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« September 2006 | Main | November 2006 »

October 31, 2006

Happy NaNoWriMo!

NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow, as my university's English department keeps informing me via e-mail. No, this is not the Japanese word for November. It's National Novel Writing Month.

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

Although this English major's blood runs cold at the thought of valuing anything over painstaking craft in writing, I admit that enthusiasm and perseverance -- especially perseverance -- are also pretty essential to any writing process. And who knows, this might just turn out to be exactly what some of the frustrated novelists among us need. (Here's looking at you, Martha . . . :-) ) So if you've had that 50,000-word story lurking inside you for years, just needing a boost like this to get started, why not head on over and sign up?

But before you do, may I suggest you print out the following quotation and tape it to your computer, or anywhere else where you can keep one eye on it while hammering out your magnum opus:

You must not tell people what they want to hear, or even what they need to hear, unless it is the thing you passionately want to tell them. You must not look at them from above, or outside, and say: "Poor creatures; they would obviously be the better for so-and-so -- I must try and make up a dose for them." . . .

The false thing may -- I only say may -- assist a few souls here and now, but God knows how many it may help to damn at another time. Take shoddy, weak, sentimental religious art: there are pious souls who get comfort out of bad stained glass and sloppy hymns and music (though they might well get better nourishment out of honest stuff). But thousands of others have spewed at the sight and sound of it, and said "If Christianity fosters that kind of thing it must have a lie in its soul."

-- Dorothy L. Sayers, letter to C. S. Lewis, 31 July 1946

(I know I'm giving you a lot of Sayers lately. Expect even more, because right now I'm neck-deep in my graduate thesis on her. Besides, I think we've reached our monthly quota of Flannery O'Connor.)

So have fun, but do your best to make sure your writing is a piece of good writing, not just a piece of evangelism thinly disguised as fiction. Sorry I can't join in, but I've got to get this thesis done. Maybe next year . . .

Alex Keaton is Absolutely Right . . .

. . . about this:

"Where was the outcry when in vitro fertilization was started twenty years ago? Because this has been going on for twenty years. Hundreds and thousands of these cells have been destroyed every year . . ."

What the writer of the article says about the problem in my Church . . .

The problem of in vitro for the pro-life movement has been an enormous stumbling block for the fight against embryo research and cloning, even from the Catholic front. Despite a definitive document from Rome dating to 1986, the Catholic Church has failed on the ground level to significantly oppose IVF. Most Catholics are not even aware that their Church opposes it

. . . is, if anything, even more pronounced in other Christian traditions, especially those who don't regard themselves as "Christian traditions," if you catch my drift.

While the glaring inconsistency doesn't justify additional violations of the sanctity of human life, Fox has earned a well-deserved Boom Goes the Dynamite!

Via Relapsed Catholic

Here They Come to Save the Day

In lieu of the sometimes fulfilling, often frustrating addiction to Lost, I've taken a chance on another mysterious fantasy drama this fall, NBC's Heroes. The premise isn't exactly groundbreaking -- a group of unlikely and unsuspecting average Joes discover that they have special powers and now must band together to save the world from villains with equal or greater abilities. We've read this comic book before.

But the story of this team of potentially super heroes is unveiled in a way that is both dramatic and fun, dark and ridiculous. Their mission, as we know it so far, is to stop an imminent nuclear attack against New York City that has been prophesied by at least two of our heroes. Again, not exactly novel territory -- heroes saving New York, how clever -- but the engaging cast and storylines manage to keep it fresh.

More intriguing than the show's plot, however, is an ever increasing tension between the concepts of evolution and "destiny." This is surely quite deliberate, and provides a framework that I suspect will define what the show is all about. On the one hand, the heroes are assumed to have been given their abilities through mindless natural selection. On the other, most of good guys have an unyielding sense that their powers were assigned for a great purpose, that they were called, somehow, as protectors of the world.

That is, perhaps, the underlying question in all superhero stories, though I don't know of any that have laid it out so vividly as this one. At the end of last night's episode, one of the main characters -- Mohinder Suresh, a professor out to learn the secrets of these gifted people -- claims: “Evolution is an imperfect and often violent process. Morality loses its meaning. The question of good and evil is reduced to one simple choice: survive or perish.”

The statement pegs the central challenge of a naturalistic worldview, and one of the most important philosophical arguments in favor of a designed universe: Morality is empty and useless without a foundation transcendent to nature. I don't know how Heroes will ultimately address this question, but it so far has displayed the problem quite profoundly. And it is certainly doing a fair job of showing the hopelessness and despair of a society with no Savior.

’Reformation Day Reflections’

What does a German monk nailing a long list of complaints on a church door have to do with an African American ministering in a small, international Caribbean island?

Read on for a miraculous story of grace working through the most unlikely people, in the most unlikely setting. (H/T The Line)

For All the Saints: How Can I Blaspheme my King?

Since tomorrow is All Saints Day, I was reflecting this morning on that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us, people who followed Christ, many even unto death. This morning on my way out the door I grabbed my copy of The History of The Church written by that great early historian, Eusebius, who lived between AD 269 and 339. If you've never read much about the early church, I commend this primary source to you. It will give you a greater level of appreciation for what amazing sacrifices were made so that we could know the Gospel these 2000 years after Christ. One story in the history is that of the martyrdom of Polycarp. I offer it as an encouragement to greater faith and courage in whatever you may be facing today:

Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!" No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect to thy old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as]," Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the Atheists." Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;" Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"

And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, "Swear by the fortune of Caesar," he answered, "Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them." The proconsul replied, "Persuade the people." But Polycarp said, "To thee I have thought it right to offer an account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me."

The proconsul then said to him, "I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou repent." But he answered, "Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous." But again the proconsul said to him, "I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent." But Polycarp said, "Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt."

While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice, "Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian."

You can read more of the account of Polycarp here or by purchasing the History of the Church by Eusebius.

Well, This is New

Bulgarian striker Ivelin Popov is regarded as a potential star and future mainstay of his country's national squad. The biggest obstacles that stand between him and achieving his potential are his "wild living" and "volatile temper."

Fans of the Portland Jail Blazers, Cincinnati Bungles, and the Minnesota Viking Cruises, as well as the rest of American sports fans are, by now, used to reading about  players with "character issues." So, there's nothing noteworthy in this story, except for what Popov's team decided to do about his "character issues": instead of suspending him or compelling him to enroll in an "anger-management" class or some other kind of counseling, they ordered him to get married.

Bulgarian premier league side Litex Lovech have ordered striker Ivelin Popov to get married in the coming year in the hope that it curtail his wild living.

Even more surprising is Popov's response:

"I accept the order and I promise to do it," said Popov who is a key member of Bulgaria's under-21 squad. "My bosses are right to want such a thing from me because they know my temper."

Fortunately for Popov, he's got a particular footballer's wife in mind:

"She's very nice and very smart. I think this will be the woman of my life, so don't remind me my past, please," he said.

"They want me thinking only about football and the marriage probably will help me to calm down.

"I know I'm a very bad boy and I want to meet my 20th birthday as a married man."

The prospective Mrs. Very Bad Boy wasn't available for comment.

Talking to Wiccans, Part 2


Following up from yesterday, in today's "BreakPoint" commentary on Wicca's Charm, Chuck tells us what author Catherine Edwards Sanders suggests Christians do to reach out to Wiccans they know.

Wicca is a real, powerful, and dangerous thing. Laura, a high school student, told Sanders that she "had a very bad experience" during a Wiccan ritual and is now "haunted by a scary presence." Kathleen and Paula, two former Wiccans, also report "negative experiences too frightening to describe." Others have similar accounts.

So it's hardly surprising that we Christians would perceive Wicca as a threat. But is it right for us then to turn our backs on Wiccans, or to treat them offensively? What good can that possibly do? That kind of behavior has never been known to win anyone to Christ—on the contrary, it only turns people away. . . .

Art Lindsley of the C. S. Lewis Institute says that Wicca and other forms of neo-Paganism are a result of "the unpaid bills of the church." The Church is supposed to be a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Our whole worldview is built on the idea of a loving God who created every person in His own image. When we fail to put that worldview into practice, people lose interest in Christianity. Many of them go off in search of a religion built on self-fulfillment, not love of God—a religion like Wicca.

