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July 31, 2008

How low can a Senator go?

28coburn1901 Never mind Ted Stevens. The real bad guy of the Senate these days is Tom Coburn . . . for delivering babies free of charge.

I'm not kidding.

(Image © The New York Times)

C. S. Lewis and ’Facing the Giants’

Facing_the_giants I have an article in the new BreakPoint WorldView magazine (free subscription available here) titled "C. S. Lewis at the Movies: Learning to Receive." (Blake, thanks for your comment about it here -- I didn't even realize at the time that it had been released!)

The piece examines C. S. Lewis's book An Experiment on Criticism for clues as to why many evangelical Christians today are willing to excuse bad art in the name of faith, why this is a problem, and why we should try looking at art from a different perspective. As my primary example of a substandard work of art, I use the film Facing the Giants.

I want to stress that in the piece, when I critique the work of some of my fellow Christian critics, I'm not at all trying to run them down or show them any kind of disrespect. In fact, I'd like to invite all of those whose work I disagreed with in the article -- and anyone else who thinks I'm giving Giants a bad rap -- to stop by the comment section here and defend their viewpoint. I realize that criticizing a popular Christian film may cause controversy, but I'd far rather we all got together and had a constructive conversation about it than an argument.

So whether you consider yourself a fan or a foe of Facing the Giants, please read the piece and then tell us what you think. And though the article focuses on Lewis, I'll leave you with a quote to ponder from Dorothy L. Sayers (after all, it's far too long since I've given you one): "The only Christian work is good work done well."

(Image © Sherwood Pictures)

Belfast to Bosnia

Who will bend this ancient hatred, will the killing to an end
Who will swallow long injustice, take the devil for a country man?

In the Post's Outlook section, Dejan Anastasijevic, discussing the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, wrote,

Countries emerging from conflict need swift justice, not decades of tedious trials aimed at establishing comprehensive historical truth. That task should be left to historians. Instead of casting a wide net and spending years examining every single fish, future tribunals should focus on the worst cases with the strongest evidence -- and process them quickly, before politics steps in. And if this raises some eyebrows among legal experts, so be it. Human justice is imperfect, but no justice is much worse.

I'll defer to his judgment about both the International Criminal Tribunal and what happened or didn't happen in the former Yugoslavia. But I'm increasingly convinced that you can either have Truth and Reconciliation or you can have justice but you can't have both. What's more, if you try to have both, you'll almost certainly wind up with neither.

Continue reading "Belfast to Bosnia" »

Calling All Americans to Confess

Prayinghands Though we're a hundred or so days out from the election, it's not too early to begin (if you haven't already) an earnest season of prayer for the upcoming election and for our nation. In my mind, that endeavor starts with a call for national repentance, as revealed in a well-known verse, 2 Chronicles 7:14: "If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land." 

As Christians, we are daily called to personal repentance and confession, with the astounding and liberating promise that  if we confess our sins, we will find forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). But the call to confess my country's sins has a different focus.

As I have mediated on this requirement recently, I find myself confessing our fear and anger (I can think of numerous examples from the news that reflect just how fearful and angry we have become, and I'm sure you can too). Fear reflects our lack of faith in a sovereign God's ability to take care of us; anger reflects our failure to obey the second greatest command, to love other people as we love ourselves. 

What other sins do you believe we need to confess as a nation? 

Schiavo Battle Revisited

A battle is brewing between a family with a coma-ridden relative and local government. 

What's at stake, BioEdge says, "is who should be allowed to make the decision: family or bureaucrats?"

A hearing next Tuesday in Fresno County Probate Court will determine whether Mrs. Rivera remains on life support.

’Twilight’: The old bait-and-switch

Twilight_poster I've mentioned briefly, here and also here, that I'm working on a freelance article about Stephenie Meyer's hugely popular Twilight series, the fourth book of which comes out at midnight on Saturday. Reading the first three of Meyer's vampire romances (soon to be made into movies), I found a lot to be concerned about. Which is why I was a little nonplussed by this Newsweek article that Catherine recently found about mothers and daughters enjoying the books together:

The young adult series by Stephenie Meyer chronicles the seductive relationship between mousy Bella Swan and dangerously dashing Edward Cullen, who just happens to be a vampire. But Meyer's books have proved seductive in another way, and we don't mean as publishing's 7.5 million-copy selling Next Big Thing. The "Twilight" books—[including] "Breaking Dawn," the fourth and final volume in the series, which is due out on Aug. 2—have also turned into a remarkable mother-daughter bonding exercise.

