwear, outerwear, knicknacks, rubber duckies, and other tacky artifacts in Christian stores:

The problems with these "artifacts" is not that they are inconsistent with people's beliefs. It is that there is something vital missing from those beliefs: an appreciation of taste and beauty. . . . Pursuing beauty is as mandatory as the pursuit of truth and goodness, which is why aesthetics has historically been considered a branch of moral theology. St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and C.S. Lewis all wrote that beauty, like truth and goodness, has its origin in who God is, in His very nature.

On the other hand, Chuck writes approvingly of Christian action figures called "Holyland Heroes" that matched Biblical bad guys and good guys--David and Goliath, Samson and a Philistine soldier, Moses and the Egyptian Pharaoh--and which come with a booklet providing the appropriate story from Scripture.

Continue reading "Rollerblading Jesus? " »

Blog-a-Book: Moment of inspiration

Prayinghands Like my heroine Harriet Vane, I'm incurably honest in matters of literary criticism. Which is why I have to say that Francis Thompson (1859-1907), British poet featured in The Book of Uncommon Prayer, wrote incredibly hokey poems.

Take the theme of what it would have been like for the Lord Jesus Christ to come to earth as a little child. Right there you have the material for a haunting, powerful poem. From Thompson, we get this:

I should think that I would cry
For my house all made of sky;
I would look about the air
And wonder where the angels were;
And at waking 'twould distress me --
Not an angel there to dress me.

"Not an angel there to dress me"?

I'm sorry, that's just . . . hokey.

Which makes it all more amazing to me that Francis Thompson also wrote one of the best known, best loved, most beautiful and moving poems in the entire Christian tradition. To wit:

Continue reading "Blog-a-Book: Moment of inspiration" »

Bureau of Prisons reverses course on religious books

Good news!

LANSDOWNE, Va., Sept. 26, 2007—Today the Federal Bureau of Prisons issued a statement to NPR’s Talk of the Nation indicating that it will "alter its planned course of action with respect to the Chapel Library Project." In order to rid chapel libraries of violent materials, the Bureau of Prisons had recently removed all religious materials from prison chapel libraries except a very limited number of resources. This effort elicited a vocal response from chaplains and a diverse group of faith-based and religious organizations that work with prisoners—including Prison Fellowship, the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners and their families—who believed the new policy impeded prisoners’ access to a variety of wholesome, faith-filled books.

Read more in Prison Fellowship's press release.

Recommended Reading: ’World War IV’

I picked up Norman Podhoretz's new book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, a couple of days ago. Once I started it, it was hard to put it down for such mundane reasons as going to work or sleeping. In one word, it's brilliant.

If you are like me, you get so confused by all the screaming about the war in Iraq -- especially by critics who actually seem to want America to fail -- that you've lost sight of how and why we got there. Podhoretz brings his considerable knowledge of history and politics to the discussion, and reveals his conviction that 9/11 marked the beginning of World War IV (the Cold War was WW III). In the book, he details why this is going to be a decades-long struggle -- a struggle which America (and the world) cannot afford to lose.   

If for no other reason, the book is worth reading for its clear, succinct summary of various "doctrines" that have guided American foreign policy since Woodrow Wilson's days -- and the reasoning behind each, based on the historical realities of the era. Podhoretz also gives the clearest summary of the Bush Doctrine that I've seen anywhere. Certainly, people are free to think the Bush Doctrine is wrong; but after reading this book, they will at least understand why and how 9/11 changed President Bush's view of the world and forced him to recognize America's duty to directly confront the threat of Islamofascism rather than passively waiting for more attacks.

Along the way, he writes about the failure of our country (under Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, and Bush 2) to understand the early terrorist attacks, the intelligence reports regarding WMDs, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Joe Wilson/Valarie Plame, the blame-America-firsters, the anti-war protesters, the roots of European anti-Americanism, Michael Moore and George Soros, the mistakes we've made in Iraq (but which have been blown out of proportion by a hostile media), and the Arab response to the Bush Doctrine (both positive and negative).

Since we're heading into an election year, where debates about the war in Iraq and the war on terror will likely loom large, I encourage everyone to read this book. It will give you a thoughtful, grounded understanding of the issues -- something we are not going to get if we only listen to the mainstream news media.

RE: The Myth of Dialogue

Under my original post on this subject, Anna asks this question: "With most dialogues I try to understand the person on their own terms, but I rarely go into it thinking that I might change my opinion--I know it to be true so how could you change my opinion?"

Good question, Anna. The answer goes to the heart of true dialogue, where people of goodwill, who truly seek and want to know the Truth, are willing to admit that many of their opinions are not, in fact, based on solid foundations. We absorb -- rather than formulate -- many of our opinions from our environment (parents, teachers, peers, church, culture) without necessarily spending a lot of time (or, sadly, any time) to determine whether those opinions are based on fact or solid reasoning.