So how should we as Christians reach out to Wiccans? . . .

Read the rest of the commentary to find out; then come back here and share your thoughts. And if there are any readers out there who have dealt with Wiccan friends/acquaintances, please share how you witnessed to them.

Centurions: a call for the few and the brave

I affirm all that my colleagues, Jeff and Diane, have said about the Centurion Program experience. As they have indicated, the Program was a Kairos moment—a juncture at which my passion for worldview met with a vision of how that passion should be directed and fulfilled. Up until the Centurions, I had studied worldview from an academic perspective without any real consideration of how a Christian worldview should inform my thinking and action in every aspect of life.

As Jeff and Diane warned, the program is demanding--it will stretch you. At the same time, it is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be mentored by a world-class staff and to be networked with a select cadre of individuals committed to make a real difference in our culture.

In addition to the reading and writing assignments, daily devotionals, movie reviews, worldview observations, regular teleconferences and three residences in DC, you have immediate access, via a dedicated website, to your fellow centurions—brothers and sisters in Christ who will challenge you, encourage you and inspire you to reach to your highest potential.

This program is not for everyone. But if you are among the “few” and the “brave” with a passion to teach, advocate and apply Christian worldview for the shaping and renewing of culture, Centurions will uniquely prepare you in 1) understanding the philosophies and agendas behind the forces driving our culture, 2) incorporating the Christian worldview at home, work, church and the public square, 3) promoting the Christian worldview with confidence and in an effective, winsome way, and 4) equipping others to do the same.

For you who feel the call: on the horizon, there’s a storm a brewin’—join me, and the hundreds of others, in taking it on!

Can’t anyone in Hollywood stay together?

Ok, the title of this post is exaggerating a bit -- there are some long-time marriages in Hollywood. I could probably count them on one hand. But I was really hoping Ryan Phillipe and Reese Witherspoon would last. With their backgrounds (I'm privy to personal anecdotes about Phillipe from a close friend of his who had known him in Delaware and spoke of his Christian background, and Reese's churchgoing is public knowledge), I would have hoped that would influence how they conducted their marriage. (Fine, call me an idealist.) But it's over.

In positive news about marriage, this couple is about to break a Guinness world record:

When they married on Oct. 23, 1926, Bill was 17 and Lorine just 16. Their fathers had to give their approval to make the union legal.

"I hope to tell you I can (remember the wedding)," said Bill, who's now 97. "... I borrowed a horse and buggy, and (we) went on dirt roads."

They traveled to the home of their magistrate, Green Daniels, who performed the ceremony free of charge. ...

"You'd think we'd not had sense enough to feed ourselves by marrying without a job," Bill said. "But we lived good. ... Lorine, my wife, was the workingest person you've seen. She could make a cake or pie as good as anybody." ...

There's no secret to staying happily married for so long, Bill said.

"It ought to be what everybody knows," he said. "First, you should know love. You should know you're in love. Then, you should know the Lord."

While other couples fuss, fight and divorce, they simply decided not to do that.

"We knew we would have disagreements," Bill said. "We just decided if we had disagreements, we would just drop it ... kiss and say goodnight. We still do it."

All together now: Awwww! But seriously, this isn't rocket science. Bill and Lorine get it.

October 30, 2006

Welcome to the new blog baby!

Just a quick post to celebrate some good news: Our own Allen Thornburgh and his wife, Diana, are the proud parents of a new baby girl, Sarah. Congratulations to the Thornburgh family!

RE: Centurion Program


Thanks for expressing so well what the rest of us Centurions have experienced -- that "moment of destiny" when we first heard about the program and realized (sometimes, with great surprise) that we were supposed to apply (and an even greater sense of surprise when we were selected!).

I would add one note to those who are considering the 2007 class: apply with someone you know, such as your spouse or a friend. We had several husband-wife teams in the 2004 class; and my daughter, Allison, and I also went through the program together. First, it was a delight to realize that God was allowing us to grow side-by-side through this unique program and with such fantastic teachers as Chuck Colson, T.M. Moore, Ken Boa, and Glenn Sunshine. Second, doing it together allowed us to carry on discussions beyond the resident weekends and the online community, which enhanced the learning situation considerably.

Since then, it has given us opportunities to work together on some of our post-graduation worldview projects: we've shared ideas and resources as we've taught courses on How Now Shall We Live? and The Question of God in our respective churches (we live in different cities). Currently, we're helping one another shape and critique the presentations we will give at a worldview conference in Austin, Texas in January 2007 (an event organized by another 2004 Centurion). There's no guarantee that both applicants will be accepted into the program, but it's worth the effort to apply just in case.

In the Centurion program, you will learn a great deal that will enhance your ability to think Christianly in all spheres of life; but you will also make some incredible, for-eternity friends. There's nothing quite like being in a room full of Christ-centered believers who are determined to obey the command to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind. The backgrounds of the participants are varied, so you won't always agree on every point of doctrine; however, you will experience the unity of faith that Christ wants us to have. You will find that your mutual love for Christ will bind you together in ways you could not have imagined previously.

To worship with the understanding -- at any age

Suzanne Hadley at The Line reports,

"Sugarcoated, MTV-style youth ministry is so over," says Time magazine. The new trend? Bible-based worship. This is good news. Today's teens are craving something deeper than scavenger hunts and rock concerts. According to the article:
Youth ministers have been on a long and frustrating quest of their own over the past two decades or so. Believing that a message wrapped in pop-culture packaging was the way to attract teens to their flocks, pastors watered down the religious content and boosted the entertainment. But in recent years churches have begun offering their young people a style of religious instruction grounded in Bible study and teachings about the doctrines of their denomination. Their conversion has been sparked by the recognition that sugarcoated Christianity, popular in the 1980s and early '90s, has caused growing numbers of kids to turn away not just from attending youth-fellowship activities but also from practicing their faith at all.

And all these years I thought I was the only kid put off by that sort of thing. Although I attended and still attend a wonderful church that I love, I would rather have cleaned all the restrooms in the place than become a regular attender at any youth group that I knew of. I loved the adult activities; I was put off by the teen ones. (In fairness, I attended so few of the latter that I may not have gotten the full picture.) I never could understand why youth ministers (yes, and often young adult ministers as well) find it so necessary to dumb everything down for the younger crowd -- nor did I like it that all of us were expected to like the same things because we happened to be the same age. Obviously segregation by age is much easier than segregation by interests, so it's hard to blame a church for that. But why assume that what they all want when it comes to religious intstruction is books full of Christianity Lite and songs empty of any real content or beauty? The dwindling numbers suggest, paradoxically, that the more seeker-friendly a church becomes, the less church-friendly it makes the kids.

And forget what Time says about "the past two decades." These trends, or something very like them, went on all the way back at the dawn of the last century, according to a biography of the great detective novelist and theological writer Dorothy L. Sayers:

She seems to have sensed [as a teenage girl] that there were two kinds of Christianity, the sentimental, which made her feel uncomfortable, and the Christianity she glimpsed in the lovely language of the Scriptures and in the great churches, where the name of God was surrounded “with scarlet and blue and gold and strange birds and flowers in painted missals . . . In the book called Orthodoxy there were glimpses of this other Christianity, which was beautiful and adventurous and queerly full of honor.” And elsewhere in [her unfinished novel] Cat O’Mary she wrote: "A strict course of exact and dogmatic theology might well provide the intellect with a good, strong bone to cut its teeth on; but . . . to worship with the understanding had already, in Katherine’s school-days, become unfashionable."

So what does happen when teens are taught to worship with the understanding?

Continue reading "To worship with the understanding -- at any age" »

’The least of these my brethren’

Amanda Witt at Wittingshire has done the invaluable work of collecting and excerpting articles and books that have something crucial to say about the Michael J. Fox controversy, including some written long before it arose. A sample, from Jim McGuiggan:

To get their work done, their very demanding work, to get it growing and glowing, [leaders often in effect say]: "We have assembled and discussed the matter, Lord, and we all voted for survival of the fittest."

And how would God feel about such a decision? Would he not say, "I was sick and naked and lonely and cold and hungry and imprisoned and broken and weak ... and you voted for survival of the fittest?" And might we not say, "Lord, when were you sick and lonely and hungry and broken and weak and we let you go to the wolves?" And what will we say if he should reply, "In as much as you did it unto the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me?"