One reason for that is the way they deal with sexual issues. Meyer, who is Mormon, has said that she doesn't want Bella and Edward to have sex before marriage. For most romance novels, the "no sex, please," notion would be blasphemous. But Meyer's fans have embraced it like a couple of teenagers just cuddling on the couch. Many mothers say they've used the books as a way to begin that awkward birds-and-bees talk with their teenage daughters. "I can discuss sex without being preachy because, well, we're just talking about Twilight," says Mary Ann Hill, mother to Tara, 13. "It's non-threatening and I see the book as extra support for what I want to teach anyway."

Okay, great. But what about "dashing" Edward's manipulative and controlling side? What about Bella's alarming lack of self-worth, her near-worship of her boyfriend as "perfect" and "godlike," and her self-destructive habits whenever he's away from her -- not to mention the way she constantly deceives her parents about him (for instance, having him stay in her room every night without her father's knowledge)? What about her desire to become a vampire like him, despite knowing that the process will involve days of torture, take away her humanity, and stop her heart, and that afterward she might not be able to control her thirst for human blood? (And what about the fact that millions of teenage girls are now eagerly hoping that she makes that very choice?)

What about quotes like "I wanted his venom to poison my system. It would make me belong to him in a tangible, quantifiable way"? Not ringing any alarm bells?

Continue reading "’Twilight’: The old bait-and-switch" »

The Point Radio: Opportunity Knocks

Are you grumbly hateful or humbly grateful?...


Click play above to listen.

July 30, 2008

Daily roundup

I Don’t Know Whether I Should Laugh or Cry!

I ran across this cartoon earlier today, and I must admit that it reflects -- too much -- my feelings about the next four years. I'm trying hard NOT to feel this way, but ....

On Fathers and Faith

Father_and_son Check out this article by Bill Peel that asks an important question: "Is Your Faith Contagious to Your Kids?" This one statistic should make Christian fathers realize how significant their faith walk is to their children: "When a mother trusts Christ apart from her husband, her family follows 17% of the time. When a Dad becomes a Christian, the rest of the family follows 93% of the time."   

(Image © SugarDoodle.net)

The Quality of Mercy (or Charity)

In Tuesday's Washington Post, Hank Stuever tells a sad but not-all-that-surprising story about what happened after the folks at ABC's "Extreme Makeover" packed up their cameras and left.

In that particular episode of the hyper-benevolent reality show, which first aired in February 2005, it took 1,800 volunteers a week to demolish the house with the overflowing septic tank that belonged to Milton and Patricia Harper of Lake City, Ga., and then entirely rebuild a new, larger house, while the Harpers and their three children went away to Disneyland. When they returned, they had the biggest house on Ahyoka Drive, with all the appliances and furnishings, plus enough money to pay taxes on it for decades, plus a fund to send their children to college.

Three and a half years later,

The house will be auctioned off, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, next Tuesday on the steps of the Clayton County Courthouse.

The Harpers had used their home as collateral on a $450,000 loan from JPMorgan Chase and fell in arrears, the newspaper reported.

Needless to say, some folks are understandably angry: Lake City mayor Willie Oswalt told reporters that "it's aggravating. It just makes you mad. You do that much work, and they just squander it."

Continue reading "The Quality of Mercy (or Charity)" »

Leaders in Both Parties Turning to Faith-Based Solutions

Jindal The great thing about this country is that an immigrant family can be here for a couple of generations and become as American as George Washington. To wit, we have the example of the mercurial rise of Governor Bobby Jindal (R-Louisiana), who with less than a year in office at age 37 is already talked about as a leading candidate for Vice President on the Republican ticket with U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Arizona).

Jindal has just about everything McCain needs to balance out his ticket: youth, a Southern state, diversity, plus he even shares McCain's penchant for reform. Some might question Jindal's youth, but that can be dealt with if people find him mature in other ways. He has already scored big points with the public in Louisiana by vetoing a legislative pay raise in the midst of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

That was, of course, what launched him into the spotlight: Katrina. When the federal and state governments were unable to deliver the necessary help for the hurricane victims in Louisiana, Jindal pitched in and in a major way. He coordinated the relief network, including many faith-based organizations, who helped to fill the gaps left by government incompetence.

With Democratic Presidential nominee Barack Obama taking flak from his base for endorsing faith-based initiatives and a possible GOP Vice Presidential nominee having his claim to fame being the harnessing of the faith community to help Louisiana, both parties have their advocates for faith-based initiatives. Let's hope this signals a maturing of thought, which will be welcome in times when our country needs all hands on deck for our common challenges.

(Image © Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Renting Pets and the Laziness Gene

Bostonterriersmall Apparently there has been some backlash against a company that is renting out pets to folks who are too busy or otherwise unable to have a pet of their own. While some have heralded FlexPetz as the zipcar for animal lovers, others are outraged, claiming that flipping pets from person to person can have traumatic outcomes.

