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« October 2006 | Main | December 2006 »

November 21, 2006

Re: Guess who’s coming to divorce court

Anne, there's something in what you say about Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? On the whole it's a very good movie, but the first time I saw it, years ago, the main question I was left with was why Sidney Poitier would ever want to marry such a ditz. Her father makes the big announcement that Poitier promised him behind her back that they wouldn't marry without his consent, and all she can do is murmur girlishly, "You didn't! What a funny thing to do!" Never mind marriage counseling, I hope he took her for an I.Q. test.

Trashing a Princess

Over at City Journal, Kay S. Hymowitz (via Slate) analyzes the mystery that is our interest in Paris Hilton. "Our" is the correct word to use. As Hymowitz writes,

Maybe 500 channels and an epidemic of bloggerhea mean that Americans have less of a common culture, but we all still share . . . Paris Hilton. The naughty blond heiress is, like, wallpapering our brains. Even if you don’t read the tabloids, you can’t escape her. There’s a (topless) Vanity Fair cover, a Barbara Walters interview, a best-selling single, a CD, a jewelry line, a best-selling book, a nightclub chain . . . She is among the top Googled people in the United States. And don’t think you can just get on a plane, go to (say) Auckland, and live Paris-free. In 2005, she was among the most popular search topics in New Zealand—not to mention Germany, Japan, and Australia.

Proving that there's no such thing as bad publicity or celebrity, the interest in Hilton should not be mistaken for adulation or admiration:

With her nightclub brawls, her endless sexcapades, her vapid interviews, her rodent-like dog, and her lack of ostensible talent, she reeks of every vice ever ascribed to our poor country. She has become a synonym for American materialism, bad manners, greed, “like” and “whatever” Valley Girl inarticulateness, parochialism, arrogance, promiscuity, antifeminism, exposed roots and navels, entitlement, cell-phone addiction, anorexia and bulimia, predilection for gas-guzzling private transportation, pornified womanhood, exhibitionism, narcissism—you name it.

Which leaves us with an obvious question:

Why, if Paris says so much about us, do Americans—not just college professors and the commentariat but celebrity watchers and tabloid junkies—hate her so much? And why, if she is so offensive, is she so ubiquitous?

The entire piece is worth reading. Two more nuggets: first, there wasn't supposed to be a Paris Hilton, in the sense that she was never supposed to be rich enough to be this useless.

But Conrad [Hilton, Paris' great-grandfather] also had principles. He was an industrious, self-made millionaire, who, having struggled to make his own fortune, didn’t much care for the idea of turning his offspring into trust-fund kids. He was also a devoted, though obviously flawed, Catholic. Accordingly, and to the dismay of his potential heirs, he left the vast bulk of his fortune to the Catholic Sisters. It was only through the energetic legal maneuvering of his son Barron that the Hilton progeny got their mitts on Conrad’s money.

In other words, Paris Hilton was made possible by very bad tax and estate planning.

Second, as Hymowitz concludes,

Paris Hilton may be a composite of contemporary American sins, but hating Paris Hilton is another thing entirely. It’s a sign of lingering cultural sanity.

I'd really like to believe that. Then I channel-surf by the various Viacom cable networks and realize that when many Americans stare into this particular abyss what stares back at them is their own reflection.

Guess Who’s Coming to Divorce Court

I was watching Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? on TCM last night. It occurred to me that what is truly shocking about this film 40 years later is not that that the young couple is interracial, but that they are planning to marry after knowing each other just eleven days. The secular world would say, "Are you out of your minds?! Live together for a year or two--then decide if you want to marry." Conservatives and Christians would say, "You’re out of your minds! Date each other for at least a year, get pre-marital counseling through a church, and don't live together or have premarital sex because both dramatically decrease one's chances of marital success." Virtually nobody would say, "How romantic! Go ahead and get married!"

I'm now watching a 1944 Christmas film called I'll Be Seeing You, about a young World War II soldier (Joseph Cotten) who is being treated for what used to be called shell shock, and the young woman he falls in love with (Ginger Rogers) who has been furloughed from prison for Christmas. Why was she in prison? She had accidentally killed her boss while vigorously defending herself against his attempted sexual assault. Mercifully, we view victims of sexual assault (or attempted assault) differently these days. But 60 years ago, as Rogers’s character notes to her young cousin, “After all, a man was dead. The jury said ‘manslaughter.’ That meant six years.”

This is a wonderful film, by the way. Made in 1944, it depicts an American family inviting a soldier to Christmas dinner, praying in a sincere manner for their country and the boys at the front, and the singing of religious Christmas carols. It also suggests how a romantic relationship ought to develop: Slowly. While the couple falls in love quickly and begins talking of marriage, the film contains an implicit warning of the dangers of rushing headlong into marriage with a person one barely knows and who may be keeping serious secrets. Instead of racing to the altar in less than two weeks (although they could have), the couple puts marriage on hold until they can work out their personal problems--time that will give the relationship time to mature.

A Glutton for Contentment

In three days Thanksgiving will be here, and with our newly glutted bellies we’ll be catapulted full-force into a season of consumer frenzy, summarized best by the mantra “X shopping days left 'til Christmas.” (Funny, Advent used to be about anticipating a Savior). Already my inbox and mailbox are stuffed like Thanksgiving turkeys with “Special Holiday Offers,” and I’m wishing there were Tums to tame that horrible feeling of ambiguity that churns in my stomach around this time of year when I long to savor a true spirit of thankfulness without choking on the gluttony of the season, when I yearn to anticipate the Savior without dreading the frenetic, consumeristic clamoring of Christmas. Sigh……. Ay me.

So I’m taking a deep breath as I pause on this holiday precipice. And I’m basting my mind and heart in the things I want to remember this Thanksgiving and Advent season:

1) Provision: In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses warns the people about the temptation to eat and be satisfied and forget the Lord. He encourages them when they are full to praise the Lord, the one who delivered them from Egypt and who provided manna in the desert. He also warns them not to mistake their bounty as the fruit of their own hands, but rather see it clearly as the gracious gift of God (Dt. 8:10-16). I want to remember my Savior has provided this feast for me.

2) Contentment: Paul learned the secret of contentment in both feast and famine: Christ’s sufficiency. Satisfaction…it’s that wonderful feeling of fullness. When you feel it deep in your belly, you know you don’t need anymore. I wonder how savoring our satisfaction in Christ would transform the feelings that seem to intensify around this season, feelings of loss and of loneliness, or feelings of must-have or must-come-through. I’m imagining trudging through the mall thinking, I am satisfied, rather than I-want, I-need, I-like, or pushing back from the Thanksgiving table and just savoring the blessings in my life. I want to remember that I am full. ...And yet...

3) Anticipation: Jesus sat down to a meal with the men who were like brothers to him on the eve of his crucifixion. We remember that meal, calling it the Great Thanksgiving, or Eucharist. While it is a meal that provokes us to reflect with thanksgiving on the provision of a perfect sacrifice, it is also a meal which prods us to anticipate a coming feast. As Christ said, “For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes” (Lk. 22:18). Many of us will sit down to tables of brokenness this Thanksgiving and Christmas: conflict, resentment, bitterness, loss, and yearning will dine with us. I want to remember there’s a better feast coming, and somehow, somehow, I have gotten an invitation.

Psychedelics will save us!

From the “I can’t believe I just read this department”--

Harvard psychiatric professor John Halpern announced that in the coming months he’ll be testing “psychedelics” (like ecstasy and LSD) on dying cancer patients, cluster headache sufferers, and those seeking treatment for substance abuse (!) to determine their effectiveness. I gave him the benefit of the doubt until I read what he said next: “This may lead to a new field of medicine in which spirituality is kindled to help us accept our mortality without fear, and where those with addiction problems, anxiety or cluster headache discover a path to genuine healing.” Are we talking better spirituality through chemistry? Seems so...especially after Dr. Halpern concluded, “These substances may prove to be a source for compassion and hope so desperately needed in these perilous times.” I seem to recall that over 70 years ago, Aldous Huxley had a similar notion. Sadly, the lives of too many in “my generation” were destroyed or ended in pursuit of the salvific promises of mind-altering drugs.

November 20, 2006

Re: "Us" versus "Them"


While the debate over immigration is a legitimate debate, my use of scare quotes was intended to point out that much of the rhetoric, the stuff that was the subject of this Breakpoint, wasn't debate but demonization.

As for

. . . All I would point out is that none of us do ourselves or anyone else any favors by making it all about "'us' or 'them'" in a different way -- that is, by lumping anyone who has any problem, for any reason, with illegal immigration into the same category.

I agree, of course, but I don't know what it has to do with what Jacoby or I wrote. The "us" Jacoby writes about is all of us. Yes, it's true that some people reflexively label as "racist" anyone who objects to illegal immigration but, again, neither Jacoby nor I do.