Read more.

Talking to Wiccans

Wiccans Today's and tomorrow's "BreakPoint" radio commentaries revisit a book we first discussed last year: Wicca's Charm by Catherine Edwards Sanders. In "Casting a Spell," Chuck mentions three reasons described by Sanders that Wicca appeals to its followers:

  1. Many Wiccans feel modern Christianity has failed them.
  2. Women who embrace Wicca said they felt churches excluded them from ministry.
  3. Wicca's followers say they are looking for a spirituality that is real: "When churches ignore the reality of an unseen world or focus only on this world, the author warns, they lose people to alternative religions that do offer supernatural experiences."

Read the whole commentary, and then come back here to discuss your thoughts. And be sure to read tomorrow's commentary, "'The Unpaid Bills of the Church,'" on how to reach out to those caught up in Wicca (hint: blaring Christian rock music at them is not the answer).

The Centurions Program: Reflections From A Centurion

It was in the summer of 2003 when I first heard about the Centurions Program on the radio. It was one of those “sense of destiny” moments in life where you know that your giftedness, passion and a unique opportunity are all converging. Perhaps you are feeling the same sense of destiny moment now as you consider enrolling in the 2007 Centurions program.

There are many worldview institutes and training opportunities out there. As a 2004 Centurion, I can speak from experience on what distinguishes the Centurions program from the rest.

The Centurions program is more than a learning opportunity. To be selected into this program means you are committed to teaching and mentoring others in how to think with a Biblical worldview. The Centurions program is not a program where you will gather, be taught, and go back to living your life with a fresh set of books and some pictures of you shaking hands with notable Christian speakers. Entering the program comes with a commitment to teach and mentor others. A teaching assignment, in fact, is part of the curriculum. That shared commitment to influence others and pass on knowledge creates a special dynamic that goes with being part of a community of serious, kingdom-minded Christians who want to engage a needy world for the cause of Christ.

The content of the program is meaty and challenging. The speakers, the readings, the writing and movie watching assignments, the devotions, the interactions on the web forum, and the residencies in the D.C., area are all top notch and stretching. The face to face times in D.C. are especially priceless.; I remember coming back from my first residency in January of 2004 both exhausted and energized at the same time. Where else can you sit down and enjoy lunch and talk apologetics with the guy that co-authored Faith Has Its Reasons (Ken Boa)? Where else can you sit through a seminar on influencing worldview thinking through writing, taught by someone with this breadth of writing experience and worldview knowledge, T.M. Moore? Where else can you be taught, mentored and inspired by someone with the knowledge, life experience and authenticity of Chuck Colson? Where can you become part of a cohort of committed, authentic and gracious ambassadors for the kingdom of God like my Point/Centurion co-bloggers Regis, Diane and Martha (the Director who makes this program work)?

The answer is the Centurions program. The deadline for enrollment (Nov 30th) is fast approaching. Come join the adventure.

Re: Redeeming the time

Candybowl Kristine, today's Christian Science Monitor has an article echoing your encouragement to participate in Halloween festivities:

Halloween, long associated with pagan traditions, is now high season for an old American tradition of evangelizing through tracts. The nation's four major publishers of tracts say they sell more at Halloween than at any other time of year, including Christmas and Easter. And the push is on to grow the seasonal market. This year, thanks to new glow-in-the-dark tracts, the Texas-based American Tract Society expects to set a new Halloween record by shipping out more than 4 million tracts.

Also, this past column by John Fischer offers thoughtful ideas on how believers should think about October 31:

What we do with Halloween is a kind of microcosm for our positioning in the world as Christians. Over time, we have attempted to wrestle a number of cultural events away from the world in the process of creating a safer experience for our families and especially our kids. In my upbringing, this goes all the way back to stuffy junior high church group banquets when we dressed up, got all choked up asking a date, and went through all the same agonies that accompanied everyone else’s prom night, just without the dancing. Then there was "movie night" at the church and "church skate night" at the roller rink to keep us out of the theaters, and card games like Rook to protect us from the evils of poker.

But what good are we in the world when we are constantly reacting to what is wrong with it by providing for our own alternative entertainment—successfully removing ourselves from the world instead of being in it with the light and love of Christ? [emphasis mine] . . .

It all comes down to why we are here. Are we here to enjoy life in as safe an environment as possible? Are we here to recreate the world as it should be, or as we might want it to be? Or are we here to bring Jesus to the world, however dangerous that might be? All this protective activity is counter-productive to the Gospel. We are trying to be safe from the world when Jesus has promised only to keep us safe in the world, while always assuming that it is a dangerous place to be. "My prayer," he said, "is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one" (John 17:15).

Read the rest of "Home for Halloween."

The Social Justice Spectrum

Bishop Harry R. Jackson, Jr., a leader in the black community and pastor of Hope Christian Church, a multi-racial church in Maryland, warns against the poles of blaming urban America for creating its own problems or blaming society for causing these problems. In an interview with Christianity Today, he cites Prison Fellowship as a model of mercy and responsibility as it applies to social justice issues:

I'm simply saying it's going to take a little more of a redemptive intervention, such as the kind of faith-based prison aftercare that we see from ministries like Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship. With many conservatives, there tends to be an all-or-nothing personal responsibility thing over and against systemic issues. Sadly, you don't see many people from either side of the spectrum saying, "Hey, could it be that the truth is somewhere in the middle? Perhaps there's a genuine role for society, government, and the church working together with the family and individuals to make a difference." I believe that's closer to the biblical balance of social justice and individual responsibility to which Christ calls us.

MySpace? Yawn . . .

Yesterday's Washington Post had a front-page story on the decline of MySpace's popularity among teens, noting their fickleness over favored online social sites:

It's hard to make an online audience stick. Most Internet services are free and compete for a viewer's time, which most sites then try to parlay into advertising dollars. The more time someone spends on a site, the more ads they see. The successful sites engender habits among their users, but users can -- and historically have -- defected to other services for any number of reasons.

The high school English class cites several reasons for backing off of MySpace: Creepy people proposition them. Teachers and parents monitor them. New, more alluring free services comes along, so they collectively jump ship.

Although the article focuses on marketing trends among teens and how they are hard to pinpoint, what we should really take notice of and encourage is this teen's take on the trends:

"Over time, people are going to get sick of talking to people on the computer," he said. "I just think people will want to spend more time with each other -- without the wall of technology."

Redeeming the time

Quick, name a holiday when you can spread the love of Jesus to children. If you said "Christmas," well, we at Prison Fellowship are grateful. But what about that holiday right around the corner? You know, that one that Christians like to boycott, hiding inside with the lights out lest we be seen as endorsing a night of evil. Yes, I'm talking about Halloween.

I have to confess, Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, and not just because of the cheap candy I'll get Wednesday or the adorable Supermen and princesses who will shyly knock or brazenly try to open the door themselves to get at the candy basket. It's because this is the only time of year that dozens of children will march right up to my front door and let me give them something. And I don't waste the opportunity. For years, I have given every child a Christian tract along with their candy bar.  This year, it's bookmarks with Bible verses.; Next year, I'm thinking of going hard core and handing out little pocket New Testaments in blue and pink. I've been doing this for eight years and not one parent has ever complained; and frankly, the kids are excited to be getting something other than candy.

Jesus said, "Let the little children come unto me." Well, on Halloween, they turn out in droves. At no other time of year will you have an opportunity like this to reach children who don't know Christ. As a pastor of mine once put it, "If Jesus were around today, I think He'd have the biggest bucket of the best candy in the whole neighborhood." So go on, redeem the holiday and make the most of every opportunity.

I am Mommy, hear me roar

I was looking over my son's college applications the other night and was startled to find instruction on the "family background" section of the Johns Hopkins application to identify one's parents as as either "Parent 1: Gender (Optional)" or "Parent 2: Gender (Optional)."

Well, excuse me, but I am NOT "Parent 1, Gender (Optional)." I am my son's mother. My husband is our son's father--facts recognized on every other application form my son filled out.

I know where this stuff is coming from: It's coming from the folks who insist that terms like "mother" and "father" are offensive to applicants who grew up with two "mothers" or two "fathers."  The Johns Hopkins application office is going along with the sophistry that it's actually possible to have two parents of the same sex. It's not.