I'm wondering how this is any different than, say, renting a horse to go horse-back riding for a few hours when I would not be able to own a horse. But then again, cats and dogs seem to bond more with their owners. Who knows, though? I've never owned a horse; I've only been an evil renter of them. What do you think of pet-renting: good, bad or ugly?

In other news, it seems scientists may have stumbled across a laziness gene. It looks like a good article, but I'm honestly too lazy to read it and too lazy to own a pet at the moment too. Hmmm...

(Image © FlexPetz)

90 Years of Marriage

Anniversaryw450 My husband and I went out to dinner this weekend at an expensive restaurant in Georgetown to celebrate our 30th anniversary. With us were Jim and Dottie Tonkowich (Jim was managing editor of BreakPoint for four years, and is now president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy) and Mariam and March Bell. Mariam, of course, is our director of public policy.

The Tonkowiches and the Bells were also celebrating 30 years of wedded bliss, bringing our collective total to 90, and over a phenomenal dinner, we regaled one another with stories about how we met, how we each knew our intended was "the one," who received the nuttiest marriage proposal (Mariam), and how we managed to stay married during an era--the late '70s to the present--when so many other marriages went bust. The answers ranged from "intentionality" to "having a sense of humor." We all agreed that embracing the Christian view of marriage--that it's for keeps--had a good deal to do with our approach to our marital relationships. 

Interestingly, three of the six of us had been previously engaged and broke it off. And all of us were pretty young, by today's standards, when we tied the knot (age 20 to about age 23). 

That sense of humor, by the way, came in handy when the bill came. "I hope," my loving husband said, "we aren't going to do this for another 30 years..."

(Image © Jim Tonkowich)

Food Police Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

Fast_food_restaurants I can just see the new headlines: "LA's food police busted crime boss Ronny Mac's for his hamburger- and French-fry-selling racket." Like all the other coercive campaigns, some people in LA are wielding their power to ban fast-food restaurants from poorer neighborhoods. 

Here's a couple of ideas why this isn't a good idea, but feel free to list more.

1. Fast-food restaurants provide jobs for unskilled laborers. Those restaurants also provide upcoming businesspeople a chance to own their own business. 
2. As for draconian campaigns and campaigners, like Prohibition supporters or current-day tobacco thugs do-gooders, the bans they strive for just drive consumption underground. 

This article reminds me anew that freedom is a precarious thing.

(Image © Getty Images)

The Point Radio: Pray the Vote

Tired of the anger and division of the Presidential election?...


Click play above to listen.

For more, check out the website for the Presidential Prayer Team.

July 29, 2008

Daily roundup

The Faith Factor

Mmirusticalumcross There's a lot of speculation today about who will be Barack Obama's running mate. Specifically, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine is being mentioned, although he's brushing off the rumor. Reading about all the gossip feels almost like flipping through tabloids guessing which celebrity is going to marry whom.

What struck me about the possibility of the Obama-Kaine ticket is how it would be similar, in a sense, to the possible McCain-Jindal ticket. That is, both Veep prospects have The Faith Factor (namely, they're both Catholic).

Continue reading "The Faith Factor" »

On teen sex, ’we have the answers’

My interview with Dr. Meg Meeker, author of Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens Our Sons and Daughters, is up on the BreakPoint site. (Special thanks to Travis and Catherina for their help.) One of her most important points was the necessity of good communication between parents -- including and especially Christian parents -- and their kids:

She understands the fear that some parents have about talking to their kids about sex, but she fears that their lack of a message of any kind will leave a vacuum that the culture will rush to fill. “All of us are very uncomfortable when it comes to sex and our kids because we’re modest, we’re afraid, and we’re confused,” she says, adding jokingly, “I can always feel the tension in the Christian radio hosts’ voices [during interviews], like, ‘Are you going to offend us?’ I try as hard as I can to honor modesty, because it’s a protective tool. But just because it’s hard doesn’t mean we don’t engage and go out there. If I didn’t know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have the answers for our kids, I could never keep doing this.”

Read more.

Sex--An Obsession

The Scientist article on which I'm blogging (free registration required; mature themes) is about a new exhibit at New York City's Museum of Sex.

The reason why I'm blogging about the darn thing is not to applaud or deride a new theory, but to warn readers about the tone of the discussion--you should be able to quickly get my gist when reading the first page of Bob Grant's article, "Sex, Wild-Style." The point of the article is that ecologist Joan Roughgarden is proposing that Darwin's sexual selection is wrong, and the basis on which females make their pick is "social selection." Illustrating her point, Roughgarden says that male peacock tails are "admission tickets to male power-holding cliques." It sounds like the animals are at the wrong end of a politically correct theory.

