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December 13, 2006

What—No choice this year!

In preparing an article for BP’s All Things Examined, I noticed that after a four-year run, the offensive “Choice on Earth” greeting card will not be offered by Planned Parenthood this Christmas season. I called the PP store to confirm and asked the attendant why. Was it a poor seller, or too controversial? “I dunno,” he answered, “We were just told that we wouldn’t be selling it this year.” I thought to myself, “Gee, that’s great!” experiencing a certain lift in the moment. Then I checked their online store to discover that the offensive slogan was carried on their non-seasonal “mission product” t-shirts. Gravity returned, calling me back into my seat.

The mind boggles

From World Net Daily (H/T Roberto):

"Soy is making kids 'gay'"

I haven't been to WND in a while, but I remember a time long, long ago when it actually used to be a fairly informative and interesting website. When did it morph into the National Enquirer? Did they decide it would be more fun to be the laughingstock of the Internet, or what?

December 12, 2006

Coming Soon To A Consulate Near You

From The Plank over at The New Republic:

A few weeks ago, George Packer argued that if and when the United States finally pulls out of Iraq, the country should offer visas to those Iraqis who collaborated with us during the occupation, seeing as how they'll all be in grave danger when we leave. As an aside, he noted that last year the United States accepted fewer than 200 Iraqi refugees (and looking around, it seems that most of those had applied for admission before the current war). Anyway, today's Boston Globe has more on this situation . . .

. . . It also seems like there's a potential battle-in-waiting with regards to Iraq's Christians, who are currently enduring "killings, torture, destruction of churches, assassination of priests, and confiscation of property." I assume that religious leaders in this country will, at some point, make a major push to have them accepted as refugees--but it would pose some rather obvious problems if the United States were to offer asylum to Iraqi Christians and shut its door to Muslims who want out.

It would help Iraq's Christians, many of whom pray in the same language as Jesus, Aramaic, if American Christians recognized that they are, well, Christians. Alas, as this New Republic piece notes, that's not always the case:

Even though Iraq's Christians suffer in the name of their American co-religionists, their fate seems not to have made the slightest impression on much of the evangelical establishment. Their websites and promotional literature advertise the importance of creating new Christian communities in Iraq while mostly ignoring the obligation to save ancient ones. Nor, with a few exceptions, have mainstream church leaders in the United States broached the subject, either. Dr. Carl Moeller, the president of Open Doors USA, an organization that supports persecuted Christians abroad, pins the blame on Christianity's own sectarian rifts. "The denominations in Iraq aren't recognized by Americans," he explains. "The underlying attitude is, 'They're not us.'"

Whether or not we think that they are us, they're about to become our very own Pottery Barn purchase.

A Shocking Conviction

Ron Belgau believes that the Bible is God’s authoritative and inspired Word. Ron believes that all homosexuality is a perversion of God’s blueprint for sexual intimacy. Ron also believes that individuals who struggle with same-sex desires should choose a lifestyle of celibacy in worship to God. Orthodox Christianity stands fully behind him.

But, in my opinion, Ron’s beliefs carry an added depth. Ron is no standard heterosexual pastor preaching a sermon on the ills of homosexuality. No, Ron, a student at the University of Washington who has authored several articles on Christianity and homosexuality, is speaking from shocking conviction of a truth that overrides his own inclinations. You see, Ron is gay.

And yet, he has chosen to uphold God’s formula for sexual relationships—marriage between one man and one woman as a replication of Christ’s relationship with His bride.

In an essay countering the view of a friend—the view that God blesses same-sex marriage—Ron admits that he has struggled against the tendencies he feels within Himself and what he believes God teaches about homosexuality. And yet, at the end of the day, he has surrendered his will to the Lord and has chosen celibacy—not out of rote obedience but out of a deep understanding of God’s love. He writes:

God’s reasons for forbidding gay relationships may seem like dim shadow[s] in a mirror to us when we first confront them. But it is love, not understanding, which God most desires from us. To place our hopes in Him even when we do not understand His ways is a mark of great faith, and even greater love.

I will suggest that Christ would have spoken of Ron as he did the centurion in Matthew 8: “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas with a Red Ryder BB gun, the Grinch, Scrooge, a defective deer, Grant, and Bing

Elf (Sorry. Taking a cue from Dreher on titles there...)

At Culture Beat, Cher Smith has a recommendation list of Christmas movies, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Christmas Story (of course!), It's a Wonderful Life, The Bishop's Wife, and more.

I can't watch Charlie Brown Christmas without tearing up when Linus takes the stage. Perfect. A Christmas Story never bores, though I have no personal empathy with that time period -- there's just something universal about that feeling you have as a kid at Christmas, regardless of the decade.

To Cher's list, I'd add Elf and my favorite "classic" movie, Holiday Inn. What are your favorites?

La Tortura, part I

Reading NRO's symposium on the death of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, what came to mind, besides sadness punctuated by disgust, was a memorable line from Batman:

Joker here. Now you fellas have said some pretty mean things. Some of which were true, under that fiend Boss Grissom. He was a thief, and a terrorist. On the other hand he had a tremendous singing voice.

(Or, as The Clash sang

As every cell in Chile will tell
The cries of the tortured men
Remember Allende, and the days before,
Before the army came
Please remember Victor Jara
In the Santiago Stadium,
Es verdad -- those Washington Bullets again
)

I doubt that Allende's victims and their families are as taken with his singing voice as the symposium's participants seem to be. Yet another example of what I call "The Hard Men (or Women) Syndrome": the willingness to advocate for, or at least overlook, "hard measures" is inversely proportional to the likelihood of those measures being applied to the would-be advocate.

Spiritual Eyes In A Physical World

“The most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.”
Conductor of the Polar Express, Warner Bros, 2004

"Teenagers' lives tend to be dominated by concerns about the world that can be seen, touched, and tasted."
Paul David Tripp, Age Of Opportunity

"Teens tend to believe two deadly lies. The first is that the physical is more real than the spiritual. It is not surprising that present, physical, personal happiness seems more important than eternal blessing. Second, they tend to believe in the permanence of the physical world. It doesn't seem to be passing away to them. It seems always to be there and 'where it's at.'"
Paul David Tripp, Age Of Opportunity

Where do you think teenagers get those tendencies? I would suggest it is from the rest of us. Though belief in a supernatural world is high and even on the increase in our culture, we tend to live as if it were not real. Except, it seems, for C.S. Lewis.

Lewis did not see people as bodies with souls. He saw people as immortal souls that inhabited bodies for a time.

"It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours."
C.S. Lewis, Weight Of Glory

This is the season when we celebrate the incarnation of the Word, Jesus Christ, who became flesh and dwelt among us. We also anticipate His second advent when He will rule and reign on a new earth in physical context. Bu, what about now? Everything in our culture drags us toward living in the physical present. Scripture, however, teaches us (in the words of the conductor of the Polar Express), “the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” How can we enable our families to "see" things differently this Christmas season? What say you?

NYT takes on IFI, part 2

At Get Religion, Mollie makes note of the New York Times's piece on the InnerChange Freedom Initiative as part of its ongoing series "In God's Name." Amusingly, she called it "fantastic and well-researched," although the article didn't, as Mollie noted, make mention of prisoners who benefited from the IFI program -- which would be, as Mark Earley noted on "BreakPoint" today, all the inmates from the program who testified.

The program was found unconstitutional and the group is required to repay more than $1.5 million in government funds, although the ruling has been appealed. Let me just say I completely agree with Henriques that government funding of religious programs is unconstitutional. But there’s the rub. Henriques’ stories are a bit heavy on the advocacy. We discussed some of the problems with that approach in the previous set of stories. It’s not so much of a problem in this story, but I think it affects how well she fleshes out the views of people who support taxpayer-funded religious activity.

I'm not sure who those "people who support taxpayer-funded religious activity" are: The money from the state of Iowa was for non-sectarian and non-religious activities.

NYT takes on IFI

In today's "BreakPoint" commentary, Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley fills in the holes left by a Sunday New York Times article on the InnerChange Freedom Initiative titled, "Religion for a Captive Audience, Paid for by Taxes."

But what did the Times not tell us in that article? First, the Times failed to mention that prisoners who participate in the program do so voluntarily. Every potential participant is told about the religious aspects of the program. Participants may leave it at any time without penalty. And they do not need to accept or profess Christianity to graduate. That’s why every prisoner who testified at trial said that he was not coerced into enrolling in the program.

Find out what else the Times got wrong. The insinuation that inmates are "lured" into the program and a "surprise conversion" is sprung upon them is ridiculous. Such "conversions" would not be real if they occurred because of supposed enticement, as anyone of any faith should know. Thus, the work of everyone involved in IFI would be pointless. Why on earth would anyone or organization spend time, money, and energy in a fruitless exercise? Clearly, the intent and the result is practical restoration of broken lives in preparation to become contributing members of society. What a concept.