So, people of goodwill, as they enter into genuine dialogue, are willing to test the foundations of their own opinions. And, if their opponent offers strong, persuasive reasons against their stance, they are reasonable enough, and humble enough, to admit they were wrong: they change their mind. In the aftermath of such exchanges, however, they move from "mere opinion" to true conviction. And as someone once said, "Opinions are beliefs we hold; convictions are beliefs that hold us -- even to the point of death if necessary." 

A good example of how this process works can be seen in the efforts of William Wilberforce and the members of the Clapham sect to end slavery in the British Empire. Bit by bit, they persuaded the British public to change its mind about slavery. Initially, the response of British citizens ranged from indifference to outright support for the trade since it was how they made their living. Through many means, including honest dialogue, Wilberforce and his friends made them see the true horrors of slavery, made them see Africans as people "just like them," and made the Christians in particular realize that their support for slavery was a violation of God's Law. It took 46 years to accomplish their goal -- which gives us a pretty good idea of just how clueless and stubborn people can be when it comes to holding on to their erroneous opinions!

The Point Radio: Who is Jesus?

Surprised by the reactions you get when you talk about Jesus? Guess what, it’s nothing new....


Click play above to listen.

September 27, 2007

Re: How Christianity is Viewed

I'm evidently late to the party, but there's a great discussion taking place under Regis' post on Barna poll results. Mike Perry, of Inkling Books, has a particularly insightful comment about the reasons why the Church appears to be losing relevancy in the U.S. He gives two reasons for this trend, and I think his first of the two is especially right on point (and particularly relevant to the discussion about what we can learn from Gore, by the way):

There's no surprise about this. There are two primary causes for this change.

1. Those dreadful people on religious TV channels. Who in their right mind would want to be like such people? Shallow, vain, hysterical, materialistic, and (in the audience) easily conned. No thanks! ...

...Of course, no problem should be reduced to what others are doing to you. "Victim" is just another word for loser. Problems also exist because of what you're doing in response.

Number 1 is a problem because Christians are not cleaning house, denouncing in some effective way the buffoons and scoundrels who fill the airwaves and claim to speak in the name of Jesus. And that's because for all too many Evangelical leaders numbers are all that matters. Integrity doesn't run a poor second, it's not in the top ten.

...In today's Evangelicalism, all too many believers seem to be focused excessively on themselves, their petty needs and their even pettier sins. Evangelicals may have knee-jerk reactions for or against the Iraq War, but they have no thought-out views on what is a just war or what we should do about Islamic terrorism. Nor do they know anything--anything at all--about the long series of clashes between Islam and European Christianity. If the typical Evangelical physician or lawyer practiced his profession as shallowly as he practiced his faith, he'd be out of work in a matter of months and probably sued for incompetence.

Continue reading "Re: How Christianity is Viewed" »

Blog-a-Book: More on the power of intercessory prayer

To the beautiful passage from Dostoevsky on the value of prayer (and I wish, by the way, that someone would tell me how to spell his name right -- we seem to have both spellings featured here on the blog), add this from Tennyson's Morte D'Arthur:

    More things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice
Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
For what are men better than sheep or goats
That nourish a blind life within the brain,
If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
For so the whole round earth is every way
Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.

May our voices never cease to rise "night and day" to God on behalf of each other.

The Point About Al Gore

I enjoyed Mark Earley's vlog about how we ought to emulate Al Gore in preaching the Truth. When I said largely the same thing earlier this year, Bill M, a fine Pointificator, made the following comment:

You are correct in that the church should heed the clarion call to change their behavior and I believe many in the body are doing just that with the help of the Holy Spirit and by His Grace.

Mr. Gore on the other hand calls for a change in lifestyles for everyone but himself. It's been reported that Mr. Gore uses several times the national average to provide energy for his homes than the average person. I know he can purchase offsets etc.

So, don't hold up Mr. Gore as an example to the church he is just what the church does not need. We need people in the church who Talk the talk and Walk the Walk not like Mr. Gore who is just talking the talk and asking the middle class to pay the price

Bill's concern for hypocrisy is valid of course, but I also think Mark's point is valid as well.  The truth is that Gore casts a large vision, one which I think is based upon bad science, but one which nonetheless compellingly calls for self-sacrifice for a purpose larger than ourselves. Yet who can make such a call more powerfully than the Church? And, to Mark's point about the Gospel, who can hold up a more compelling example of self-sacrifice -- for the purpose of love and justice -- than the Church can in Christ?

Continue reading "The Point About Al Gore" »

Materialism - Religion = Violent Crime?

The numbers are in and the results are disheartening: violent crime is on the rise. Should we be surprised?

Those in the political arena certainly aren't: the FBI is howling at the White House, and presidential hopefuls are loaded with new ammunition against the Bush Administration. I should've known it would be the President's fault. But politics aside, should we be surprised at the rate of crime in America?

