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December 28, 2006

How not to make a religion look appealing

Don't wander off because if you get lost, you may end up in prison for days before someone even asks your name.

Don't try to sneak a camera into the sacred sites because the guards will grab it and smash it in front of you.

Don't bend to pray when circling the holy Kaaba, revered by Muslims as the first house of worship.

"Believe me, people will walk over you, " Safi Khan warned a group of Muslims at Dar-Us-Salaam mosque in College Park, where he is the imam, one recent Saturday morning. "You'll look up at them and they'll be smiling as if to ask for forgiveness, and of course you have to forgive them."

Read more. No offense, but if Dina ElBaghdady meant to pay tribute to Islam and its traditions, perhaps she should have revised her first draft a little.

Note to Hollywood: Speak More Spanglish

My wife and I rented The Break-Up last night. I guess it was fine enough. But it reminded me how tired I am of Hollywood's formula for comedic depictions of relationships: Selfish, Idiotic Man + Brilliant, Hard-Working Woman = Instant Hijinx and Hilarity. [Cue Ron Popeil: Presto! With the Ronco-matic Cinemizer, it's that easy!!]

Yawn. Really, that's so old. And what's even more tired is the fact that to reverse those roles -- presenting a pathetic woman who is lucky to have a wonderful man -- seems to be verboten in both movies and TV sitcoms.

Is this 2006 or 1976? Can we finally admit that women now enjoy all of the same opportunities and successes that men do? A great illustration of this reality is the fact that women make up a greater percentage of college students than men. These days, you have to look awfully hard to find evidence that women are not equally treated in an American institution. That's worth celebrating, for sure, but too many of today's feminists seem to be unsatisfied; it's no longer about rights but about raw, cultural power.

That's why I found Spanglish to be so refreshing. In that Adam Sandler (of all people) movie, you had a wonderful husband and father putting up with, and (gasp!) staying with, a rotten, cheating buffoon of a woman, to whom he had the extreme misfortune of being married. A little more such equity in relational depictions would go a long way toward true sexual equality in entertainment.

This morning, I was again reminded of this when I read this observation from Anthony Esolen in the Quodlibet section of the newest issue of Touchstone magazine (titled "Winning Unlovely"):

Women are beautiful, and men are necessary. It has been the great victory of the feminist movement to make women unlovely by persuading them that men are not needed.

Indeed. Much of the feminist movement was important. Sadly, what it has become in recent years is an anti-male cultural wrecking ball.

When Neutrality Kills

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James 1:27

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.

—Elie Wiesel

(from "Verse and Voice of the Day," Sojourners)

December 27, 2006

Ford Baby

(i.e., I was born right after Gerald Ford was sworn in as president.)

Watching the evening news commentary on the passing of President Gerald Ford, I found this snippet from his first address to Congress and the nation on August 12, 1974, to be interesting: Ford said he wanted to be the president of "Christians, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists and atheists -- if there really can be any atheists after what we've been through . . . " [emphasis added]. Huh. Even Ford. ...

The Chuck Colson Award?

The Chuck Colson Award??

(Tipping the hat to: Crunchy Con )

December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas

As PFM's Christmas vacation begins today, blogging will be light from now through New Year's. There may be a few posts popping up now and then, though, for those of you who just can't tear yourselves away. :-) Have a very merry and blessed Christmas.

December 21, 2006

Goodbye Turkmenbashi

The email came over from my good friend and former missionary partner this morning with the subject heading: "A moment of silence."

Uh oh, not good.

This was all he had written: "Make sure you are sitting down and close to those you love. This one really hurts."

Hmmm ... this guy IS a jokester.  I was starting to guess that he doesn't quite mean it.

Then I clicked on the link, and learned that Turkmenistan's long-time president Saparmurat Niyazov has passed away.

Lest you think my friend's humor cruel, he wasn't mocking Mr. Niyazov's death, per se, but rather the fact that we had lost such a great source of personal humor. You see, my friend and I -- along with a handful of other colleagues (including the woman who would become my wonderful wife) -- served a missionary organization as investigators into Turkmenistan for a month in 1994. The idea was to record as much information as possible about the culture, universities, bureaucratic agencies, and living communities, so that subsequent missionaries could more easily set up shop for the longterm.

The problem was three-fold...

Continue reading "Goodbye Turkmenbashi" »

Deadly Silence

How many more troops should we send to Iraq? Should we have a timeline, and how long, in Iraq? Etc.

Of all the questions now swirling around over the Iraq War, there's one discussion shamefully missing, as Roberto has pointed out before: What about the Christians -- the Assyrians, or Chaldeans? Chuck raises the point in today's "BreakPoint" commentary:

There is one thing, however, Christians can bring to this discussion. It is the fate of Iraq’s Christians. There are an estimated 600,000 to as many as one million Christians in Iraq. They are called “Assyrians” or “Chaldeans,” and as these names suggest, they have lived in Iraq since time immemorial. What’s more, they are one of the oldest Christian communities in the world, dating back to at least the second century. If any group has an historical claim to their part of Iraq, it’s them.

Yet an increasing number of Iraqi Christians have concluded that “there is no future for Christians” in Iraq. As one Christian put it, “We have no militia to defend us.”

That matters because, as the New Republic put it, “Sunni, Shia, and Kurd may agree on little else, but all have made sport of brutalizing their Christian neighbors.” Since neither Iraqi nor Americans officials are willing to protect them, Christians are leaving their ancestral home.

The extent of this neglect and indifference is on display in the [Iraq] study group’s final report: In its eighty-four pages, the word Christian never appears—not once. The words Assyrians and Chaldeans appear only in passing in the next-to-last recommendation as part of a longer list. Not one paragraph, not one sentence.

Read the full commentary and share your thoughts here.

Re: The Blasphemy Challenge

The joke is on the sponsors of this challenge since, at least in Catholic theology, going on YouTube and saying that you renounce the Holy Spirit isn't what Jesus' words meant. If I may be permitted, here follows the best exploration of the subject:

The sin or blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is mentioned in Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 12:10 (cf. 11:14-23); and Christ everywhere declares that it shall not be pardoned. In what does it consist? If we examine all the passages alluded to, there can be little doubt as to the reply.

Let us take, for instance, the account given by St. Matthew which is more complete than that of the other Synoptics. There had been brought to Christ "one possessed with a devil, blind and dumb: and he healed him, so that he spoke and saw". While the crowd is wondering, and asking: "Is not this the Son of David?", the Pharisees, yielding to their wonted jealousy, and shutting their eyes to the light of evidence, say: "This man casteth not out devils but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils." Jesus then proves to them this absurdity, and, consequently, the malice of their explanation; He shows them that it is by "the Spirit of God" that He casts out devils, and then He concludes: "therefore I say to you: Ever sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not he forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come."

So, to sin against the Holy Ghost is to confound Him with the spirit of evil, it is to deny, from pure malice, the Divine character of works manifestly Divine. This is the sense in which St. Mark also defines the sin question; for, after reciting the words of the Master: "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost shall never have forgiveness", he adds at once: "Because they said: He hath an unclean spirit." . . .

But the Fathers of the Church, commenting on the Gospel texts we are treating of, did not confine themselves to the meaning given above . . . St. Thomas, whom we may safely follow, gives a very good summary of opinions in II-II, Q. xiv. He says that blasphemy against the Holy Ghost was and may be explained in three ways.

  • Sometimes, and in its most literal signification, it has been taken to mean the uttering of an insult against the Divine Spirit, applying the appellation either to the Holy Ghost or to all three Divine persons. . . .
  • On the other hand, St. Augustine frequently explains blasphemy against the Holy Ghost to be final impenitence, perseverance till death in mortal sin. This impenitence is against the Holy Ghost, in the sense that it frustrates and is absolutely opposed to the remission of sins, and this remission is appropriated to the Holy Ghost, the mutual love of the Father and the Son. In this view, Jesus, in Matthew 12 and Mark 3 did not really accuse the Pharisees of blaspheming the Holy Ghost, He only warned them against the danger they were in of doing so.
  • Finally, several Fathers, and after them, many scholastic theologians, apply the expression to all sins directly opposed to that quality which is, by appropriation, the characteristic quality of the Third Divine Person. Charity and goodness are especially attributed to the Holy Ghost, as power is to the Father and wisdom to the Son. Just, then, as they termed sins against the Father those that resulted from frailty, and sins against the Son those that sprang from ignorance, so the sins against the Holy Ghost are those that are committed from downright malice, either by despising or rejecting the inspirations and impulses which, having been stirred in man's soul by the Holy Ghost, would turn him away or deliver him from evil.

It is easy to see how this wide explanation suits all the circumstances of the case where Christ addresses the words to the Pharisees. These sins are commonly reckoned six: despair, presumption, impenitence or a fixed determination not to repent, obstinacy, resisting the known truth, and envy of another's spiritual welfare.