But the main problem here is that, though Bob Grant and Museum of Sex curator Sarah Jacobs might not realize it, they sound like a couple of teenagers desperately trying to sound salacious. Grant uses words like "juicy" to describe the mating practices of "our fellow animals." The exhibit has everything from "panda porn" to "homosexual necrophilia in mallard ducks" -- and I'll stop there.

Whatever happened to careful scientific analysis and tasteful exhibits? Methinks some people are suffering from moral turpitude, and that our "porn" culture has infected every avenue of inquiry--including scientific research.

Send Mercenaries of Mercy to Darfur

At the Wall Street Journal, William McGurn calls for a private sector solution to the Darfur nightmare: Blackwater mercenaries.

Strongly worded resolutions, sanctions and boycotts are generally what you do in place of decisive action. I understand that the whole idea of Blackwater helicopters flying over Darfur probably horrifies many of the same people frustrated by Mr. Bashir's ability to game the system. But it's at least worth wondering what that same Blackwater helo might look like to a defenseless Darfur mother and her daughters lying in fear of a Janjaweed attack.

I’ve long thought there's a problem with the idea of relief-by-force -- mainly the reality that U.S. soldiers swear their allegiance to their country, with the reciprocal commitment that their lives will be spent defending her. Not rescuing the hurting around the world, in interests humanitarian rather than strategic, no matter how noble. Does our nation honor its commitments to its citizens or not?

And, yet, there are people in need of rescuing. In their shoes, but for the grace of God, walk we. 

Continue reading "Send Mercenaries of Mercy to Darfur" »

If Only We Lived in Narnia

Ah, bumper stickers.

Driving in to work today, I saw a car with a number of bumper stickers that would indicate the driver was a vegetarian. You know, the "Be kind to animals, don't eat them" type.

But the bumper sticker that stood out to me was one that read: "If animals could talk, you wouldn't eat them."

I suppose that's right. Like if we lived in Narnia.

But we don't, and they can't.

If they were gifted with speech, with reason, with the ability to understand their origins and destiny -- if they bore the image of their Maker, they could be considered the moral equivalent of man, and we would be wrong to eat them.

By the way, the driver of that car also proudly displayed a bumper sticker that read: "A Pro-Choice Voter."

I wonder what position she would take on aborting baby rabbits.

’Chosen Soldier’: ’A New Band of Brothers’

Chosen_soldier_2 Following up on my previous post about the qualities sought in recruits for Green Beret school, I wanted to elaborate on the issue of diversity. I love the picture Dick Couch offers in his book Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior of what an Special Forces (SF) group looks like. The picture of America that SF offers the rest of the world is not insignificant.

How soldiers represent our nation in other countries does matter. As historian Stephen Ambrose has mentioned, “one of the most comforting sights for the war-weary citizens of France or Belgium was a patrol of American GIs coming into their village.” And as Chuck has mentioned before, “the sight of those American kids meant cigarettes, candy, c-rations, and freedom. They had come not to conquer or terrorize but to liberate.”

But, as Couch notes, “that was an all-white patrol of GIs in a western European village. Afghanistan and Iraq offer none of the homogeneity found in western Europe during the last world war.”

So diversity is sought in SF not in order to create a “racial or ethnic balance that mirrors our national demographic.” Rather, it’s strategic. “[I]n the military, especially in SOF [Special operations forces, which encompasses all branches], and most certainly in Army Special Forces, diversity itself is an operational advantage,” writes Couch. Continuing, “Diverse skills and ethnic backgrounds bring a more multidimensional approach to cross-cultural issues that Special Forces teams have to deal with on a routine basis. The more diverse the members of an SF detachment, the better the thinking that may go into problem solving in a cross-cultural environment.”

Continue reading "’Chosen Soldier’: ’A New Band of Brothers’" »

The Point Radio: Silent Road Trip

Don't make me pull this car over....


Click play above to listen.

A Credible Believer?

I once tried to write a college paper on extraterrestrials. I would say the attempt floundered pretty badly -- not only is it hard to speculate about the issue without getting into some sticky territory spiritually, but it also doesn’t help that most of the loudest voices among those who believe are seen as conspiracy theorists and nutjobs.

So I was interested when Edgar Mitchell, a veteran of the Apollo 14 mission, decided to speak out. The guy is a former astronaut; he can’t be all crazy, right?

At any rate, he’s getting national coverage, including the Reuters video below.

More than wondering whether it’s possible that aliens exist, I find it more interesting to notice how hungry the public is for stuff like this. If you haven’t noticed, the news feeds on sites like Yahoo! and AOL are littered with stories of UFO sightings quite regularly. The mystery of it all seems to pique our interest in a unique way. I wonder if the public isn’t eager to grab onto tangible evidence of something beyond itself, so we read the stories in hopes of finding something that will, once and for all, make us believe.