Violent crime is a sad reality, but it's existance shouldn't be surprising. It's the promised result of a deteriorating moral structure in a materialistic world. As I was mulling over likely causes of the rising crime rates, I couldn't help but think about the brilliant words of Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America (one of my all-time favorite books, BTW).

De Tocqueville warned that a lack of religious beliefs in our democratic nation would eventually turn Americans into materialistic monsters.

Continue reading "Materialism - Religion = Violent Crime?" »

What was that?

Did I just hear a Tim-the-Tool-Man-Taylor-like grunt echoing through the hallowed and befrilled halls of The Point? Someone, fetch the smelling salts!

Man Post

Muscleman One of my male colleagues on The Point recently noted, offline, that The Point has a "feminine tone." Now, he said this uncritically -- it certainly was no shot at our blog or any of its contributors. It was merely an observation.

That said, I was -- now, ladies, don't be offended -- aghast. Why? I don't know; maybe because Allen Thornburgh simply does not post on a blog with a "feminine tone," that's why!! Just like I wouldn't contribute to a Redbook e-zine or serve as an editor for Cosmo. That's just not me.

So, whether my colleague was right or not in his assessment, I've decided that from time to time we need to inject some irrefutable masculinity into The Point, for all of the male Pointificators to enjoy. For this first Man Post, I have two tips and a link:

Continue reading "Man Post" »

Fighting for Burma

I got goose bumps the first time I saw a video of a large crowd of Buddhist monks rallying in the streets of Burma for political change. I thought that history is repeating itself, ordinary men and women fighting an evil and corrupt government in non-violent ways. History has shown that civil disobedience has the power to bring down dictators and oppressive governments. But it’s always sad to hear this supposedly peaceful call for political change turn into violence. As reported this week, the anti-government demonstrations by the Burmese people are starting to get fierce and bloody.

This reminded me of what Chuck Colson said in his book God & Government, that “the belief that government is autonomous, the ultimate repository of power, the solution to all of society’s ills, is the greatest imposter of the twentieth century… Christians and the church have no higher calling than to expose it by every legitimate means.”

Although the majority of Burma's population is Buddhist and less than 10% are Christians, this is an opportunity for all of us to pray for this country’s fight for their freedom and that the kingdom of the one true God be visible in the process. In addition, may this be an opportunity for Burmese Christians and the international community to react appropriately to help restore peace and democracy to the country.

The Point Radio: Preach It!

Al Gore is preaching repentance, so why aren’t we?...


Click play above to listen.

Want more ideas on how to share your faith?

Continue reading "The Point Radio: Preach It!" »

September 26, 2007

The Spychip Threat?

I saw a few news reports this past week on Radio Frequency Identification chips/tags, or RFID. The RFID chips are implanted in animals to track wayward pets, and now are being implanted in Alzheimer's patients to keep their medical records and track them in case they get lost.

The technology, which has been around since the early '70s, is also being studied and experimented with for practical and commercial applications both on the commercial supply chain and consumer product level. Examples are Walmart's and Target's mandate to use RFID tags on all shipments from their major suppliers. All of them are intending to improve, among other things, the tracking of goods, and reduce labor costs associated with scanning bar codes, theft, and errors in sales, shipping and inventory.

But aside from the health and commercial benefits of RFID, privacy advocates are worried that the use of RFID on consumer products is a major violation of privacy and that its use on humans strips away one’s dignity. Katherine Albrecht, known as the Erin Brockovich of RFID, founder of consumer advocacy group Caspian and author of The Spychip Threat: Why Christians Should Resist RFID and Electronic Surveillance, states that RFID tags are dangerous and may be the “mark of the Beast.” Skeptics say that many new technologies, such as the printing press, bar-codes, and several others, have also created fears about the apocalypse and everything turned out fine after all.

What do you think of this technology?

Why the Rum Is Gone

The people of a Guatemalan village are prospering, they believe, thanks to a wooden, rum-drinking, cigarette-smoking god named Maximón.

It was 1:15 p.m., time to worship the statue of Maximón, a squat, roughly carved wooden deity beloved here by those who believe in his power to grant favors and feared for punishing those who do not pay him proper respect. Maximón, pronounced maw-she-MAWN, occupies a space between the polar tugs of Guatemalan spiritual life, Catholicism and evangelism, neither of which approves of him. His origins are a mystery. Some say he is a modern version of a long-forgotten Mayan god. Others say he represents a martyred holy man. Still others merely shrug their shoulders.

This is a strange story (hat tip: Dave the Swede), but perhaps a reminder of humanity's innate need to believe in something. The new-atheist brigade would, of course, attribute such absurd worship to an emotional crutch ready to be purged by evolution. Yet while Maximón is a man-created genie meant to bring material wealth, the God of glory and Lord of love is not so contained.

