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February 28, 2007

For Your Convenience

Anthony Sacramone at First Things has put together a list of what Mark Shea calls "Shocking Revelations that shake Christianity to its very foundations," or SRTSCTIVF for short. In addition to Captain Nemo's discovery of Jesus', Mary Magdalene's, their son, Jude's, and their dog, Skippy's ossuaries, we can add

Jesus was a woman.

Jesus was a space alien and is buried in Japan.

Jesus survived the crucifixion and is buried in Kashmir.

Jesus was a Buddhist.

Jesus was a Muslim.

Jesus was a Mormon.

Jesus was a magician.

Jesus was a Gnostic.

Jesus was the son of Mary and a Roman solider.

Jesus never existed.

Jesus was never executed.

Jesus was married and had children.

Jesus was a social revolutionary when he was not a mere Mediterranean peasant.

Jesus was an itinerant visionary whose real teachings exist only in distorted, fragmented form.

Jesus was insane.

Continue reading "For Your Convenience" »

Slavery and abortion: A natural comparison or not?

I've known pro-choicers to get huffy when the similarities between abortion and slavery -- obvious similarities, to my mind -- are brought up. But this is the first time I've ever seen such a reaction from pro-lifers. (Scroll down to Tomi's and Lauren's comments.)

What do you think? Is the comparison out of bounds? Why or why not?

If It’s A War They Want...

You may have read Time magazine's cover story about pregnancy care centers, also known as crisis pregnancy centers. (Chuck talks about the story today on BreakPoint.)

Time describes an "investigation" by California Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reforms, in which callers posing as pregnant teenagers called pregnancy care centers. Waxman claims that 20 of 23 centers contacted gave "false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion" involving the abortion-breast cancer link, post-abortion fertility, and post-abortion depression.

Pro-life leaders suspect that Waxman (who never met an abortion he didn't like), in coordination with other pro-abortion congressmen, will shortly launch an attack on pregnancy care ceters in an effort to shut them down. Congress can do this by restricitng where pregnancy care centers may be located; cutting off federal funds for abstinence programs for teens (some 13 percent of pregnancy care centers receive such funding) and demanding "truth in advertising"--that is, forcing pregnancy care centers to advertise which services they don't offer--e.g., abortions. This is like insisting that Pizza Hut post large signs announcing, "We don't serve hamburgers here!"

According to LifeNews.com, pro-abortion Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York has already introduced legislation requiring the FTC to apply these phony "truth in advertising" standards to pregnancy centers (although not, apparently, to abortion clinics).

Continue reading "If It’s A War They Want..." »

Is James Cameron Fulfilling Prophecy?

While discussing the latest archaeological find, I mused aloud to my wife:

“Hon, I was just thinking...

"The Gnostics pointed to the ‘mystical’ Jesus,

"Arius pointed to the ‘created’ Jesus,

"Mohammed pointed to the ‘prophet’ Jesus,

"Higher criticism pointed to the ‘historical’ Jesus,

"Liberal theology pointed to the ‘life-model’ Jesus,

"Postmodernism points to the ‘experiential’ Jesus,

"Dan Brown pointed to the ‘mythical’ Jesus,

"Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori points to ‘mother’ Jesus,

"And now, James Cameron is pointing to the ‘entombed’ Jesus. ... That seems like an exploding trend in Jesuses, huh?"

To which my ever brilliant and lovely wife replied, "I wonder if that's what Jesus meant when he said, in latter times many will come saying ‘Look, here is the Christ!’"

"Hon, I think you’re on to something!"

(For a scholarly critique of the "Jesus Tomb," check out Dr. Ben Witherington’s analysis here.)

The Extraordinariness of Ordinariness

An article on the narcissism of today's college students and its causes and consequences, combined with the "Look at me! Look at me!" obsession we are bombarded with every time you open the paper, turn on the TV, or just hang out at the mall, got me to thinking about the extraordinariness of ordinariness.

A colleague and I were chatting recently about how even as Christians, particularly in a town like Washington -- where power (and identity) is found in who you know, what you know, and how many degrees you have -- it's difficult to sometimes remember whatever worth, dignity, and meaning we have ultimately comes from being children of God and made in His image. In His eyes, we are on a level playing field, all ordinary human beings, and yet extraordinarily created and loved by Him in order to love and serve Him and others.