The sins against the Holy Ghost are said to be unpardonable, but the meaning of this assertion will vary very much according to which of the three explanations given above is accepted. As to final impenitence it is absolute; and this is easily understood, for even God cannot pardon where there is no repentance, and the moment of death is the fatal instant after which no mortal sin is remitted . . .

In the other two explanations, according to St. Thomas, the sin against the Holy Ghost is remissable -- not absolutely and always, but inasmuch as (considered in itself) it has not the claims and extenuating circumstance, inclining towards a pardon, that might be alleged in the case of sins of weakness and ignorance. He who, from pure and deliberate malice, refuses to recognize the manifest work of God, or rejects the necessary means of salvation, acts exactly like a sick man who not only refuses all medicine and all food, but who does all in his power to increase his illness, and whose malady becomes incurable, due to his own action . . .

(Read the whole article at the Catholic Encyclopedia)

Going on YouTube isn't good, in fact, it's bad. (Notice the lack of qualification.) Still, if every defiant and foolish teenager were already reprobate, then . . . well, forget about that. In any case, you can't be any more defiant than St. Paul, whose actions did approach what's described above and yet became, well, St. Paul.

Like the penguins in Madagascar said, "Smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave."


–noun, German.

The spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

"Zeitgeist, to us, is a measure of the pushpins in the bulletin board of worldwide understanding of what we want to know," said Douglas Merrill, Google's vice president of engineering, who analyzes the most rapidly growing search terms every week for clues about the online world's interests. "It's things in the world we want to care about."
Washington Post

Google has released its 2006 Zeitgeist list. This is the list of terms that people typed into Google in 2006. It allows us a small peek at what the world's mind share was focused on in 2006. Note: Google filters out sex term searches. One can only imagine what the actual Zeitgeist list would look like. I shudder to think.

Google.com -- Top Searches in 2006
  1. bebo
  2. myspace
  3. world cup
  4. metacafe
  5. radioblog
  6. wikipedia
  7. video
  8. rebelde
  9. mininova
10. wiki

Bebo is an online networking site similar to MySpace. Metacafe is a video sharing online community similar to YouTube (which did not make the list). Folks are probably using Google like a navigation window (too lazy to type in the "www" and the ".com" perhaps.

Still, it seems to confirm Time Magazine's choice of person of the year as "you". It also shows the rise of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is term that is gaining currency, though it is admittedly squishy. Wiki (which is part of Web 2.0) defines it as "a phrase coined by O'Reilly Media in 2004, [that] refers to a perceived or proposed second generation of Internet-based services—such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools, and folksonomies—that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users." Basically, web users are transforming from reader/consumers to active participants on the web.

In case you were wondering, the top news searches for the year were "Paris Hilton" and "Orlando Bloom" ... as if we needed further confirmation that as a culture, we are "amusing ourselves to death."

December 20, 2006

The Blasphemy Challenge

Would you trade your soul for a DVD? Well, over one hundred young people (and counting) have.

A group calling itself the “Rational Response Squad" is inviting people (mainly teens) to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and thereby commit the “unpardonable sin.” If you are among the first 1001 people to declare “I deny the Holy Spirit” and post your denial on YouTube, you, too, will receive the free DVD, “The God Who Wasn’t There.”

Now on one hand, whatever naughtiness these folks think they’re committing in their cheeky videos, they’re not blaspheming the Holy Spirit. To do that requires an admission of supernaturalism—a definite no-no to free-thinking rationalists like the RRS. You see, according to Scripture, the “unpardonable sin” is to experience the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit and attribute it to another supernatural agent: Satan.

On the other hand, this is a very clever ploy by the RRS. They realize that once someone has jumped off this “cliff” they can’t change their mind as they plunge down the abyss. If you’re convinced that regardless of later revelations you are beyond forgiveness, your only choice is the full court press of godless rationalism.

Disturbingly, the RRS reports that the Blasphemy Challenge is targeting 25 websites geared to teens including Xanga, Friendster, Boy Scout Trail, Tiger Beat, Teen Magazine, YM, CosmoGirl! and Seventeen. Their aim: to de-program kids who have been indoctrinated from birth to believe in God, in general, and Christianity in particular.

In the words of RRS, “If we talked about religion the same way we talk about science, history or other fields involving truth claims, dogma would wither in the light.”

They may be on to something. If religion and, say, evolutionary science were held to the same standards of testability and falsifiablity, dogma would wither—especially that incapable of accounting for the diversity and complexity of life, not to mention existence itself, and the great metaphysical questions of meaning and purpose.

Without Any Fear

Following up on your post, Gina, here's a pertinent quote:

To be afraid is to behave as if the truth were not true.

--Bayard Rustin (Activist for peace and leader of the civil rights movement in America, Rustin is often remembered as the organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. For more info: www.rustin.org)

(from "Verse and Voice of the Day," Sojourners)

Still a Stumbling Block

There is one person history can't seem to get over--whether to embrace him, slander him, or pretend to disregard him altogether. Jesus has and always will be a stumbling stone for those who can't see him, and a glorious reality for those who can. Today, the Washington Post raised the age-old question--Who is Christ? Reading the comments to Miroslav Volf's assertion that Christ was exactly who he claimed to be is like entering a war zone.

Take, for example:

God is a delusion. Religion a symptom of humanity's infancy, and weakness. Santa is more a God than Jesus. And the bloodshed wrought by the conflicting religious visions?


If JC is a perfect self-revelation of God, then why not Budah, the Prophet Mohammed, or Joseph Smith?

Here's a good answer:

As God’s son, Jesus Christ is unique. Was he a great moral teacher? Yes, but so were some others (e.g. Socrates). Was he a compelling embodiment of goodness? Yes, but so were some others (e.g. Francis of Assisi). Was he an extraordinary history-shaping figure? Yes, but so were some others (e.g. Gandhi).

While these arguments can seem like fruitless rantings between staunch atheists and committed evangelicals, there may be one or two commentators who are riding the fence. For them, we continue to "provide a reason for the hope we have within us."

Have yourself a scary little Christmas

Sashacohen Two recent news stories suggest that some are greeting Christmas with more fear than merriment, as visions of lawsuits dance in their heads.

1. As you may have heard, the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport received a request from a Jewish group to include a menorah with their holiday decorations. The airport responded -- of course! -- by taking down all their Christmas trees. The Jewish group had never asked for this, and lost no time in pointing that out. The trees are now back, but heads are still being scratched over what led the airport to be so skittish. The New York Times gives us a clue, however:

[Airport director Mark] Mr. Reis said he rejected the idea because the airport had long ago revised its holiday display to be what he called secular.

“It’s just lights and snowflakes,” he said, and “holiday trees.”

Adding a menorah could mean having to add symbols of other religions, and that could give the display unintended religious meaning, he said.

Oh, okay, that makes perfect sense. Heaven forbid we should be religious about two religious holidays. Better to just wipe out all references to them altogether. Personally, I prefer this quote from Rabbi Elazar Bogomilsky, via To the Source: "At the end of the day, it's not about the trees, but adding light to the holiday, not diminishing any light." Well said, Rabbi. (Incidentally, he and his attorneys now say, according to TTS, that "[their] letter, with its mention of a lawsuit, was a mistake. They had intended it as a spur to some kind of decision [about adding a menorah], which the Port Commission had postponed for months.")

2. Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen (one of my favorite figure skaters, as some of my readers know), had just performed at an event in Riverside, California, and was signing autographs when a local student choir began singing Christmas carols. They were promptly approached by the mayor -- with police -- and ordered to stop lest they offend the half-Jewish Cohen.

Mayor Loveridge had better hope for hearing aids under the Christmas tree this year, because apparently it entirely escaped his notice that Cohen herself had just wished the crowd "Merry Christmas." (Cohen was, according to her mother, "stunned" when she heard what had happened. Although perhaps in a world where journalists are capable of coming up with terms like "half-Christian," we shouldn't be surprised that elected officials are incapable of logical thought.)

Looks like the ACLU has done its job but good. Even when it's not in the picture, its pattern of suing everyone in sight during the most wonderful time of the year has got people completely paranoid. Perhaps we're due for another visit from a Christmas angel to remind us that this is supposed to be the season when we "fear not."

Incomplete Education

Religion: At Harvard, it was almost in. Now it looks like it's out, again. (H/T Thunderstruck)

. . . The "Reason and Faith" requirement was presented as a way to "help students become more informed and reflective citizens." In a world where faith shapes everything from international relations to presidential elections, it is hard to argue with the idea that everybody ought to know something about religion.

Yet that is exactly what Harvard's faculty did. At a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, only religion scholar Diana Eck spoke out in favor of the proposal. In a stinging piece in the Harvard Crimson, the psychologist Steven Pinker argued that the persistence of religion is "an American anachronism . . . in an era in which the rest of the West is moving beyond it." By ignoring the salience of faith to most of the world's population, Mr. Pinker inadvertently demonstrated the need for a course in religion. A visit to virtually any African nation (or Paris suburb, for that matter) would quickly dispel the notion that America is alone in its piety.