Housekeeping

You may have noticed that the blog has been what's known as "text-heavy" for a couple of days -- that is, no images. I apologize for this. Occasionally I'm unable to publish images, usually for one of the following reasons:

1. TypePad decides yet again that it hates my guts.
2. My computer goes on strike.
3. Both.

The problem appears to be mostly with my computer this time, for reasons that I'm totally unable to fathom. (Seriously, what kind of wimpy computer is unable to deal with 1,005 messages in the inbox? Come on!) I'll do my best to deal with it and get things straightened out as soon as possible. Thanks for your patience.

Cheaters*

We seem to be a society that thinks cheating is wrong … as long as we are not thinking about ourselves.

The latest data point comes from the most recent chapter in the Barry Bonds saga. Marc Ecko, a wealthy fashion designer, bought the ball that Bonds smashed over the wall to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. Ecko then set up a web site to vote on what to do with the ball. 

There were three choices. Send it to the hall of fame intact, brand it with an asterisk before sending it to the hall of fame, or launch it into space. Ten million Americans voted. The result?  Brand it with an asterisk. The public is well aware that Bonds used steroids during his career (though Bonds maintains that it was done unknowingly). In effect, the court of public opinion ruled that he cheated and they disapprove.

The Bonds story is not the only one. We saw the Bill Belichick story make national headlines earlier this month. Coach Belichick of the New England Patriots was caught cheating. He broke NFL rules by filming the opposing coaches in order to learn how to read their signals from the sidelines. The court of public opinion disapproved of Belichick's cheating. This past year, a prestigious business school was rocked by a large-scale cheating scandal. The list of such scandals seems to grow weekly.

Though the public condemns cheating publicly, the practice of cheating is reaching epidemic proportions in American schools. A recent survey showed between 75% and 90% of high school students cheat. The percentage of cheaters in American colleges and universities is nearly 50 percent, according to a 2005 Rutgers survey. Technology such as text messaging on cell phones is making cheating easier, and more difficult to police. It is not just the kids with the poor grades who are cheating either. Surveys show it is rampant among the honor roll students.

Continue reading "Cheaters*" »

How Christianity Is Viewed

The latest Barna Update has some sobering findings, including:

  • "a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a 'good impression' of Christianity.”
  • only 3% of 16- to 29-year-old non-Christians express favorable views of evangelicals.

Then there’s this:

Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political. One-third said it was old-fashioned and out of touch with reality.

And this:

When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was "Christianity is changed from what it used to be" and "Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus." These comments were the most frequent unprompted images that young people called to mind.

Finally, in remarking on the growing portion of young people who are non-Christian, Barna concludes,

This is not a passing fad wherein young people will become "more Christian" as they grow up. While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America’s upcoming generations.

Re: Myth of Dialogue

I don't know, Diane. I have mixed feelings.

On the one hand, I actually feel like the most powerful response to idiotic lies, such as the type told probably hourly by Ahmadinejad, is to give them a hearing in the marketplace of ideas and then shine the light of critical analysis upon them. Under such exposure, they rightly make all recoil or, preferably, laugh. (The only more painful response to one's ideas than disgust is, after all, honest laughter.) And those are precisely the reactions that Ahmadinejad's speech elicited.

Laughter:

"In Iran we don't have homosexuals like in your country," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University last night in response to a question about the recent execution of two gay men there.

"In Iran we do not have this phenomenon," he continued. "I do not know who has told you we have it."

Loud laughs and boos broke from the audience of about 700 people, mostly students at the Ivy League school whose garb included "Stop Ahmadinejad's Evil" T-shirts. 

Continue reading "Re: Myth of Dialogue" »

Tyrants versus Liberators

President Bush gave a great speech to the United General Assembly yesterday, reminding us--and some Americans needed reminding--of the true problems in the world: tyranny, hunger, disease, illiteracy, and poverty. Worst of all are the terrorists and extremists who kill the innocent and whose dark ideologies are a threat to civilized people everywhere.

Great message. I just hope the UN thoroughly sprayed the podium with RAID before "W" stepped up to it....

The Point Radio: Life is Short, Live by the Book

The images: a man with six-pack abs and a woman in black lingerie. The message: life is short—get a divorce....


Click play above to listen.

In the comments, share with us how God has blessed the hard work of perseverance in your marriage.

September 25, 2007

Getting Your i-Div

Okay, you may be wondering what gem you would find on The Point today. Look no further. This is worth your visit. Perhaps worth ten visits. Drum roll please.... My alma mater, Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), has made its entire distance education curriculum available online for free. That means courses that you'd have to pay to audit or drive long distances to hear, you can now listen to as you drive, as you jog, as you do whatever it is you do. A lot of the material is really excellent and helpful. In particular, you might want to check out the various lectures on church history. Here’s the link (it should open inside iTunes).