Intellectually, I know this, and yet when I'm in meetings or at gatherings where everyone but me has written a book, held public office, is best friends with or is a celebrity or dignitary, the old tape starts playing in my head that says, "You're an average, ordinary, boring nobody."

Then something happens to kick me in the head, stop the tape and remind me of what true extraordinariness really is.

Continue reading "The Extraordinariness of Ordinariness" »

February 27, 2007

Closing the Gap

At The Plank, Jonathan Chait has a truly brilliant idea:

Barack Obama needs to make his campaign song this.

The logic is irresistible. The chorus, which is repeated approximately seven thousand times, sounds like his name--"Baby, you dropped Obama on me." If you hear the song, it makes you think of Obama, over and over again. Plus, of course, the song is really catchy.

It works thematically as well. Think about it--what are Obama's biggest political liabilities?

1) Perceived as "not black enough."

2) Too weak on national defense.

Now watch that video. It's nothing but African-Americans and warplanes dropping bombs! It's eerily on message, almost as if Obama's message team created that video specifically for his campaign.

It isn't only the junior Senator from the Land of Lincoln who could use a musical hand from the Gap Band. The "Christian Right" would be wise to consider either (or both) Gap Band classics as its musical standard.

Continue reading "Closing the Gap" »

Re: Mothers in Prison

Allalone For more about this tragic phenomenon, Nell Bernstein gives a compelling look at prison through the eyes of America's children. She offers a few more facts about the "by-products" of our criminal justice's "tough on crime" stance:

  • One in thirty-three American children—and nearly one in eight African American children—will go to sleep tonight denied access to a parent’s embrace, because that parent is incarcerated.
  • According to one study, 70 percent of children present at their parent’s arrest watched their parent being handcuffed and nearly 30 percent saw drawn weapons.

  • Almost two-thirds of children being raised by single grandmothers live in poverty—this is partly due to exorbitant phone charges, cost of travel and lodging for prison visits, over-priced vending machines in the visiting rooms, and money for commissary items.

  • Children who have the "luxury" of visiting their parents in prison are frequently subjected to long lines, humiliating searches, noisy visiting rooms, and limited access to food.

The Ultimate Gift of values

Abigailbreslin Fresh from her Oscar nomination, adorable little Abigail Breslin is appearing in a new movie opening March 9. This one looks like a sweet, feel-good family movie. Based on a short novel, The Ultimate Gift tells the story of a billionaire grandfather who realizes that he's made plans to pass his money on to his heirs, but that he's neglected to pass on his values. Granddad comes up with a plan, a series of tasks his grandson must complete which will instill granddad's values in the boy.

Instead of a Happy Meal toy, this movie's marketing tie-in is a kit, sold online, that is supposed to help families define their values, talk about them, and pass them on to the next generation. In an age when grandchildren often live far away from the grandparents and don't have the benefit of daily interaction and observance, families have to be more intentional about passing on the wisdom and values of one generation to another.

My grandfather wrote a short autobiography several years before he died. While I thought I knew him well, I learned new things about his hard work, his thriftiness and the sacrifices he and my grandma made in the early years of their marriage, and about his confident optimism that he could do things like install plumbing or build a garage. My cousins and I still talk about what a great thing it is to have this written history of our grandfather's life.

But the great thing about the idea in this movie is that the grandfather didn't just tell his grandson about things like bravery and an honest day's work. He made him go out and experience them. I think that's a lesson we can all benefit from. How are we helping those younger than us experience the things that build character in a person? Are we just trying to make things easier for the next generation, or are we trying to raise a generation of people who have learned what really matters in life?

(Photo courtesy of the Ultimate Gift website)

Mothers in prison

CNN's 360 aired a three-part story last week, putting a human face on prison statistics. The facts are not a surprise to those of us at Prison Fellowship.

  • 2.2 million Americans behind bars (actually, it's 2.3 now)
  • More people in prison than in any other country
  • Recidivism rates hovering around 50%
  • Tremendous growth in the number of women incarcerated, 70% of whom are mothers

This last statistic, and the children who are affected by it, are what struck the producer of the piece on CNN. Her description of the prison nursery and the little boy who thought he was being punished by having his mother put in jail are particularly poignant.