What I do say is that some people take advantage of legitimate concerns over illegal (and legal, for that matter) immigration to spread some pretty nasty ideas into mainstream discourse and others say and write some pretty nasty things all on their own. All the while, like the guests at the etiquette consultant's dinner party, conservatives politely ignore or excuse the Borats in their midst.

Me? I have no problem calling these folks "them" because their views represent an "us" I have no interest in belonging to.

Warren and Obama?

I just read on Townhall.com that Rick Warren has asked Obama to speak at Saddleback Church on December 1. Warren's explanation is that they share a concern over HIV/AIDS in Africa. I don't know if anyone can shed further light on this issue, but given Obama's thoroughly pro-abortion and pro-homosexual rights resume, this invitation concerns me. Why shoud a pastor of such prominence turn over the pulpit to someone who is, quite literally, advancing the culture of death?

I would love to hear comments and thoughts about this.

O.J. is outta there

Broadcasting & Cable is reporting (see the blurb on the left-hand side -- apparently this just broke) that Fox has given in to pressure and canceled, not just the O.J. special, but the book as well:

With the growing controversy over O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened Fox cancelled the TV special and the book publication. In a statement issued today, Rupert Murdoch called the project "ill-considered" and apologized for any pain it caused the families of the murdered victims. The decision follows several affiliates decision to not air the two-part sweeps special.

Well done, all those who protested the special and all the affiliates that refused to air it. Could it be that we still have a sense of decency left, even in the era of Paris Hilton?

Update: The Washington Post now has more. I also found this, which may help explain the decision as much as anything else. If Geraldo Rivera thinks your project is "low" . . .

’Us’ vs. ’them,’ in more ways than one

Roberto, there's no question that Jacoby makes some very good points, and that racism no more belongs in this debate (without quote marks, for this is as legitimate a debate as any other political issue) than it belongs anywhere else. And undoubtedly there's been far too much of it, and it's divisive, hurtful, and just plain wrong.

But when Jacoby says this:

The issue isn't just immigration but the way the hard-liners' stance has been so offensive, even to Latinos who agree with them about the need for a secure border. It's about whether you see Latinos as "us" or "them."

. . . All I would point out is that none of us do ourselves or anyone else any favors by making it all about "'us' or 'them'" in a different way -- that is, by lumping anyone who has any problem, for any reason, with illegal immigration into the same category.

In other words, what I'm advocating is what I would advocate in any other political situation: an avoidance of generalizations from all parties and a willingness to understand, as far as possible, the legitimate concerns of all sides, as we work to make laws that everyone can live with.

Blasphemous Kiddie Toys

On the way to work this morning, one radio disc jockey commented upon Toys for Tots rejecting talking Jesus dolls. He wondered if disadvantaged kids would welcome hearing a platitude like “I’m praying for you,” emanating from a Jesus doll. I have to agree with him but for a different reason.

The toy Jesus in question is manufactured by Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Co. The doll quotes Scripture like “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

Regardless of correctly quoting Scripture, manufacturing God incarnate into dolls shows irreverence towards our Savior. Further, as Father Richard Neuhaus writes, it shows “an anemic spirituality that too often passes as the gospel."

Yet there is quite an industry out there for Jesus dolls.

One website sends a scarf along with its cuddly version of Jesus which reads:
"I am your very own My Sweet Jesus doll. I am here whenever you need me. If you need comfort, give me a hug! And even if you sometimes forget me, I promise I won't ever forget you."

Another website offers a $25.00 Baby Jesus Doll which says, “I don’t talk, I just listen," or “I love you, please love me…My name is Jesus.”

The ToyPresidents website urges us to get our “authentic” Time Capsule Toys” Jesus talking action figure, for only $29.95. One of the dolls sayings is: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Finally, Toys 4 Minds offers a Holy Folks Jesus Doll  which they say is a beautiful high-quality, huggable and loveable 16 inch doll.

And so on . . .

Good Plaque

Plaque: That's usually what you want to brush away -- including the plaque build-up on the brains of Alzheimer's patients. But according to scientists recently ungagged, that may be the wrong answer:

Ever since Alois Alzheimer wrote a report -- 100 years ago -- about a senile patient, Auguste D., the scientific community has fixated on the "globs of beta-amyloid," Dr. Alzheimer observed on his patient's brain. The assumption was that the resulting "plaque" was the cause of the disease. But for the last 20 years, at least, there have been doubters who have suspected that these plaques might be innocent bystanders to the real, 'upstream' culprit. If so, targeting the plaques ... would do nothing to help the 4.5 million Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's."

Until now, these doubters couldn't even get their papers published in mainstream journals. "Among the major journals and funding agencies, the attitude was, 'if it isn't amyloid, it isn't AD," says Mark Smith of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine." But in October, a different kind of paper -- one that considered the possibility "that amyloid plaques don't cause Alzheimer's" -- was published in a journal called Alzheimer's & Dementia. In fact, this paper looks at the possibility that the plaques may actually be "a response (and maybe a therapeutic one), not a cause. If so, ridding the brain of plaques could cause harm."

Sharon Begley observes: "... Concluding that beta-amyloid and plaques cause Alzheimer's is like believing a scab on your knee causes pain. The scab is the body's response to an earlier injury. Similarly, there is evidence that amyloid plaques don't cause Alzheimer's."

(H/T Reveries)

So it looks like proponents' arguments about treating Alzheimer's with embryonic stem cells are not only unethical, but also ineffective. I'm not a scientist, but a quick Google search turned up a couple articles -- here and here, for example -- showing how embryonic stem-cell advocates proposed such cells fight Alzheimer's: by attacking the plaque. If nothing else, this seems to show another reason why we shouldn't jump on the miracle-cure bandwagon and should rather think thoroughly and ethically through all sides of the research.

Let’s Go to Prison -- Mainstream Media Sinks to New Lows

So Friday night marked opening night for a movie whose name alone caused my mouth to fall open in disgust. Will public entertainment ever cease to sink to new lows? By all accounts, Let's Go to Prison went even beyond my worst expectations.

One needn't even see the movie to be offended. Just start with the callousness of the commercials which use prison rape as a comical promotional tool. How repulsive! I can assure you that had the scene revolved around the rape of a woman or the molestation of a child, the public uproar would have been deafening... one would hope. But why is prison rape a laughing matter?

Prison rape is still just that... rape. It is dehumanizing and indecent. Unfortunately society has little understanding of the prevelance of prison rape and the adverse affects that such behavior has on society at large (i.e. HIV). This is no laughing matter. Just one year ago the Montel Williams Show hosted an entire session on the subject of prison rape (to read the transcript please click here). The stories of prison rape span gender and racial lines, and it has gotten out of control. But, I digress. (For more information on prison rape, please visit the websites of Justice Fellowship or Stop Prisoner Rape.)

I would welcome your opinion on this movie, and would strongly urge that you share with Universal Studios (scroll down to "Contact Us") your disgust at this type of entertainment.

Re: Important Safety Tip

Gina, you asked

And yet . . . does the issue always boil down to people looking down on Hispanics because of their skin color? Always?

Always? Of course not. But, as Tamara Jacoby wrote in a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed piece:

The problem was as much about tone as substance — many Latinos are also worried about illegal immigration. But the hard-liners' grandstanding added up, and there was no mistaking the message: Not only illegal immigrants but 30 million Latino voters heard Republicans saying, "We don't like you."

Read the stuff closely (actually, not all that closely) and it becomes clear that a lot of what has driven this "debate" is, with apologies to Public Enemy, fear of a brown planet. While the "debate" was ostensibly about illegal immigration, the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants or even immigrants and native-born Latinos was often blurred.

Many of the most prominent Republican/conservative voices on the issue get their talking points from, inter alia, a eugencist purveyor in scientific racism, a coalition of white nationalists and population control extremists, and a once-respectable writer who calls the changing face (color) of America "one of the greatest tragedies in human history," and who insists that it was the "genetic endowments" of whites that made American civilization possible, a statement that is especially risible since the Founders no doubt regarded his own Celtic ancestors as being in need of civilizing themselves. Another respectable writer quotes Jean Raspail's The Camp of the Saints, which calls Indian refugees headed towards France a "river of sperm," to shed light on the American situation.

Finally, what passes for Holy Writ in the anti-immigration movement questions the capacity of Latinos generally, and Mexican-Americans in particular, for national (American) identity, loyalty and patriotism. Mexican writer Enrique Krauze, writing in the New Republic, gave this idea a suitable response:

Huntington might be as surprised as I was by a photograph on the front page of The New York Times on April 21, in which several marines paid their respects at a memorial service for Corporal Daniel R. Amaya at their base outside Fallujah. Amaya--a twenty-two-year-old rifleman from Odessa, Texas--had been killed on April 11 in hostile fire in the province of Al Ambar. In his photograph online he does not look Mexican, but his last name (his father, Tom Amaya, lives in El Paso) is probably Mexican, just like the names of many other fallen soldiers. Under the letter "A" alone, besides Amaya, I found two Acostas, Andrade, Anguiano, Arriaga, Arroyave, Arsiaga, Avilés. Of the 678 members of the American armed forces killed in Iraq, there are at least eighty-two with a Hispanic last name (those with only a Hispanic mother, who might theoretically be added to the list, are unidentified). Some might be from the Philippines, but many are clearly of Mexican origin. The total is 12 percent. Would Samuel Huntington consider such a percentage high enough to qualify as an expression of national identity, loyalty, and patriotism?