December 11, 2006

Re: Let’s Go to Prison

It's nice to know that the campaign against Universal Studios has been successful... well, in a way. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Universal Studios deserved a slap on the hand for their recent release, Let's Go to Prison.

Thankfully there were many who were as disgusted with the movie, the ad campaign and the plethora of prison rape jokes, that NBC (the parent company of Universal Studios) agreed to discontinue use of their "don't pick up the soap" (and we hope other inappropriate) advertisement themes in future promotions.

While this is a small victory, I'm sure I echo the sentiments of many in stating that a public apology for the use of such insulting advertising would be nice. But I guess that would be asking too much.

The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (of which our own Pat Nolan is a member) released their press statement just a few moments ago:

Continue reading "Re: Let’s Go to Prison" »

Collins’s Case for Evolution

For many believers, Darwinian evolution is incompatible with the Creator God of Scripture. But not for Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Project, who, in his book The Language of God, attempts to harmonize them. Interestingly, although Collins views a Designer as the best explanation for a Goldilocks cosmos that makes life possible, he views evolution as the best explanation for the diversity and complexity of life. Why so? One reason is the existence of what he calls “pseudogenes” -- genes which are functional in other mammals but not humans. Collins asks, “Why would God have gone to the trouble of inserting such a non-functional gene in this precise location?” Of course there is the third possibility to Collins’s dilemma between a bumbling God and theistic evolution: the Fall. Environmental insults, like cosmic radiation, can impair or damage genes. Yet, in a creation propagated “after its kind," those damages do not pass across species.

Peace On Earth

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released a report that in 2005 over 7 million people, or one out of every 32 people in America, were under correctional supervision. Of them, 2.2 million people were in federal or state prison, or in county jail. The annual cost of this imprisonment and supervision exceeds $40 billion. From 1970 to 2000, while the overall population increased by about 40%, the rate of incarceration increased by 500%. To cope with the influx, federal and state governments opened a new prison a week between 1985 and 2000, siphoning off dollars that might otherwise be available for schools, roads, or hospitals.

And yet what is most shocking in this is that we are not shocked. We have become anesthetized to the tragedy of victimization, of wasted lives, of broken homes, of devastated communities. If this country had seen a 500% increase in unemployment, in leukemia, in taxation, or even more positively, in high school test scores, certainly it would be making headlines. If two-thirds of patients leaving a hospital had to be readmitted soon thereafter, the public would quickly find a new place to be treated. But somehow, we can read statistics like these about incarceration and recidivism and feel at best numb, at worst, smugly satisfied.

Incarceraton alone is not the solution if we truly believe that crime at its root is a moral problem. I'm grateful that many scholars and practicioners are pioneering a new way, a better way, called restorative justice. If you're not familiar with the idea of restorative justice, I encourage you to spend some time exploring our restorative justice website.

In short, this is a paradigm-shift in criminal justice thinking. Traditionally, in this country when we think of crime we think of it in terms of law-breaking. While restorative justice does not deny this element in the way we look at crime, it amplifies that understanding to include another, more fundamental element. Crime is also victim-harming. As we look at crime, then, we must see its solution not simply in repaying what is owed to the state, but in mediating, restoring, and healing broken relationships between offender, victim, and community. As offenders begin to see the consequences of their moral choices and take responsibility for making restoration, real change begins to take place.

Restorative justice also sees the goal of justice not simply as punitive, but rather as restorative. Justice that simply punishes without concern for restoring the offender to a right relationship (when possible) with those wronged and with the community is only half the picture. Somehow, we've become calloused enough to think that if we have enough offenders locked out of sight that we have achieved peace on earth. But this is at best a paraplegic peace, and certainly not the kind the Bible promotes: a peace, or shalom, that is signified by right relationships between man and the community in which he lives. Justice's end goal is not punishment for punishment's sake. Justice's end goal is seeing a heart-change in the offender so that he can function as a citizen and as a neighbor who promotes the peace rather than breaks it. While we won't ever see complete peace on earth until Christ comes again to restore shalom, it doesn't diminish our duty to work towards peace and justice in the present. But how can we do that unless we have a right view of justice's goals? Hopefully, restorative justice is a step in the right direction.

Tell me I did not just hear that

On the radio news just now:

"Get fresh breath and birth control at the same time."

(A reference, I gather, to this story.)

Am I the only one who finds that juxtaposition just a little odd?

Defender of freedom, R.I.P.

From NRO's symposium on the death of Jeane Kirkpatrick:

Jay Nordlinger:

. . . My favorite story about her involves Sakharov. Facing a group of visiting American dignitaries, he said, “Kirkpatski, Kirkpatski, which of you is Kirkpatski?” Others gestured to Jeane. He said, “Your name is known in every cell in the Gulag.” The reason was, she had named the names of Soviet political prisoners, on the floor of the U.N. . . .

Michael Novak:

. . . Jeane Kirkpatrick was loved by Soviet dissidents whose cause she so bravely championed. In Jeane Kirkpatrick, Israel had one of its firmest and warmest friends. In Afghanistan under Soviet occupation, her name came to be revered. In Nicaragua a large unit of freedom fighters against the Communist regime called themselves “the Kirkpatrick brigade.” In Angola, in Chile, in the Philippines, in Poland, Hungary, and Cuba — everywhere that people suffered under oppression, and found few others to champion their dignity and aspirations and human worth, the name “Jeane Kirkpatrick” brought cheer. . . .

Read more.

Another Chicken and Egg Scenario

Leary Which came first? September 11, 2001, and the TV show Rescue Me with Denis Leary? Or the organization Leary Firefighters Foundation? (Psst, pick the latter.) According to the Wall Street Journal,

Indeed, a lot of celebrities lend their names to worthy causes, but what makes Mr. Leary's efforts stand out are both the genesis of and his day-to-day involvement in the organization and its good works. The foundation was started after a tragic December 1999 warehouse fire in his hometown of Worcester, Mass., that killed six firefighters, including Mr. Leary's cousin Jerry Lucey and a high-school classmate Tommy Spencer. But the seeds for the foundation were really sown during Mr. Leary's childhood.

"Once you have a firefighter in your family, your family and the families from his crew become one big extended family," Mr. Leary said. "In addition to my cousin, there were 30 or 40 guys I grew up with who became firefighters as well. So I've been around firefighters all my life."

But as Mr. Leary struggled to establish himself as a comedian and actor, he mostly ignored complaints from his cousin and friends about how fire departments -- in Worcester and across the country -- are constantly underfunded and undertrained. "I was like everyone else," Mr. Leary admits. "My cousin was just some guy complaining about his job. It went in one ear and out the other. Then something tragic happens, like the Worcester fire, and you wake up."

While the fire took six men, left behind were six widows and 17 now-fatherless children. Christmas was just around the corner. "Our first goal was to make sure that the widows and kids were taken care of," Mr. Leary said.

Fortunately, he had some help getting the foundation up and running. A lifelong hockey fan, Mr. Leary had worked with Boston Bruins legends Cam Neely and Bobby Orr and their cancer charity. They gave him a quick tutorial on paperwork and taxes and helped him organize "The Celebrity Hat Trick: Hockey's Greatest Skate for America's Bravest," featuring famous NHL players and celebrities. To date, the Leary Firefighters Foundation has raised more than $1.6 million for equipment and training for central Massachusetts fire departments.

(Another reason I love hockey . . . )

Since its inception, the foundation has distributed more than $6 million to fire departments across the country, including post-Katrina New Orleans. Friday Mr. Leary will host the foundation's largest fund-raiser, the sixth annual "BASH for New York's Bravest" at Cipriani Wall Street.

Among recent projects, the foundation helped the New York Fire Department fund a high-rise-fire training simulator and purchase a new Mobile Command Center. Last month, it delivered 15 search-and-rescue boats to the New Orleans Fire Department, which, amazingly, had none.

Why, you may ask, do the post-9/11 NYFD and the post-Katrina New Orleans Fire Department need a charity to help them purchase what would appear to be essential equipment? "Politics," Mr. Leary said. "We've sent $300 billion to New Orleans, but the firefighters have seen very little of it."

"The federal funding we received post-9/11 was for WMD/mass-casualty type of incidents," said NYFD Chief Nick Santangelo. "The funding we are lacking is for basic skills training in firefighting and emergencies."

And the shameful part:

Continue reading "Another Chicken and Egg Scenario" »

Driving Out the Darkness

Ephesians 4:31-32: Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.... The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

-- Martin Luther King Jr.

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

How do you degrade the degraded?