What is left unsaid is the sad reality that many of these women will lose their children altogether. With fathers who were never involved or are long gone, there is no other parent to care for many of these youngsters. If there are no extended family or willing friends to take care of the child while mom is in prison, mom may have her parental rights terminated and her children may be placed for adoption.

There is a fantastic opportunity here for the Church to get involved.

Continue reading "Mothers in prison" »

A little Lenten humor

Hat tip to Kansas City Catholic for posting Lenten Fare, a humorous look at how one might explain Ash Wednesday and Lent to a non-liturgical Christian (or a non-Christian). And before you head out on a road trip to see all of these signs, you should know about this website.

Living Among the Dead

A mission of mercy ... that's what Madre Antonia calls her work in Tijuana, Mexico. Known affectionately as "Madre" or "Mother," she lives where guards fear to tread ... the Tiajuana Penitentiary.

Yes, lives. Voluntarily.

"Home is where the heart is... even in prison" highlights her labors of love. Warning: it's convicting.

As a Christian, and one who makes a living pursuing criminal justice reform, I am challenged by her approach. Dwell among them. Now there is certainly a novel idea. So many times we look to government, to policies, to others to make the difference, but we should be challenged to begin first and foremost with ourselves. Hypothetical: If permitted, how many of us would clamor to be the first to freely take up residence in prison? And yet, in essence, isn't that what we are called to do?

"Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest." ~ John 4:35

Phat U.K. Battles Fat

I'm not one to pay much attention to the latest "reports" in the food world, but I couldn't help but ponder two unrelated but very similar topics in recent news.

It all began yesterday when I stumbled across the detailed life of Connor McCreaddie, an overweight eight year old in the U.K. Connor currently weighs in at 218 lbs. Yes, 2-1-8. But what sparked my attention most was not the weight, but the mother's response to officials when challenged about her care of her son: "he steals and hides food, frustrating [my] efforts to help him."

Then this story surfaced this morning.  Now, most of you know from my previous rantings that I greatly dislike a government that tries to micro-manage citizen's lives. This is no exception. His quote -- "Have you tried getting [McDonalds] banned? That’s the key" -- says it all. No, Prince Charles, that's not the key. Leave it alone.

If McDonald's is still in business, then it is the sole result of a customer base. If people don't care about the food they eat, than that's their problem. Of course, if the root of the issue is that the state ends up forking out the impending medical costs, then I suggest we start finding a solution there.

So after hearing all of this, what do you think?

The numbers are in

And the verdict is . . . Amazing Grace's opening weekend can safely be counted a success.

As would be expected for a movie that opened in only 791 theaters, as opposed to one or two thousand for most, the film came in tenth on the box-office list. But a better measure is the per-theater average, the amount collected at each theater where the film was playing. And that number shows Amazing Grace up there in contention with the box-office winners and ahead of almost every other film that opened this weekend. In other words, those who had the opportunity to see it were going. (The showing I went to on Saturday was well attended and the audience appeared to really get into and appreciate the film.) Bravo!

No, not THAT birthday

Perhaps you've heard that today, February 27, is the birthday of a beautiful, intelligent, classy lady. Happy birthday, Mom.

What, you thought I meant someone else? No way. I could never use the word classy for someone who tries to commandeer other people's dogs.

Weapons of Mass Distraction

First it was chimps with spears. Now this:

Chinese scientists have succeeded in implanting electrodes in the brain of a pigeon to remotely control the bird's flight, state media said.

Xinhua News Agency said the scientists at the Robot Engineering Technology Research Center at Shandong University of Science and Technology in eastern China used the micro electrodes to command the bird to fly right or left, and up or down.

The implants stimulated different areas of the pigeon's brain according to electronic signals sent by the scientists via computer, mirroring natural signals generated by the brain, Xinhua quoted chief scientist Su Xuecheng as saying . . .

I don't want to be thought of as an alarmist, but am I the only person who sees the threat to our way of life here? Imagine: a crack squadron of attack pigeons trained to drop their, err, payload on our major financial centers. The potential for economic disruption through loss of productivity and excessive dry-cleaning is simply too great. If there's a one percent chance that Columba livia can be used as a weapon against American interests, we must treat it as a certainty.