In any case, the religion requirement failed to carry the day. Last week the task force announced that it had withdrawn the "Reason and Faith" course proposal, replacing it with a requirement on "what it means to be a human being." If, as Stanley Fish argues, religion is where the action is in academia, Harvard failed to act.

Fortunately, as the Wall Street Journal reports, Princeton and UCLA have not followed Harvard's lead. Harvard's faculty have made the Veritas Forum and the Harvard Ichthus all the more valuable today.

December 19, 2006

And Humpty Dumpty was pushed

Disney started an urban legend by driving cute little furry animals off cliffs?? Say it isn't so!

A ’self-inflicted wound’

The Washington Post had as its lead front-page story yesterday the departure of seven Virginia churches -- including Truro, a church attended by some of my friends -- from the U.S. Episcopal Church. (I understand that number is now eight.) It was a courageous move and one that is causing a great deal of pain, as could be seen in the faces of Truro's pastor and his wife and a parishioner in a picture that ran in the print edition. It can also be felt in this quote:

"I grew up in the Episcopal Church. I hope I don't cry when I talk about this," said a shaken Katrina Wagner, 37, an accountant and member of Truro's vestry, after the congregation's vote was announced. "But the issue is: Are we going to follow Scripture?"

Ralph Webb of the Institute on Religion and Democracy concurs:

It is sad, but not surprising, that The Episcopal Church's own self-inflicted wound continues to cause the denomination to bleed. The Episcopal Church was warned by many heads of Anglican Communion provinces not to proceed with the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. These leaders said that it would tear the very fabric of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Tragically, this has proven true. The departure of the Virginia parishes is only one of many negative effects caused by The Episcopal Church's actions.

While Gene Robinson's consecration heightened the issues within The Episcopal Church, it is in no way the main issue for the churches that are leaving. It provides one example of how The Episcopal Church has drifted away from its Scriptural foundations, but only one.

God bless our brothers and sisters in Christ as they attempt to heal from this wound and remain faithful to the God of Scripture.

A Scrooge of a bill

Offering Gina, it's time for another "Bah Humbug" award. Here's a vivid example of why reading the fine print is essential:

Earlier this year, a New York couple filed for bankruptcy. Under the 2005 bankruptcy “reforms” so-called, people at this couple’s income level are required to come up with a court-approved plan to partly repay their creditors. As part of the requirement, the couple listed their monthly expenses to determine how much they could afford to pay their creditors.

Among the expenses listed was $100 a month the couple tithed to their church. When the bankruptcy trustee objected that this wasn’t the kind of “reasonably necessary” expense the most recent “reforms” intended, the issue went before a federal bankruptcy judge.

In his ruling, Judge Robert Littlefield wrote that the 2005 “reforms” “effectively closed the door for debtors” like the New York couple from making charitable contributions. By “closing the door” the judge was referring to the ironic fact that prior to the 2005 “reforms,” regular contributions to churches and charities were specifically permitted under bankruptcy law.

It was the so-called “reforms” of 2005 that created what Littlefield called an “awkward, bifurcated Congressional framework which makes charitable giving easier for some debtors and not others.” Littlefield all but called on Congress to amend the law.

Well, so much for spiritual convictions, and so much for "separation of church and state." Read the rest of today's "BreakPoint" commentary, find out how you can remedy this problem, and share your thoughts here.

Jesse Helms, but not Nancy Pelosi

Mosquitonets Well, here's politics at its best . . .

Rocker and activist Bono plays the political game fairly well and stays away from any partisan statements as best as he can.  But one could guess he wanted more than a photo op when he met with incoming US House leader Nancy Pelosi and incoming Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

But it appears that the rock and roll icon got nothing more than that from the liberal Democrats.  "I'm alarmed we could not get a commitment from the Democratic leadership to prevent the loss of $1 billion in the continuing resolution," Bono said Thursday in a statement.

"I don't know who to blame. Democrats are blaming Republicans. Republicans are blaming Democrats. But the million people who were expecting (mosquito) bed nets don't know who to blame. They just know that a promise made by the United States to keep their families safe is in danger of being broken next year."

Good try, Laura. Keep pushing. (H/T atU2)

Slamdance, Smogdance, and other answers to Sundance

You've got to admire the resourcefulness some people have. According to the New York Times (H/T Reveries), elitism has its benefits: It fosters innovation in the outcasts, which may lead to some quality art and films.

“It was 1995, and Sundance was getting bigger,” Mr. Baxter explained. And so, with a slim pile of films and a bit of youthful moxie, Mr. Baxter and his buddies decided to do the unthinkable — go head to head with the big boys. Setting up shop in downtown Park City, Utah, just up the road from Sundance’s headquarters, Slamdance ran the same week, marketing itself to guests as the indie alternative to the increasingly celebrity-studded Sundance.

It worked. This year’s 10-day Slamdance festival is expected to draw more than 20,000 film fans. “We’re a very friendly film festival — it’s very inclusive,” Mr. Baxter said. “That’s a very important thing because it’s not just about the industry responding to it. Filmmakers need a general audience of people who would normally go and see a movie.”

... When Roger Durling took over as director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival four years ago, he found a mid-spring film festival with shaky attendance. He couldn’t understand why a festival wouldn’t thrive in beautiful Santa Barbara, Calif., with its endless shopping and first-rate restaurants. So he took a chance and moved it to late January. Not only would that attract East Coasters looking for a dose of sunshine, he figured, but the Santa Barbara festival could carve out its own niche: booking celebrities whom its organizers predicted might win Academy Awards in the spring, and offering guests an opportunity to mingle with them.

Last year, the festival showed foresight by honoring George Clooney and Philip Seymour Hoffman. This year, Mr. Durling and his team sent out feelers to honor Will Smith as early as last March, and next month Mr. Smith will join Helen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and Al Gore at the festival.

There probably won’t be a rash of A-listers in nearby Pomona, Calif., next month for the ninth annual Smogdance, a tongue-in-cheek title poking fun at the city’s permanent haze (Pomona is 35 miles east of Los Angeles). But guests will find a thriving local arts scene. “We position ourselves against Sundance for fun,” said Charlotte Cousins, the festival director. “We are getting bigger and more sophisticated, but we aren’t really trying to compete with Sundance.”

In addition to Slamdance, Smogdance, Santa Barbara, and Beloit, don't forget about the Damah Film Festival in Culver City, CA, in May. Sorry, Redford, it's not all about you, but thanks for the motivation. Now, as to the swag at those other festivals . . .

Evolution: God’s Plan?

In Collins’s Case for Evolution and The Case for Design, readers have been discussing whether evolution and Christianity are compatible—specifically, whether evolution is the process God used in his creative work. Technically, this is called theistic evolution. Other than belief in God and belief in evolution, the tenets of TE are quite flexible. Some adherents believe that evolution is a part of God’s “cosmic blueprint” which, once spoken into existence, caused all of the diversity and complexity of creation without further intervention. Others believe that evolution requires divine tweaks and corrections along the way to conform to God’s sovereign plan. Still others embrace a form of TE in which not only creation, but God himself is progressing through an evolutionary process.

For nearly all, a key motive is to find intellectually satisfying way of reconciling science with the biblical record. However, when we examine the scientific “evidence,” we discover that macro-evolution (theistic or otherwise) is fraught with not only gaps, but downright deception and fraud.

Consider the well-known “peppered moth” photos or the embryology sequences of Ernst Haekel which were exposed as fraudulent over 100 years ago, but still adorn modern day biology textbooks. Or how about the fossil “record,” that despite the abounding forgeries, has failed to produce evidence of the expected intermediate life forms? If evolution is a mechanism God used, the fossil record should contain just as many, or at least very many, intermediate fossils. Yet the silence is deafening. Then there’s the countless generations of fruit flies undergoing radiation exposure that have yielded dead flies, defective flies or unaffected flies, but never a trans-species superfly.

Now, none of this means that God couldn’t have used evolution to create—He surely could have. But if He did, it seems that the biblical account would have given more evidence of his gradualistic methods. Yet even with a metaphorical rendering of Scripture, macro-evolution is difficult to reconcile. The Bible portrays the magnificent works of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not as the products of some glacial process, but of singular, instantaneous events. With a command, a touch, a word, the universe is birthed, a sea parts, the blind see, the sick are healed, the demons exorcised, and the dead raised. Although God deals patiently and ploddingly with mankind in his spiritual development, there is no hint of gradualism in God’s creative, curative and miraculous works in the material realm of reality.

At least for this student of Scripture, it seems that if gradualism was the way God worked, the biblical narrative would have more clearly revealed that modus operandi.

A Testimony of Faith to a Watching World

Frjonathan I was so moved to read this: "Open Letter to the Families of the Missing Oregon Hikers," or climbers, to be more precise. As awful as this story has been as it has unfolded, I have been so grateful to see the example of faith set by Frank James and these other family members. They have truly been an example to a watching world. Father Jonathan wonders why this story has captured the attention of so many:

It is easy to tune out reports of missing people. . . . Most of us, emotionally saturated with problems of our own . . . . go about our day, and hope bad news goes away, at least for us. . . . Why do I now care so much about Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, three men I’ve never met? What makes this story different?