Famously provocative feminist Camille Paglia is shocked, SHOCKED about Britney Spears and Co.'s recent descent into degradation (H/T Relapsed Catholic, and skip over this post if you're squeamish):

Renowned feminist author Camille Paglia has slammed young stars such as Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan for their recent pantyless antics with the paparazzi. Paglia insists their behavior is destroying the strides the feminist movement has made, along with their own reputations. She tells American publication Us Weekly, "These girls are lowering themselves to the level of backstreet floozies. It angers me because I fought a bitter fight to get feminism back on track and be pro-sex at the same time. This is degrading the entire pro-sex wing of feminism. I am completely appalled by what these young women are doing because I think that they are cheapening their own image and obliterating all sexual mystery and glamour." Paglia singles out Spears for her recent hard-partying ways, insisting is ruining her career. She adds, "A great promise was contained in the moment when Madonna kissed Britney at the MTV Awards. She in a sense was saying, 'I'm passing the torch to you.' It was a fabulous moment. Britney looked toned, in control of her career and it was up to her to take the next step. Literally, from that kiss, from that moment onward, Britney has spiraled out of control. It's like Madonna gave her the kiss of death! Britney is throwing it away!"

Where do I start?

I've always wondered why many feminists found it so hard to see just what their "pro-sex" (i.e., pro-casual sex) mentality was destined to lead to. Paglia is not the first to express shock that Britney went from pop sensation to hard-partying soft-core princess. But did they ever even bother to look at what she was doing at the peak of her career? Did it entirely escape their notice that she was already flaunting pretty much everything she had in front of millions of teenage girls -- and their fathers? (I remember being grossed out a few years ago by a Post article about the charming phenomenon of middle-aged men enjoying taking their daughters to Brit's concerts just a little too much.) How on earth can we be surprised that it's led to this? Just what kind of torch did Paglia think Madonna, the Queen of the Cheapened Image, was passing, anyway?

I cringe to say it, but maybe Britney and her pals have done the world a favor if they've ripped away the facade so carefully constructed by the "pro-sex wing of feminism" and shown us that free sex is simply not compatible with "sexual mystery and glamour."

December 08, 2006

Mark Steyn on ’Living in the Present Tense’

I recently had the privilege of talking to Mark Steyn about the death of capitalist economist Milton Friedman, the current social crises facing Europe and America, and how the two subjects are related. Here's a sample:

As Europe’s example shows us, “big government . . . enfeebles the citizenry.” We may not be as far along that path as Europe, but already the signs are clear as to what direction we’re going.

Our government currently is experiencing what Steyn calls a “malign convergence . . . [between] Democratic defeatism on the one hand, and the so-called Republican realism on the other.” Just at the moment when the country could be setting an example of strong and principled leadership, “they’re interested in finding the most appealing euphemism under which to lose the war. . . . If America doesn’t have the will . . . there’s certainly no reason why Russia and China should take America seriously ever again. Iran and North Korea will be emboldened. . . . We would live in a world without order.”

Up against a world situation this dangerous, why is it that so many Americans act so blasé, or so impatient, about the whole situation? Steyn cites as one major reason the “broad but shallow culture” that we’ve been immersed in for so many years. Thanks largely to technology, the “barrage of electronic entertainment” in particular, “it’s very easy to live in the present tense now,” unaware of the “great sweep of history.”

Add to that the “multicultural nullity” so deeply ingrained in Europe’s culture and fast becoming ingrained in ours. Steyn points out, for instance, the intellectual apathy of the liberal publications who couldn’t even be bothered to give his book a bad review. There’s nothing he’d like better, he says, than “to see a really devastating multicultural liberal critique of the book.” Instead, he says, “the Globe and Mail basically restates my argument” and simply declares it “crass and vulgar.”

“That isn’t an argument,” he complains, it’s “aesthetic revulsion.”

This intellectual climate, or lack thereof, is something over which radical Islam can easily “steamroll.” As Steyn puts it, “Islam is a weak enemy, and its strength is determined by what it’s pushing against.” And what it’s pushing against is a society “mired in self-absorption.”

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

Merry Christmas . . . and a gloomy new year

Lately I've been meaning to encourage all those who are in the mood for some hard-core Christmas music -- not just the local pop station's 9,012th playing of "Rockin' around the Christmas Tree," but choral and/or instrumental renditions of real Christmas classics -- to visit WGMS's website and click on "Listen Live." This Washington, D.C., station is almost the last place I know of where you can get a steady stream of the best Christmas music, from the popular traditional carols to more obscure songs to longer works such as Christmas cantatas. (And looking beyond Christmas, it's definitely the only radio station I know of where you can hear Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" during the Easter season.) For years, the station's Christmas lineup has been a treasured staple of my season.

And then this morning, I opened the Post and discovered that this may very well be the last Christmas when that will be the case.

Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder has reached a preliminary agreement to buy classical music station WGMS-FM in a deal that would expand his budding sports-talk radio empire and likely be the swan song for the area's only classical outlet.

Snyder and the owner of WGMS, Bonneville International Corp., have established a price for the sale but had not formalized the deal as of yesterday, people close to the negotiations said. They said, however, that an agreement could be wrapped up within days.

"They made an offer that [a seller] can't refuse," said one executive involved in the negotiations. He requested anonymity because the sale was pending. "If someone wanted to buy your house and was willing to pay 50 percent more than it was worth, you'd do it," he said.

Bear in mind that we're not talking about some poverty-stricken little station desperately in need of cash, but a "profitable" venture and, last I heard, one of the most successful classical stations in the country -- a country in which "of more than 12,000 stations nationwide, only about 165 have a full- or part-time classical format."

But heaven forbid we should actively promote the arts to an audience already starved of beauty and inspiration, when there's a "sports-talk radio empire" to expand. Since I've withdrawn the Bah Humbug Award from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, and have it available to give to someone else, I hereby bestow it upon Mr. Daniel "Ebenezer" Snyder and the money-grubbing anonymous executives of Bonneville for putting a damper not just on Christmas, but on the whole year.

’Polar Express’ and Angel Tree

Polar_express On today's "BreakPoint" commentary, Chuck talks about the release of a new 2-disc DVD set of The Polar Express.

There are two messages from the movie that stand out. First, as the conductor later remarks to the boy, “It doesn’t matter where you’re going; what matters is deciding to get on.” Often we allow life’s disappointments to make us cynical. Or we expect to get something for our faith. But life usually doesn’t work out according to our plans. So yes, what’s important isn’t where we end up or what we get, but that we trust God enough to act on faith.

Second, the conductor also reminds us: “The most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” That’s when we need the faith of a child to ask what Max Lucado calls the “fundamental question”: “Can I afford to believe in what I have never seen?”

I first recommended The Polar Express two years ago on “BreakPoint.” This year, I have another reason to recommend it. With its release of a new two-disc DVD set of The Polar Express, Warner Brothers and Motive Entertainment are promoting Prison Fellowship’s Angel Tree program. That’s our ministry to the children of prisoners that is so close to my heart. They are also providing 1,000 promotional copies of the DVD for giveaway to prisoners’ kids. I am deeply grateful to Warner Brothers and Motive Entertainment for their efforts.

Find out more about this generous effort by Warner Brothers and Motive Entertainment.

Beyond Belief: Atheism Defended?

Last month Dr. Albert Mohler reported on a recent conference held in California called Beyond Belief. Conference speakers spoke boldly about their worldview and their belief in non-belief about God. The New Scientist described the event as a type of revivalist meeting where "at the forefront of everyone's thoughts was God." Mohler wryly responds,

Right there at the forefront of everyone's thoughts was God? Yes -- inevitably so -- even at a forum held to declare his non-existence.

The Cadre, a Christian apologetics group blog which I contribute to, also listed some quotes from the conference. Some notable quotes included,

Dr. Porco [a space scientist] said. "Let's teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting — than anything offered by any scripture or God concept I know."

... snip ...

Or perhaps the turning point occurred at a more solemn moment, when Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City and an adviser to the Bush administration on space exploration, hushed the audience with heartbreaking photographs of newborns misshapen by birth defects — testimony, he suggested, that blind nature, not an intelligent overseer, is in control.

To which a commenter on the Cadre post astutely points out,

LOL

"Let's teach our children from a very young age about the story of the universe and its incredible richness and beauty. It is already so much more glorious and awesome — and even comforting —

and now here's Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson with pictures of children born with debilitating birth defects by blind, pitiliess nature."