Boys and Shootouts

Jonathan Turley has an excellent piece in Sunday’s Washington Post titled “My Boys Like Shootouts. What’s Wrong With That?” The article makes some great points, and any male reader who doesn’t get a few laughs along the way needs to lighten up a bit. I’m afraid I cannot excerpt Turley’s article much, though, because I’m incapable of limiting the excerpts to a reasonable amount … it’s just that good, and readers should take the piece in, in its entirety. Turley’s points:

1. Boys naturally like playing with toy weapons.
2. There’s nothing wrong with boys playing with toy weapons.
3. So just let boys play with toy weapons already!

I couldn’t agree more. Believe me, my mother tried the “gun-free home” thing too. What a bummer that was. I still remember getting a suction-cup, target-shooting handgun game at my birthday party only to give it up to my mom after my friends left. What a sweet 15 minutes I enjoyed, though, when I snuck into my parents’ room later and shot those mugshot targets like an 8-year-old Dirty Harry.

My parents finally relented, by a (surely miraculous … must’ve been my tearful prayers) change of heart, which, of course, explains the toy Uzi that followed, not to mention the BB guns … and … um … the, uh, homemade (bottle-)rocket launcher. Now, I don’t necessarily want my own boys firing illegal bottle rockets around the neighborhood, but they’ve gotten pretty handy with their plastic Roman swords and homemade cardboard shields, and they enjoy chasing imaginary bad guys with their commando-carrying toy Blackhawk helicopter. But are they obsessed with weapons? Hardly. They’d rather be on their bikes or playing Backyard Football on the PC.

At any rate, I think that Turley inadvertently hints at something important about boys being allowed to play with toy weapons and act out combat.

Continue reading "Boys and Shootouts" »

February 26, 2007

Sign of the times

. . . when appearing in the V----- Monologues gives Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth the chance to step out of "the role of naughty girl." (Click on the link only if you don't mind seeing the name of the play spelled out.)

A ’precarious future’ for pro-life politics?

In part one of a debate on "Rudy's Chances" in today's New Republic, Michael Tomasky asks, "At the precise moment in history when [pro-lifers] think they might have a chance of getting Roe v. Wade overturned, do we really think they're going to trust the precarious future to a man who obstreperously supported partial-birth abortion?"

Excellent question. Read more for Tomasky's answer to it, and check TNR tomorrow for that of his debate partner, Fred Siegel.

Cavalry Sword Wielder Charged with ... Vigilance?

A lot of folks have seen this story by now, and -- at first blush -- we generally notice the humorous elements to it: Guy who lives with his mom hears a rape taking place upstairs, charges in with a sword, and confronts a neighbor who is ... watching a pornographic movie. So police charge Sword Guy. But, even as I can see the humor in it, I have to say that I’ll be annoyed if James Van Iveren (Sword Guy) gets any time for his actions, for two reasons: (1) As if we haven’t witnessed enough decline of chivalry and heroism, we are now going to imprison someone who genuinely thought he was helping an imperiled victim, and (2) if Porn Guy is loudly playing a recording of something that sounds like rape, then too-darned-bad if people hear it and logically conclude that he’s assaulting someone.

I can only hope that there is something else here unreported that resulted in the police properly charging Van Iveren. Otherwise, it just seems wrong. Remember, police officers do not have to actually charge someone for actions which are technically in violation of criminal law. They have "discretion," because, often, offenses are inadvertent or otherwise unworthy of prosecution. Sometimes, prosecution would actually create an injustice.

Is that what is going on here? I don't know. Perhaps the police officers are letting the complainant call the shots, which would be equally unfortunate. If Porn Guy wants Van Iveren charged, let him trudge down to the magistrate’s office and see if he can get a warrant issued himself.

Perfidious Columbia Watch

One day in late February 2004, a 30-year-old Iraqi Christian named Jourj found a note stuck to the windshield of his friend's car: "Be cautious, your day is approaching, oh traitors of Iraq and slaves of dollar," the message warned in Arabic. It was addressed to Jourj, his younger brother Tony, and the car's owner, Munir, all of whom were working as contractors at a U.S. military base south of Baghdad. A tall man with a broad smile, Jourj has a wife and two sons, now nine and four. He had gotten work as a satellite technician on the base through his uncle Danny, an Iraqi-American who served as a translator for U.S. forces. Now he was earning an average of $2,000 per month--more than he had made before the invasion.