It’s simple biology that no human being has ever been born except through the union of one man and one woman (or, in a small percentage of cases, between a union of their cells in a Petri dish), each of whom contributed 23 chromosomes. It’s silly to ignore the obvious, treating males and females as if they were interchangeable and fungible.

Refusing to label something what it is is not just a question of semantics. In this case, it denies an essential part of what it is to be human. Forcing mothers and fathers to identify themselves as a genderless “parent number one” or “parent number two” is the ultimate ideological exercise. It attempts to reinvent human beings in keeping with a philosophical agenda. But—as with Marxism—the re-inventors don’t recognize humans for what we are. When they run headlong into reality, the ideology crumbles—but usually not before doing a lot of damage. In the name of exquisite sensitivity to an extremely tiny fraction of all parents, the "parent number one" folks are trying to ignore biology and reinvent human nature.

In the short run, being called “Parent Number One” (or Two) is merely annoying. In the long run—well, there’s no predicting where bad thinking leads. It has a way of creating mischief in ways people least expect—such as irritating the mothers and fathers of potential Johns Hopkins students so much that they may decide to spend their $40,000 at schools that show them a little respect.

What’s In A Name?

Thanks to Bill Simmons, a.k.a., "The Sports Guy" at ESPN.com, I have yet another way to fritter away the time: The Baby Name Wizard.

All you do is type in a name and you can see how its popularity has waxed and waned over the past 125 years. Now, it isn't a complete waste of time. Like tree rings and ice-core samples, if you know how to read it, you can learn a lot about the years in question.

(Father Richard John Neuhaus has often commented on the lists of most popular boys' and girls' names and what it might say about our attitudes towards the sexes. He notes that girls "are much more frequently pinned with novelty names, while boys are, more often than not, given names with some serious historical resonance, usually religious in nature.")

For instance, if you type in my name you get a "hockey stick" graph with an almost tripling in the percent of boys named "Roberto" in my lifetime. Obviously, it's an artifact of immigration and the growing Latino population in the U.S. (The results for my brothers' names, Efrain and Josue, are even more dramatic.)

During the same time, the fortunes of familiar English names like Robert, Betty and even Mary sank faster than the Titanic. At this point, if a kid is named after the Mother of Jesus or her cousin, she's very likely a Latina or the daughter of Spanish teachers. (Ditto for the rest of la Sagrada Familia: few Josephs, lots of Joses.)

I note that the age of "Brittany" and "Crystal" seems to have mercifully drawn to a close and that "Lindsay" has really cratered, perhaps in tandem with our esteem for the most famous "Lindsay" out there. One can only hope.

October 27, 2006

End Abortion -- Doctor’s Orders

The campaign to ban abortion in South Dakota seems to have gained an unlikely ally in the form of a Planned Parenthood doctor who is now offering vocal support of the measure.

Dr. Patti Giebink, now an obstetrician-gynecologist from Chamberlain, appears in a television commercial sponsored by VoteYesForLife.com, which plans to start airing the ad in the next few days.

"I think this is the time to ban abortion on demand in our state. I don't think it's necessary. I think its time is past," she says in the ad that's posted on the group's Internet site....

Leslee Unruh of Sioux Falls, who coordinated the lobbying effort for the bill in the Legislature and manages the Vote Yes campaign, said Giebink's support shows people do change their stance.

"This is an amazing, very courageous step on her part to stand up and take the side of life and the side of yes for life instead of a no for abortion," said Unruh, who once had an abortion. "Obviously, I thought abortion was an option. And so did Patti. But you can change."

Dawn Eden has video of the ad. It is a simple but powerful message -- from a quite reliable source -- that maybe the country should have second thoughts about the acceptance of abortion.

Re: Careless with Our Language

Kim, the book you mentioned, Beyond Words, certainly is a much-needed publication. Can any of us understand each other nowadays, as language, like so much else, has become individualized? Between hip-hop slang on the mouths of white 15-year-old upper-middle-class boys (or worse, 50-year-old wannabe hipsters), or the text-speak of tweeners, or even the more-intellectual-than-thou elitists, it's a modern-day Babel. And Reveries today brings up another unfortunate phenomenon: corporate speak in the mouths of babes (the day my daughter asks me if I put a cover sheet on my TPS report I'll know the end of the world is near . . . ):

"Corporate lingo is worse than general slang and even curse words," says Mike Puccini, as quoted by Jared Sandberg in The Wall Street Journal (10/24/06). And yet, "it is infiltrating our homes, as unwelcome as water damage … pushing us to verbify nouns (to whiteboard, to effort, to calendar) and to nounify verbs (a solve)." Of course, when the kids come home with their own vocab, the result can be an almost total communications meltdown. "When Michael Shiller, a management consultant, wanted to talk with his 15-year-old daughter about where she was going with her friends, he told her, 'You have to recognize your ARAs and measure against them.'

"… His daughter, he says, ‘looked at me like I was from outer space.'" (ARA is “human resources” for Accountability, Responsibility and Authority). . . .

Denise Watkins, who learned her jargon in the pharmaceutical industry, says her that "when her second-grade daughter was studying vocabulary, she used 'paradigm shift' in a sentence for the word 'shift.'" The problem is perhaps more serious than most of us realize: "Kristine Fitch, editor of … Research on Language and Social Interaction, says linguistic patterns are sometimes habit, sometimes hidden agenda, sometimes both." She comments: "You can pretend it's just a habit … but it is meant to signify your status in a group to which the audience doesn't belong. You get to talk like the boss, or sound like the latest leadership manual." Or, as Jared Sandberg suggests: "It’s … a handy way to appear to know what you’re talking about when you don't."

Humor aside, these new tribal "languages" are separating us without scattering us as our forebears at the Tower of Babel were. The deconstruction of rules and meaning in language will, indeed, cause us to be "careless with our world," as Humphrys put it and Kim pointed out. Worse, it will make us careless with our relationships with others.

Welcome Week or Brainwash Bash?

After reading the first chapter of Fish Out of Water by Abby Nye, a fellow student of mine from high school, I’m realizing what I “missed out on” by attending a Christian college. Well, maybe I should be glad.

Abby’s first chapter discusses freshmen orientation week at her secular university. I thought back to my first week of college which included meaningful conversations with my RAs, a special chapel service, a square dance, light-hearted skits, and dinner with my new freshman hallmates. Orientation week left a wonderful imprint on my whole college experience.

Little did I know what friends like Abby were experiencing at their own places of higher education. Abby describes attending mandatory meetings that involved disclosing your personal views on homosexuality, crowd mixer sessions that encouraged sexually explicit behavior, and a lecture that concluded with the statement that all religions are the same. What surprised Abby most was not that she was confronted with these liberal ideas, but that she was expected to accept them without comment. She writes:

Our institutions of higher education greet freshmen not as individuals on the threshold of adulthood, but as embodiments of group identity, largely defined in terms of blood and history, who are to be infantilized at every turn.

Kudos to Abby for speaking out about this forced infantilization. Her book serves as encouragement to any Christian college student seeking to swim upstream against the harsh current of postmodern brainwashing.

And for all those freshmen attending Christian colleges this fall, don’t complain about getting up at 6 a.m. for that sunrise praise and worship service.

Hope for Harris

Catherine, the Washington Post is stealing your headlines!!

But be that as it may, this article about Sam Harris is a very good read. It opens:

There are really just two possibilities for Sam Harris. Either he is right and millions of Christians, Muslims and Jews are wrong. Or Sam Harris is wrong and he is so going to hell.

I couldn't help chuckling over this; it sounded so like one of the reasons C. S. Lewis gave for his conversion to Christianity. Not the hell part, but the part about realizing that in his atheism he was standing all but alone against the tides of history and cultural tradition, and that it was more likely that he was wrong than that millions, including so many great thinkers and writers whom he admired, were wrong. Maybe there's hope for Mr. Harris yet?

Another reason I want to go to Ireland

Thanks to Beth Maynard, co-author of Get Up Off Your Knees (see her response to my recent post on "U2-charist" for clarification about the book and blog), for this information. If you don't like the idea of U2 in church, maybe you'd like to hear the Man in Black in church instead. I'd love either one.