Continue reading "Re: Important Safety Tip" »

The new Cinderella syndrome?

Of all the stomach-churning elements of the TomKat brouhaha this weekend ("Scrunch down further there, Katie, you don't want to look taller than your hubby in your wedding photo!"), possibly the single most stomach-churning was the way the press kept referring to the groom's two older children. For example:

-- "Two of [Cruise's] sisters homeschool Cruise's adopted children with Nicole Kidman, Conor and Isabella, in Scientology."

(No, I'm not referring to the idea of a home education in Scientology, awful as it sounds. Keep reading:)

-- "The wedding party included Cruise's two adopted children."

-- "Also in attendance was their seven-month-old daughter Suri and Cruise's adopted children from his marriage to Nicole Kidman."

-- "Isabella and Connor, Tom's adopted children from his marriage to Nicole Kidman were also there to share in their father's happiness."

-- "Cruise and Holmes's seven-month-old daughter Suri was expected to play a role in the lavish nuptials, alongside Cruise's adopted children, Connor and Isabella."

-- "Also in Italy were Conor and Isabella, Cruise's adopted children with ex-wife Nicole Kidman, and Cruise and Holmes' baby daughter, Suri."

Get the idea now?

Continue reading "The new Cinderella syndrome?" »

Re: Important Safety Tip

Gina, as a second-generation immigrant with family still jumping through the same ridiculous hoops of a flawed, to say the least, immigration system (hostile is more like it), that is the perspective I am coming from. There are racist elements involved in certain attitudes of the debate, not just for Hispanics, but Asians, Africans, etc. I know. I've witnessed it. (And I'm not talking about you.) My mother is still subjected to it. Middle Eastern friends have been. African friends have been. All people who worked to get here, and weren't just born into it.

My sister (who thankfully is near the end of the circus of green-card application, etc.) has gone through all kinds of expensive, difficult, expensive, confusing -- did I mention expensive? -- hassle, in which the rules and requirements kept changing. Expenses that could not be afforded by her or us (who do have American incomes).

So it is from that perspective that I empathize with those desperate for a better life, and not having the time or money to get through those hoops, but still having little mouths to feed and minds to educate. (We are so unbelievably spoiled in this country, we cannot even empathize. We stand in line for days for a PS3, while across the ocean people stand in line for days for food. And yet we forget, there but by the grace of God would have gone any of us, simply by virtue of where we were born, which none of us can choose.)

So no, I don't think flippantly flouting the law is no problem at all (though I also believe many don't do it "flippantly"). But the law does need to be revised to be more accommodating and welcoming. When that many people are circumventing the law, something is wrong with the law. I think change and restoration in the system begins with a decision to stop using the label "those illegals" (as if they were objects, dehumanizing them) and remembering first they also like us are people made in God's image.

Christians and Voting

I just ran across this quote from Randy Alcorn on the importance of Christians "voting daily":

We cast multiple votes each day. We cast votes for heaven or hell, for grace and truth, for legalism and error. For self-control or self-indulgence. For the Spirit or the Flesh. For abiding in Christ, or independence from Christ. For wisdom or foolishness, and for blessing or curse. Every decision we make, every action we take--and the heart attitude with which we conduct our lives--casts a vote for one kingdom or another. Every vote counts. God tallies them. Eternity will be affected by them. .... The key to change and influence in this world is not politics. It is faithfulness to Jesus.


November 17, 2006

Shameless plug time

(Yeah, I know, what else is new?)

For those like me suffering from Monk withdrawal -- a pox upon those senseless "half-seasons" so beloved of cable programmers -- USA tosses us a bone tonight at 10 Eastern with a special holiday episode. (I generally loathe the use of holiday in such a context, but given the timing of this one, right before Thanksgiving, for once it actually makes sense.) At long last we're going to see "the defective detective" meet the father who abandoned him years ago. If it's consistent with previous episodes, it'll be a poignant reminder of just how greatly fathers are needed and the damage they leave behind if they shirk their responsibilities -- and in any event, it'll be good, because it's Monk.


Courtesy of Motte Brown at The Line:

What's the difference between Christians and canoes? Canoes tip.

Read more.

Re: Important Safety Tip

Roberto and Catherina, I agree that Malkin fails to draw a convincing connection between illegal immigration as such and a murder committed by one man who happened to be an illegal immigrant.

And yet . . . does the issue always boil down to people looking down on Hispanics because of their skin color? Always?

I think of my friend from Singapore, who's spent years and years jumping through just about every official hoop there is and still doesn't have his American citizenship. What do I say to him when he wants to know why so many believe that another group is entitled to become citizens before he does, without making the same efforts that he was required to make, because he entered legally and they didn't? "Well, it would be racist not to consider them over you" doesn't sound so terribly convincing, either.

I Get it Now!

As Longshanks told his nobles in Braveheart, "problem with Scotland is that it's full of Scots." Apparently, the problem with Iraq, according to Charles Krauthammer, is that it's full of Iraqis, or, to be more precise, people who should think of themselves as Iraqis but don't.

In today's Washington Post, Krauthammer writes,

We have given the Iraqis a republic, and they do not appear able to keep it.


The problem here is Iraq's particular political culture, raped and ruined by 30 years of Hussein's totalitarianism.

What was left in its wake was a social desert, a dearth of the trust and good will and sheer human capital required for democratic governance. All that was left for the individual Iraqi to attach himself to was the mosque or clan or militia. At this earliest stage of democratic development, Iraqi national consciousness is as yet too weak and the culture of compromise too undeveloped to produce an effective government enjoying broad allegiance.

He's right, at least in a factual sense. My question is: did it really take 655,000 dead Iraqis and more than 3,000 dead Americans to figure this out? Reading a few books or even watching this movie would have sufficed to know that "Iraq" is a western fiction cobbled together from three very different Ottoman vilayets -- Mosul, Baghdad and Basra -- which correspond to the ethno-religious divides that are at each other's throats today. 

None of this was unknown in, say, 2003. Instead of blaming the Iraqis for not following a script that was written half a world away, blame should be assigned a lot closer to home.

’Rust Belt Rembrandt’

Paintbrush A few months ago, I finally saw Music of the Heart and Mr. Holland's Opus when they showed on TV. I love stories like these. I believe highly in the value of, at the least, exposing children to all of the arts: music, painting and drawing, theater, sculpture, creative writing, etc. It's always a shame to waste such fresh, bright, untarnished imaginations that children possess. So I love this story from the Wall Street Journal:

It isn’t easy growing up poor in the rust-belt town of Erie, Pa. But disadvantaged children there have one thing with a value above rubies. It’s called the Inner-City Neighborhood Art House, and it offers free, after-school programs in the creative and performing arts. Since 1994, more than 3,000 children have signed up to paint, write poetry, learn to play instruments, act in plays or simply explore the works of past masters. . . .

At the Art House . . . Tables are strewn with books of classical art and architecture. Kids can take professional instruction in air brushing—used in commercial art. But they can also study violin under a graduate of a Moscow conservatory. The 30 activities and classes available every afternoon range from the readings of “Hooked on Books” volunteers, to museum field trips, to creative-writing exercises supervised by Sister Mary Lou, a former elementary-school teacher and a published poet.

While a few kids go on to careers in the arts, Sister Mary Lou told us that, for the majority, the experience has built life skills. “Doing videos together, or plays,” for instance, has fostered “team work, self-confidence, discipline and a sense of community among the children—who really discovered what was way down deep and were affirmed in who they were.”

Exposure to the arts helps children see everything in the ordinary world through new eyes, says Charlene Gehm MacDougal. . . . Studying, watching and discussing great art, she told us, develops inquiring minds, provokes “deep thought and concentration . . . and transport[s] us to greater heights.”

Speaking of heights, Howard Husock, vice president of programs at the Manhattan Institute, is particularly impressed by the Neighborhood Art House’s commitment to high culture. Exposing children to the classics reflects “an extraordinary belief in Western civilization,” he told us. Moreover, it repudiates the cruel notion that poor and minority kids can’t relate to Beethoven or Rembrandt. “There is something transcendent about [great art], and it would be patronizing to deny it to people.”

Folks in at least 30 other U.S. cities agree. They’ve all visited the Neighborhood Art House in the hope of starting something like it.