He puts his finger on what has made the difference:

It’s you, all of you, three families that in tragedy have become one family. Together you have approached this never-ending nightmare with dignity, fortitude and shocking faith. You are an icon of what we would like to be.

Father Jonathan elaborates about the virtues this family has shown to a watching world as this tragedy has unfolded.

• You are selfless. Your spokesman, Frank James, is Kelly’s brother, but when he speaks about Brian and Jerry -- someone else’s husband, father, son, and brother -- he does so with the same force and passion as when he speaks of Kelly.

"We are in this together, all three families. We are doing a lot of hugging and a lot of praying.”

• You don’t complain. Instead, you call the rescuers heroes even when they are forced to rest for a day or two because of weather and fatigue.

"We want everyone to know we consider the rescue teams to be heroes for what they are doing.”

• You don’t lay blame. For days you prayed for good weather, and for days it never came. You kept praying, trusting God’s mysterious ways could be even better than your own.

"Today’s the day for courage and for prayers. Courage can help us see through this snowstorm, and our prayers can literally move mountains.”

I echo Father Jonathan's sentiments here. And I pray that a watching world will see in these believing families a testimony to what faith, hope, and love look like in the midst of tragedy.

May the Force be with you

I've been reading Arthur Brooks's new book, Who Really Cares: Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters (Chuck will be talking about this in an upcoming BreakPoint).

Much of this book's subject matter has been discussed in the news, but here is a point that has not: The effect of welfare reform on charitable giving. Brooks cites evidence that people, when they get off welfare, tend to give more to charity and volunteer their time. But, Brooks asks, "Is leaving welfare the reason these people gave and volunteered more? Perhaps the people most likely to give time and money to charity are the people most likely to get off welfare in the first place. In other words, there might be a force out there that makes needy people both charitable and resistant to long-term welfare dependency. A good candidate for such a force is religion."

As Brooks notes, "We already know that [religion] makes people more generous than they otherwise would be. It might make them more self-reliant as well . . ..This evidence would come as no surprise to many religious social service organizations" that apply "religious faith in the rehabilitation of criminals and drug abusers."

Take, for instance, Prison Fellowship's InnerChange Freedom Initiative. Brooks does. Although he doesn't mention IFI by name in the body of the book, he does in his notes. As he writes in Chapter 4:

One typical organization that uses Christian faith in providing job and life skills to prison inmates describes its programs as "anchored in biblical teaching that stresses personal responsibility, the value of education and work, care of persons and property and the reality of a new life in Christ." Just as faith helps former criminals become productive citizens, it might help resolve the problems leading some people to need welfare in the first place.

Which brings to mind the Americans United lawsuit against PF's IFI program. Perhaps we could get Mr. Brooks to write an amicus brief in support of allowing InnerChange to continue to do its good work in Iowa prisons: transforming the lives of hardened criminals. Oh, wait, I forgot: For secular liberals, it's not about what works; it's not about what's good for society; it's about shutting down the Church--and then accusing Christ's followers of being selfish and greedy.

December 18, 2006

The Smithsonian Imposition

It isn't news that publicly funded science establishments have, by and large, a bias toward Darwinian evolution. But a report produced for Congress suggests that great lengths may be taken to keep it that way, including denigrating scientists who criticize or question evolutionary biology. A Discovery Institute press release notes:

The report details the persecution of Dr. Richard Sternberg, whose civil and constitutional rights were violated by Smithsonian officials when he published a peer-reviewed article by Dr. Stephen Meyer criticizing Darwinian evolution and supporting intelligent design.

“After two years of denials and stonewalling by Smithsonian bureaucrats, a congressional investigation now confirms a campaign of harassment and smears against evolutionary biologist Richard Sternberg, whose only ‘crime’ was his honest skepticism of Darwinian dogma,” said John West, vice president of public policy and legal affairs at the Center for Science & Culture. “It’s outrageous that the federal government would sanction such blatant discrimination. This is clearly an infringement of Dr. Sternberg’s free speech rights.”

If the hostility toward Dr. Sternberg was truly this severe, the threat to free speech is not so worrisome as the threat to scientific inquiry itself. Sternberg seems to be an abundantly qualified scientist, as does Dr. Meyer, whose work he allowed into discussion. To cast them aside so quickly would suggest that any counterpoint to the fundamentals of Darwinism cannot be considered serious science.

Why can’t more men (and women) be like this?

Actor Will Smith:

What have you personally had the audacity to hope for?
WS: It feels weird for me to talk about my audacity of hope in the framework of Chris Gardner’s life. I’d have to say no, I’ve never had any hope as audacious as Chris Gardner. But I’ve had situation where there’s no reason to believe that things are going to turn out the way that they’re going to turn out. When Jada and I got together, that period in our lives, there’s no reason for us to be successful in our relationship. There was a whole lot of obstacles lined up for us not to make it. And to me, even on that small level, we always say that divorce can’t be an option. Because if you allow divorce to be an option, there’s absolutely one day you’ll check that box. So it’s audacious to remove it as an option. It just isn’t an option. That’s not one of the choices that we have, no matter what happens. And that type of audacity is what it takes to make things successful.

More on ’Happyness’

Steve Beard has posted his Pursuit of Happyness interviews with Chris Gardner (which answered my question on his son) and Will Smith. Enjoy!

Prayers for the James family and Christ our Trailblazer

My heart is so heavy today for my friends Frank and Carolyn James as they grieve the loss of Kelly James and as they agonize over whether Brian and Nikko are still alive. As Frank said at the press conference a little while ago:

"This is a difficult day for all three families. Our hope was that Kelly, Brian and Jerry would all be rescued safely and that has led these families to become very, very close. We’re persuaded that Kelly has been found. But I feel like I have two other brothers still on the mountain, and the James family is deeply, deeply grateful to the rescue efforts to date. We wish the rescue workers godspeed in their ongoing efforts to bring Brian and Jerry down that mountain safely ...

"We find strength in your support and we join all of you in your prayers for the safe return of Brian and Jerry ... As Christians, we find peace that Kelly is with God ... Kelly always told us he felt closest to God when he was on the mountain. That is what drove him to climb. We find enormous comfort in knowing he lifted off that mountain from a place he loved, and from doing something that he loved very, very much ...

"Thank you for all of your support. The family is very grateful."

I know the families would all appreciate your ongoing prayers.

I wrote this poem about Mary of Bethany a few years ago and dedicated it to Carolyn James as it was inspired by the lessons she taught me and by her book, When Life and Beliefs Collide, which everyone should read. I am comforted today by Mary's story. Jesus invites us to sit at his feet and know him deeply. He knows that we will need to know him deeply for the days ahead. He grieves with us in our moments of deepest trial. And he has not only wept with us in our grief, but he has drunk the cup of grief to its dregs so that we do not face sorrow or death alone. In short, he is the trail-blazer who forged ahead to meet and conquer death and rise again so that we might not grieve as those who have no hope. I pray that Kelly's family will find comfort in Christ, the trailblazer, who went ahead of us on a journey we were not fit to take to conquer death that we may live again.

Continue reading "Prayers for the James family and Christ our Trailblazer" »

If you ever wonder why Christians should care about aesthetics . . .

. . . imagine being buried near a talking mechanical cow.

(H/T Christianity Today's Weblog)

Even more on dads

We do seem to have a theme going on here today, don't we? I know I tend to get behind sometimes, but I'm pretty sure it was December and not June last time I looked. But even if it's not yet Father's Day, any time of the year is a great time for concentrating on the need for dads, especially when we so often fail to do so.

So here we have another Washington Post story, this one on African-American fathers, many of whom had absentee dads themselves, struggling to define their role. Tim Wagoner, unmarried father of a four-month-old son, is laudably determined to do better than his father did -- but without that example, it's not always easy to know how.

Wagoner grew up without his father around, he says. His stepfather was shot to death when he was a teen, and his uncle, another father figure, was, too.

Now it's his turn to be a father. Now it's his turn to answer a hard question:

What does a daddy do?

There is a pause. Wagoner doodles his index finger around his son's hand. Zyhir is tapping it.

"Just be there," Wagoner says, not looking up from Zyhir. "That's the most important thing. You can buy them all the clothes, all the toys, and it don't matter. Most important thing is that he knows my voice, knows me when he sees me."

There are other things, too, of course: Nurture. Shelter. Love. Protect. Those entail a lifetime of decisions and sacrifices; fatherhood isn't a job with a time clock where you punch in, punch out.

This is going to be hard, because Wagoner has struggled with stability and achievement. Started high school, dropped out. Worked Job Corps. Worked at Target. Worked at a storage company. Worked as a driver for the handicapped. Worked construction. The longest job he has held was six months, maybe seven. He has a record after beating up a guy, and now it's even harder to find work.