How could we parlay this widely-held interest in the supernatural into a discussion about our faith?

(The above link to an interview with Mitchell provides a lot more information than does this brief video.)

July 28, 2008

Daily roundup

Week of Justice

Dvd_mockup If you happen to be in the greater Washington D.C. area, I will be speaking tonight at the theater located beneath Ebenezer's Coffee House (201 F Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002) after a screening of the documentary As We Forgive. The film is being shown as part of the National Community Church's third annual Week of Justice. This week's topics range from Sweat Shop Labor to Urban Poverty to AIDS to Sex-Trafficking, and how Christians can respond.

Friday night, I also had the privilege of fielding questions after a screening of As We Forgive at The Falls Church. I always learn interesting things from people in the audience who are thinking of their own ways to apply the lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation. One woman approached me afterward and we talked at length about how the lessons Rwandans are learning on how to live again with each other may be much needed in the years to come between North and South Korea. I was blessed by her insights.

I was thinking about posing a question tonight to the audience after they've watched the film. It's a question I've thought about a lot over the past year in writing this book and ties in to NCC's topics. The question is: What is the end goal of justice?

How would you answer it?

By the way, if you never saw the trailer for the film, here it is:

I'd love to see you tonight! If you don't live nearby, check the As We Forgive film website for screenings in your local area or to see how you can set one up.

Prayers for Victims

Please remember to pray today for the families of those killed at the terrible shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday. Pray also for the many children who were performing in a play that day and had to witness such horrible violence.

History of Boots and Bears

Tr_bear Amidst the conundrums of our current presidential campaign, Project President is a book by columnist Ben Shapiro which should tickle your funny bone. Boots and bears, it seems, are the real things that can make or break a candidacy. 

Image sells. For instance, in the early 19th century, if a candidate liked to play tennis, he would have had to make certain that information was not for public consumption during the campaign. It was William Howard Taft who wrote, "Photographs on horseback, yes, tennis, no, and golf is fatal." The public would have branded a tennis/golf playing presidential hopeful as an elitist. 

Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt's image got a huge boost when he decided not to shoot a bear--a bear someone else caught and tied to a tree for him to kill. A seemingly unimportant event turned out to be of import because of who was there to see the event. Shapiro writes,

"Cartoonist [Clifford K.] Berryman...parlayed TR's sportsmanlike refusal to shoot the bear into some of the most important presidential imagery in American history. His cartoon depicted Roosevelt virtuously sparing the life of a black bear that had been tied around the neck by a white hunter--the cartoon was an attempt to analogize TR's mercy toward the bear to TR's protection of Southern African Americans against white oppression." 

The bear, seen above, became TR's or "Teddy's" symbol of virtue. Amazing what a bear can do!

The ’Johns’ School

In the San Francisco area, the Erotic Service Providers Union is trying to increase their power by getting prostitution decriminalized. A spokeswoman says they want to end "violence and discrimination" against sex workers, but the reality for prostitutes where the trade is legalized isn't pretty. Many prostitutes are underage or trafficked slaves.

Furthermore:

A 2007 study by San Francisco psychologist and prostitution expert Melissa Farley found that in places where commercial sex is legal—such as Nevada, Germany, Australia and the Netherlands—illegal prostitution, as well as the number of rapes and assaults against prostitutes, has increased. Farley also found that more than 80 percent of the women working as prostitutes in Nevada's legal brothels "urgently want to escape." Both Germany and the Netherlands—countries infamous for their red-light districts—are reconsidering their decisions to legalize the practice. (Emphasis added.)

Miyoko Ohtake has written an excellent article in Newsweek about the sex trade and a program directed at sex-buyers. Called the First Offender Prostitution Program, it teaches "johns" about the devastation wrought by buying sex, and it has proven to be very successful. Included in Ohtake's exposé is an eye-opening video by Norma Hotaling, co-founder of the "johns' school."   

Unfortunately, if the would-be legalizers get their way, programs like this will be shut down.

The superpower that wasn’t

Is China really destined to be the world's next superpower? Not so fast, says Washington Post editor John Pomfret. When the Chinese government systematically began destroying the nation's children, he explains, it shot itself in the foot.

In the West, China is known as "the factory to the world," the land of unlimited labor where millions are eager to leave the hardscrabble countryside for a chance to tighten screws in microwaves or assemble Apple's latest gizmo. If the country is going to rise to superpowerdom, says conventional wisdom, it will do so on the back of its massive workforce.