What a great endeavor. Instead of complaining about what is not available in the schools, fill the hole yourself. Fabulous. I'm pleased with the arts and music opportunities my daughter has in her school (for example, her art teacher, who was a professional artist in Chile, goes way beyond paste and scissors and teaches the students about form and color and emotion and expression, etc.). But I try to supplement as much as I can as well, since she's a natural artist -- from writing her own music (she doesn't get that from me!) to her passion: drawing. For example, I've put her in classes for her age group at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C. So in your home and in your town, I encourage you to support your local arts programs and education in whatever way you are able.

Golden Silence or Talkies?

Let's see, which do you prefer, sight gags or potty humor? Well, I loved Flushed Away, but give me Chaplin any day. ("No more rhyming now, I mean it!" "Anybody want a peanut?")

"A particular kind of cinematic language began to atrophy when the screen's silence was broken," writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times Magazine (11/12/06). That language would be the language of the "sight gag" as perfected by Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Mack Sennett, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon. It is, in short, a language of "gestures and camera placements" versus a language of "double entendres and stinging comebacks ... Physical comedy did not exactly die with the rise of the talkies, as any fan of The Three Stooges, Jerry Lewis or Jim Carrey will attest. But it did suffer a loss of prestige; what ... was the highest form of laughter is frequently seen as the lowest, fit for the amusement of children or French people." So says A.O.

With a nod to a 1949 essay by film critic James Agee, he continues: "However much we enjoy them, pratfalls and sight gags tend to be viewed as juvenile or vulgar -- mere slapstick, lacking in cerebral stimulation or satirical bite. This is in part the residue of an old cultural hierarchy: dialogue-based film comedy had its roots in the legitimate theater, while the banana-peel buffoonery of the silent clowns always carried a disreputable whiff of vaudeville. Polite opinion likes it best when funny keeps company with smart. Humor that is mute -- or that deals with nothing more refined than the laws of gravity or the problems of digestion -- often seems dumb: either childish, or implicitly, lower class." Of course, that is exactly what gave silent-screen comedy its appeal.

"The genius of a well-executed gag is that getting it requires neither schooling nor explanation," A.O. writes. "And the laughter that results ... overrides our sensibilities and sensitivities, our politics and our better judgment, disables our intellectual capacities and leaves us speechless." In other words, it makes us laugh -- really laugh -- as opposed to just giggle or smirk. Which brings us, inevitably, to Borat. As a movie, says A.O., it didn't even seem like a movie -- it wasn't even really television; it was YouTube, at best. Until, that is, the scene where the tall-and-thin Borat chases the short-and-fat Azmat -- both starkers -- "through hallways, elevators and a crowded banquet room. "It was dumber than dumb, but, says A.O., it was moment when the movie "achieves the condition of cinema, climbing the ladder from titter to yowl, past belly laugh and into the wordless Utopian realm of the boffo."

(H/T Reveries)

Jesus goes to Hollywood

More on that new audio Bible featuring the voices of black actors and entertainers: It's topping the charts at retailers, according to CNN. The New Testament recording (the Old Testament will follow next fall) features the voices of Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding Jr., Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Charles S. Dutton, Blair Underwood, and Samuel L. Jackson. Producer Kyle Bowser, a former television executive, recommitted his life to Christ in 1997.According to the article, he began this project out of a desire to create a product that would appeal to an African-American audience and a disappointment with the production quality of other audio Bibles.

The producers decided early on to cast only black actors and other personalities, hoping to attract a black audience, as well as fans of some of the world's biggest box-office draws. They also wanted to shatter the Hollywood mold of white Bible productions.

What? You mean Jesus wasn't a blond-haired, blue-eyed American guy with a Shakespearean accent?

There was some debate among the producers whether to restrict the cast to Christians. They finally decided not to, since the Bible is filled with both Christians and non-Christians, Bowser said.

An excellent point!

"That way we availed ourselves to the best talent in the community," he said. "But I can tell you, whether they were believers or nonbelievers, everyone that participated came with a high degree of reverence and total respect for the significance of this project."

What’s that verse in Isaiah? “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa. 55:11, KJV)

The Art of Biology and the Biology of Art

Creativity and innovation know no boundaries.

As a young art conservator at the Winterthur museum near Wilmington, Del., Richard Wolbers was assigned an early 19th century painting that needed cleaning. It was Jacob Eichholtz's portrait of Ann Ross Hopkins, grand-daughter of George Ross, one of the Pennsylvania signers of the Declaration of Independence. The oil paint had been covered with a coating of varnish, and applications of linseed oil had dulled the appearance of the portrait.

Having trained as a biochemist at the University of California, San Diego before studying art conservation, Wolbers decided to apply a lipase enzyme to help break down the layer of oil. "It worked like magic," said Wolbers, now 56 and an associate professor and coordinator of science at the University of Delaware's conservation program at Winterthur. . . .

Wolbers' work is an example of biology becoming more common in art restoration, a field that traditionally has been more closely associated with chemistry. A former endocrinology researcher at the Salk Institute, Wolbers has introduced the art world to a range of techniques from life science research -- such as solvent gels, resin soaps and staining processes that use fluorescent molecules to tag particular proteins and oils in the layers of a painting.

In the last few years, he has developed methods for cleaning John Singer Sargent's murals in Boston's Trinity Church, Native American rock paintings in Las Vegas, the architectural interior details of the US Capitol, the Islamic art at Doris Duke's Shangri La mansion in Hawaii, and the Buddhist grotto paintings of Mogao, China.

Read more.

Re: Important Safety Tip

Roberto, let's add to that list:

  1. Texan skinheads. The violent attack on a Hispanic teen who was beaten and then sodomized with a plastic pipe was fueled by the racist beliefs of a skinhead 18-year-old who viciously assaulted the boy, a prosecutor said Tuesday. . . . David Henry Tuck . . . is charged with aggravated sexual assault in the attack on the 17-year-old boy who spent more than three months in a hospital recovering from his injuries. [You might not want to read the rest of this horrific attack, not if you want to hold in your breakfast.]
  2. Teens. Louis Shawn Lindenfeld shot and killed Allen 'Chip' Ellis so he could get a car to visit his biological dad and stepmom. Other witnesses have also said that that night he said he felt like going out and "jacking someone" for no apparent reason (not that having a reason would make the case better).

Not serial killers, but the point is skin color does not define whether you do good or evil. The fact that we're fallen humans does. Everyone's capable. And maybe for Malkin's own sake, she better rethink her own standards, as 1) a Filipino and 2) a "journalist."

Another needless death

Hanger We talked before about the (not new) trend of excessively thin models in the fashion world here, here, and here. Talk is too little too late by everyone in the industry when things like this happen:

A 21-year-old anorexic model who weighed only 88 pounds has died of generalized infection, a hospital said. Ana Carolina Reston, who had worked in China, Turkey, Mexico and Japan for several modeling agencies, died Tuesday, according to Sao Paulo's Servidor Publico Hospital.

The hospital said the infection that killed the 5-foot-8-inch model was caused by anorexia nervosa, a disorder characterized by an abnormal fear of becoming obese, an aversion to food and severe weight loss. [emphasis mine]

I'm not sure what the answer is on the industry level, how to enforce change (it's certainly an area in which Christians should get involved). I believe they are complicit in what leads to this: the agencies, those magazines and others who hire these models, and the designers -- if none of them are pointing out an obvious problem when they see it. (And if they don't see the problem, they've got huge problems of their own, like moral blindness.) But Ana's mom does give parents things to think about with their own kids -- daughters and sons -- about image and health.

"Take care for your children because their loss is irreparable,'' Reston's mother, Miriam, told the O Globo newspaper. "Nothing can make the pain go away. No money in the world is worth the life of your child.''

Reston began her modeling career at the age of 13 after winning a local beauty contest in her hometown of Jundiai, on the outskirts of Sao Paulo.

"I noticed something was wrong when she returned from Japan,'' Miriam told the Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper. "She was too thin when she returned and when I told her to eat something, she would say: 'Mom please don't fight with me; there is nothing wrong with me, I'm fine.'''

You know what? Talk to them. Nag them. Ad nauseam. You're not there to be their best friend; you're there to be the parent. And at the top of the list of parental duties is preserving their life. So maybe grab this movie, sit down and laugh at it together with a bowl of popcorn (light or drenched in butter, your choice), and have a candid talk about peer pressure and expectations. And don't just talk to them, listen to them. It will make what you have to say in response carry more weight -- so hopefully your child will carry the proper weight.

Re: A Cruciform Calling

Catherine and Zoe have brought up great points. The discussion of the evangelical's role in society is one that the church must have, if for no other reason than that the culture is already having it. Last week's Newsweek cover story, along with the side commentary by Sam Harris, is only another in a line of media reports, particularly since the 2004 election, that have sought to dissect the views of evangelicals and exploit any dissension therein. This often comes in the form of an apparent effort to find a split in the evangelical church -- or at least the perception of it -- between the sensible liberals or "moderates" and the morality-obsessed loonies, perhaps to pry the evangelical right from Republican politics, to the detriment of both.