Exactly. Which is it? Comforting and beautiful ... or hideous and uncaring? This new militant form of atheism and its outspoken apologists do us a service by attempting to defend their worldview in the marketplace of ideas. A worldview must explain all of reality and human experience in a way that does not contradict itself and comports with reality. I, for one, do not mind these evangelists for naturalism attempting to defend a naturalistic worldview and define meaning, morality and destiny in ways that reduce all of life to matter in motion. They ought to explain altruism, why rape is wrong, and why slavery is wrong ... especially when slavery is practiced in the animal kingdom by species of ants. I would also like to hear their case for why those badly misshapen kids have dignity and ought to be cared for and defended. They ought to play a little defense for their worldview. The more they do, the more self-evident it becomes that they are actually confirming the truth of classic Christianity.

December 07, 2006

Redemption for a Falling Down Drunk

I’m eminently grateful to Gina because last spring she asked me to attend a writer’s conference at George Mason University to hear a lecture given by Heather King, a writer, Catholic, and alcoholic.

To prep for the workshop, I accessed one of King’s essays to familiarize myself with her writing style. King has a felicity with words which is appealing to me, and the first essay I read was her comments about James Frey, who made a fortune from lying. Here’s a part of the essay (warning: profanity), which well illustrates the power of her writing:

Drama is the movement from narcissism to humility, but Frey is exactly the same at the end of his story—minus the drugs—as he is at the beginning: an insecure braggart without a spark of vitality, gratitude or fun. "A b****y, bone-deep memoir," Salon.com called it, but for any alcoholic worth his or her salt, throwing up blood, puking on oneself, and committing petty-a** crimes in and of themselves couldn't be bigger yawns.

Intrigued, I went and bought her autobiography, Parched (Penguin Books, 2005). Despite the seriousness of her addiction and mostly self-inflected pain, she’s funny. Her title Parched is metaphoric because despite drinking a river of alcohol, King’s cravings were never satiated. After her first time being inebriated, which is also the first time she ever drank alcohol, she writes of having a “connection” and feeling as “one with the universe.” Drinking became her religion, but the only thing this religion gave her was a short time of oblivion followed by a hangover and a craving for the next drink.

Right before her mother staged an intervention, King was visiting a friend in Nashville when she “felt a force,” and saw the battle being waged between “heaven and hell.” Without thinking, she “instinctively” prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s apropos to quote from Augustine's Confessions, “The soul defiles itself with [booze] when it turns away from you and looks elsewhere for things which it cannot find pure and unsullied except by returning to you.” And when Heather King hit rock bottom, she finally looked to the Creator who helped her order her disordered will.

Through grace, her life is being restored and her gift of writing, which through fear and feelings of inadequacy she’d flung back into God’s face, is being used. I look forward to reading more of her work.

A Simple Plea

This Sunday is International Human Rights Day and to Christians a reminder to continue to pray for those around the world whose basic freedoms are horribly violated. On Sunday, folks from my church will gather to pray for Darfur and the ongoing atrocities in Sudan.

Last Sunday, after our worship service, we stayed late into the evening to hear the testimonies of four North Korean Christians. They told of facing starvation as Kim Jong II diverts the aid to his elite and leaves his people to scrounge on the ground for any kind of sustenance. One survivor testified about how Kim Jong II had given his people flour and told them it was from America. In the flour was ground up glass that when digested left untold numbers dead. We heard a mother who had lost her once vigorous 29-year-old son to starvation and herself faced a labor camp. We heard from a man who was strapped up, mocked and beaten in a North Korean prison. And we heard the testimony of a pastor who had been imprisoned in China simply for having pity on fleeing refuges and giving them food. He faced 15 months in prison for feeding the hungry. Meanwhile, the North Koreans who are found are quickly deported back and imprisoned for the crime of shaming their country by fleeing. These believers who had faced starvation, forced labor, imprisonment, torture, and loss of their own children pleaded with us for one thing. They pleaded with us to pray. Please pray, said each survivor at the end of his or her testimony. Please pray.

Sometimes I feel at a loss to know what the proper action or policy should be to deal with the evils we see around the world. I imagine all of us feel that way from time to time as we grapple to understand the complexities or as we feel frustrated that our foreign policies can sometimes only go so far. I was reminded on Sunday, however, that my first call is to pray. And this is no small thing. The Sovereign Lord who topples dictators, who turns the heart of kings like a watercourse, sits upon the throne and hears our prayers.

So please, as my North Korean brothers and sisters in Chirst urged us Sunday, pray for those around the world who face persecution, whether because they are believers, or simply because evil triumphs in their land. Pray for evil to be pushed back and righteousness to flourish. Pray for Christ to be exalted and his name to be spread so that these people who face such unspeakable hardship might know the comfort that God's children have in life and in death. Pray that the hearts of evil men and women would be radically transformed just as God radically transformed Paul who zealously persecuted Christians. Pray as the Spirit guides you to pray, but please, pray.

Teens And Tweens: Biblical Parenting In An R-rated World

"Child development experts say that physical and behavioral changes that would have been typical of teenagers decades ago are now common among 'tweens' -- kids ages 8 to 12."

Associated Press story published on Nov 25th

Beyond the drugs, sex and rock'n'roll their boomer and Gen X parents navigated, technology and consumerism have accelerated the pace of life, giving kids easy access to influences that may or may not be parent-approved. Sex, violence and foul language that used to be relegated to late-night viewing and R-rated movies are expected fixtures in everyday TV.

And many tweens [8 to 12 year olds] model what they see, including common plot lines "where the kids are really running the house, not the dysfunctional parents"

Apparently some studies suggest what we parents have been observing as we live through it. A sexually charged and violent culture is bearing down on us at the speed of life. It comes at us through cable, movies, radio, cell phones, MySpace and ipods. And it is having an effect. The moral issues that young kids are having to process are hitting them at early ages.

Rapant consumerism is an even greater problem. Our tweener kids have a big bulls-eye on them. They represent serious bucks. As this AP article points out, "Tweens represent $51 billion worth of annual spending power on their own from gifts and allowance, and also have a great deal of say about the additional $170 billion spent directly on them each year." Our kids are being trained to be selfish ... and it will only get worse as those advertising dollars turn into revenue around this time of year.

We want to live in a G-rated world but find ourselves in this R-rated culture. What is a parent to do?

Continue reading "Teens And Tweens: Biblical Parenting In An R-rated World" »

Update on the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act

The U.S. House of Representatives voted yesterday evening on the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act that I wrote about a few days ago. They voted 250 to 162 in favor of the bill that would require abortionists to inform a mother seeking an abortion after 20 weeks of the intense pain the child will feel during the procedure, and should this knowledge not deter them, offer these mothers the option of "pain-reducing" drugs to relieve the child's terrible suffering. Unfortunately, although the bill received a majority of the vote, it did not meet the 2/3rds majority necessary.

Despite this, I believe that anytime Congressional leaders are exposed once again to the brutal scientific realities of the horrors of abortion, it is a step in the right direction. During debate and hearings, our Representatives undoubtedly heard that even livestock have more protection than this. They heard that a child at 20 to 30 weeks has fully developed pain receptors without the mechanisms that inhibit the feelings of pain. They heard that the skin is still wispy thin at this stage of development, so that nerve receptors are much closer to the surface, making pain all the more intense. They heard that D&E abortions involve the use of metal forceps to literally dismember the child. They heard that instillation methods of abortion replace up to one cup of amniotic fluid with a salt solution that burns away at that thin little layer of skin for up to an hour before the child dies.

I pray God would sear these facts into the consciences of those present, of those who heard these details in the news or read about them on the Internet. I pray that somehow, as the gruesome facts of abortion become known, more and more people would have their minds changed on this barbaric, evil practice that still happens in this "enlightened" country.

Read any good books lately?

Diane's book recommendation the other day reminded me of something we at BreakPoint often do at this time of year: share book suggestions. They do make great gifts! If anyone else has recommendations for a great book to give someone you care about, we'd love to hear them. Christian or non-Christian, fiction or nonfiction, serious or silly -- doesn't matter, we want to know about them all.

I'll start with something I've been reading and enjoying lately: the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde. I've finished the first two, The Eyre Affair and Lost in a Good Book, and I'm about to start The Well of Lost Plots. (Something Rotten is the fourth and, I believe, final entry.) These are perfect for the bibliophile in your life, although some profanity (among other things, Fforde gets a little naughty with the puns sometimes) and a couple of what are known as "adult situations" (nothing graphic or explicit) makes them appropriate only for older teens or adults.

Thursday Next is an operative for the LiteraTecs in an alternate universe where, as the blurb on the back cover of the first book says, "literature is taken very, very seriously." Sales at bookstores and discoveries of long-lost literary works cause near-riots and can alter the fate of elections; most people know Shakespeare's plays well enough to jump up and join a performance at a moment's notice; and as Thursday discovers, it's even possible to jump into and out of books. You could become an apprentice to Miss Havisham in the Jurisfiction police force, end up drastically altering the ending of Jane Eyre and earning Mr. Rochester's undying gratitude, or find yourself up against the Questing Beast from The Once and Future King. The level of research and detail is phenomenal and, for anyone who loves books, the fun is nonstop.