All that makes it tough enough.

Continue reading "Even more on dads" »

You Who?

If there were any doubt that we are living in the "Me Generation," Time magazine has silenced it by awarding its Person of the Year distinction to "you." This doesn't seem to be a collective "you," however, but rather an individual one, directed toward each of the unique personalities that occupies his 15 megabytes of fame on YouTube or MySpace.

America loves its solitary geniuses -- its Einsteins, its Edisons, its Jobses -- but those lonely dreamers may have to learn to play with others. Car companies are running open design contests. Reuters is carrying blog postings alongside its regular news feed. Microsoft is working overtime to fend off user-created Linux. We're looking at an explosion of productivity and innovation, and it's just getting started, as millions of minds that would otherwise have drowned in obscurity get backhauled into the global intellectual economy.

Who are these people? Seriously, who actually sits down after a long day at work and says, I'm not going to watch Lost tonight. I'm going to turn on my computer and make a movie starring my pet iguana? I'm going to mash up 50 Cent's vocals with Queen's instrumentals? I'm going to blog about my state of mind or the state of the nation or the steak-frites at the new bistro down the street? Who has that time and that energy and that passion?

The answer is, you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you.

While it is incredibly tacky to give Time readers its annual, often abstract honor (complete with a Mylar mirror to reveal the winners), it might also be an astute bit of social commentary. In a decade where celebrity has become an increasingly fluid and fickle concept, where voyeurism has turned into a global hobby rather than a bizarre obsession, and where the front page has been eclipsed by the home page, "you" have indeed played a part in shaping the new culture.

The popularity of MySpace, YouTube, and similar outlets seems to be linked to humanity's deep desires for truth, respect, and relationship. Yet are these trends fueled by a longing for purpose, or merely by a longing for attention? Blogs, networking sites, and video sharing offer novel means for engaging in the search for truth. At the same time, the abuses of such media are well known, and are very often a product of selfishness, or fear of the new society's great taboo -- obscurity.

These venues provide great potential to expose both the depth of the human heart and the depth of human depravity. The challenge will be to convince all of "you" to seek the transcendent meaning that exists beyond yourself.

’The Pursuit of Happyness’

Pursuit Last night, I saw The Pursuit of Happyness. To some, the movie may be nothing more than a visual of Emerson's Self-Reliance. But those viewers would be missing the great significance of God's grace to the protagonist through Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. According to a review by Steve Beard, "Without Glide," said the real-life Chris Gardner, of whom the film is about, "there is no Chris Gardner."

But more than rags-to-riches, as Beard notes, Happyness is about the power of parenthood -- specifically in this story, fatherhood:

The intimacy and dependency of father and son is utterly captivating on screen. It is expressed poignantly in one scene during a church service at Glide. In the sway and potency of a gospel song, Gardner cathartically holds his son tightly as if to say, “Together, we are going to make it.”

In another scene, Gardner is forced to wash his son in a sink. In real life, they had been living on the street for more than a year. (There was a point when even prostitutes were giving him $5 bills because they admired his steadfastness with his child.) Things were just starting to turn around for them, but the situation had taken a toll on Gardner.

“I didn’t know whether I was going to quit, crack, or cry,” he recalled. “And I’m washing this baby—this two-year-old kid—and he picks up on this. And he says to me, ‘Papa, you know what? You’re a good papa.’ At two years old. That was all I needed to keep going forward.”

During that scene and others, you could hear sniffling (doubtless, from parents) throughout the theater. And I don't think it was due solely to colds. At least, it wasn't for me. Even mothers can relate to the tenacity of Gardner as a parent -- that strong desire and desperation to do everything and anything to provide the best possible life for your child. (It made me wonder, some 20 years later, where Gardner's son is today and how this film affects him.)

But I agree with Beard. This film is not about a stockbroker -- and how his work led to a multi-million dollar deal this year, according to closing credits. It's about a father who did everything, made every sacrifice, to provide for his son -- and how it was that, fatherhood, and not his job, that defined him.

Continue reading "’The Pursuit of Happyness’" »

When the voiceless gain their voice

A college student named Katrina Clark told her story in yesterday's Washington Post: the story of a child born via sperm donation.

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.

Indeed they do. This is one articulate eighteen-year-old, and without condemning the mother she calls "my hero, my everything," she pleads with both men and women to consider what they're doing when they decide to create a child solely for the purpose of satisfying their own desires:

It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place. . . .

My heart went out to those [other donor-conceived kids], especially after I participated in a couple of online groups. When I read some of the mothers' thoughts about their choice for conception, it made me feel degraded to nothing more than a vial of frozen sperm. It seemed to me that most of the mothers and donors give little thought to the feelings of the children who would result from their actions. It's not so much that they're coldhearted as that they don't consider what the children might think once they grow up.

Continue reading "When the voiceless gain their voice" »

Bob Barr Bails on GOP

Taking his frustration with the current GOP even further than conservative contemporaries Gingrich and Armey, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr announced his decision to leave the GOP for the Libertarian Party:

"It's something that's been bothering me for quite some time, the direction in which the party has been going more and more toward big government and disregard toward privacy and civil liberties," said Barr, 58, a lawyer and consultant living in Atlanta. "In terms of where the country needs to be going to get back to our constitutional roots ... I've come to the conclusion that the only way to do that is to work with a party that practices what it preaches, and that is the Libertarian Party."

I know, I know, big government and small government philosophies have nothing to do with "Christian worldview."

Well, I beg to differ (again).

Given our secular government, any responsibility moved from the private realm to governmental control inherently moves into a sphere in which notions of God and religion are deemed irrelevant -- and even illegal -- by the prevailing powers that be. But I've been beating this drum since the election, and rather than blather on and on again, I simply submit this illustrative news story from FRC. I mean, I have no desire to offend homosexuals whatsoever (nor do I think that all who so identify themselves would insist on such semantic "sensitivity"), but, my goodness, what simple freedoms of speech we must throw under the bus when Big Government is granted authority over a societal function...

A new policy of the National Health Service (NHS) in Scotland warns hospitals to watch their language. Under the policy, the staff has been told to stop calling parents "mother" or "father" to "avoid offending gay patients." Instead, the policy tells doctors and nurses to use the words "parents" or "guardians." The terms "husband" and "wife" are also banned under the so-called "anti-homophobia laws" that are being implemented across the NHS. A booklet called "Good Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Practice" says that workers who ignore the new rule will face disciplinary action.

December 15, 2006

Re: Not So Free After All

Talk about timing! Just today I got an e-mail newsletter from Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse with some book recommendations for this year's gift-giving, many of which cover the very subject under discussion here.

Along with Unprotected, which Morse calls "a terrific, eye-opening look at the real costs of the sexual revolution on campus," there's also For Young Women Only, written, just as the title states, directly to Christian teenage girls. Morse says, "A friend gave me this book for my daughter, and I learned a lot from it. Warmly recommended."

Morse also recommends her own book, Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long Love in a Hook-Up World, and I join her in that recommendation. It's one of the best books I've ever read on "the choice between life-long married love and casual sex." As Morse writes, it's a great explanation of why "what you do matters to the whole society and not just to yourself!"

Finally, a recommendation of my own: the recent release You, Me and Who?: Five-Minute Devotionals for You and Your Date by Emily Parke Chase. Emily and her merry band of undergraduates (of whom I used to be one) have been making pro-abstinence presentations in high schools, junior high schools, and church youth groups for many years. Emily knows her subject and she knows kids, and she's helped many of them make wise decisions and see things in a way they never have before.

Thanks to Dr. Morse for her recommendations, and if you're interested in signing up for her newsletter, you can do so at her website.

Re: Not So Free After All

Travis, you're right that students at many colleges and universities are left "unprotected." Dr. Vigen Guroian, a professor at Loyola College in Maryland and fellow of the Wilberforce Forum, writes about the "dorm brothel" problem in the current issue of BreakPoint WorldView magazine in article titled "After Hours on Campus: The Sexualization of the American College." (Worldview readers, chime in with your thoughts on the article!)

Sensational stories about the aggressive sex of athletes and debauchery in fraternity houses or at off-campus clubs spotlight only the tip of an iceberg. Sex is deeply and seriously disordered at the basic level of college life. As one young Loyola College co-ed wrote, “Here we can do everything we were told at home was wrong, and no one really cares, and no one is responsible. It’s like we live in a glass bubble; only no one looks in.”

What goes on every day in co-ed dormitories and apartments is far more significant than what comes into public view. How colleges structure and arrange student life and the supervision, or lack thereof, that they give to our sons and daughters determines a lot about their behavior at college and the attitudes toward the opposite sex that they take with them into life.

College experience has an impact on the marriages our sons and daughters make, and it contributes to the divorces with which many of those marriages end. The statistics are irrefutable. Sexual promiscuity and pre-marital cohabitation are strong predictors of marital trouble and divorce. It is at college that many young people first experiment with cohabitation and become accustomed to multiple sex partners.