I suspect that much of the discord is manufactured, rather than simply observed, in the political arena. Evangelicals are expected to be uncomfortable with the failures of the GOP, while Republican candidates are supposed to distance themselves from the regressive ideas of the religious right. The solution? More liberal Christians; more liberal candidates.

But this misses the central focus of evangelicalism, which is -- or at least should be -- about knowing and abiding by the truth of Christ. To whatever extent political and theological criticism is warranted, evangelicals must indeed seek to understand both our role as citizens of the United States and as ambassadors of Christ to the world. We must find our voice in politics and our service to the world, realizing that victory in one doesn't necessarily mean success in the other.

This has never been an easy balance, but it is one worth fighting for. Society -- largely through the media -- is calling the evangelical church into account and challenging what we believe and why we believe it. The conversation will no doubt accelerate as we work our way toward the next major election, in two years. Let us engage the discussion and stand firm upon truth, yet remembering that our real success won't come in the form of a ballot majority or favorable article in the New York Times.

Get thee to a nunnery

It seems the legions of single adults in America may turn out to be a boon for Catholic orders, as young people look for meaning and tradition in a fractured world. After years of decline, the November 20 issue of Time reports that young women at least are beating a path to convents in increasing numbers, and they are taking a more traditional approach than their older sisters, donning the veil that many older nuns have set aside.

“Religious life itself is a radical choice,” says Brother Paul Vednarczyk, executive director of the National Religious Vocation Conference in Chicago. “In an age where our primary secular values are sex, power and money, for someone to choose chastity, obedience and poverty is a radical statement.”

That radicalism is, ironically, embodied by the wearing of the veil. Decreed unnecessary by Vatican II and shed happily by many older nuns, the headdress is for many of today’s newcomers a desired accessory.

Newer nuns see the veil as a public expression of faith, says Cheryl Reed, author of Unveiled: Inside the Hidden Lives of Nuns. “You can understand why a woman who has given up sex, freedom and money would want to wear her wedding dress--which is what they consider their habits to be. You want to say, ‘I’m special. I gave this up.’”

The most popular convents “combine contemplation with active ministry to the public.” One convent reports that their average age is now at 24. Another in the Bronx has 16 women going through the process of deciding whether to take vows to the church, including “a former Marine, a professional opera singer, a United Nations aide and a recent Yale grad.”

Whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, the message here is a good one. It speaks of revival and a renewed longing for God. It speaks of a generation who are rejecting the emptiness of a self-centered culture and dedicating themselves to a life of serving God and others. It speaks of a willingness to sacrifice and submit, words we haven't heard much lately. Maybe there's hope after all.

Important Safety Tip

We live in a dangerous world, which is why I'm grateful for the calm, reasoned, and utterly fair voice of Michelle Malkin. Commenting on the murder of actress Adrienne Shelly, Malkin called the killing a bloody consequence of open borders.

Malkin was referring to the fact that Shelly's killer was an illegal immigrant from Ecuador named Diego Pillco. As she put it,

The horrifying murder of Adrienne Shelly is just the latest addition to the human toll of open borders that no one in Washington wants to tally.

Unless Americans of all political stripes band together to stop the coming amnesty, Washington will adopt another disastrous policy that values the "cheap labor" of illegal alien murder suspect Diego Pillco over the life of a beautiful wife and mother whose only crime was to stand up to a lawless thug.

In other words, because Shelly was killed by an illegal alien, more illegal aliens means that more Americans will be murdered. OK. Unfortunately, Malkin didn't go far enough and since she's obviously looking out for your and my (well, your) safety, I thought that I should bring some other classes of obviously dangerous people to your attention:

  1. Pentecostals. Gary Ridgway, the so-called "Green River Killer," and possibly the most-prolific serial killer in American history, evangelized door-to-door for his church, that is, when he wasn't killing at least 48 prostitutes.
  2. Lutherans. Dennis Rader, the so-called "BTK killer," who confessed to killing ten women, was president of the Congregation Council at his Lutheran Church. He was also a Republican office-holder for a time. You never know.
  3. Methodists. Ted Bundy's parents met in church and he was active in church activities, as well as the Boy Scouts. (Hmmm.) Like Ridgway, he was from Washington State. You know what that means: two Washingtonian church-goers who between them, confessed to at least 78 murders and may have killed hundreds more. Can you make a Defense of Internment? I know I can
  4. Actually, we should just go ahead and basically include every non-African American male between the ages of 20 and 45. Come to think of it, Aileen Wuornos admitted to killing at least seven times as many people as Pillco, so let's add white women to the list, too.

Actually, if we apply Malkin's reasoning consistently, we'll need legal and illegal immigrantion just to get to keep the lights on.

(H/T Orcinus)

Culture of contraception

Kathryn Lopez has some interesting thoughts on where the "contraceptive mentality" has led us at NRO this morning (see also here and here for the earlier part of the discussion).

Re: And Baby (Bear) Makes Three

I stand corrected. A reader over at Tapped spotted and exposed the fatal flaw in the idea I endorsed.

The loss of polar ice has nothing to do with polar bears drowning. The bears are not stupid. They simply won't venture off land into the ocean. Polar ice is necessary to prevent starvation. Polar bears live mainly by killing and eating seals. A polar bear can't just swim around in the ocean like a killer whale trying to catch a seal. They catch seals by patiently waiting for hours or days next to an air hole in the ice and grabbing a seal when it comes up for air. The sheet ice confines the seals to limited locations and air holes that they have to frequent in order to keep the hole from freezing over. Without sheet ice, polar bears will starve. Floating platforms have nothing to do with the real problem.

Never mind. Although, I still think that we shouldn't wait for definitive proof or solutions if there are reasonable ways to ameliorate the impact of environmental problems.

November 16, 2006

Four short posts about music

For some reason, I've been collecting a lot of ideas for posts about music lately -- and haven't yet had a chance to post about any of them. So here they all are in one fell swoop.

1. Catherina, thanks for sharing the article about Ruby Jane Smith. I loved it (and so did my dad :-) ). What an inspiring young lady and musician -- and what a wonderful mother.

2. I just opened my new Chris Rice CD, Peace Like a River: The Hymns Project, and found this in the liner notes: "I miss the days when our songs were written to teach and preserve theology, rather than to become a radio hit." Amen, brother, and kudos to you for writing your own songs -- including several well deserved hits -- in just such a manner. You can buy Chris's new hymn collection here. And if you don't yet have the albums featuring his own theologically and poetically rich lyrics, what are you waiting for? Get thee to his store! There's not a bad one in the bunch, but I particularly recommend Past the Edges and Amusing. (And see if you can get through "Breakfast Table" without tearing up. I can't.)

3. I have the wonderful fortune to attend a church where this man is one of the regular soloists. For more than twenty years, I've been blessed by the beauty and warmth of his voice and spirit. He too has a CD for sale, and you can whet your appetite here. (Recommended: "Give Me Jesus.")

(Hmm . . . maybe I should have titled this post "Many ways to spend your money." :-) )

4. Finally, courtesy of Steve Beard, here's an article about Johnny Cash's new music video. No, the Man in Black is no longer with us, but this one was put together by several dozen of his dearest friends. If you ever wondered just exactly how out of it I am, this will tell you: I did not recognize one single celebrity in this video (first link under "Videos") when I saw it on CMT the other morning. Not one. I thought they were just a bunch of random people. (Had I been more awake at the time, though, I think I might have at least recognized Bono, thanks to Catherina's patient tutelage. Bono: hair; Stipe: no hair. Yep, got it.) I did recognize the song, though, one of my very favorites from American V: A Hundred Highways. (I know, I'm doing it again! Sorry!) I'm absolutely fascinated by the fact that so many celebrities, nonbelievers and believers alike, would come together in tribute to a man singing a song with the refrain, "Sooner or later, God'll cut you down." What a testimony to the power of the raw, open, unwatered-down Gospel to which Cash clung, and that drew all kinds of people towards him all his life, and what a rebuke to those of us who think we have to tame down and pretty up that Gospel in order to be more "seeker-friendly."

Worth sitting in the rain for

Travis and Gina, you're so right: Sitting in the rain for a toy (ding! ding! ding! That's right! You've won! You've won first place in the gullible dupe contest) is insane.

But sitting in the rain December 2 in your city on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves is worth it. The International Protest Against China's Violent Repatriation of North Korean Refugees takes place at 12:00 noon on December 2:

We must raise our voices together against China's violent repatriation of North Korean refugees. The plan for the protest is simple: Whereever you are in the world, go to the nearest Chinese Embassy or Consulate Office at noon this December 2 to take a stand for the suffering North Korean refugees in China who are continuing to be hunted down by the Chinese authorities and forced to return to North Korea where they face torture, imprisonment, and even execution for the "crime" of leaving their country.