Allen, Webb, and AIRQUOTE Literature AIRQUOTE

Gina, you've prompted me to clarify for readers that I do NOT think those excerpts of Webb's books in whatever the context they're in are justifiable. As you say, as a parent, the mommy roar nearly left my lips (except I might freak out coworkers in the near vicinity) when I read those excerpts of Webb's AIRQUOTE writing AIRQUOTE. So I didn't mean to dismiss this particular episode as mere stuff of the past -- it certainly concerns me. But just the whole tone of all the ads lately has been more personal "guess-what-he-did/said" stuff, and less of the stuff that their job will actually deal with. (Although, yes, I understand and agree that the attitudes they take in will affect the job they actually deal with.) I'm just so ready for Election Day already so we can get back to commercials about cereal and soda...

More thoughts on Senatorial fiction

It was rather funny last night to watch Kathryn Lopez debating herself over the issue Catherina mentions -- but I was laughing with her, not at her, because I went through much the same thought process. When I first heard the Webb-as-sicko-novelist story on the news last night, the first thing I thought was, "No, no, no, no. You DON'T use fiction this way. Easiest thing in the world for Webb to say that this represented a character's point of view and not his own, that he had to write a certain way to make the point he wanted to make, reflect evil accurately, etc."

Then I went to Drudge to see for myself, and . . . um. Well, I won't recommend that our readers do the same, lest some have heart attacks on the spot. I'll only say this. I've read an awful lot of books in an awful lot of different styles in my years as a bookworm and an English major (including Lolita, Mr. Derbyshire), and I can think of no good reason to write what Webb wrote. This is the kind of thing that people -- particularly people with little children -- react to on a visceral level, and honestly, it's hard to blame them. (Now don't everybody start quoting The Simpsons at me. The instinct to protect "the children" is not always a laughable one, and anyway, I don't watch The Simpsons, so I got sick of having it quoted at me after the first, oh, three hundred times.)

If I may refashion a well-worn political line: Mr. Webb, I've read Flannery. And you are no Flannery.

(But Catherina, I must agree with you that I'm rather tired of hearing about what the candidates said in the '70s. One would think that what they say and do now would be slightly more to the point.)

Is Election Day here yet?

In the latest he said/he said tit-for-tat in the VA Senate race, George Allen's going after Jim Webb's fiction-writing. (I'm not going to reprint the offending passages -- you can Google that for yourself.) From Drudge:

The press release, as provided by the Allen Campaign:


The Author’s Disturbing Writings Show a Continued Pattern of Demeaning Women

Some of Webb’s writings are very disturbing for a candidate hoping to represent the families of Virginians in the U.S. Senate.

Many excellent books about the United States military and wartime service accomplish their purposes, and even win awards, without systematically demeaning women, and without dehumanizing women, men and even children.

Webb’s novels disturbingly and consistently – indeed, almost uniformly – portray women as servile, subordinate, inept, incompetent, promiscuous, perverted, or some combination of these. In novel after novel, Webb assigns his female characters base, negative characteristics. In thousands of pages of fiction penned by Webb, there are few if any strong, admirable women or positive female role models.

Why does Jim Webb refuse to portray women in a respectful, positive light, whether in his non-fiction concerning their role in the military, or in his provocative novels? How can women trust him to represent their views in the Senate when chauvinistic attitudes and sexually exploitive references run throughout his fiction and non-fiction writings?

And I'll end the excerpt of the press release there. But please, remind me again, what are the public policy issues at stake and these candidates' stands on them? (Hint: I'm being sarcastic, not actually asking.) Or are we just next going to hear what little Georgie said when he was 12 and what little Jimmy did when he was 11? Is Election Day here yet?

P.S. This issue is getting plenty of play at The Corner too. As one reader wrote to Kathryn Lopez:

I'm going to be holding my nose and voting for Allen, but it will be a pity if he only wins because of Webb's fiction. Sure, those scenes are sick, but that doesn't mean they are wrong, either morally or as literature. Flannery O'Conner wrote disturbing stuff, and she did it for God (and was fairly explicit about that motivation, as I understand). More recently, Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons was loved by conservatives, but it certainly has some parts that aren't exactly Sunday school material. Well, unless said Sunday school actually reads the Bible, which is crammed with perverse stuff. Lot's daughters, anyone? Without more context it's impossible to tell whether those scene's in Webb's books are are wrong (a la Lolita, which is a horrible book, regardless of what Derb says) or right (as in the examples above) or somewhere in between.


I watched the latest installment of Lost last night and I have a question for those who saw it: Am I the only person who thought that the entire Sawyer "pacemaker" part was a metaphor for how the writers treat the show's audience? Am I the only person who thought that the entire Sawyer "pacemaker" part was the writers' way of looking in the camera and telling the audience, "We can lead you by the nose in any direction we want for as long as we want and you'll keep watching"?

(Ed. note: Thanks to editorial klutziness, this post was showing up differently from how it was supposed to show up. The problem has now been fixed. Apologies. --GRD)

October 26, 2006

The old bait-and-switch

Anne posted recently about the Muslim taxi drivers who refuse to pick up passengers carrying alcohol at the airport. Now the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune (hat tip to Best of the Web) reports, "Behind the scenes, a struggle for power and religious authority is apparently playing out. . . ."

An animated circle of Somalis gathered when the question of the airport controversy was raised.

"I was surprised and shocked when I heard it was an issue at the airport," said Faysal Omar. "Back in Somalia, there was never any problem with taking alcohol in a taxi."

Jama Dirie said, "If a driver doesn't pick up everyone, he should get his license canceled and get kicked out of the airport."

Two of the Somalis present defended the idea that Islam prohibits cabdrivers from transporting passengers with alcohol. An argument erupted. The consensus seemed to be that only a small number of Somalis object to transporting alcohol. It's a matter of personal opinion, not Islamic law, several men said.

Ahmed Samatar, a nationally recognized expert on Somali society at Macalester College, confirmed that view. "There is a general Islamic prohibition against drinking," he said, "but carrying alcohol for people in commercial enterprise has never been forbidden. There is no basis in Somali cultural practice or legal tradition for that.

"This is one of those new concoctions. It is being foisted on the Somali community by an inside or outside group," he added. "I do not know who."

So reporter Katherine Kersten went to find out who.

Continue reading "The old bait-and-switch" »

Medved on the Elections

Michael Medved has written an article called "Eight Reasons Conservatives Must Vote on November 7th" -- with a list that reminds us what is at stake in Iraq and on issues of national security, immigration, and the economy. For me, one of his most compelling reasons for why we need to vote has to do with the future of the judicial branch of our government. Here's what Medved has to say:

Whatever our complaints about other aspects of the Bush record, his judicial nominations have been incontestably superb--vastly better than his father's, than Nixon's, and even than Reagan's .... With one more nomination, the high court would enjoy a clear strict constructionist majority.... But sulking conservatives want to give up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to overrule Roe v. Wade and other examples of catastrophic judicial overreach because [they're] angry about Mark Foley's e-mails? And what about all the dozens of appellate and federal district court nominations that will come up in the next two years? These appointments will help to shape the federal judiciary for a generation, with incalculable impact long after any current complaints have been forgotten.

I've heard a lot of pollsters talk about which issues are influencing voters this election -- such as the war in Iraq or the debate over the best way to handle 11 million illegal immigrants living among us. However, the question of who will sit on the Supreme Court for the next twenty years is one I haven't heard mentioned at all. It will certainly influence my vote on November 7. How about you?

Marriage, or Something Like It

The Supreme Court of New Jersey yesterday concluded that the state's marriage law fails to meet the modern standards of decency and tolerance. The majority took great effort to avoid the appearance of an activist decision, but in the end it squirmed to balance its legal analysis with its social ideals.

In the opinion, the court claimed that no fundamental right existed for same-sex marriage, but then seemed to label anything else unconstitutionally discriminatory. The court claimed that it wasn't redefining marriage in New Jersey, but then demanded that there be no essential difference between traditional marriage and same-sex unions. The court claimed that it was appealing to democratic process to change the law, but then mandated that the legislature grant same-sex couples all the legal benefits of marriage.