And don't think this is just a problem on campuses with coed housing. As one student wrote to Dr. Guroian,

I am a senior at ______, a small historically black college and university. I cannot say that the rules it has in place for students is anything like those described at other colleges. Students living on campus have a curfew; the campus separates the “boys’ side” from the “girls’ side,” meaning that in order to get to a girl dorm, boys must walk over a mile.

There are visitation hours monitored by a security guard and dorm director. Nevertheless, during those unsupervised hours of visitation occur the most rampant sexual escapades known to man.

It's also not just a problem at secular universities. Christian colleges and universities also have risks. But as one parent and campus physician wrote to Dr. Guroian,

As a physician familiar with the college health setting and adolescent/young adult medicine, I can readily attest that there is an extremely high medical price for collegiates to pay for living out the risk behaviors described in the article. . . . Amid free-flowing alcohol that quickly impairs the judgment of young men and women, there is the stormy sea of intoxications, sexually transmitted infections, infertility, unintended pregnancies, abortions, HIV, AIDS, depression, suicide, accidental deaths in an ocean of brokenness.

As the one student above illustrates, eliminating coed dorms will not solve the problem, though it would be a big step forward. And just sequestering students at Christian colleges or single-sex universities also doesn't answer the problem.

Parents need to nag their undergrad students (don't worry about your popularity with them -- their future is at stake); a good time for a frank, open talk may be this next month while they're home between semesters (notice how we timed the WorldView article). And if you have a son, be obnoxious about your expectations of him, to treat women with respect and hold the higher standard at his school among his peers. Encourage them to have an accountability peer group (see www.collegewalk.com) or to get to know their dorm parents or another surrogate parent couple near their college to whom they can turn.

And alumni and professors, nag your universities to make real changes to prioritize the well-being of students -- from providing single-sex housing to cracking down on underage drinking, and other ideas that come to mind. Of course, there's more leeway on actions to take at Christian schools. But for the secular ones, hold their feet to the fire. Publicly shame a known problem. Maybe a letter-to-the-editor with information about a problem at the local university to spotlight it.

Not So Free After All

College campuses, particularly public ones, house a great tension of competing worldviews, particularly in regard to sex. Along with this conflict comes great confusion and deception as virtues such as prudence, modesty, and chastity are challenged by the enticement of free expression and promiscuity.

Danielle Crittenden offers a humbling review of a book describing the tragic failure of many campuses to paint an accurate picture of sexual "freedom."

"My patients were hurting, they looked to me and what could I do?" So confesses an anonymous campus physician in the beginning of her startling memoir. Over the course of 200 pages, she tells story after story about suffering young women. If these women were ailing from eating disorders, or substance abuse, or almost any other medical or psychological problem, their university health departments would spring to their aid. "Cardiologists hound patients about fatty diets and insufficient exercise. Pediatricians encourage healthy snacks, helmets and discussion of drugs and alcohol. Everyone condemns smoking and tanning beds."

Unfortunately, the young women described in "Unprotected" have fallen victim to one of the few personal troubles that our caring professions refuse to treat or even acknowledge: They have been made miserable by their "sexual choices." And on that subject, few modern doctors dare express a word of judgment.

This is the logical outcome, however, of a mindset that discards any semblance of real moral standards. If no action that feels right can ever be truly wrong, then how can these deep wounds be prevented? Students crash into the inevitable physical and emotional consequences of the hedonistic lifestyle so easy to acquire at college, and their mentors are apparently bound by tolerance to encourage only that they continue to utilize all of their supposed freedoms. In light of such silence, young people are certainly left "unprotected."

December 14, 2006

Pray for Kelly, Nikko, and Brian

Join me in praying. Many of you will have heard about the three mountain climbers stranded on Mt. Hood in Oregon. One of them, Kelly James, is the brother of Dr. Frank James, a former professor of mine, friend, and current president of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando. Apparently all three climbers are strong believers. Due to the blizzard-like conditions rescue efforts have been severely held back. Frank's wife Carolyn, also a friend, and author of http://www.amazon.com/Beliefs-Collide-Carolyn-Custis-James/dp/0310250145">When Life and Beliefs Collide writes:

This past Sunday, (Dec. 10), Frank and I received one of those dreaded midnight phone calls. Frank’s mom was on the line telling us his brother Kelly and two climbing partners, Brian Hall and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke are lost on Mt. Hood in Oregon.

Frank left Monday for Portland and has been there all week with my sister-in-law, Karen, and Kelly’s four kids, Jason, Ford, Katie and Jack. If you’ve been following the news, you will know that Kelly is in a snow cave near the summit. The three climbers expected to complete their climb of Mt. Hood by Saturday. But something went wrong (we’re not sure exactly what), so they dug a snow cave to keep Kelly safe, while Brian and Jerry went down the mountain for help.

On Sunday, Kelly contacted his wife on his cell phone and received a second call from his son Jason. These calls were brief and didn’t provide much detail. But at least we knew he was alive. T-Mobile and other organizations are using cell phone signals to pinpoint Kelly’s location. There is no news at all about Brian and Nikko. All three men are believers. All three are expert, highly experienced climbers.

The three families are together, supporting each other, praying and waiting. Brian’s parents, Dwight and Clara Hall, his sister, Angela, and Nikko's wife Makayla are also there. Frank's mother, LouAnn Cameron, and his sister, Traci Hale, are en route. As you can imagine this is an unbearably difficult time for all of them.

The weather has been about as bad as possible—blizzard conditions with hurricane force winds—so rescue workers haven’t been able to climb high enough to get to Kelly. If the weather follows the current forecast, there’s no possibility of reaching him until Friday or Saturday, and time is of the essence.

Please join me in praying for all of them—the three climbers, the rescue teams, the technical experts, the worried family members. I ask you to pray especially for Frank as he supports and cares for family members, works with the media, and waits anxiously for his brother’s safe return. He has had interviews with MSNBC, ABC, The Today Show, Nancy Grace, Larry King Live, Anderson Cooper 360, and others. These are extraordinary opportunities to focus attention on rescue efforts for Kelly, Brian and Nikko, but a grueling schedule for Frank.

To stay informed, go to "Local & Regional News" at: http://www.katu.com.

We believe God is in this. It is a painful, heart wrenching ordeal for everyone involved. But He loves us and knows what He is doing with us. He knows exactly where all three men are and He can still the storm. Our hope is in Him.

Thank you for your prayers.

Dr. James will also be interviewed tonight on Larry King Live at 9 pm. Pray for him as he does this and please pray for God to sustain these men until rescuers can find them and for the harsh weather to pass. For ongoing news, check the blog they set up this morning.

Ho, Ho, Horrible

Ho, ho, ho. A game for those on the "naughty" list? How about for those who are on your "unsaved" list?

The line has really been crossed, folks, with this new piece of entertainment.

"The critics describe it as 'a violent video game in which born-again Christians aim to convert or kill those who don't adhere to their extreme ideology.'" Great. Just great.

The best part is that after you kill people you get to recharge your soul points by bending down in prayer.

Ok, who was smoking what when this "great" idea was conceived? What do you guys think?

An atheist divided against himself?

If James Wood, writing in The New Republic (online registration required), is any indication, some atheists aren't exactly thrilled about the savage tone that has lately crept into atheistic critiques of religion. After about a page and a half thoroughly detailing the reasons behind his own atheism, Wood has this to say:

My inner atheist . . . enjoys the "naughtiness" of this disrespect [of Dawkins, Harris, et al.], even if a little of it goes a long way. And all these writers are correct to argue that religion is unfairly protected by a cordon sanitaire of "respect." In America, all you need to do is intone the word "faith" and your opponent will start backing away from you in terror, like a vampire before a crucifix. In these books the vampire bites back, and Harris has an Orwellian robustness and a good journalistic way with his one-liners. To the creationists who believe that the world is six thousand years old, he says: "This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue." The principal concern of American Christians "appears to be that the creator of the universe will take offense at something people do while naked." Twenty percent of all recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage, he writes: "if God exists, He is the most prolific abortionist of all." . . .

This brand of public atheism is very good at the necessary disrespecting of religion, and it has a properly hygienic function. But how worthy of respect is it itself? The problem is that its bright certainty about the utter silliness of religion leads very quickly away from philosophy and argument. There is a dismaying gap, in these books, between the righteous anger of the critique of the many absurdities of religious belief and the attempts to account for why people have believed this apparent nonsense for so many centuries. I would rather that these writers refrained from speculation altogether than plunge into their flimsy anthropological kit bag. It is peculiar indeed to read Dawkins's eloquent pages on evolution, and on how evolution may in the end solve the question of who created us, and then to find that very evolutionary theory being applied in the most hypothetical, rampantly unscientific ways to the question of why we have believed in God for so long.