Now it's your turn. What books are you giving (or asking for) this Christmas?

(And don't forget to check our ever expanding "Recommended Book List" on BreakPoint Online's homepage.)

Kyrgyzstani Prison Victims

Prison_victims Here's another reminder that separation from an imprisoned parent is universal.

December 06, 2006

The Living Word, in Living Color

Though I suppose it is inevitable in a consumer-minded, marketing-overloaded society, the plethora of designer Bibles stocking the shelves of Christian bookstores has never struck me as a spiritually healthy trend. Does the sword of the Spirit really need to color coordinate with the belt of truth?

An op-ed at the Wall Street Journal does little to assuage my cynicism:

Always a dependable seller, the Bible is in the midst of a boom. Christian bookstores had a 25% increase in sales of Scriptures from 2003 to 2005, according to statistics gathered by the Phoenix-based Evangelical Christian Publishers Association, a trade group. General-interest bookstores, while declining to give figures, have also seen increasingly strong sales. "Bibles are a growth area for us and we're giving them more space in our stores," said Jane Love, religion buyer for Barnes & Noble. "It's partly because of the way they've evolved over the last three or four years."

Indeed, publishers like Thomas Nelson; Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Zondervan; and Tyndale House in Carol Stream, Ill.--which together represent an estimated 80% of the Bible market--have gone far beyond offering the Scriptures between black, burgundy, navy or white covers.

"For a long time the Bible was just the Bible," noted Kevin O'Brien, director of Bibles at Tyndale House. "You put it out there and people bought it. They didn't ask about the options, because there weren't any options. But now, especially in evangelical circles, people are seeing their lives not just in color but high-definition color, and they want the Bible to fit in with that. This is not your mother's Bible."

A fair argument could be made that, as long as the words of God are kept intact, little harm comes from packaging them in stylish designs or alongside demographically targeted commentary. And there may even be some merit to the idea that we should offer as many reasons as possible for more people to read the Scripture.

Clearly, however, publishers have the most to gain by flooding the market with an array of Bible options. This is not a danger in and of itself, yet tie-dyed covers and additional themed content seem a distraction from the powerful, eternal message of God tucked in between.

Perhaps this is somewhat symbolic of the larger culture, which offers all manner of entertainment and excess that can deter us from knowing true fellowship with God.

Behind the screen, part 2

In response to a conversation going on in the comments section under my post on Ted Slater's recent reflections on movies (I seem to be stumping for the Greatest Overuse of Prepositional Phrases and Hyperlinks in a Single Sentence Award), Ted has weighed in as follows:

Please note that I am condemning nobody in my post. I am casting no stones. . . . Please note that the term I used -- "distracted" -- has no moral sense to it in the least.

It is so simple to slip into the extreme here -- you think people either LOVE the movie or HATE it; those who love it are nonjudgmental because the topic is the incarnation, while those who hate it are holier-than-thou hypocrites.

I make it difficult for some people in that I am in neither camp.

My initial post is perhaps too subtle for most readers. I am not condemning. I am not saying that she'd be better of having an abortion than having the child. I'm not saying to boycott the movie.

What I *am* saying is that what I know about this unchaste actress playing the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary will likely affect my engagement with the movie.

Thanks for coming by, Ted, and I do see your point. . . .

Continue reading "Behind the screen, part 2" »

Underground Bible

Biblesmall So, what were nearly 3,800 people waiting in line for forty minutes for one day last month? Yet another video gaming system? Nope. Tickets to see the Rolling Stones or U2 (you knew I had to throw that in there)? Wrong again.

They waited in line in Washington, D.C., to enter an underground museum to see . . . the Bible. But not just your average NIV, ESV, NASV, or KJV. The Sackler Gallery drew nearly 10,000 visitors over Thanksgiving weekend to its "In the Beginning: Bibles before the Year 1000" exhibit, which runs through January 7, 2007.

According to the Washington Post (H/T Weblog),

The show follows the development of the Christian Bible from its earliest forms on scrolls and scraps of papyrus to its consolidation in book form. The Sackler organized the show with the Bodleian Library at Oxford University and borrowed the rarely seen objects from two dozen prestigious institutions. The British Library, the Holy Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai in Egypt and the Israel Museum were among the lenders.

The 70 artifacts also require careful study; pages and fragments are written in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Armenian, Coptic and other languages. "The texts are somewhat in the realm of artifacts and relics. That is all a great draw," [museum director] Ulak said.

Besides the scholars, officials said, the show is attracting Sunday school and other church groups, as well as ethnic groups whose cultural history is represented in the show. ...

With the Bibles, Ulak said, "we are bringing in what I think is an expanded audience from our usual group." ...

In other words, the Bible is drawing in the world -- funny how it works that way. So, if you happen to be in Washington, D.C., between now and January 7, I recommend you go check out "In the Beginning." I'm trying to get my colleagues at BreakPoint/Wilberforce Forum to take an "outing" there. Maybe we'll run into each other.

Life, Liberty, and . . .

“What do you do and how do you do it?” the homeless Chris Gardner asked a man in a Ferrari. The man, who turned out to be a top broker on Wall Street, noticed Chris’s determination to make a better life for himself and introduced him to a few of his friends. Chris found himself an a competitive training program at Dean Witter.

Over 20 years later, Chris is now the owner and CEO of a brokerage firm and author of The Pursuit of Happyness—a title which will make its way from the printed page to the motion picture on December 15th. Will Smith plays Chris, the single homeless dad who, despite being forced to relocate from his San Francisco apartment to public restrooms, strives for a better life for himself and his five-year-old son (played by Will’s real son Jaden).

I have no idea if this “rags to riches” yarn will turn out to be a blockbuster, but maybe it’s worth a Friday night. And if you have time, you might want to purchase a second ticket to watch another homeless father (and mother) and their young son camping out in another lowly place.

Taking the Cross out of the Chapel

In today's "BreakPoint" commentary, Mark Earley talks about the decision by Gene R. Nichol, president of the College of William and Mary, to remove the gold cross that stood at the altar at the campus's Wren Chapel.

Founded in 1693, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia—my alma mater—is the second-oldest college in the United States after Harvard. Like Harvard, William and Mary was founded for explicitly Christian purposes: The Royal Charter listed the training of "ministers of the gospel" and the propagation of the Christian faith among the "western Indians" among the school's founding purposes.

... Nichol ordered that the cross be removed from the altar. His goal was to "make the Wren Chapel less of a faith-specific" place and to "make it more welcoming" to people of "all faiths."

When Nichol received numerous complaints from students and alumni and criticisms from Virginia newspapers, he switched gears -- on his rationalization for removing the cross, that is.

Nichol offered another rationale: that the cross was not part of the original design of the chapel, and removing it is in keeping with the restoration of the Wren Chapel. This is my favorite, really.

This concern for William and Mary’s history here is, at best, selective. The concern for the "original" William and Mary is limited simply to architecture: the Wren Chapel being restored to its original design. But if returning to originality were really the main concern, then there would be a discussion going on about returning William and Mary to its original mission of training ministers of the Gospel and propagating the Christian faith. That discussion is not occurring.

Read the rest of the commentary and discuss it here. And follow the efforts of Save the Wren Cross, which is petitioning Nichols to reverse his decision. They also ask whether Nichols will next scrub the alma mater song, which includes a stanza that calls out to "God, our Father" to hear the voices of William & Mary students and calls on God to "bless the College of our fathers" and to "never let her die".

Give Sly a Chance

Rockybalboa "I know Rocky 5 disappointed a lot of people. I felt the same way about it and that was gnawing away at me everytime people said to me they liked the first four but... When the option of Rocky came up I thought the time was right to do another one, just to make sure it was finished properly. That's just what life is like." -- Sylvester Stallone

I know I was biting, cynical, suspicious, and maybe too harsh in my last post about the new Rocky Balboa movie coming out December 22. I'm not going to back off too much in the point I was making about being discerning; not being sucked in because you, as a Christian, are being courted; and not giving a pass because a film (or TV show, or book, etc.) is courting the "faith market."

What I didn't point out well, what was hidden underneath my many sarcastic remarks about the cutesy soundbites in the Citizenlink article, was that we should go in to the movie with a critical mind to allow the story to play out -- rather than with a preconceived notion of "Oh, this is going to be great because did you hear all those wonderful things Sly said?" (think Facing the Giants: good intentions, not so hot product). That is, go ahead and give the story a chance without preconceived ideas, as you should with every movie you see.