As National Review editorializes:

It is being described as a partial victory, because the court has said that same-sex couples must have access to the same benefits as married ones but not that they must be eligible to be called “marriages.” Do not be fooled. The court has accepted the premise that treating married couples differently from same-sex couples is a kind of irrational discrimination. That premise leads fairly directly to same-sex marriage in logic, and may do so in future litigation.

And the New York Times' praise for the ruling includes the realization that "the court required the Legislature to level the playing field in every respect but one. It said lawmakers can call relationships between partners of the same sex marriage, or something else."

The Times is also likely correct that the citizens of New Jersey are not quite ready for its lawmakers to call these judicially ordered unions "marriage." To force the state to accept such a radical change of the social framework is arrogance of the highest order and spits in the face of both the sanctity of marriage and the order of a republican government.

Abortion doublethink

Perhaps one of the saddest parts of Roe v. Wade's legacy is the doublethink that it has caused to permate our culture. After all, at the most fundamental level, it's our habits of thinking -- and our refusal to speak honestly and quit hiding behind the most threadbare slogans and clichés -- that have allowed all the horrors of abortion to arise. "For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts [and] murders . . ."

Consider this, courtesy of Jim Tonkowich at IRD (a former colleague of ours):

Addenbrooke's Hospital, in Cambridge, said it was no longer able to afford the dignified disposal at a local crematorium of foetuses from unwanted pregnancies.

Instead, they are being burnt in the hospital's main incinerator -- which is normally used for rubbish and clinical waste.

The revelation sparked anger and distress among church leaders and pro-life groups, as well as women whose pregnancies were terminated at the hospital. . . .

One local woman, who asked not to be named, said after the heartache of deciding to have an abortion she was mortified to find the hospital had used the same furnace they burn rubbish in to incinerate her terminated baby.

She said: "I am furious and very hurt. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my baby was incinerated in the same furnace as the hospital rubbish."

As James Taranto succinctly but brilliantly put it, "Huh? What baby?"

Continue reading "Abortion doublethink" »

A Much-Needed Stick

Ipod In case you missed it, which is hard to imagine, this week marks the fifth anniversary of the iPod's introduction. One Newsweek writer asked, "How did we ever live without the iPod?" Another one has written a "biography" of the iPod entitled The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture and Coolness.

I leave it to you to decide how much, if any, Apple-flavored Kool-Aid these guys have swilled. Me? Let's just say I'm ambivalent about the whole thing. I own an iPod shuffle that I bought refurbished for around $50. While I happily use it on airplanes, trains and while I'm exercising, I wouldn't dream of using an iPod as my primary or even secondary audio system.

That's right. I'm one of those: an audiophile. And, to put it succinctly, the iPod's audio quality creates a partial vacuum with its mouth. It's not so much the downloads, although they are sonically compromised (in particular at the standard 128 kbps bit-rate) as it is the miniature tin cans on a string that pass for iPod "headphones."

But even if you used these or even these with your iPod, you would still be missing almost everything that makes good (not to mention great) music production and recording as much of an art as it is a science. I don't only, or even primarily, mean classical music. Listening to the high-resolution, surround-sound version of albums such as The Flaming Lip's "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots," Bjork's "Vespertine," these Moody Blues classics, or, of course, this one, it's hard -- no, make that nearly impossible -- to understand our willingness to so readily and completely trade quality like this for convenience.

On the proverbial other hand, the iPod and the rest of the digital music phenomenon poked a much-needed and well-deserved stick in the eyes of the record industry. In the November issue of Stereophile (like I said: I'm an audiophile), columnist Robert Baird wrote that "what lit the fuse of downloading and the ensuing disaster [for audiophiles] were the high prices of CDs -- the gouging we all endured for too long at the hands of the record labels."

While the gouging doesn't justify the violation of copyright law, in a market where "Giant Steps" and other classic jazz albums retail for $19 decades after the artists' deaths and long after every expense associated with the albums' creation, few of which were borne by the current copyright holders, have been recuperated, downloading or something like it was predictable.

Thanks to the iPod, iTunes and similar technology, music is more affordable: I can buy a single song instead of a whole album. I can even download it in a higher-quality format and burn it to a CD.

More importantly, the stick has helped to break the record companies' near-monopoly over the distribution of music and helped deserving artists get a hearing they wouldn't have gotten otherwise, which brings me to my favorite record label: Magnatune, whose motto is "We are not evil."

Continue reading "A Much-Needed Stick" »

The ’U2-charist’

U2 When Anglican Archbishop Thomas Cranmer compiled the Book of Common Prayer during the 16th century, he wanted to make the prayers accessible, so he wrote in English, not Latin, and made sure it was distributed to every church.

About 450 years later, there is another attempt to make prayers more accessible — by an Irish bard who wears wrap-around shades instead of a clerical collar.

You'll either love this or you'll hate this. Actually, I love this -- but with a big "but." I do see a place for incorporating the songs and/or lyrics of U2 songs in churches -- BUT not in the main church service. I'm just too traditional for that idea, although I don't look down on those who choose to do so. (Then again, I would much rather sing "40" or "Gloria" than some of the vapid, meaningless ditties some modern churches repeat ad nauseam.) I can see such a service for youth groups or college/20-/30-something services or Bible/home-group studies. Get Up Off Your Knees is a great resource for incorporating that idea; also see the U2 Sermons blog.

Much of U2's songbook is explicitly Christian and perfectly suitable for a worship service, even if some people might need time to get used to the idea, [the Rev.] Blair says.

"Bach and Handel were the popular music of their day, and they had trouble getting played in church. The Methodist hymn writers once wrote contemporary music. Are we worshiping Bono? Absolutely not. No more so than we worship Martin Luther when we sing A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

Reading this USA Today article, I can see a certain church trend that I generally don't like -- the tailoring of services to congregants' and seekers' tastes, whereas I believe church ought to be a place where the congregant/seeker conforms him/herself to the body of believers (i.e., church is not therapy; it's a new way of living). And so I can see how critics will dismiss "U2 services" as just one more watering-down incident (particularly with some of those teens' quotes in this article -- I hope they think more deeply about what they're hearing). And that's a shame, because the songs of U2, not to mention the faith of Paul and David (Bono and The Edge), are rich in truth about God, man, and our relationship to Him. Read some of the lyrics on U2's site.

The Christian themes in U2's music have been widely recognized since their 1981 album, October. But from the start, some have not been comfortable with Bono's regular criticisms of church leadership or his unwillingness to identify with any Christian tradition.

For those that don't know, Bono's mother was Protestant, and his father was Catholic -- and this, remember, in a nation (Ireland) fraught with religious strife. So that's his background. Does it excuse his non-membership in any local church? No, but nor is it our place to judge that -- rather let us pray he does find a home, perhaps in some small, faithful Dublin parish. His faith in Jesus, though, is most assuredly real. Even from a brief 45-minute conversation with him last February, I could see that -- let alone in his music and the many quotes and interviews with him that have been published. One of my favorite quotes from him was in this interview with Michka Assayas, as highlighted in a book review by Steve Beard in the December 2005 issue of BreakPoint WorldView:

Continue reading "The ’U2-charist’" »

’CNN’s Snuff Film’

In today's "BreakPoint" commentary, Mark Earley talks about CNN's recent broadcast of the terrorist sniper shooting of an American soldier. CNN claims it is simply showing the "unvarnished truth," to which Earley responds by asking if the network would then show the "unvarnished truth" of partial-birth abortion. Such a claim by CNN, of course, is disingenuous, for as Earley points out,

... British media critic Malcolm Muggeridge noted that “the one thing television can’t do is express ideas.” By translating life into an image, television “is falsifying life.”

Francis Schaeffer agreed. Far from offering truth, he said, “every television minute has been edited. The viewer does not see the event. He sees . . . an edited image of that event,” one that gives an illusion of objectivity and truth.

And as Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis notes, with television, reality becomes the image, “whether or not that image corresponds to any objective state of affairs—and we are not challenged to engage in this analysis.”...

Read the whole commentary and come back here and share your thoughts.

The Divine Economy

...Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time... Ephesians 1:9, 10

The economy is big news again. The Dow over 12,000, and another record day; the Fed maintaining interest rates, encouraging businesses and investors to keep the gears oiled, and the nation warming up for the annual holiday season of binge and splurge. Everybody wants to get in on the action, to improve their portfolios, get the cheapest rate, or just find the best sales they can while the getting's good. People are eager to find out the secrets of the economy and to maximize their involvement in it. Investment newsletters command huge annual subscription fees; business and technology expos crop up all over the country; infomercials, seminars, popular books, and online courses proliferate, seeking to garner a paying audience for their special insights into the mysterious workings of the economy.