Learn more at the North Korea Freedom Coalition website.

Re: Keep the conversation going

Gina, thanks for the mention. I just want to make it clear to everyone (skimming) that I don't have any problem with any viewpoint being placed on those cups, as I mentioned in my column. Bring it all on. Starbucks isn't a church. What later followed the quote Gina highlighted -- "What critics of the Maupin quote got right was the debate—that’s what you are supposed to do." -- was this:

What the Maupin coffee-cup quote critics got wrong was their answer: They wanted the coffee chain to pull the cups with the quote, that is, end debate altogether. That accomplishes nothing. You don’t learn by ignoring differing viewpoints.

And in her comment, Katharine Eastvold echoes this:

Like it or not, we live in a diverse society, and we're going to be bombarded by a diversity of opinions, whether it's watching tv or talking to other parents at the PTA meeting or buying a cup of coffee. We need to creatively and steadfastly convey the message of Christ -- not grumble and complain and talk ad nauseum about our "rights" and how liberals have "offended" us. If the only persecution we suffer is being offended by the messages on our coffee cups, then we're getting off very easily. My experience has been that the gospel is spread more effectively through a dialogue open to all voices than where there is no dialogue at all.

Beautifully put.

Virtual Insanity

Gina -- I was just pondering that very same phenomenon. Somehow, I get the feeling that all that is wrong with society can be captured in the fiasco that is the PlayStation 3 release.

Dozens of would-be PlayStation 3 owners huddled in tents outside Wal-Mart and Best Buy in Avon, despite driving rain and the cold last night, waiting for the release of Sony's new gaming system Friday morning.

The vast majority of these diehards are not enthusiastic gamers.

They're entrepreneurs.

Most of the huddled masses waiting for a chance to buy the game console said they plan to sell it on eBay and make at least $1,000 profit.

The systems will sell for about $400 to $600, depending on how much memory it has, according to a Best Buy employee.

Ryan Zewell of Westlake, who was camping outside Avon's Best Buy at Center and Chester roads, said he plans to use the profits from his eBay sales toward his tuition at The Ohio State University. Zewell says people are paying up to $3,000 on eBay for the system.

It's not the eager, albeit absurd, anticipation that confounds me; it's the reason these lines are so long. I'm not sure which is worse -- the fact that people are willing to spend hours in the rain to bootleg a new product, or the fact that eager buyers will shell out the cash to support the hyper-inflation. Now, I'll admit that I spend too much time on the Xbox sitting in my living room, but no addiction in the world would cause me to spend thousands of dollars for a toy that I could get for a fraction of that come January. Get a grip.

The trend of undersupplying the demand for these "hot" gadgets has become somewhat of an American ritual in recent years -- perhaps by design. The lesson, however, is not in the laws of economics, but in our insatiable obsession with materialism and status.

Hollywood, Trying to Succeed Where Capitol Hill Failed

Rocky First of all, let me make this clear: I am not one of those who believe that Hollywood is the playground of the devil. If it is, then so is Des Moines. Truth permeates everywhere. Now, this post is going to come across as that of a cranky skeptic or a skeptical crank. Fine. But bear with me.

I knew a new Rocky movie was coming out this year -- heard about it a while ago, and my first thought was, Isn't Stallone like a grampa now? But nevertheless. Rocky movies are a part of my childhood memories, along with the Back to the Future trilogy, Explorers, the first Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones series, Stand by Me, the Superman series, etc. But I didn't expect this angle.

I first read about Rocky appealing to the faith market at Culture Beat. Alex Wainer told about an interesting invitation he received:

I got an e-mail last week inviting me to talk to Sylvester Stallone about his newest film, Rocky Balboa. . . . so I and who knows how many others were invited to be in on a conference call from 12:30-12:50 last Friday. . . . The e-mail message was candid about the movie:

Though this is not a religious film, we believe there are many themes ("The Heart of a Champion," "Fighting the Good Fight," "Recovery After a Fall," etc.) that relate to faith and values. But don't take our word for it -- listen to Sly himself explain how he has woven these themes into his movies.

I didn't take them up on the offer. I've only seen the first Rocky movie and simply wasn't interested in the teleconferenced junket. I'm trying not to be cynical about such efforts as various films seek to employ the right vocabulary that will appeal to believers. Face it, many Christians long for the affirmation and validation that comes from being sought after by cultural (or political) elites. But if this helps evangelicals find films that indeed uphold generally positive values, why carp? And perhaps, if Christians show some discernment and turn out for quality films, we'll see better films.

Ah, well, Alex, you're better than I, because my cynicism meter jumped when I read one of the results of that telelovefest Stallone and his handlers put on for "religious media." Travis sent around an article from Citizenlink. Time again for a caveat: I'm not doubting that Stallone could really have true personal faith in God and that he sincerely meant the quotes in this article, titled "The 'Gym of the Soul'" . . . DING, DING, DING! (Sorry, that's when my cynicism alarm first set off.) But they just sounded so, well . . . well-placed: like a string of buzzwords, catchphrases, and quotables that were written on a Talking Points sheet handed to Stallone before the group interview ("Psst! Here's what these folks like to hear!"). I mean, this sounds so much like a Successories entry: "The church is the gym of the soul." Mmm, frame that gem.

And yes, I could be wrong: Stallone's faith could be real and deep and those quotes in the Citizenlink article sincere. And I don't think some bait-and-switch is going to take place, like whole churches will enter the theaters and get nothing that was marketed to them. But it's just one of those instances, I believe where we need, as Alex noted, "discernment, that rare virtue amongst us Christian movielovers. As a whole I wonder how developed our tastes are . . . Are we creating or seeking redemptive art or safe faith and culture-validating stories with questionable theology?" Good question.

Continue reading "Hollywood, Trying to Succeed Where Capitol Hill Failed" »

And Baby (Bear) Makes Three

When Jonah Goldberg and Ezra Klein agree, who am I to say "no?"

No to what? The need to do something about this distressing story:

Far fewer polar bears cubs are surviving off Alaska's northern coast, a federal government report released Wednesday has concluded.

The study of polar bears in the south Beaufort Sea, which spans the northern coasts of Alaska and western Canada, also found that adult males weigh less and have smaller skulls than those captured and measured two decades ago.

The study does not directly blame the changes on a decline in sea ice. However, fewer cubs and smaller males are consistent with other observations that suggest changes in sea ice may be adversely affecting polar bears, the study said.

The study warns that the decline in cub survival and the smaller adult males are the same conditions that preceded a decline in the polar bears of western Hudson Bay, Canada, where the population dropped 22 percent in 17 years.

As Goldberg rightly points out, even if, one, the Kyoto Accord could do something about changes in Arctic sea ice and, two, everyone adopted it, any changes would come too late to save the bears. What's needed is a strategy we can implement now to save the largest land carnivore in the world. Goldberg, whose wife is from Alaska, has an idea:

It seems to me that if A) we believe that man is responsible for the dire plight of polar bears (or even if he's not) and B) we think the polar bears are worth saving and C) we think that doing so won't have outsized negative consequences elsewhere in the ecosystem, Why not intervene to save polar bears? Would building big, free floating docks help? Would moving polar bears and their families to different areas do the trick?

Klein points out that "this sort of thing has worked quite well in other contexts, like the replacement of destroyed of natural reefs with sunken ships reefs."

Works for me, too. I hope that this doesn't become yet another case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

’Insanity’ is right

The big story on the TV news right now is the tent city that's sprung up in New York City as people got in line three days early to wait for PlayStation 3 to go on sale.

My first thought was, you've got to be kidding me.

My second thought was, who am I to talk? I'm the girl whose father drove to every Toys R Us in town (through a storm, yet) to find a Cabbage Patch Kid for her ninth birthday. Let she who is without the trendy overpriced toy of the day cast the first stone.

Still . . . three days and nights in the rain. I hope I wouldn't have gone so far as to make my father do that. And I hope to goodness he wouldn't have done it if I had.

Keep the conversation going

Conor Clarke notes in a new article at The New Republic (free registration required) that conservatives went from protesting liberal quotes on Starbucks cups (especially one from Armistead Maupin about how homosexuals shouldn't repress their sexuality) to getting their own quotes on said cups. Clarke views this change with mild disapproval, thinking the whole matter amounts to not much more than a "Hill of Beans":

But perhaps what the conservative cups illustrate, even more than diversity, is the conservative mindset: The right may thumb its nose at liberal culture, but it really wants to be invited in. That's too bad, because, prior to scrambling their way onto the cups, the conservatives actually had a decent point. There's something to be said for a place free of politics and diversity picks. Coffee doesn't need a Clarence Thomas. It just needs to be reasonably priced, consistently drinkable, and only mildly in the thrall of the homosexual agenda.