More from the RTS newsletter:

Apple’s iTunes U program allows educational institutions to make course and other materials available online in Apple’s music store. All course lectures of the RTS virtual campus courses were made available for free download on the iTune U program in June. Before this time, we were averaging about 7,000 downloads, but after June 1st, over 38,000 downloads were recorded. Since that time we have registered 15,000-20,000 downloads per week. Another milestone occurred on Aug. 6th, when Apple selected RTS to be one of 20 institutions to be included on the main iTunes store page. This move put RTS materials alongside those from Berkeley, Stanford and Duke, to name a few. We are very excited about this program and the opportunity it provides for the gospel of Jesus Christ to be extended throughout the world through the use of the technology that Apple has made available to us.

High-tech worship

Today's Washington Post features a thought-provoking article on the way technology is shaping the culture of church. From closed circuit TV, to podcasts (or Godcasts, as they're often called), to direct deposit tithing, the article offers a well-balanced look at the role technology has and should (or should not) have in churches.

One pastor quoted in the article said "his concern...is staying relevant in an age when Americans are constantly being stimulated by BlackBerrys, video games and high definition television. 'In the mind-set of the congregation, they may not think we are being current.'" Earlier in the article, the same pastor said, "I don't think that God would want us to try to evangelize like Jesus did 2,000 years ago." Taking a less extreme view, one church employee said, "We believe in the local church, and at the same time we believe in leveraging technology so that we can have maximum impact."

Taking the opposing view, another pastor shunned too much technology for fear that "people will just be sitting there, their eyes fixated on the screen. They're waiting to be given something instead of participating." And a professor and author cautioned that "One of the problems is that with video technology, you don't watch the pastor, you watch the screen, where he appears like a movie star 20 times bigger than reality."

How have you seen technology used, for good or for ill, in the church? What do you wish churches would start doing, or stop doing, with technology?

Welcome to the home of dignified, mature, and respectable Christianity

I'm told that we're getting extra visitors today because of Chuck Colson's anniversary commentary. If you're a first-timer or even just stopping by for the first time in a while, welcome aboard! As if we needed any convincing that God has a sense of humor, you just happened to be introduced to The Point on a day when things have gotten a little silly. But please rest assured that, though we may like to kid around, at heart we all have great respect and Christ-like love for each other, and would never cross the line of civility.

For instance, I would never, ever reveal to the world that Allen is not only rooting for Wayne Newton to win Dancing with the Stars, but he's been burning candles at the secret shrine to Mr. Las Vegas in his basement.

That would just be cruel.

Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week: John Smeaton Edition

I know. You thought that the Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week was dead, didn’t you? Well, you’re close – let’s call it “moribund.” But like Rip Van Winkle, the Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week has awakened from its slumber (originally induced, I’m afraid, by my recently intense schedule-o-stuff).

And, you know, this Great Good Awakening couldn’t happen at a better time, because I’ve been listening to my Proclaimers "Persevere" album and wondering how I could possibly use their great (and hilarious) second track as a Weekly Must-Have. 

Then, lo and behold, Gina Dalfonzo, The Point’s fine blogmistress, makes it oh so easy for me, by calling me out.  No, no, no, no, NO. Dear, dear Gina, we won’t have any of that, now will we? Or at least not without paybacks. As the Scottish Proclaimers themselves might say: We’ll set about ye!

So here, in honor of my respected colleague, Gina Dalfonzo, I present this week’s Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week for the week: “Sweet Little Girls" by The Proclaimers.

File it under Right Back At Ya.

Contest Fulfillment: Not So Laughtastic

Our sincere apologies to participants in July's "Laughtastic Tune" contest. Thanks to a couple of you who emailed last week to say "Hey, where's my BreakPoint mp3 player you jerks??!!" (just kidding -- you were both wonderfully polite), we found out that a kink in the system prevented them from being sent out to you. Like many "kinks," the culprit was a "process safeguard" run amok.

Indeed, it's a little known fact that The Kinks had originally named themselves The Process Safeguards Run Amok. It's true!

Anyway, Inventory assures us that -- this time, for real, with feeling baby -- the mp3 players are en route to our wonderful contest participants. Again, our sincere and embarrassed apologies for the long delay.

Steve Kim Set Free

After four years of harsh imprisonment, China has released American human rights activist Steve Kim of Huntington, New York, who was arrested for the "crime" of offering food and shelter to starving North Korean refugees attempting to escape to South Korea.

As Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, writes:

In most civilized countries, a person of Kim's compassion and concern for his fellow man would have been lauded and praised and admired. This American businessman, who traveled frequently to China, saw people suffering and in great need, and because he was a Christian, he could not turn his back on them. Thus, working with the support of his home church, Good Neighbor Community Church on Long Island, he raised funds to provide food and shelter to North Korean refugees until they were healthy enough to travel to South Korea and then he helped them make their way to freedom....Steve Kim's compassionate actions in helping with the North Korean refugee crisis caused the government of China to hunt him down and jail him charging him with illegally transporting aliens as he was helping North Korean refugees to attempt to cross the border.