Why am I bringing this up again? Paul Lauer of Motive Entertainment commented yesterday about the motive -- haha ... no? -- of his work in promoting Rocky Balboa.

... Jesus used parables (the things of the day), and I believe He’s called me (and many others) to do the same. I’ve had the blessing to work on films that I believe can be USED as preaching and teaching tools, in a parable sense. I’ve convinced the movie studios to provide (and pay for) materials to enable pastors and youth pastors to use at no charge. Yes, the studios see the promotional value, and that’s why they allow it. But the Church, for its part, has the benefit of being able to use, at THEIR descretion, valuable, inspirational tools and images to drive home a Gospel message. There are many Christian publishers who serve the Church with books, images, videos, music, and even movies (all for a fee) to enhance worship and enable the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Few pastors would suggest these are not important to the Body of Christ. We’re trying to do the same. And almost everything we offer is free. ... Please continue to pray that God would give us favor in Hollywood to influence the entertainment that is being distributed to billions of people worldwide. God wants to be there, and He’s calling many of us to be part of that Plan. We’re on the same team.

Paul, first, let me publicly apologize for possibly hurting your work; that wasn't my intention. I likely will see Rocky Balboa: 1) because there's a nostalgia element for this Gen Xer; 2) because as Sly said in the opening quote of this post, the last installment was decidedly disappointing so I'm hoping for a better ending; and 3) because there is an apparent intention by the filmmakers to tell a good story. And that's what drives me into the theater or movie rental store. I do hope the new Rocky does exactly that, and not in some beat you over the head with an idea approach as some lesser movies may do. If the story is good, the truth will make itself apparent. And as I've seen it, that truth can come in unlikely places, for example, The Machinist, Magnolia and Road to Perdition. The film doesn't always have to be like Diary of a Mad Black Woman (though I enjoyed that one too -- Perry did a great job). And I appreciate that the filmmakers garnered a PG rating for Rocky Balboa.

I remember briefly meeting Paul Lauer at a D.C. screening of The Passion of the Christ a couple of years ago. (Paul, thanks again for making it possible for Prison Fellowship staffers to attend that screening.) I appreciate your work and vision (including promoting Angel Tree with the new two-disc DVD release of The Polar Express -- stay tuned to Friday's "BreakPoint"). Hollywood is exactly where Christians ought to be.

And as far as quotes go, making "sure [the Rocky series] was finished properly. That's just what life is like" is a lot more meaningful and real than some of those bites from the teleconference Stallone conducted earlier. I think he gets it. But again, as long as Sly doesn't remake Rhinestone, I think we're good.

Nabbing Christmas

'Tis the season for...stealing from children? You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch!

The stories have been popping up all over the place: Gifts intended for needy children shamelessly stolen. Tonight, the local news reported on the latest theft, Angel Tree gifts, already wrapped and tagged. It's enough to sour that merry holiday feeling pretty quickly. I had been basking in the generosity of mankind today, having lost my wallet in between buying gift tags for my own Angel Tree gifts and dropping them at the shipping store, then returning to the gift tag outlet to find that some honest soul had turned it in, everything intact. Joy to the world, peace on earth.

And then, bah humbug.

But that's not the whole story. Though the online version of the news report doesn't tell you this, the church members told another station that they would replace all the gifts. Most of our Angel Tree churches sign up for as many children as they can handle, so this is probably an extra sacrifice for them, but when interviewed, they were upbeat, refusing to be discouraged by the selfish actions of a few thieves. O come, all ye faithful.

And isn't that, in essence, the Christmas story? Into a dark and sinful world, God sent a bright Morning Star. When hopelessness and lawlessness abounded, Righteousness slipped quietly into history. "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, in what has become my favorite Christmas hymn:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men."

December 05, 2006

Words of Choice

The abortion debate has long hinged upon an obvious tension of vocabulary, with euphemisms and abstractions largely defining the issue. Unsurprisingly, this mangling of terms appeared in the recent Supreme Court oral arguments on the partial-birth abortion ban, as Nat Hentoff observes:

In his essay "Politics and the English Language," Orwell said, "What is above all needed (in honest speaking) is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way about." During the two hours, I often heard references to "fetal demise." What they were actually talking about, some of us would say, is the killing of a human being.

That plain intent of abortion slipped in briefly when Solicitor General Paul Clement, speaking for the government, said the important issue is whether this form of abortion "is to be performed in utero or when the child is halfway outside the womb." (A child? Where?) Justice John Paul Stevens quickly interrupted: "Whether the fetus is more than halfway out," he corrected the solicitor general.

"Some of the fetuses, I understand in the procedure," Justice Stevens added, "are only 4 or 5 inches long. They're very different from fully formed babies." Babies had again crawled into the discussion but not for long. The abortion procedure at issue is D&X, intact dilation and extraction, which removes babies from existence. Years ago, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who was for abortion rights, nonetheless called this D&X procedure, "only minutes from infanticide."

Words are vital to public discussions. And this is one, at least, where simply attempting to lean upon the glossary of science does not clear up muddy waters. Words like "fetus" may carry no greater scientific weight than synonyms like "unborn child," yet the psychological difference is profound.

This is not a natural distinction, however. It would seem that people -- mothers in particular -- would have to be conditioned to think of the entity in a womb as something other than, less than a child. How much easier to terminate a fetus than destroy a baby.

In debating partial-birth abortion specifically, the entire dispute appears to be built upon the use of terms -- including "partial-birth" itself. Medical questions are present, but they are not the source of the real controversy. Thus it becomes critical to ask ourselves, what is abortion, really? Hint: it's not just a "choice."

A Country of a Thousand Hills

An important Nobel peace prize has been awarded to Muhammad Yunnus and the Grameen Bank for extending credit to poor people. It’s called micro-credit opportunities, and is a practical way to help the poor pull themselves out of poverty by starting small businesses. If you’re interested to learn more about micro-enterprise, click here.

You might have already read about Prison Fellowship Rwanda’s restorative work with Rwandans following the 1994 genocide where close to a million people were massacred, but you might not know about the exciting economic developments taking shape there.

Bishop John Rucyahana and his wife Harriet have helped women from different tribes build micro-enterprises together, which help restore relations between them and keep them from starving.

The business is called The Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, and if you’re a coffee connoisseur like I am, you might want to consider buying this delicious coffee. If you don’t drink coffee, these hard working entrepreneurs sell hand woven Peace Baskets too. Your purchase will support economic freedom, which will help restore a nation devastated by hate and chaos, one person at a time.

Sometimes there’s a happy ending

A hearty round of applause to Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, who "hit the roof" when he heard about the county's ban on home- or church-prepared meals for the homeless, and promptly lifted it.

"For goodness sake," Chairman Gerald E. Connolly said yesterday, "the tradition of church suppers -- whether for the homeless or for the congregation -- goes back hundreds of years. We're not going to outlaw that in Fairfax County."

Now that's what I call a public servant, in the best sense of that much abused term. (H/T Leslie Carbone.)

Wilberforce and Bentham

Catherine Claire has quoted Ramsey regarding the news that Wilberforce worked with Jeremy Bentham, indicating that this is a good model for us. Honestly, I don't know if the parallel works or not since "philosophical opposites" doesn't necessary mean moral opposites. Bentham's utilitarianism led him to postulate moral laws based on "what works for the greatest number of people" without regard to Scripture. But I haven't read enough of Bentham to know what specific moral laws he claimed were "still true" using his criteria. The only way the Bentham/Obama parallel would work is if Bentham -- while opposing slavery -- neverthess supported policies that resulted in the deaths of millions of innocents, or supported gay marriage (now there's an "it doesn't work" situation if I ever heard one...) -- as does Obama.

As far as Catherine's objection to my using the term "unbeliever," I guess I don't understand why: it's not perjorative, just factual. There are about 4 billion people in the world who would identify themselves as "not Christian" (but Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, etc.). There are also, sadly, many people who think they are Christians but are not (Jesus said, when they appear before Him claiming to have done lots of good works in His name, that He "never knew them"). Generally, we understand this latter category as those who have believed in a "different gospel" or a "different Jesus" -- to use Paul's terminology. It's not "mean" to point out these distinctions; it's loving, since faith in Jesus Christ -- the God/Man and our Savior -- is the only path from spiritual death to spiritual life. When I run across people who call themselves Christian, yet by their own admission they believe only in a "good moral man" Jesus, or a "wise human teacher" Jesus, I know there is a very good chance that they have been deceived. I obviously can't see into their hearts to know for certain, but I can challenge them to trust in the real Jesus, not the stripped down version they know.