But Catherina, who was way ahead of him on covering the subject (perhaps a complimentary BreakPoint WorldView subscription for Mr. Clarke is in order?), begs to differ:

[My] remaining—nagging—thought was the original nature of coffee-houses and the value of public discourse over matters of truth. “If you think back to the history of old coffee-houses, before the Internet, these were places to converse,” said a spokesman for the coffee chain. “That’s part of what the coffee culture has been for a century or more.” What critics of the Maupin quote got right was the debate—that’s what you are supposed to do. . . .

In fact, the coffee chain’s website has ignited healthy debate from its patrons on many of the quotes: They are thinking. That’s a good thing, in an age of glazed-eyed Internet surfing and mind-numbing television sitcoms.

Read the rest here.

A Cruciform Calling

Amen, Zoe! I couldn't agree more with your post, "The Two Poles of Evangelicalism." We are called to be faithful in both word and deed.

Over the last century, the Church has consistently grappled with the relationship between word and deed. Unfortunately, all too often this tension manifested itself in a sharp “polarization.” Commenting on this relationship, John Stott writes, “At times the difference between these viewpoints has not been a tension only, but a sterile polarization, usually along the lines of the evangelical-liberal divide, each overreacting to the other’s position…Thus, the evangelical stereotype has been to spiritualize the gospel, and deny its social implications while the ecumenical stereotype has been to politicize it, and deny its offer of salvation to sinners. This polarization has been a disaster.” (Stott, The Contemporary Christian; Downers Grove: IVP, 1992; p.337-338). In the midst of this, we have lost sight of a Christ-shaped life, characterized by faithfulness in both word and deed. Now is the time to call the Church back to a higher calling, a cruciform calling.

Jesus’ life and mission are shaped by the cross and we are called to share a cross-shaped, or cruciform, life: living faithful to the King and engaging in His mission in the world. Our faithfulness to the King means loving God with everything: heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30). It will demand the alignment of our lives with revealed and knowable truth as given to us in the Word of God. Our engagement in the world will be markedly incarnational, like Christ’s our model. As we love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31), we will be called to identify with them and take up their burdens as our own. Both aspects, the horizontal and the vertical, lend credibility to our message. As we align our lives to the true Lord and King and in the truth, our lives will become a stumbling block to, and ultimately threaten, all other powers. The cruciform life, then, like its model, is a life that will invariably lead to suffering. That suffering, however, is not without purpose. It is a suffering for the joy set before us. A suffering which, when submitted to God, results in the transformation of ourselves, our world, and those with whom our lives intersect. In the final assessment, while this cruciform calling leads us along a narrow, rough little path, it is also the pathway of greatest joy.

Sex and the Single Christian

Is it possible in this day and age to be hip, Christian, and chaste? Lauren Winner argued convincingly for just that in her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity. In an article for BeliefNet, she lamented: "The church tells all of us to be celibate outside of marriage, and then turns a blind eye to those thousands of unmarried evangelicals who ignore this injunction." Indeed, it seemed that until Winner with her hip-to-be-square librarian glasses and biting wit entered the scene, Christians who wanted to follow God's plan for sex had as examples only quaintly prim missionaries and young men who kissed dating goodbye and promptly got married. Winner was a breath of fresh air, and now she's joined by another cool breeze of hip godliness.

New York journalist Dawn Eden has a new book, due out in early December, called The Thrill of the Chaste. While chastity might not seem all that thrilling, Eden manages to make all the biblically correct arguments for living a single life in obedience to God's rules for sex without being prudish or naive. Eden tells her own story of coming to Christ at the age of 31 and the struggle of learning how to live this new life of service to God instead of slavery to one's passions. She talks honestly about the messages the world offers ("Just believe in yourself") and the hopelessness they engender. "It's not hard," she writes, "for me to find someone to love the me I love.  What I never imagined before I was chaste was that I could hope to find someone to love the me I don't love."

Like the prim missionaries and unkissable young men (whose advice really wasn't so terrible after all), Eden tells Christian women to watch how we dress, to stay out of compromising situations, and to put ourselves in the way of nice men without being in the hunt ("No matter how much I may tell myself that I want to give all my love to a man, the hunter's mentality that I've brought into it is centered around taking--not giving."). The answers are as old as an ancient holy text we call the Bible. What Eden brings is the raw edge of a New York City girl who dares to be celibate in the city and convince us we can do so too without losing our cool.

Top Ten Bad-Taste Christian Spin-Off Games I Hope I Never See

Inspired by the new Joel Osteen board game that Catherina linked to, here are My Top Ten Bad-Taste Christian Spin-Off Games I Hope I Never See. Let’s hope greedy Christian marketers and Milton Bradley don’t make any mergers… (Here goes... extra grace required, forgive me, gentle readers! =)

Churchopoly—Move over Park Place, hello Willowcreek Ave. Hasta la vista Boardwalk, bienvenidos Saddleback Square. Now instead of adding hotels to your property in Churchopoly, you can purchase education buildings, a Starbucks, a roller-rink, and even a bowling alley! Just be careful you don’t find yourself in a scandal or you know what…you may go directly to jail.

Candy Land—Heaven has never been so sweet. Do good works and you’ll earn your way to Gum Drop Mountain. Watch out for Lord Licorice though, he may look sweet, but he’ll leave you with a bad aftertaste.

Chutes and Ladders—Backsliding has never been so fun. This is a game all about grace and repentance. Have your quiet time, move three spaces; curse at the car next to you, go back two!

MissionShip—William Carey and David Livingstone (I presume), set out on important voyages for God, but will the enemy let them get where they’re going? It’s all up for grabs in this game. For the sake of the heathen, let’s hope we don’t hear: “You sunk my MissionShip!”

Trivial Pursuit: Theologian’s Edition—How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? What’s the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism? Could the omnipotent God make an immovable rock? You’ll enjoy hours of wasted time—er I mean fun—in this new edition!

Babel—Grab seven tiles and seven people who speak a different language. This pre-Babel Scrabble game will show that fun is the same in any language!

Transformation—You’re the doctor in this wacky game of sin-removal. Try to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, but watch out you don’t hit the funny bone!

Clue—How did the Apostle Paul die? Was it in King Agrippa’s drawing room with a noose or was it Nero with a Guillotine? Answers are waiting to be discovered in this game of mystery and intrigue.

Outburst—Get the baptism of the Spirit in this goofy game of glossolia. Earn points by interpreting to the congregation correctly!

Sorry—Practice forgiveness seventy times seven times in this classic game of revenge. Bump. Slide. Switch. Repent. Reconcile and start again!

And look out for these bad game shows coming to a network near you…

Let’s Make a Deal—Inspired by the book of Job!

Password—Can you unlock the Bible code?

Jeopardy—Where “What is Jesus?” is always the right answer…

Victory over Death

I have never met, nor otherwise communicated with Anthony Esolen at Touchstone magazine. But, I tell you, he is one of my favorite writers today. Every time the new issue of Touchstone arrives in my mailbox, I scan the table of contents -- before I even go inside -- to see what treat from Mr. Esolen awaits. I don’t pretend to understand women, if for no other reason than the plain fact that I am not one. But I have a deep passion for seeing a proper manliness restored to our culture, and no one writes more eloquently or accurately on that topic.

Only a few articles are available online at the Touchstone website, but this is one of my favorite Esolen pieces on manliness. Though some may reasonably take issue with Esolen on his notes about marital roles, his main point -- than a man's life is given to be laid down -- is brilliant. I can’t recommend this piece enough.

Anthony Esolen also blogs for the Touchstone blog, Mere Comments. On November 9, he posted this plea:

Friends, forgive me for using our public forum for a private request, but we've just received word that my wife's mother, Esther, may be dying. I know that we all have loved ones who fall ill, but this case is complicated by my autistic son, David, who as I type this is in an uproar, crying out, "God won't hear my prayer, Grandma is going to die," and such. It is impossible to explain sadness to him. So please, if you have a moment, say a prayer for my son and for our family.

He followed up this week with this post, which should be read in its entirety. Grandma is now doing quite well, even miraculously so ...

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November 15, 2006

Can’t wait to miss this one

Just when you thought TV couldn't possibly get any tackier:

Fox will slaughter the competition the final week of the November ratings sweeps when it airs a two-hour interview in which O.J. Simpson details how he would have murdered his wife, Nicole, and Ronald Goldman more than 10 years ago.

Had he done it.

Which he didn't.

Just ask him.

He is, in fact, looking high and low for her killer as we write.

"O.J. Simpson: If I Did It, Here's How It Happened" will be broadcast over two nights, Monday, Nov. 27, and Wednesday, Nov. 29.

(I'm not a great fan of Lisa de Moraes -- I recall telling Roberto once she seems to write with a permanent sneer on her face -- but this time she nails it. After all, some subjects pretty much call for a sneer.)

How perfectly lovely for O.J.'s kids. And how greatly edifying to our own souls to make a "Follow all the clues! Did he really slaughter two people in cold blood or not?" reality show, for the second time, out of this hideous crime.