Scholte reminds us of others who were guilty of the same "crime:" Raoul Wallenburg and Harriet Tubman.

"To my knowledge, there is no humanitarian worker--American, South Korean, or Japanese--who has been arrested for this crime and served a longer sentence than Steve Kim," Scholte writes. "Fortunately, and perhaps because he was an American citizen, Steve Kim did not experience torture and abuse, but he did experience four years of imprisonment in harsh conditions" for aiding a greatly suffering people: North Koreans.

Somebody please explain to me: 1. How an American citizen can be imprisoned in China on trumped up charges (spying) for four years, and 2. Why we are holding the Olympic Games in a country that trashes the human rights, not only of desperate North Koreans, but of 1.3 billion of its own citizens.

The Myth of Dialogue

One of the foundational beliefs in Western democracies has to do with the virtue of entering into a dialogue with people who hold differing opinions. The idea is that, through open and honest discourse, we will be able to come to consensus, settle our differences, and avoid going to war (verbal or real) with one another.

Certainly, these are noble aims; but they presume certain truths about the participants which may or may not be true. First, we assume that the people involved are men and women of goodwill who truly want to find a peaceful way to mediate their differences. Second, we must assume that they are reasonable, discerning people who are capable of recognizing the value of a strong argument. In other words, they can be persuaded to change their minds, or to at least compromise to the point that the two parties can amicably agree to disagree.

But what if those assumptions are wrong? What if one, or both, parties are not people of goodwill? What if they are people who don't want peace, but who use endless talk as a delaying tactic while they prepare their armies for war?

To me, the world is full of such people -- like the current presidents of Iran and Venezuela -- and it does no good to pretend (or even hope) otherwise. This is why I find the reasons offered by the president of Columbia University for inviting Iran's president to speak such simple-minded, dangerous prattle. Neville Chamberlain stands as a sobering reminder of how a man of goodwill can be hoodwinked by a megalomaniacal, murderous scoundrel. As we look upon the world scene, it's always smart to be "as wise as serpents, but innocent as doves."

Faith on stage

The Mint Theater Company in New York is staging Leo Tolstoy's play, "The Power of Darkness," examining the relentless downward spiral of sin, through October 28. The New York Times describes it as "deeply religious," although heavy-handed. The Mint Theater says, "Tolstoy’s tragedy is a heartrending and cautionary tale about the consequences of pursuing personal gain while disregarding morality and the dictates of one’s own conscience—a timeless tale that can never be told too often." The Times critic apparently felt it was a tale told a little too blatantly, and yet, he continued, "despite its heavy-handedness, 'The Power of Darkness' brings home how small acts of dishonesty can lead to outright evil. 'One would be happiest not to sin,' says Matryona [a character in the play], 'but then, what can you do?'"

MY SHOW???!!!

That's so wrong. You're a mean, mean woman Gina Dalfonzo!

I will be submitting a new Weekly Must-Have Tune of the Week in your honor later today.

MUHAHAHAHAHAHA...!!!

Thought for the day

All my life I'd always thought that Christianity was a sugar pill. I thought that people swallowed it and then saw whatever they needed or wanted to see to make themselves feel better. But now that I have tried it for myself, I see that Christianity brings with it Something real, powerful, and external to the human mind. I agree with my friend in the drug study -- you know the real thing when you get it. And this is the real thing.

-- Jennifer F., "former atheist"

(via Wittingshire)

So, Allen . . .

. . . Did you enjoy your show last night? ;-)

The Point Radio: Swatting Flies with Sledgehammers

Six years ago, the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground. Today, their debris is settling on our federal prison system....


Click play above to listen.

Visit the Justice Fellowship Legislative Action Center to do something about this critical issue.

September 24, 2007

A note on blog etiquette

It's come to my attention that we need a quick refresher course on some of the dos and don'ts of blogs. I'm not going to scold or lecture or single out anyone; there's no need for that. I just want to remind everyone of a few things.

1. It is not appropriate for a commenter to change the subject of a thread under a post. Please stick to the topic at hand.

2. It is not appropriate to take personally statements that were made about general topics. I have had to mention this several times. I'm going to stop mentioning it and start deleting comments if that's what it takes.

3. Please, when debating fellow commenters or bloggers, try to engage people constructively and listen to what they have to say, instead of simply trying to wear them down by constant repetition.

4. Please refrain from generalizations (e.g., "The Point always . . ." or "The Point never . . ." or other statements along these lines). We are not a blob, we are twenty people with individual ideas and points of view.