But there's a hitch: China's demographics stink. No country is aging faster than the People's Republic, which is on track to become the first nation in the world to get old before it gets rich. Because of the Communist Party's notorious one-child-per-family policy, the average number of children born to a Chinese woman has dropped from 5.8 in the 1970s to 1.8 today -- below the rate of 2.1 that would keep the population stable. Meanwhile, life expectancy has shot up, from just 35 in 1949 to more than 73 today. Economists worry that as the working-age population shrinks, labor costs will rise, significantly eroding one of China's key competitive advantages.

Read more.

The Point Radio: Taking Every Thought Captive

How much thought do you give to your thought life?...


Click play above to listen.

’Chosen Soldier’: Time and Prudence

Chosen_soldier_2Time, of course, is a valuable commodity for Army Special Forces (SF). Being a Green Beret requires a man to spend a lot of time on deployment—in turn, taking a lot of time away from family. And although there are five active groups compared to two National Guard groups within SF, the “Guard groups . . . are very busy. [They] are spending a great deal of time overseas and a great deal of time in harm’s way.”

And though you may have heard about animosity between active-duty soldiers and so-called “part-timers” (National Guard), the “active groups have no problem integrating their guardsmen into their deploying units. In reality, they’ve no choice. Since 9/11, SF soldiers in the active groups are deployed 270 to 275 days a year.” And the guardsmen also “are gone a great deal of the time,” sometimes “as much or more than their active-duty brothers.”

As I’ve written previously, in today’s war in the Middle East, the Green Berets are a critical element. In light of their particular significance in this point of history, Dick Couch has written Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior, the subject of my book-blogging this summer. Actually, it may likely go into the fall. While the Green Berets’ time is well-structured, mine has been pulled in numerous directions. Hence, the three-plus weeks between my last post on Couch’s book and this one!

So I have been reading more about the structure of SF (that term, by the way, designates only the Army Special Forces, not that of all the branches), and the issues of time and prudence are what currently stand out.

Continue reading "’Chosen Soldier’: Time and Prudence" »

July 25, 2008

Re: Bail for Bale

I've watched all four of those recent Christian Bale films (but not Newsies--sorry, Zoe, I know that disappoints you!). I'm sure I will also see his next venture as another dark knight of sorts in the fourth Terminator movie.

But while I know almost nothing about the man behind the literal and figurative Hollywood masks, I don't see how playing so many conflicted and disturbed characters could fail to affect one's behavior or seep into his soul. Indeed, the story of The Dark Knight (and most of the other films, too) is about the ubiquitous and alluring presence of evil, which seeks to make even the greatest fall.

Such darkness cannot be taken lightly, whether by the actor or audience. Neither are immune, and even just viewing some of these dark movies is enough to alter the psyche, at least temporarily. So I don't think it's unreasonable at all to assume that spending hours and months pouring into a role like Batman, or Heath Ledger's Joker, would have potentially a very profound effect on those who take on the part.

And it is a reminder that we should be cautious and guarded about the messages and scenes that we allow to infiltrate our minds. The Dark Knight is an incredible movie that can provoke important and thoughtful discussion, but it also depicts evil in a most vivid way. Whether that portrayal was responsible for the downfalls of its portrayers, I'm not sure, though it's hard to deny the power of the film medium.

Daily roundup

Bail for Bale

Dark_knight_2 I've yet to see The Dark Knight, but I don't think anyone would doubt that there's something deeply dark about this blockbuster (that kept me trolling around in the parking lot for ten minutes last weekend battling all those premiere-goers). Heath Ledger's shocking death created endless questions of cause and effect. And, now Christian Bale's disheartening brush-off of the recent allegations that he assaulted his mother and sister should lead us to seriously question how unconnected actor and character truly are.

For me, it was an extra crushing (no pun intended) blow. Every girl has had her Hollywood sweetheart, the one that captured her heart during some daring feat across the silver screen. For many, it was Jimmy Stewart, Harrison Ford, or Brad Pitt. But from the moment 18-year-old Christian Bale led all of his fellow newspaper boys to victory in Newsies, he had my heart. Since then, with the exception of his softer appearances in Swing Kids and Little Women, Bale has gone on to define himself by more brooding roles, most recently in The Prestige, Rescue Dawn, 3:10 to Yuma, and now Dark Knight.

Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

Is it too far-fetched to believe that in between fighting darkness on the screen, some of that brooding has crept out of the big screen and into real life?

(Image © Warner Brothers)

’Wallpaper Music’

Something about the commonality and community of all humanity makes even a bad song universally loved, or at least liked, maybe tolerated.

Is that the appeal of Daniel Powter's "Bad Day"? Or is it simply the power of marketing to create ubiquity? I mean, no doubt you have heard this song.

There are theories as to its appeal.

So what is it that propels this, [and] a handful of other songs, in the prosperous league of wallpaper music?