Everybody knows it can't last. Sooner or later the economy will turn fickle. It will take our hard-earned cash, trustingly invested or saved, and throw it to the wind. Inventories will dry up; interest rates will skyrocket; consumer prices will rise inexorably; energy costs will spike; layoffs, cancelled plans, closures, bankruptcies -- nasty stuff, and certain, but who can know just when?

The American economy is an unpredictable force, even though cognoscenti confidently predict this or that development sooner or later, Delphic-like, just to make sure they can sell a book or a seat at a seminar when their predictions -- however they may spin them -- prove "true." Trying to get in step with this economy can be maddening. Just when you think you've got it figured out, it turns a corner, bolts down the alley, and leaves you wondering where it's headed next.

Not so the economy of God. Paul writes about a divine economy in Ephesians 1:10 -- a "plan", as the English Standard Version has it. But it's more than just a plan. It's a true economy -- the Greek word is oikonomia -- an administration, agenda, project, enterprise, dispensation. And we can know just where it's headed, how it operates, and where we can fit in to find the maximum benefit from what God is doing in the world.

To be concise: the divine economy involves God's calling into being a people who, as they come to faith in Jesus Christ, enter a process of sanctifying grace designed to help them grow together in holiness, blamelessness, and love (v. 4). Their purpose is to bring everything within the scope of their influence under the rule of King Jesus, the reign of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Spirit which is the Kingdom of God (v. 10). Everything about them, all their possessions, every relationship, role, and responsibilty, all of culture and society -- all is being brought to Jesus for refitting, renewal, and restoration to original (pre-fall) condition. The result is that, increasingly, Jesus Christ is receiving all praise and honor, everywhere, all the time (v. 14). The engine of God's economy runs on the high-test fuel of His Spirit (v. 14), according to the revelation clearly explained in His Word (v. 9), in the hands of a people adopted as His own (v. 5), invested with His Spirit (v. 14), and determined to bring all honor and glory to Him. This is an economy that does not waver, does not flux. Each of us as a part in it -- work to do, blessings to reap, other people to enlist.

The American economy will always be fickle and unpredictable. But the divine economy is moving unchangeably and inexorably,toward a glorious culmination. Make your sincerest investment here, and you'll never regret it.

October 25, 2006

This is convicting ...

From today's Sojourners "Verse and Voice of the Day":

If I had been a journalist at the time of the crucifixion, I would have been hanging around Herod's palace talking to Pilate and disregarding [Jesus].

-- Malcolm Muggeridge

New York, New Yuck

It's relativism at its most vivid and disturbing in New York City, where the transit authority is apparently opening up its (stall) doors to men who don't really want to be men.

The line for the girls' room just got longer.

Men who live as women can now legally use women's rest rooms in New York's transit system under an unprecedented deal revealed yesterday.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to allow riders to use MTA rest rooms "consistent with their gender expression," the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund announced yesterday.

A quote from a rider captures the essence of the worldview conflict:

"It doesn't bother me because it is a reality," she said. "If they believe they are women, they should be treated as one."

So "expression" trumps society trumps nature. And feelings trump the inherent dangers of such a policy, particularly to women.

Careless with Language

John Humphrys, a radio and television commentator, has a new book out called Beyond Words: How Language Reveals the Way We Live Now, which looks intriguing. He thinks we would be better off with more formality in our language. Language helps us to order our society, and as Humphrys says, "If we are careless with our language then we are careless with our world."

Re: Jim Caviezel and others

I don't know who thought of it first (I first saw it on The Corner), but the suggested tagline now floating around the Web for this ad is "I'm Jesus and I approved this message."

While we're on the subject, David Montgomery leads off a story in today's Washington Post on the Fox flap with this: "Possibly worse than making fun of someone's disability is saying that it's imaginary. That is not to mock someone's body, but to challenge a person's guts, integrity, sanity." But with all due respect to Fox, if he does deliberately stop taking his medication at certain times to aid in his political advocacy -- and he's said more than once that he did exactly that when asking Congress to use human embryos for research -- then how does that reflect on his integrity? And, more importantly, what does that say about his cause?

Jim Caviezel and others in MO counter-ad

Travis, great post on Michael J. Fox's stem-cell research ad in Missouri's election. Looks like there will be a counter-ad with Jim Caviezel and others.

Only in America!

If it starts raining brimstone, this obscenity described by Gregg Easterbrook in his Tuesday Morning Quarterback at ESPN.com is probably why:

Jeans in Poor Condition Cost More Than Jeans in Good Condition -- Only in America! Last February, TMQ marveled at $198 "premium destroyed" jeans from Abercrombie. Imagine, I wrote, trying to explain to someone in Bangladesh who is impoverished partly by lack of fair-trade laws that Americans pay extra to have their pants damaged. Consider now that an Italian company called Martelli Lavorazioni Tessilli had $140 million in revenue in 2005 -- all from smashing up expensive jeans and other fashion wear to make the items look misused. "Careful attention to vintage forms the basis of Martelli's artistic path," the company declares of its work shredding and discoloring jeans, showing a pair of jeans that appear to have been found at the bottom of a collapsed mine shaft. Imagine trying to explain to someone in Bangladesh that destroying perfectly good jeans has proven a boom business for a company.

Free market fetishists no doubt believe that this market, and the desires that make it possible, don't need justifying. They're probably right and that's the real outrage.

A New Fall Sitcom We Missed

Sitcom When your country is occupied, the water is off, electricity is sketchy, government is corrupt, and random bullets are flying, perhaps the best thing you can do is laugh. A New York Times article tells about an Iraqi comedian, Saaed Khalifa, who dons an afro and crazy sunglasses to deliver the "news" in the style of Jon Stewart each night. And he's a huge hit in a country desperate for positive images and a reason to smile.

The show’s success is a testament to the gallows humor with which many Iraqis now view their lives — still lacking basic services and plagued by unrelenting violence more than three years after the American-led invasion.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, comedies have proliferated on Iraqi television. Al Sharqiya has another popular show, “Caricatures,” also known for its dark humor toward the country’s problems. Given the response by Iraqis, the channel’s fake newscast seems to have eclipsed others in its genre in popularity.

“We need fun in our lives because of our tragic circumstances,” said Silvana, 21, a Baghdad resident who has tuned in every night with her family, if the electricity was working. She gave only one name because she feared for her safety if fully identified in print. “Most of the channels focus on the violence, the bodies. But this program depicts our tragedies in a funny light.” ...

“The purpose of the show is to fix Iraq,” [Khalifa] said. “We want to fix the civil services. We want to fix the government officials. We want to fix the relationships between people. We want to fix the government and stop the corruption.” ...

Mr. Sudani, the writer, said he has lost hope for his country. Iraq’s leaders are incompetent, he said. He fears that services will never be restored. The American experiment in democracy, he said, was born dead.

All anyone can do, he said, is laugh.

While the situation in Iraq is tragic, the way many Iraqis are dealing with the pain and loss is a testament to the strength of the human spirit. If they're looking for humor, despite Sudani's claim, they still believe in hope.

Try Looking Here

At the start of the 2000 Grammy Awards, host Rosie O'Donnell told the nominees that "I bumped into God backstage, and he said, 'You're welcome.'" The joke, a reference to the many times God is thanked at the Grammys, didn't go over very well with some of the winners, especially the African-American ones, some of whom used part of their acceptance speech to correct O'Donnell.

I thought about this while reading a recent Los Angeles Times story (via Terry Mattingly) entitled "God's Entourage," about the Christian faith of the "African American Elite of Hollywood." Not Kabbalah. Not Scientology. Christian.

The article tells the story of Robi Reed-Humes' efforts to create an audio Bible featuring famous African-American actors and other performers. After services at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, she approached fellow church member Denzel Washington about the idea. He interrupted her and said, "I have to do it." "Washington reads the Songs of Solomon with his wife, Pauletta, for the Old Testament edition, which will be available digitally as early as next year."