5. This should go without saying, but blatant rudeness is NEVER appropriate.

6. If you want a specific answer to a comment, please ask politely and don't demand or nag. Our time and energy are not limitless. We will gladly answer your questions and comments if we feel an answer is warranted and if we have the time to do it.

7. Finally, I know this is a bit unusual for the blogosphere, but we have a rule against profanity. Please find a way to make your point without it.

As long as you can abide by these principles of civilized adult discourse, and thus help to make this a good experience for everyone, you're always welcome here.

An unforeseen consequence of global warming

Note: May not be suitable viewing for younger penguins.

’The Wilberforce Agenda’

Wilberforce This National Review article by John O'Sullivan is still subscriber-only, though I hoped it would be widely available by now. It's too bad, because the piece -- which talks about how, in the spirit of William Wilberforce, evangelicals could work with other groups to promote "an agenda of moral issues, covering national and international issues" -- strikes me as a must-read with a presidential election coming up and both parties in disarray. (Of particular interest to us at PFM: "Many liberals would be astonished to discover that the Christian Right is campaigning to stop prison rape.")

This blog post gives a pretty good rundown, although the blogger misses the point that O'Sullivan tries to set opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage "in a broader human-rights context." As he says:

Evangelicals could patiently explain that their positions were rooted in the same concern for suffering innocents as leads them to campaign for trafficked women, AIDS victims, Tibetan Buddhists, etc. They would campaign for the Wilberforce Agenda in this ecumenical spirit, seeking to forge a coalition on issues of common interest across a cultural divide that now appears unbridgeable.

I know that many would take issue with and/or misunderstand the reference to same-sex marriage in this context. I'm guessing O'Sullivan is looking at it as part of a bigger picture in which adults feel free to redesign traditional -- and Christians would argue, God-ordained -- institutions, regardless of what such a redesign might do to the already eroding family structure in our society and of the effect that erosion has on children. Like it or not, built into every family headed by a same-sex couple is the inherent idea that having a mom -- or, as the case may be, a dad -- in the home with the kids is not necessary. Even though in some cases the absence or loss of a parent is unavoidable, and many parents do a great job under such circumstances, the deliberate promotion of this idea has not been kind to kids. See (or rather, hear) Mark Earley's Point broadcast on that subject from this morning.

Anyway, find and read this one, from the September 24 issue, if you can. I'll post an updated link if one becomes available.

A Teaching Moment

Dear Sy,

Your ad hominem attack on Anne is quite disturbing to me. Please tell me how Anne went after your mother? 

Anne’s point was that the child was arguing with her but not responding to her command. At four, a child might do a dumb stunt like opening an umbrella in a moving car, but the child should also quickly respond to an urgent command too. Having raised two children myself, I know four-year-olds do know better! 

Let's get another thing straight: many, many students who attend teacher colleges today don't major in any subject but get a degree in teaching itself. For instance, my son Cameron had an English teacher who couldn’t write or spell. I used her notes as a supplemental teaching tool for him. 

Instead of focusing on actual subject material such as mathematics, English, history, etc., a lot of colleges have thrown out the wisdom of teaching students important subject matter such as how to spell, how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Thanks in large part to John Dewey, today’s teachers spend their days instructing their charges about self-esteem, social equity, and gender issues. Out goes any notion of teaching truths and facts based on a natural law or a higher law, and in come “teachers” who instruct students to make up their own rules despite the rightness or wrongness of them. 

So who has a higher view of the importance of teachers? I’d say people like Anne and me. We realize children are individuals made in the image of God and have a great capacity to learn and develop great talents. We also acknowledge that people are fallen and need correction. Good teachers will teach their students actual subject matter with its corresponding truths and facts; thus with each success over a period of years a student will develop a high sense of esteem. Further, those students will become a big asset to their family, community, and possibly nation or world.   

Living with sacrifice

Lee sends in an article with the sobering title, "In Iraq, coping after a hero dies saving you." We've all heard of such heroes, and we hold them in reverence, but have we ever stopped to think about what it must be like to be the beneficiary of such a sacrifice? (Going back to one of the books we blogged, I have occasionally wondered, what would Charles Darnay have felt like after he woke up and found out what Sydney Carton had done?)

According to these military members, it's not easy.

Survivors, while deeply grateful for their lives, find the aftermath complicated. According to interviews with a dozen surviving soldiers, sailors and Marines, there remains an overpowering sense of guilt and an unspoken feeling that they need to be worthy of the sacrifice. . . .

Emotional damage surfaces later when a survivor tries to square his life with his friend's death, says Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Johnson, who counsels frontline combat soldiers in Baghdad.

"The guilt that those left behind have is sometimes compounded by a sense of unworthiness," she says. "They cannot accept that their lives were worth more than the life of their loved comrade. They are left with the heavy burden of trying to measure up to the great sacrifice so that they could live on. For some, the burden is too much."

As Lee points out, the issue is peculiarly relevant for Christians. . . .