"It's got one of those three- or four-word lyrics that means something to everyone's everyday life," says Russell Hier of SonyBMG. "No-one wants a bad day, but everybody has one."

Well, I guess, there's something to that. It might also be, in addition to that, the listener hopes for someone like the singer to be in his/her life, commiserating with their "bad day," and offering an umbrella to ward off the rain. Or the universal acquiescence to this tune could be that we can't get away from it since it's in so many commercials and TV shows.

I don't know. I'm going to go pop in some Cash.

(HT Reveries)

Rewire Your Teenager

Check out columnist Marcia Segelstein’s article on BreakPoint's teen worldview curriculum, Rewired. (Marcia is a longtime friend of BreakPoint who's written for us before.) 

Rewired is a great tool for getting the attention of the young crowd (and not the only one; see BreakPoint’s new Facebook page here!). As Marcia writes, it's an "antidote" to a steady diet of cultural poison. As I heard Chuck say last year, Christians must redouble their efforts to instill biblical worldview in children. He added that as adults, we cannot stand idly while relativism undermines the faith of our children and robs them of the one sure hope they have and desperately need.

I hope you'll consider getting a copy of Rewired for your family, school or church youth group. Also, feel free to send your ideas or experiences (what works and what will not work) on how to teach biblical worldview to teenagers.

Open book thread

Open_book_2 I hardly know what to say about James Owen's fantasy/adventure novel Here, There Be Dragons. If I say too much, I'll give away the big surprise reveal at the end. If I give away the big surprise reveal, I'll spoil things for many prospective readers. But if I don't give away the big surprise reveal, I won't be telling you about the most fascinating and delightful aspect of the book, and some of you may give it a miss without realizing exactly what you're passing up. In fact, it's because I myself was spoiled by a reviewer at Amazon -- of whose carelessness I thoroughly disapprove -- that I made up my mind to buy the book in the first place!

(It's quite possible, of course, that some of you might figure out the surprise for yourselves a few pages in. I honestly don't know whether I would have or not without the assist. As my team could tell you, their editor can be a little slow on the uptake.)

How about I just give you a link that should be safe -- along with my recommendation -- and let you decide for yourselves? Do be aware, though, that although it's primarily aimed at children (despite the fact that there are a lot of literary references that not many kids will be able to catch), there's a little bit of cursing in it.

In the meantime, what have you been reading lately?

A Definition of Insanity

Cellphone Mike Metzger presents an interesting look at communications and a growing lack of perspective amongst our fellow men.

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? Wisdom is seeing life through a wide-angle lens. A wide-angle lens doesn’t work up close.

To sum it up in a sentence: Constant communication without reflection creates insanity. Amen!

Politicians on Faith and Forgiveness in Rwanda

Senators Daschle and Frist, Mike Huckabee, John Podesta, John Kasich, Susan McCue, David Lane and Cindy McCain attended the Saint John the Baptist Cathedral in Rwanda on Sunday during their trip to Rwanda with the ONE Campaign.

The following is a short video clip I found at the ONE campaign's website from Mike Huckabee. He weighs in on faith and the fight against global poverty.

Continue reading "Politicians on Faith and Forgiveness in Rwanda" »

The Point Radio: Never Too Young to be a Hero

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes....


Click play above to listen.

6-Year-Old Saves 5-Year-Old Friend From Drowning,” WSB-TV Atlanta, 4 June 2008.

July 24, 2008

Daily roundup

Brideshead revised

Brideshead_remake The new film version of Evelyn Waugh's classic novel Brideshead Revisited is about to open. Last year, in what strikes me as an aptly titled article, screenwriter Jeremy Brock explained what he'd "done to Brideshead."

Contrary to some reports, God is not the villain of our adaptation. The villain is man-made theology; the emotional and moral contortions forced on to individuals by their adherence to a particular set of codes and practices. Inevitably, as in Waugh's novel, the film debates the merits and demerits of such belief systems in people's lives.

Considering that the quote about God being the villain came directly from the film's original screenwriter, Andrew Davies, Brock has no reason to be shocked that people got that impression of the upcoming film. But disclaimers aside, fans of Brideshead -- especially its theme of the "operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters," in Waugh's own words -- still have reason for concern. The term "man-made theology" by itself is enough to ring the alarm bells. In practical terms, especially when it comes to the modern film industry, there's usually not an awful lot of distance between "The church is the villain" and "God is the villain." At least not for those of us who believe that God was the organizer of organized religion.

Continue reading "Brideshead revised" »

Cindy McCain in Rwanda

Cindy_mccain I'm a little behind on news (just getting back from my honeymoon), but I read today about Cindy McCain's recent trip to Rwanda. Michael Gerson had an excellent op-ed on it in yesterday's Post. He writes that this week's trip was not McCain's first:

Cindy McCain's first visit to this country, in 1994, was during the high season of roadblocks and machetes and shallow graves.