For Dawkins, it may all be explained by our evolutionary need to fall in love, or perhaps by our childish need to have a big friend. At the same time, we have also evolved a HADD, a "hyperactive agent detection device": "we hyperactively detect agents where there are none, and this makes us suspect malice or benignity where, in fact, nature is only indifferent." (Daniel Dennett is also fond of the argument from HADD.) Dawkins's example of this tendency is a moment in Fawlty Towers when John Cleese's car breaks down. Cleese, drunk with HADD, one supposes, starts thrashing his car to death. Dawkins truly appears to think that this high-table guffawing will do as an explanation of why thousands of generations have been drawn to believe in God. And mystical experience of the divine does not detain him, either. We have evolved superb "simulation software in the brain," which is "especially adept at constructing faces and voices.... It is well capable of constructing 'visions' and 'visitations' of the utmost veridical power. To simulate a ghost or an angel or a Virgin Mary would be child's play to software of this sophistication." And he concludes: "That is really all that needs to be said about personal 'experiences' of gods or other religious phenomena." Evolutionary biologists never seem happier than when they are talking about humans as crafty but malfunctioning computers, with "toolkits" and "menus" and "software." The possibility that this might itself be a mad "vision," an example of a highly evolved Oxonian computer on the blink, does not occur to Dawkins's own simulation software.

To my admittedly unphilosophical mind, Wood appears, even as he dismantles religion with a firm hand, to have an uneasy realization lurking at the back of his mind that he himself is standing on shaky ground. Even as he disdains the answers provided by faith, he has to acknowledge that are some answers that his rationalism can't give him -- it's just that he thinks "speculation" is a more appropriate way of handling uncertainty than belief.

In fact, as firmly as Wood seems to think he has no respect for religion, he appears more of a waverer between respect and disrespect. That's how I read it, anyway. I'd be interested to know what the rest of you think.

Calcutta is Everywhere

From "Verse and Voice of the Day," Sojourners:

You can find Calcutta anywhere in the world. You only need two eyes to see. Everywhere in the world there are people that are not loved, people that are not wanted nor desired, people that no one will help, people that are pushed away or forgotten. And this is the greatest poverty.

-- Mother Teresa

They are everywhere.

The gift of a dad

Last week, Gina asked if we'd read any good books lately. I just finished a great one that I think should be under the Christmas tree of every father with young daughters. Pediatrician Dr. Meg Meeker offers a prescription for parental success in Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters. This book will challenge and encourage any dad with a daughter.

Meeker doesn't pull punches with the grim statistics of what a daughter will face, from what she'll hear about sex in school (starting in kindergarten), to how likely she is to develop an eating disorder (the answer is: very), to the appallingly high risk that she'll contract an STD (10,000 new cases in teens every day). If you doubted it before reading this book, you'll be absolutely convinced after reading it that our kids need moms and dads who are willing to get real about the issues. "It's tough and it's frightening," she writes, "but this is the way it is. While you want the world to be cautious and gentle with her, it is cruel beyond imagination--even before she is a teen."

But Meeker provides a healthy dose of hope along with those stats, asserting (and backing her assertions up with science) that dads are the key to girls who successfully navigate the pitfalls of growing up today. Strong dads provide their daughters with a role model of strength and love; they teach their girls humility and determination; they defend their daughters' honor and fight for their families; and they show their children who God is. In a culture where dads are often portrayed as marginal and bumbling, Meeker tells a different story. Dads matter; a good dad can make all the difference in the world in his little girl's life.

The Case for Design

In "Collins’s Case for Evolution," a reader commented that “God ‘speaks’ both through His Word and through creation,” and that sometimes the two do not seem to be reconcilable. He then asks, “could someone please tell me how we CAN fit the Creation-Fall-Redemption understanding with the known facts about the age of the earth, transitional forms, and so forth?”

While I’m not sure what he means by the “known facts” about transitional forms, I agree that the witnesses of Scripture and creation can, at times, appear divergent. But, while every theorist has access to the same material evidence—e.g., the fossil record, common morphology, genetic variation, etc—they each filter the evidence through a grid of presuppositions that cannot be ultimately proven. For example, in the beginning was the Quantum, or in the beginning was God.

Thus the question becomes not which theory can be demonstrated as valid, but which one best explains the evidence. In the case of common descent versus common design, The Discovery Institute has some excellent resources addressing the evidentiary arguments, as does BreakPoint.

Two articles from the latter are: "Against the Ropes with Darwin: The Imminent End of Evolutionary Theory" and "The Science of Design," Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. These are by an author with whom I have some acquaintance—a fine fellow I’m told. Although neither addresses the young-earth old-earth controversy, they both work to dispel the myths that Darwinian evolution is a fact of science based on critical reason, and Intelligent Design a theory of ignorance based on religious faith. In particluar, Part 3 of the last piece examines the evidence from creation against the character of the Christian God as recorded in Scripture.

December 13, 2006

Disturbing Statistic

"If recent incarceration rates remain unchanged, an estimated 1 of every 15 persons (6.6%) will serve time in a prison during their lifetime." Bureau of Justice Statistics

Gift Ideas: Blessings Squared

Box I am a strange creature. I love, love, love, picking out presents for people. Did I mention I love picking out presents for people? Now don't get me wrong. I'm not so gleeful when it comes to paying for them, mostly because non-profit work doesn't exactly leave one rolling in the green, but still, I adore finding just the right gift that will be meaningful and appreciated and seeing someone's face when they open it. This year my holiday shopping has gotten even brighter as I've discovered ways to spread that joy not just to the recipient, but also to the gift-creators. If you are scratching your head for ideas, let me share a few suggestions that you can feel good about in both the purchasing and giving!!!

  • Covenant House is a Christian group committed to serving at-risk youth and children, homeless and the poor of Southeast Washington, DC. If you want to be inspired, read their mission statement! As part of their work with at-risk kids and adults they have an artisan program where they teach these young adults a marketable skill, woodcrafting, and here they make some amazing hand-crafted wooden gifts. I saw these first-hand a few weeks ago, and they are truly beautiful, not like the popsicle stick creations I used to take home to mom and dad and that they had to feign liking. Nope, these are the real deal. My favorite is the High Hopes Box.
  • Similarly, Make Peace "provides paths back to productivity, creativity, and living wages for low-income women in the Washington DC area.  [They] train [their] artisans in life skills, business basics, and how to create and market one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry." Again, I had the chance to handle these and there are some gorgeous items. I really liked the Rose Quartz necklace and the Art Glass Lariat.
  • If you're looking for more jewelry, also check out Wonderfully Made Jewelry. This group isNecklace dedicated to helping victims of sex-trafficking find an alternate sustainable source of income. Each piece of jewelry represents hope to the one creating it. And they are also great "discussion piece products that tell a story of hope." The jewelry is both exotic and beautiful. I'm a big fan of the Waterfall Necklace and the classically elegant five-stranded pearl necklace.
  • Ten Thousand Villages is a founding member of the International Fair Trade Association and is part of a world-wide movement aimed at improving the livelihood of disadvantaged peoples around the world. They have so many unique (in the good sense of that word!) and vibrant gifts. Their website is also easy to navigate, with gifts under $25, stocking-stuffers, gifts for the entertainer in the family, and gifts for him (check out the sweet bamboo lounge chair!) and her. When I got to look at these, as a writer I was drawn toArtisan the hand-made journals. I'm sure it has only been for lack of one of these that I haven't yet penned my Pulitzer-prize winning novel.
  • All of us know a few people addicted to a good cup of coffee. Kim Moreland blogged on Land of a Thousand Hills coffee a  few days ago. I bought several bags of this last year for Christmas, and my extended family consumed it before we even got to New Year's. So I can vouch both for its being good and for the money's going to a great cause, restoration in Rwanda. Another great organization selling coffee is Growers First who "helps equip isolated indigenous family farmers to undertake long-term economic and community development." I bought a bag of coffee for someone on my list this year from them (but shhh, don't tell because I haven't given it yet!) Opt for a caffeinated gift that will go to help some people who need it a lot more than our friends at Starbucks.
  • I have saved the best for last. By far my favorite of these gift-giving ideas is Amani Ya Juu, which means Higher Peace. My good friend Rachel Kistner is the coordinator on the U.S. side of this African-based operation. The organization helps women from countries all over Africa:Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Many of these women are widows of genocide or war. You can read all about their wonderful organization here. Once you're done reading though, check out their beautiful, colorful line of products. I've bought several of their handbags as gifts (including one for my Secret Santa at the officeBag party--shhhhh!) and they are always well-beloved by their owners. My mom (a kindergarten teacher) fell in love with the puppets and bought several for her classroom. I don't see those listed online, but I do see a fun Noah's Ark set. The aprons and serving utensils were also a big hit last year as well. My friend, Rachel, graduated from Wheaton and is an extremely talented artist. She's done a lot of the design work on many of these stunning products.