Continue reading "Living with sacrifice" »

Ahmadinejad

The president of Iran is now in the US to speak at the U.N. and, what many Americans find abhorrent, to speak at Columbia University. I've been fascinated by all the "freedom of speech" advocates who have been screaming about how this is America where freedom of speech is a right. I, however, would like to point out that Ahmadinejad is not an American citizen and, therefore, is not entitled to exercise that right. Yes, the United Nations may invite him to speak (and, unfortunately, the UN is still on America soil ... as much as I'd like for it to be anywhere but here). However, for an American university to give this modern-day Hitler a hearing is simply repugnant.

What could he possibly say that is worth hearing? He has repeatedly called for the destruction of America and Israel, and he claims that the Holocaust never happened. And only a fool believes that he won't use a nuclear weapon to attack Israel should Iran manage to make one. Remember, this is the guy who believes in the Mahdi, the Muslim messiah who will come to restore peace to the world after it gets into an impossible mess, a mess Ahmadinejad is dedicated to creating as part of his religious beliefs. So, why in the world should the president of an American university invite him to come and speak? 

The Point Radio: Donor Dads Don’t Cut It

One college student at Gallaudet University considers herself a freak. That’s because her dad is an anonymous sperm donor....


Click play above to listen.

What do you think of today’s broadcast? Disagree? Make your point in the comments.

September 21, 2007

’God’ responds to lawsuit

As you'd expect, the response to Sen. Chambers's lawsuit "miraculously appeared."

Support the Troops: Buy Chocolate

My nearest and dearest knew it was only a matter of time before I found a way to mix chocolate with my warm desire to support our solders, sailors, airmen and marines serving overseas. While at the Navy Hospital in Bethesda recently, I read an article about a chocolatier who supports America's Fisher Houses by the sale of top-quality chocolate bars.

"When I learned about the plight of ill and injured military personnel, I decided that I had to do something to help and that's how the Fisher House Bar was created," explains chocolatier Diane Pinder. All profits from the sale of the Fisher House Bars supports the Fisher House Foundation which, for 17 years, has built homes near military hospitals, allowing families of injured military personnel to stay near their wounded warriors during their often long-term treatment.

The chocolate bars (milk chocolate and semi-sweet) have been sent to troops serving in Iraq and elsewhere. I have sampled the milk chocolate bars (eight of them, if you must know--and it would have been ten had not the 06 who lives with me stolen two of them) and they are quite simply the best chocolate I have ever eaten.

You will not be surprised to learn that Diane is the mother of a U.S. Marine who has served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Meeting some of the many men and women who have paid the high price of severe personal injury is a sobering experience," Diane notes. "I'm hopeful that my small effort to spread the word about the work of the Fisher House Foundation motivates others to support their worthy cause."

I hope so, too. Any Point readers who've been wondering what to send me for Christmas this year (or any of your own friends and relatives), the answer is here. 

The ’shining barrier’ comes to the big screen

A_severe_mercy If you're a fan of the Christian classic A Severe Mercy, you may be interested to know that Origin Entertainment has a film version in the works, with Barbara Nicolosi, former head of Act One, writing the script. Martha and I heard Barbara and others involved in the project give a great presentation on it last weekend. Go here to read Barbara's own words about what it's like to finally be working on her dream project, and here to read more about the movie in general.

Justice Fellowship head featured on ’Religion & Ethics Newsweekly’

Check your local listings (days and times around the country will vary) and watch for Pat Nolan on PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly this weekend. Pat is the head of PFM's Justice Fellowship branch.

When bad things happen to good examples

Bynum

The attack in a hotel parking lot here last month was remarkable not only because the victim, Juanita Bynum, is the most prominent black female television evangelist in the country, who is pals with Oprah, admired by Aretha, and who recently signed on to campaign for Obama.

It was shocking, especially to legions of women who had latched onto her message that only chastity and self-respect would bring true love, because the attacker who choked, stomped and kicked her, Ms. Bynum said, was her husband.

According to The New York Times, many of the faithful have been thrown for a loop by what happened to Bynum precisely because she was their inspiration, someone whose example helped them go against the grain of a sex-obsessed world. Her happily-ever-after marriage after a long struggle as a Christian single woman made many women feel that things could turn out all right for them. But things didn't turn out all right for her.

“She’s a powerful trailblazer,” said Shayne Lee, a sociologist of religion at Tulane University who closely follows what has become known as the neo-Pentecostal movement, which emphasizes self-improvement and prosperity over social issues like poverty and crime. “She resonated with so many people because sex is out there in a way that I don’t think any other preacher, or any other black preacher, has tapped into on a grand scale.”

The assault, Dr. Lee said, is a challenge to Ms. Bynum’s credibility: “Maybe she’s been living a lie all these years.”

Continue reading "When bad things happen to good examples" »