Following a call for help from Doctors Without Borders, McCain had assembled a medical team with the intention of setting up a mobile hospital in Rwanda. Arriving by private plane in mid-April, a couple of weeks into the massacres, she realized that the chaos made deploying her team impossible. At the airport, she paid for the use of a truck and set out for Goma in then-Zaire, where hundreds of thousands of refugees were also headed.

While McCain never saw someone kill another while there, she saw kids carrying AK-47s at roadblocks and guzzling bottles of Guinness. She also told Gerson that she could smell "the smell of death." Read the full op-ed here.

Gerson concludes his thoughts on a potential first lady's visit to Rwanda this way:

Like most of Cindy McCain's life, these stories are generally hidden behind a wall of well-tailored reticence. She values the privacy of her family and resents the intrusiveness of the media. None of her relief work has been done for political consumption or Washington prominence. On the contrary, it has been an alternative life to the culture of the capital -- the rejection of the normal progress of a senator's wife. "It is not about me -- it never has been. I felt it was important -- that I had to do it. I never took government money. It was my own, and I am not ashamed of it."

But all this would have political consequences in a McCain administration. Even if a first lady is not intrusively political, the whole White House responds to her priorities. Cindy McCain has had decades of personal contact with the suffering of the developing world. And in some future crisis or genocide, it might matter greatly to have a first lady who knows the smell of death.

Continue reading "Cindy McCain in Rwanda" »

Excellence at the University

University Paul Yarbrough has written a must-read article for any Christian involved in higher education, called "Academia Hurtles Towards Limbo." He offers 11 "essential guideposts" for evaluating the excellence of a particular school, including such principles as these:

1. A great American university models the words of Jesus: "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." To that end, "the mission of a university should be uncovering truths and applying them to our lives and our culture so that we can continue to live as a free people."

2. "A great American university advances the position that Western Civilization ... must be understood and recognized as the [principal] historical force advancing free societies. In so doing, it should advocate the necessity of cultivating and defending Western Civilization." It should also teach the "essential historical fact" that the Christian Church as been "the [principal] defender, contributor to, and advocate of Western Civilization since the collapse of the Roman Empire...."

3. "A university must maintain rigorous academics and a high-quality faculty to support its mission statement."

4. "Participation in one's own religion must be encouraged." 

5.  A great American university will have a "patriotic spirit about [it]"; it will not be a place where "love of country [is] mocked." This includes making the campus a place where "ROTC and military recruiters" are welcome and a place where a "school's fallen military heroes [are] duly honored."

6. "The arts and entertainment on campus must uphold what is inspirational, timeless, wholesome, and beautiful."

7. "A significant percentage of students ought to spend time helping the less fortunate at home and abroad .... Service hours should be required." 

How would you grade the university you graduated from according to these standards? Sadly, I would give my alma maters a C+ at best! 

Holy Fools

Icon_of_the_protection In Orthodox Christianity, there are those known as Holy Fools or yurodivy (юродивый) in Russian. (St. Francis of Assisi was a kind of Western Catholic Holy Fool.) The Holy Fool

acts intentionally foolish in the eyes of men. He or she often goes around half-naked, is homeless, speaks in riddles, is believed to be clairvoyant and a prophet, and may occasionally be disruptive and challenging to the point of seeming immorality (though always to make a point).

The figure of the Holy Fool has inspired and figures prominently in art. For instance, Dostoevsky's The Idiot.

My favorites, though, come from the world of music and film. In the tenth century, Constantinople was under siege by Islamic forces. During an all-night vigil at Church of St. Mary of Blachernae, Andrew the Holy Fool

saw the dome of the church open and the Virgin Mary enter, moving in the air above him, glowing and surrounded by angels and saints. She knelt and prayed with tears for all faithful Christians in the world. The Virgin Mary asked her son, Jesus Christ, to accept the prayers of all the people entreating him and looking for her protection. Once her prayer was completed, she walked to the altar and continued to pray. Afterwards, she spread her veil over all the people in the church as a protection.

To this day, the Feast of the Protecting Veil of the Theotokos is celebrated every October 1. It also inspired one of my favorite pieces of music: The Protecting Veil by John Tavener.

Continue reading "Holy Fools " »

Weird News

What are people smoking this summer?

A World without Truth Is ’No Country for Old Men’

Chigurh ...or "from Kant to Chigurh in two easy steps."

(Image © Miramax)

The Point Radio: Iron Sharpening Iron

What could researchers tell from hearing you and your spouse argue?...


Click play above to listen.

John Gottman, Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage, (Random House, 2006).