I have two suggestions. First, boycott this interview. I don't often call for boycotts, but this one really, really calls for a boycott, if we have any hope at all of reaching those in the entertainment industry who would sell their own children to the devil on national TV if they thought it would get viewers. Second, use the addresses on this page to tell Fox that you'll be boycotting it, and why. If you happen to be between the ages of 18 and 34, all the better -- tell them that too. One of the best strategies we have is to use these people's own concerns -- ratings and demographics -- against them. I loathe the ageism that's become such an integral part of the television industry, but since it's entrenched, we may as well try a little of the Unjust Steward act, and make friends for ourselves by unrighteous Nielsen ratings.

The Two Poles of Evangelicalism?

Did anybody see Newsweek’s assessment of the evangelical community last week in "The Politics of Jesus"?

With the polls revealing a drastic slant away from the right, the highly editorialized magazine decided to take the temperature of today’s evangelicals. It claims that the Christian community is shifting toward two poles, represented by these two prominent evangelicals—“old school” James Dobson who focuses on same-sex marriage versus “new school” mega-church pastor Adam Hamilton who tells his flock that Jesus didn’t judge people. Bad versus good, obviously? The article states:

But now, more than three decades after Roe v. Wade propelled religious conservatives fully into the arena, a new generation of believers is pressing beyond the religious right of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, trying to broaden the movement’s focus from the familiar wars about sex to include issues of social and economic justice.

Sure, I agree that evangelical Christians are expressing a greater interest in social and international justice issues. Take for example International Justice Mission and their battle against the sex trade in East Asia, Bono’s fight against poverty and AIDS in Africa, or Prison Fellowship Rwanda’s efforts to bring reconciliation between genocide victims and perpetrators.

But these wonderful aims never negate the call upon Christians to cling to purity and righteousness. Rather, they remind of us Christianity’s dual mission—“to do justly and love mercy.” We do mercifully by caring for the orphans in Africa. We do justly by continuing the fight for the unborn "orphan" here in America.

Maybe we don’t want to set up Falwell and Robertson as our models, but we need to be careful not to jump on the bandwagon of praising social activism while downplaying the importance of sexual purity or the sanctity of life.

From the "you’ve got to be kidding" file

Words cannot express . . . : "Your Best Life Now. The Board Game." (H/T Boar's Head Tavern)

And here's entry 2 for the "you've got to be kidding" file: "Family planning doctor 'told patient she needed exorcism'." Well, alrighty then . . .

More entries to come later I am so very sure.

Redeeming the space

Fabulous -- from the BBC, "Former brothel used to praise God":

Parishioners have been flocking to a newly-renovated church which was a brothel just a few weeks ago. . . .

They spent thousands of pounds on the renovation without fully realising what the building's former purpose had been. . . .

The Endtime Evangelical Ministry has received approval from both parishioners and neighbours alike.

"It has turned from something bad to something good," said one local resident.

Mr Ikotun said even customers from the former brothel had attended the church.

"There is a guy who came to me last week and said he used to come here before, but now he's heard about it (the church) and is very happy.

"He said what God has done in this place, you want God to do in this life."

Other than the possible "flavor" of this church giving me pause, this is a great story of redeeming space.

The Plight of Children of Prisoners Abroad

Catherina, picking up on the themes you mentioned in your last post and in the BreakPoints from today and yesterday, I don't think many people in the U.S. realize the kinds of conditions faced by children of prisoners internationally. Here's an excerpt from Mark Earley, President of Prison Fellowship USA, about a recent trip he made with Ron Nikel, President of Prison Fellowship International. In a letter to our ministry partners, Mark described some of the conditions that the children of prisoners face in Bolivia:

The pungent smells of people living too closely packed together greeted me as I passed behind the gates of San Pedro prison in the capital city of La Paz, Bolivia.

The prison is only guarded on the outside. Inside this walled off section of the city, inmates must fend for themselves. Each day, only one meal is served. A pot of gruel is set unceremoniously in the middle of the courtyard, and in moments, a line of elbowing prisoners forms.

On the day Ron Nikkel, President of Prison Fellowship International, and I visited San Pedro prison, right in the middle of that throng of hungry prisoners coming up with their bowls was a little girl. She couldn’t have been any more than three years old. Working her way up to the big pot just like she was one of the crowd, she held out her bowl. Hot and full, the bowl shook a bit in her tiny hands as she took just a few steps away from the line, and then, unable to go any further, set it down on the ground. My mind snapped a mental picture of that moment, one I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life, of a little girl in prison, and her bowl of food for the day. . . .

Ron and I saw many of these incarcerated children during our week visiting the prisons in Bolivia. Elena, an 11 year-old girl we encountered in a prison in the small mining town of Oruro, just a few hours away from La Paz is one of those who shared her heartbreaking story with us.

Elena remembers that she had just gotten home from school the day her life changed. Just moments after passing through the door, she screamed to see a group of policemen forcing their way inside. In Bolivia, there is no such thing as presumed innocence. The police wanted to do drug tests on Elena’s parents. They handcuffed her mom and dad, and Elena and her brother, and detained them all in the police headquarters for the night. The next day, they took all of them to prison. . . .

This little girl took us by the hand and led us to the cell of her father. With a certain measure of childlike pride, she showed us a little bird that she had for a pet. Both creatures seemed so strangely out of place in that confined environment. You couldn’t help but long to deliver both from their cages.

Thankfully, though Prison Fellowship International is seeking to minister to these children of prisoners across the globe. Continue reading more about their efforts....

Continue reading "The Plight of Children of Prisoners Abroad" »

Religion Behind Bars: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I'm noticing an ongoing war within our prison system concerning the existence and practice of religion behind the barbed wire. But in one Florida facility, faith has found a home behind the prison walls. In fact, the Florida Department of Corrections has taken steps no other state has dared to take. Their seven faith-based prisons around the state have been a huge success, much to the dismay of several. You gotta love the quote by a representative from the ACLU: "I just don't think that saving souls is the job of the government." Hmmm, very true, so we'll just let our 561 volunteers (98% of which are Christians BTW) do that job. So far so good. "Faith" hasn't been banned from having a positive effect in this Florida facility...yet.

Unfortunately, the U.S. District Court in Iowa has "handcuffed the helping hands," for the InnerChange Freedom Initiative. It seems like it might only be a matter of time before other faith-based programs get their hands slapped, or worse, for helping to fix a broken system.

On a slightly different note, the federal appeals court in New York recently ruled that prison officials must justify religion policies. The court claimed that officials "cannot do pretty much whatever they want in curtailing an inmate's [religious] freedom." It will be interesting to see where that goes.

The ’Face of Fusion Philanthropy’

One_white_band The New York Times on Monday carried an article on the "fusion philanthropy" of Bono, lead singer of U2. (H/T atU2) The Irish singer started out as a young artist finding his voice:

Precisely 22 years ago this month, on the occasion of “the Irish band U2” playing a sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall in New York, the band’s lead singer, 24 years old at the time, stopped to chat with a critic from The New York Times.

Paul (Bono Vox) Hewson, as the article called him, was trying to explain that although the proceeds from the show were being donated to Amnesty International, he shunned “the condescending thing of being a singer-prophet leading the mass.”

“I think that’s a misuse of the stage,” Mr. Hewson said. “How can you be the spokesman for a generation if you’ve got nothing to say other than ‘Help!’ ”

Knowing where 'yer man ended up today, the above quote of the young singer may elicit bemused smiles. Well, not by me, anyway. I think this makes all the sense in the world. You learn a lot between your twenties and forties (as I'm still learning). And in the twenty years since, Bono's followed that desiiiiiire . . . ahem, sorry (referencing a favorite song), he's followed that desire to help the less fortunate in a big way, by looking for answers. Thus far, the search has led to such efforts as DATA, ONE, (Product) RED, and EDUN. No doubt you have at least heard of ONE and are hearing more about RED as you do your Christmas shopping.

As the Times piece points out, critics are quick to pinpoint the efforts' imperfections.

Labor groups were quick to point out, for example, that Gap — a key partner in Bono’s (Product) RED campaign, which drafts corporate sponsors to contribute profits on RED products to fight disease in Africa — has a reputation for running sweatshops in developing countries.

(Product) RED and Gap representatives have countered that the clothing company has made strides in cleaning up its act, and that the factories manufacturing clothes for (Product) RED were not sweatshops. . . .

Other groups have raised questions about the ability to access and inspect the factories that generate EDUN’s own fair-trade clothing line, even though the company has been vetted by Verité, a nonprofit auditor. And investments by Bono’s private equity firm, Elevation Partners, in video game titles like “Mercenaries 2: World in Flames” and “Destroy All Humans” have resulted in complaints that the rock star is singing from both sides of his mouth.

Most definitely keep up accountability, I say -- and of course the stakes are higher for those companies and campaigns claiming to be the ethical leaders. But I say, don't dismiss the effort; don't discourage it.

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