The ideology of ’condomism’

Jennifer Roback Morse has an excellent article on NRO this morning about how "condomism" has grown into an ideology for many, and how the appointment of abstinence advocate Dr. Eric Keroack as head of the Office of Population Affairs has exposed (again) the deep divide between those who subscribe to that ideology and those who question it:

Evidently, Keroack has given lectures in which he claims that there are long-term emotional costs to non-marital sexual activity. According to Amanda Schaffer, writing in Slate, Keroack said this: “People who have misused their sexual faculty and become bonded to multiple persons will diminish the power of oxytocin to maintain a permanent bond with an individual.”

Schaeffer cites this as an example of outrageous claims that Keroack makes to “scare the bejesus out of kids to convince them to remain abstinent.” But I think her outrage reveals the zeal of condomist ideology. No known contraceptive method eliminates the risk of being emotionally wounded by inappropriate sex. Therefore, condomists must stamp out discussion of negative consequences of sexual activity that can’t be handle with contraception.

Read more.

December 04, 2006

When God was one of us

[B]ut whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. -- Mark 10:43-45

Is it not almost unbelievable that the Creator, on whose freedom and power we all depend, should allow himself to be bound, and to lie in helpless weakness in the straw? -- John Stott

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

Behind the screen

I've joined in the debate at Boundless's The Line over Ted Slater's recent post on movies:

I do love movies. I avoid a lot of them after reading their reviews on MovieGuide or PluggedIn, but when I finally do sit down in front of one in the theater or my home, I tend to lose myself in the story and characters.

Sometimes, though, I'm distracted by something I've discovered about one of the actors. . . .

And now I find myself anticipating being distracted if I watch The Nativity Story. I was surprised to see that it was directed by the same woman who brought us the quite vulgar Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown. Now I'm further distracted to find out that the 16-year-old actress who played Mary is pregnant by her 19-year-old boyfriend.

Go here to read the rest of Ted's post and, if you feel so inclined, to throw in your two cents.

RE: Warren/Obama (deja vu)

Diane, I'm grateful for the evident heart you have for the furtherance of the Gospel and that its message would not be polluted. Oh that we would all care so deeply about the Gospel message.

But I do disagree with you on this issue regarding Warren/Obama. I appreciate what commenter Ramsay had to say of William Wilberforce:

When I heard that some folks were upset with Warren’s collaboration with Obama, I was immediately reminded of William Wilberforce. As Wilberforce biographer Kevin Belmonte says:

"One of the secrets of Wilberforce’s success was his capacity for bridge building. During his career, he often joined with philosophical opponents in pursuit of common goals. Abolition was one such instance; his prison reform work with the Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham was another. Wilberforce and Bentham subscribed to very different worldviews, but to Wilberforce this did not preclude the possibility of collaboration. 'Measures, not men,” was one of his favorite sayings.';

Have you considered why it might have been appropriate for Wilberforce to collaborate with the likes of Bentham but not for Warren to cooperate with Obama?

Ramsay does well to remind us of this. Diane, you have said:

For those who argue we "need" unbelievers to help in the fight, I couldn't disagree more. As one missionary put it, "God's will done God's way never lacks God's supply." If God's not in the mission, then it's doomed to fail. And compromising with evil is a pretty good way to guarantee that God won't be in it!!

I think this argument fails on two levels. (But before I begin, a caveat: I think we need to be careful tossing around the word unbeliever here. Personally I don't know where these folks stand before God, certainly many of them profess faith). First, I think God calls us to be shrewd/innocent people (Mt. 10:16) and that may mean working for good with people whose motivation is different from ours even as we maintain our own personal convictions and innocence. Working with them doesn't necessarily mean compromising our convictions. The goal with the AIDS crisis is multifaceted: to relieve suffering and stop the spread of this disease (which is a visible demonstration of the kingdom working) and as Christians, to share the Gospel message, also with words.

AIDS is indeed a crisis. I did not begrudge the relief workers of other faiths, or no faith, or questionable faith, when they came to the relief of those who had been devastated by the tsunami or Katrina. I rejoiced that people in desperate need were being helped. Was I even more excited when I saw Christians at the forefront of this cause, championing it and bringing the Gospel in both word and deed? Of course, this is where Christians should be, out in front in the worst of situations, boldly dispensing God's care.

Continue reading "RE: Warren/Obama (deja vu)" »

AIDS and the Church

When I read the response from “Puzzled” to my recent post on World AIDS Day, I had to check my calendar. To see if it was 2006—or 1986. Since I’m incredulous that this type of thinking still exists in the Church, I’m choosing to believe that the commenter is playing devil’s advocate (to keep myself from mercilessly laying into these draconian ideas):

If the CDC is to be believed, AIDS is a result of HIV infection, which can only be procured through bodily fluids.

Therefore, apart from testing all donations to the blood banks, it is a result of people's own choice. They "reap in their flesh the results of their disobedience."

Now, we -are- to fight against the results of the Fall. But to elevate a self-imposed disease, self-imposed specifically as an intentional rebellion against God (Romans 1) to a high level of crisis overshadowing over valid ministries of the Church - is that wise or right?

So the victims of HIV/AIDS deserve their disease? And all of these victims made a voluntary "choice"? Babies who contracted HIV from their infected mothers; virgin girls raped by superstitious men who believe having sex with them would “cure” them of AIDS; orphans whose parents died from AIDS; children and women enslaved by sexual traffickers; patients who received tainted blood transfusions. Tough for them, right?

Oh, no, no, no, you say. I didn’t mean them. Uh-huh. Okay. So those hundreds of thousands of Africans who contracted HIV/AIDS and may have had sex outside marriage in one form or another do? Tough cookies? Let them die painful deaths? Can you honestly say, Yes, I, as a Christian, could not care less about their condition—caring for them is not a “valid ministry” of the Church?

(Lord, hold my tongue.)

Who exactly do you believe qualifies to be the “least of these”? Those following every jot and tittle of the letter of the law without error? Or the sick, the lost, the dying? If one is hungry, you feed him; sick, you heal her; naked, you clothe him; in prison, you visit her. If the Church does not do this, should we leave it up to utilitarians measuring the “worth” of their lives? You don’t wait for the least and last of us to achieve perfect piety before approving them as a “valid ministry.” Thank God He didn’t wait for us to do so before becoming “valid” candidates for His mercy and grace. None of us—none of us would ever qualify then to enter the kingdom. Even after we’ve repented, we are still imperfect and still sin.

And in the dire situation, the rampant spread of AIDS, taking place in Africa—and Asia, and Russia, and elsewhere—we, as believers, should not wait for them to “get their lives right” (in our own eyes) before offering them the grace of God in the form of medicine, food, clothes, etc. (“Oops, you’re about to die in the next second? Ah, too bad—you’re not living ‘right.'”). There, but by the grace of God, would have gone any of us by virtue of our birthplace—“where you live should not determine whether you live or die.”

The Soup Nazi approach (“No grace for you!”) has no place in the Church. My word, if it did, Prison Fellowship would certainly be out of business. (“Kiddo, your dad chose a life of crime. Tough cookies—no Christmas for you. And Dad, or Mom, well, you can just languish behind bars.”) Ugh. Excuse me. I need to go wash a bad taste out of my mouth.

Kindergarten Cross-Dressing

Well, I didn't think much could top adults in NYC being able to adopt their gender based on their feelings. But it looks like 5-year-olds in Oakland, Ca., are now being encouraged to cross-dress. Yes, that's right...boys donning pigtails and pink jumpers, if they feel so inclined. The same goes for girls who have a hankering for sporting boyish bobs and clothing.

The worst part...some psychologists are encouraging children at this young age to "be who they are," by cross-dressing in public.

This is outrageous considering the conclusions of a 30-year-study by Dr. Kenneth Zucker, head of the gender-identity service at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada.

Zucker, a psychologist, has worked with about 500 young children who have shown tendencies toward wanting to live as the opposite sex, also known in the field as "gender variant." He has discovered that 80 percent of these young children end up growing out of the behavior, while 15-20 percent continue to show anxiety about their gender.

There's no denying that homosexuality is mysterious, and for those struggling with it, the feelings are powerful and confusing. But this growing trend among parents to let their kindergartners cross-dress is the product of a culture that refuses to set and stand by rules (what five-year-old gets to tell his parents what he is going to wear to school?)

Continue reading "Kindergarten Cross-Dressing" »

Courtesy vs. political correctness

Mona Charen makes an excellent point this morning: "The notion of good manners has been trampled almost to death. All we have in its place is sniveling political correctness. What a vulgar age we live in!"