Another participant and West Angeles member, Angela Bassett, explained her tears at church to the Times:

Bassett, who has attended services in the West Angeles Cathedral for more than 15 years, talks about the tears: "When you realize that every breath is a gift from God. When you realize how small you are, but how much he loved you. That he, Jesus, would die, the son of God himself on earth, then you . . . you just weep."

(Perhaps not coincidentally, Bassett's husband, Courtney Vance, plays the only -- to my knowledge at least -- overtly pro-life character in prime-time: A.D.A. Ron Carver on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Carver also spoke one of my favorite lines of any television character: when a detective called arranged marriage "disgusting," he replied, "as opposed to our wildly-successful system?")

I don't want to get off on a rant here, but this story reminded me of something else: the way nearly every discussion I hear and/or read about American Christianity seems to forget -- or, most likely, be ignorant of -- the fact that there are millions of African-American (and Latino) Christians out there, many of whom are already doing the work we keep praying for someone to do.

How many times have you heard about the need for a Christian presence in Hollywood? Well, it seems that there is one and we've just been looking in the wrong places. Or churches.

October 24, 2006

Where Did that Chair Go?

While the mid-term elections are still two weeks away, it's not too early for what Ross Douthat calls "precriminations." Before the first ballots are counted one can already see the outline of an explanation for the anticipated G.O.P. electoral rout: it's the Evangelicals' fault!

If that sounds unfair, it is: if the predictions come to pass, the Republicans will lose over a combination of Iraq, their own malfeasance and corruption and, um, Iraq. Douthat agrees.

(Still, it's kind of amusing to watch large parts of the conservative movement contort itself and its logic to deny what should be obvious. They point to the explosion in federal spending while neglecting to note that, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (via Peter Beinart) has noted, taking into account and inflation and population growth, "discretionary, nonsecurity-related spending" only grew 2 percent between 2001 and 2006. The real explosion has been in the areas of "defense, homeland security, and international affairs" i.e., the war on terrorism and the war in Iraq.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing -- I'm only saying that an increase in federal spending is not why the G.O.P. will probably lose control of one or both houses of Congress in two weeks.

Ditto for the other often cited alternative to the obvious: immigration. Whatever your views on the matter, it's difficult to argue that the House Republicans have ignored their "base" on this issue. They passed an "enforcement-only" measure, held "hearings" that met with the approval of the Minutemen, and voted to build a 700-mile long fence across the southern border.)

Yet, when the music stops playing come November 8, Evangelicals will be the ones left without chairs and anyone who didn't see this coming wasn't looking very hard. Why? Rod Dreher says that "it'll be easy after the November slaughter to blame the Evangelicals, because the media despises them," adding that "Evangelicals and other Christian conservatives had better be prepared for a time in the wilderness."

I like camping. Oh, you expected me to add something else? How about this: I hope that Rod is completely wrong but I'm afraid that he's not. To their eternal credit, Christians are just the kind of honest, well-intentioned people who -- to switch metaphors -- get stuck with the check at times like these. Yet more proof that Finley Peter Dunne was right: "politics ain't beanbag."

Pigs are flying

And now I find myself agreeing with another bête noire of mine. (God forgive me, I probably have many more of those than a Christian should.) It's been a very strange day indeed. But Tom Shales is absolutely on target when he writes in today's Washington Post, "'Friday Night Lights' has plenty of realism -- as well as passion, soul and heart at levels rare in episodic TV. The show raises innumerable troubling questions and refrains from supplying the usual easy answers." Do take a look tonight if you haven't already.

Sneaking through the back door

Something occurred to me after the Nativity Story screening last night -- prompted both by something producer Wyck Godfrey said before the screening, and by Catherine's recent post about atheistic evangelists. Mr. Godfrey said (as Catherina recounts) that there have been no major studio-sponsored biblical films in the past fifty years, but he then went on to talk about some recent independent Christian films that have been doing pretty well, such as Facing the Giants, One Night with the King, and a modest little effort called The Passion of the Christ.

Not to overstate the case, but there seems to be a renaissance in Christian filmmaking that is coinciding with a similar renaissance in Christian fiction, as believing artists strive -- with, I believe, increasing success -- to make art that is truly art and at the same time truly glorifying to God, not just sermons dressed up as art. Which brings me to Catherine's post, particularly the part where she writes, "There’s a renewed anti-faith fervor these days. We’re seeing it in some of the top titles on the New York Times bestseller’s list like Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Sam Harris’s Letters to a Christian Nation," and goes on to quote a Wired News story on "the curse of faith." Chuck Colson's BreakPoint commentary today touches on the reasons for this: "To [Dawkins and his cohorts], the whole future of mankind depends on being able to coax people away from their so-called 'irrational' beliefs and to establish that there are no explanations of human nature that go beyond nature."

Hence the materialists are on the attack, trying to get at our minds and win us over via science, politics, and various other arenas in which our reason plays the most important role. And yet look at the arena in which, all at once, Christians seem to be flourishing: the arts. In other words, as the materialists attempt to sway our reason, Christianity moves to capture our imagination. Accident? Coincidence? I don't think so. C. S. Lewis made this statement about sci fi (in the essay "On Science Fiction"), but it could apply, in this context, to literature and art in general:

If we were all on board ship and there was trouble among the stewards, I can just conceive their chief steward looking with disfavour on anyone who stole away from the fierce debates in the saloon or pantry to take a breather on deck. For up there, he would taste the salt, he would see the vastness of the water, he would remember that the ship had a whither and a whence. . . . What had seemed, in the hot, lighted rooms down below to be merely the scene for a political crisis, would appear once more as a tiny egg-shell moving rapidly through an immense darkness over an element in which man cannot live. It would not necessarily change his convictions about the rights and wrongs of the dispute down below, but it would probably show them in a new light. . . . Stories of the sort I am describing are like that visit to the deck. . . . Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of "escape." I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.

John Derbyshire -- with whom I hardly ever manage to agree on anything, and who would almost certainly splutter at being cited as agreeing with Lewis -- made a profound point on this subject as well yesterday. He quotes an "irreligious" novelist, Neal Stephenson, who is so uncomfortable with materialism in the wake of tragic, senseless death that he ends up writing, "'May God have mercy on their souls' . . . seems like the only appropriate thing to say. Think what you will about religious people, they always have something to say at times like this." Derbyshire comments, "Even if you are not religious by temperament—and yes, it is largely a matter of temperament—the naked, unadorned materialism of that italicized passage [about the deaths] is hard to swallow."

Of course we should never give up battling in the field of reason -- but neither should we underestimate the power of imagination in aiding the cause of Christ. I believe Lewis, the most beloved of twentieth-century Christian authors precisely because of his strengths in both areas, would have agreed. Our imaginations understand, in a way our intellects aren't always willing to come to grips with, our desperate need for Someone greater than ourselves and for some sort of ultimate meaning to our existence. It's just like God's infinite wisdom, humility, and, I believe, sense of humor that while while Dawkins and Harris and company are zealously pounding on the front door with their materialist tracts in hand, He should be tiptoeing around to the back.

More on Sofia Coppola

This article by Brett McCracken is one of the most thoughtful critiques of Sofia Coppola's films I've read. McCracken shows the "morning after" theme that you can draw from Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation, and Marie Antoinette -- something which Solomon has addressed.

What is most interesting about the young female protagonists in these films is not that they are young or female, but that they are dealing with life as if it were over by age 25. There is a thick existential anxiety in each of these films—a "chasing after the wind" sense of urgency that shouldn't be a part of anyone's life at age seventeen. Should it? ...

I don't think Coppola is saying that all, or even most, adolescent girls are this way. Rather, Coppola is showing us in these extreme examples a heavy truth about life: it goes by quickly, and to borrow a phrase from Walker Percy, sometimes the "everydayness" is just too much to bear. Thus, we live for the moments of transcendence, because life is short and 90 percent of it is some sort of letdown. As Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes, "However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless" (11:8). ...

Coppola is telling us nothing new, and certainly is not teaching us anything (whether history, politics, or philosophy). Rather, she is portraying a truth that we all can recognize: after every party, there is a cleanup; after every joy, a comedown. For everything wonderful in life, there is a knowledge that tempers it—the knowledge of impermanence—and it weighs heavy on the soul.