All right, if I haven't given you enough ideas, here's one more. This Christmas my church held a Peace Bazaar with most of these organizations represented. We are only a few blocks from the Eastern Market area in DC so we had shoppers wafting in from the sidewalks. Many of them purchased gifts whose proceeds go to these great causes. Moreover, it was a wonderful chance to demonstrate to the community Christian concern for the least of these and to engage people in conversation. Anyhow, if you're a resourceful kind of person, you might tuck the idea away for next year and host a similar event at your church or in your community. What a great way to spread Christmas cheer to both the gift-creator and the recipient.

Charities Reject Donations from Strippers

According to Fox News, only the Marines' Toys for Tots program and City Harvest were willing to accept donations from exotic dancers from "Scores" gentleman's club in New York City. Other charities refused the gifts on principle. Morgan, one of the dancers, was hurt:

I don't understand why anyone would deny that right [to receive charity] to anbody. It's not up to them to say that [needy individuals] can't have food for Christmas or a toy for Christmas.

Kelly, another dancer, says that many of the charities she wanted to donate to support empowering women, and she believes she--a single mom--is empowering herself in her "profession."

And, "giving is giving," she said.

Watch their interview, "Bah Humbug," on Fox's site and let me know what you think. Is giving simply giving, or does it matter who the giver is?

Sins of the father

Ever wondered what happened to the son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? Apparently, enough people did that the Sundance Channel decided to give them what they want with the new reality miniseries One Punk under God.

The scandal that haunts his family seems to have shaped Jay Bakker in interesting ways. While it's great that he hung on to faith and is trying to share it with his community, it's fairly troubling that, if the Post has captured his feeling correctly, he doesn't seem to see the problems with his parents', er, creative accounting methods. I understand that "it's not fun trying to raise money for your church when you're a Bakker," but it might not be quite so bad if people knew that you took a firm stand on this kind of thing. On the other hand, it can't be all that easy to take such a public stand regarding your own father.

Anyone around here who has the Sundance Channel and watches this show, I'd like to hear your take on it.

La Tortura, part II

Over at TCS Daily, Alvaro Vargas Llosa of the Washington Post (and son of the great Mario Vargas Llosa) has the best postmortem (literally, in this instance) on the death of Augusto Pinochet.

Vargas Llosa identifies six "lessons" to be learned from what happened to Chile:

  1. "[S]ocial utopias always end in tears. Chile had a democratic tradition when the Marxist left came to power in 1970, but that tradition was not strong enough to withstand the revolutionary path that President Salvador Allende chose to take. Scorning the institutions that had allowed it to gain power, the left pushed the system beyond its limits, thereby causing a brutal military reaction. Today's Chilean Socialists have learned from that experience."
  2. "[T]here is no such thing as an 'emergency' dictatorship. Those who called for military intervention, among them the center-right Christian Democrats, made a colossal error of judgment in thinking that the armed forces would go back to their barracks as soon as the 'emergency' was over."
  3. "[F]ree markets and dictatorial governments are ultimately incompatible because a free economy requires a dispersion of power that will eventually limit the capacity of those who control the government to perpetuate themselves." Pace the NRO crowd's crediting Pinochet with Chile's recent prosperity, Llosa points out that "Pinochet's successors proved to be better guarantors of the open economy than the general himself. Since 1973, annual economic growth has been four times bigger, on average, than between 1810 and the day of the military coup."
  4. "[H]uman rights are not an invention of human rights groups, however biased many of these groups are . . . Nothing justified killing 3,197 people, torturing more than 29,000, and sending thousands into exile, as reported by the National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation in 1991. That cruel toll was not the price paid for stability -- which really came with the end of the military regime -- but the inevitable consequence of rule by men in uniform . . . An army with unfettered control of a nation, whether led by a Pinochet or by a Castro, will always murder, kidnap or torture citizens it deems threatening."
  5. "[T]here is no such thing as dictatorship without corruption."
  6. "[A] transition to the rule of law should aim for at least partial justice if full justice is incompatible with preserving the transition. The Chilean courts moved too late against Pinochet for fear of provoking the military." As a result, the transition back to the rule of law "was left with a sense of guilt that will make it difficult to fight off the ghost of Pinochet in the foreseeable future."

Sound advice from a man who really knows what Men With Guns are capable of.

Zero Tolerance Gone Overboard

Yearbook_photo See that picture at right? Portsmouth High School says "no" to this senior's submission of his photo for the school yearbook. Why did they say no? (No, not because they don't want to promote embarrassingly goofy pictures of students ... okay, I'm kidding -- that was harsh. ( : I'm all for the theatrical.)

The school rejected it because of a "zero-tolerance" policy against weapons. (Oh, the student, Patrick Agin, 17, is wearing the get-up in identification with his membership of the Society for Creative Anachronism, "an international organization that researches and recreates" J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings ... I'm kidding -- "that researches and recreates medieval history.") Now the ACLU is suing to prevent the school from publishing the yearbook without Agin's photo.

According to the lawsuit, principal Robert Littlefield told [Agin's mother] Farrington she could pay to put the photo in the advertising section of the book, but he would not allow it as Agin's senior portrait.

"That in and of itself demonstrates to us that there's absolutely no legitimate rationale for banning Patrick's photo," said Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU.

Littlefield said he thought there would be less editorial scrutiny given to paid advertising space, and that an ad would not be viewed as receiving the school's endorsement.

The complaint says there is nothing in the weapons policy that would apply to the picture Agin submitted. It also says the weapons policy is arbitrarily enforced, noting theatrical plays at the school have included prop weapons and that the mascot — a patriot — is depicted on school grounds and publications as carrying a weapon.

It would be one thing if he dressed like a Columbine shooter. But come on, he's dressed like he's in the cast of Eragon. I don't think this is what Agin has in mind.

It’s Showtime

Apparently, even when the headline is "Reality Television Bites Man," it's still news.

Armed & Famous producers are using T-shirts and money to persuade criminal suspects to sign waivers that allow the show to broadcast their faces.

This tactic has at least some community members concerned that the show's celebrity cops are taking advantage of low-income residents -- and possibly targeting the neighborhoods they live in....

The officers included "celebrity cops" Trish Stratus, Wee Man and Erik Estrada.

Armed & Famous is an upcoming CBS reality show in which Estrada, Wee Man, Stratus, La Toya Jackson and Jack Osbourne become gun-carrying Muncie cops.

I'm somewhat reluctant to admit that I grew up in Muncie, Indiana, the oft-used "Anytown, USA," that was clearly ripe to become a national farce via a reality show starring '80's-era celebrities. More disturbing than the mockery of Muncie, however, is a potentially dangerous concept of bringing "reality TV" off of islands and houses and stages, and into the public where serious consequences could result. While the TV may not be so real, the lives in the middle of it are.

The concern is not just for the perpetrators who are caught by the strong arm of the CHiPs, but also for the other police officers who might have to go on patrol along with cameramen and largely untrained "partners." And even if every precaution is taken, is it really worth treating serious topics like criminal justice with such frivolity when more than simply actors are involved? How real is too real?

Besides, watching vintage celebrities pursue criminals in Muncie does not strike me as gripping entertainment.

NYT takes on IFI--Letters-to-the-Editor

Prayer The New York Times posted five letters-to-the-editor responding to its recent "In God's Name" installment criticizing the InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI). A women's prison chaplain writes,

Those opposed to faith-based programs fail to realize the value of the act of visiting, of coming into a facility to offer something, of showing love and making a connection.

I would challenge these people not simply to tear down the few programs left in prisons, faulty though they may be, but to enter prisons themselves and build alternative programs with the love and commitment their evangelical brothers and sisters are showing.

This writer puts forth a good challenge that reveals who is doing the work of rehabilitation and corrections--and who is not:

As a member of the American Civil Liberties Union and a Christian who supports the separation of church and state, I normally do not find much agreement with evangelicals. But a good friend who spent many years in prison received no education, training, alcoholism treatment or other preparation when he was unceremoniously dumped, homeless and penniless, back into the society he left in the 1970s.

The 700,000 people a year released from prisons and jails, sometimes after decades of imprisonment and long-term solitary confinement, receive by default government-sponsored training in the violence and antisocial behavior necessary to stay alive in prison.

If we don’t want evangelicals to be the ones trying to change this situation, somebody else had better step up to the plate!

Another writer raises three good questions:

If alternative treatment plans are so effective in rehabilitating inmates and reducing recidivism, why are they not part of the regular program at prisons across the country? Why are prisons outsourcing one of their primary responsibilities?

If running these programs is so important to the religious groups that run them, why can’t these groups raise the money to finance these programs from their own supporters? Why do they need to use taxpayers’ money?

Is there any proof that inmates who get religion behind bars, whether it is fundamentalist Islam or evangelical Christianity, are less likely to commit crimes once they are released?

To answer that last question, here is the University of Pennsylvania study on IFI-Texas to which Mark Earley and Chuck Colson often refer. And here is one candidate who realizes the value of reforming our prisons.

Why not write a letter-to-the-editor to the New York Times or your local paper if it runs the same article ("Religion for a Captive Audience, Paid for by Taxes" -- Google the title, and you'll find plenty of newspapers that ran the column)?