I've actually been thinking about this subject for a little while. We easily forget the power of the old-fashioned virtue that C. S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers called "courtesy." I've seen so many people who even act proud of their bad manners and call them "honesty." But I think forgetting courtesy, as Mona Charen implies, was exactly what made it possible, perhaps even necessary, for the political correctness we often deplore to rush in to fill the void. If we can't impose our own internal controls, external forces will impose them on us.

The scary thing about those external controls is that in general, they're not nearly as effective at making us restrain our evil impulses. (Isn't that right, Michael Richards?) When we act courteously, we're doing it out of respect for the dignity and worth of other people, not out of fear that we might get in trouble for not saying the right thing. It may seem like a small distinction, but it's not.

Along the same lines, I was struck the other day by this Miss Manners column (see second Q&A) about a man with Alzheimer's and the importance of simple good manners when communicating with him. It's a rather sad commentary on our age that a man in this condition understands this so much better than many unimpaired people. Miss Manners, as she so often does, puts it well: "Contrary to popular belief, manners are far from superficial. Once ingrained, they become part of people's humanity, as demonstrated by your father's retaining them when so much else has gone."

A Book Recommendation

As you are shopping for gifts this Christmas, I have a recommendation for your Christian friends and family members, Henry Blackaby's Experiencing God Day-By-Day Devotional. It comes both in a small book format (just the devotions) and a journal format, which is the one I've been using for the past year. I really like the journal since, as I write in response to the daily reading, it forces me to consider how Blackaby's insights reflect upon my own spiritual life. I must admit, he's a lot like Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest) in that he most often uses "the goad" on me. His wisdom shines a light into those areas of my spritual life and my walk before the Lord that need to be improved. But beyond the "corrective" aspect of these devotions, Blackably also offers such beautiful words that remind us how much God loves us, how wonderful our Savior is, and how joyful it is to truly live for him.

December 01, 2006

Against abortion, or for life?

One more small point arising from the Warren and Obama matter (although I'm starting to wonder if we've beaten them both into the ground):

Diane mentioned a commenter, Dennis, who wrote in praise of Warren. Here is his comment in full:

I urge all critics of Rick Warren to reconsider. As a member of Saddleback Church, I can tell you that Pastor Rick cares only about getting people into heaven. He is not into power, fame or fortune. He gives away 90% of his income and sees power and fame as unattrative, but powerful tools, giving to him by God, to save souls. He feels a great responsibility to use all that God has given him to reach the unsaved--including those who are sick, orphaned, and widowed. He is certainly against abortion, but is more interested in telling the world what the church is for (saving souls and caring for the sick), that what the church is against. So I urge you my brothers and sisters, I know you have good intentions, but be careful before you judge the heart of a good and Godly man you don't really know. Lastly, Obama may be pro-abortion, but is that a good reason to reject his efforts to support the Church in fighting AIDS? Do we reject a man because he has sin? Who among us is completely without sin? If because of his sin, Obama is of no value to the cause to fight AIDS, then none of us are worthy of serving others, because we all have sin in our lives.

I'm sure Rick Warren would be honored to hear a member of his congregation speak so highly of him, Dennis. But I want to take a closer look at your statement that "[he] is more interested in telling the world what the church is for . . . [than] what the church is against." I think we need to be very, very careful to avoid the trap of framing the abortion debate this way. That's much the same way that the pro-choice movement would frame it, and for good reason -- it allows them to portray pro-lifers as the "Thou shalt not" types that nobody wants to be like or hang around. I'm sure you know this, Dennis, but we could all do with a reminder once in a while: Belief in the sanctity of human life is not a negative thing, and we play right into our opponents' hands if we portray it as such.

And whichever side of the Warren/Obama issue we're on, let's not make the mistake of trivializing the abortion issue. The matter of Christians who turn a blind eye to the evils of abortion is just as serious as the matter of Christians who turned a blind eye to slavery once was. These people may be sound and worth listening to on other issues; they may even have perfectly good reasons in their own minds for the compromises they're making. But our own minds are notoriously ready to rationalize whatever happens to be most convenient for us to believe. Which is why we must not back down from calling our fellow Christians -- with understanding and humility -- to base ALL their convictions on the principles of God's Word rather than their own feelings, desires, and needs.

RE: Warren and Obama (Again)

I'm glad that this topic is still generating some traffic because I think the issue of whether or not a prominent pastor is compromising with evil in order to "do good" is an important one. A member of Saddleback wrote to urge us not to judge his pastor. Yet, I would warn that member that it's a dangerous thing to put any pastor on a pedestal and act as if he is no longer accountable for his actions. That's a surefire recipe for disaster, for him personally and for his church. No matter how godly Rick Warren may be, he is not infallible; and when he invited Obama to speak at Saddleback, he has given good cause for Bible-believing Christians to cry "Foul!" and for unbelievers to gloat, "See, I told you they're all hypocrites!"

For all those who use the old excuse, "there are no perfect people," I would agree. But that's not an excuse to disregard the command in 2 Corinthians 6:14 not to bind ourselves to unbelievers. (Most pastors agree that this means Christians cannot marry non-Christians; but it has wider applications, too. And entering into long-term associations with unbelievers to fight AIDS is a bona fide concern.) God knows we're imperfect, but He gave us this command anyway. So I don't think He's going to buy the "none of us are perfect" excuse for disobeying His Word.

For those who argue we "need" unbelievers to help in the fight, I couldn't disagree more. As one missionary put it, "God's will done God's way never lacks God's supply." If God's not in the mission, then it's doomed to fail. And compromising with evil is a pretty good way to guarantee that God won't be in it!!

Finally, for those who use the "doing good" defense. Doing good is NOT an absolute good. In fact, when Christians stand before the Bema seat of Christ for Him to evaluate our works (not sin, that was dealt with on the Cross), He will decide what is "gold, silver and precious stones" and what is "wood, hay, and stubble" (1 Cor 3:10-15). The first will bring reward, the latter will be burned up. Why? Because a Christian's "good works" must be done in the filling of the Holy Spirit, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and in accordance with God's divine plan to qualify as "good" in God's eyes. The rest is just overt religious activity that God condemns throughout Scripture.

Continue reading "RE: Warren and Obama (Again)" »

Never Mind (With Facts)

Re: Travis's and my exchange on Dennis Prager's comments about Representative-elect Keith Ellison's plans to take the oath of office by swearing on a Koran instead of a Bible. While Travis and I came to a meeting of the minds, there was one thing missing: an actual controversy. It seems that Prager either got his facts -- as in, all of them -- wrong or made the whole controversy up.

According to the folks at Think Progress (warning: flagrant liberalism on display),

The swearing-in ceremony for the House of Representatives never includes a religious book. The Office of the House Clerk confirmed to ThinkProgress that the swearing-in ceremony consists only of the Members raising their right hands and swearing to uphold the Constitution. The Clerk spokesperson said neither the Christian Bible, nor any other religious text, had ever been used in an official capacity during the ceremony. (Occasionally, Members pose for symbolic photo-ops with their hand on a Bible.)

There's a picture of Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Wheaton College grad, taking the oath with his hand on that object holy to millions of Evangelicals: the rostrum.

Thus, the Koranic threat to our way of life joins the murderous plot against the Vice President and soon-to-be former Secretary of Defense hatched by the New York Times's travel section as reasons to be thankful that someone is watching out for us, even if they're apparently blind or at least illiterate.

Via Matthew Yglesias

World AIDS Day

Aidsribbon You may have noticed the headlines today: It's World AIDS Day. In the United States, our president said,

"America leads the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and through the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief [PEPFAR] we are combating the disease in countries around the world," he said.

He cited the New Partners Initiative, in which the US supports faith-based and community organizations that offer health care in the developing world, "so that we can reach more people more effectively."

In addition, he said, the United States and other countries are promoting a comprehensive strategy to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"This includes the ABC approach encouraging abstinence, being faithful, and using condoms, with abstinence as the only sure way to avoid the sexual transmission of HIV/AIDS," he said.

"America is blessed with scientific knowledge and compassionate citizens, and we are guided by our founding conviction that each life has matchless value. On World AIDS Day and throughout the year, we stand with our friends and partners around the world in the urgent struggle to fight this virus, comfort those who are affected, and save lives."

One way you can take part is to call your senators and representative and urge them to fully fund President Bush's $2.8 billion request for PEPFAR and the Senate's $700 million allocation for the Global Fund. In addition -- or substitution, if you feel so inclined -- make a generous year-end donation to a non-profit that ministers to AIDS victims, like World Vision or World Relief. But remember, "Rates of HIV infection continue to grow, with 4 million new cases worldwide every year. The battle continues to be waged even in countries that were previously models of control." The small groups on the ground can't cover it all. That's an inescapable fact.

I think every bit of help counts. Here's a great way that one church answered the call to minister to Africa. See Christianity Today's HIV/AIDS coverage.