But the warning from Iraqi insurgents was clear: Cut ties with the Americans or face retribution. Jourj consulted Tony and Munir. "I showed them the note and we agreed that we cannot simply stop working for the Americans," he recalls. "We had all sorts of commitments. I took an advance to do maintenance of the bathrooms, and tent after tent of soldiers wanted to have the decoder installed to watch Fox News and other American channels on television."

As Anna Husarka's piece in the latest New Republic continues:

Two weeks later, on the evening of March 5, Jourj and Tony piled into Munir's Opel and headed home from the base via a mostly deserted highway. Jourj was exhausted, so he took the back seat, where he slumped into a half-sleep; Tony sat on the passenger side in the front. Munir was going about 120 kilometers per hour, but suddenly he looked in his rearview mirror and noticed a car quickly gaining ground on them. "This is trouble," he murmured. "May God protect us." As the vehicle overtook them, bullets sprayed into Munir's car. Jourj was relatively unharmed; Munir was shot in the shoulder but survived. Tony, however, was killed.

Jourj, seeking to fulfill his commitment to the Americans, returned to work after burying his brother. After a phone call made it clear that his attackers weren't going to stop until they finished the job, he, his wife and their sons fled into Jordan. Next stop, Detroit (there's a huge Iraqi Christian community there).

Um, no.

Continue reading "Perfidious Columbia Watch" »

D.C. Does it Up Worship Style

Church Fascinating section in the Post today highlighting various places of worship across the greater D.C. area. If you've ever wanted to see the inside of a Hare Krishna temple or a Vietnamese Catholic church, take a peek, and make sure to watch the videos. You might be surprised by what "church" they mention first.

I Confess

Last week's Washington Post had an article on a new media campaign by the Archdiocese of Washington to bring Catholics back to confession. Throughout Lent, churches in the archdiocese will be open for confession for an hour and a half every Wednesday night. Brochures and wallet-sized cards, ads on public transportation and radio all remind the faithful that "The Light is Always On" and encourage them to return to the confessional.

Priests and sociologists of Catholicism have theorized about the drop for years. Is it because of a culture that tells us we aren't responsible for what we do wrong? Or could it be something less dark: that the traditional Saturday confession time has simply been gobbled up by youth soccer leagues and errand-mania? Or maybe something more dark: that we don't even know what sin is anymore?

Cornelius Plantinga, in his must-read book Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin defines sin this way:

Sin is not only the breaking of law but also the breaking of covenant with one's savior. Sin is the smearing of a relationship, the grieving of one's divine parent and benefactor, a betrayal of the partner to whom one is joined by a holy band . . . All sin has first and finally a Godward force. Let us say that a sin is any act -- any thought, desire, emotion, word or deed -- or its particular absence, that displeases God and deserves blame. Let us add that the disposition to commit sins also displeases God and deserves blame, and let us therefore use the word sin to refer to such instances of both act and disposition. Sin is a culpable and personal affront to a personal God . . . God hates sin not just because it violates his law, but, more substantively, because it violates shalom, because it breaks the peace, because it interferes with the way things are supposed to be.

Plantinga goes on to describe sin and spiritual health in terms of corruption and spiritual hygiene. Sin corrupts relationships between man and God, man and man, and man and nature. It despoils, or wrecks, the integrity or wholeness of shalom. Spiritual hygiene, on the other hand, fosters a wholeness and a spiritual maturity, and re-centers our focus on God and His purposes and plans, on loving Him and our neighbor and seeking first His kingdom.

Continue reading "I Confess" »

Somebody needs a spanking

Annoyance shot through my mind as I read about this proposed ban on spanking in California. In all honesty, all I see is someone taking a fairly legitimate question -- "What is “reasonable” spanking as opposed to “unreasonable” hitting -- and attempting to apply the standard one-size-fits-all approach: Let's pass a bill.

First let me begin by saying this: I am a result of the "spanking" generation. While those children of the '60s grew up living the Spock mentality (yeah, big winner there), I grew up in the '80s with a set of parents who most certainly did not "spare the rod." And guess what!? I'm alive, and well! Go figure.

Now, I in no way mean to diminsh the concern there is for children who truly are in abusive situations. But come on, people, it's easy to recognize a parent that is in control (spanking responsibly and purposely) and one that's not (abuse). So here's what I want to know, is the real problem people have with spanking about the fine line between reasonable punishment and abuse?

Did I mention that along with being spanked I was home-educated? Gasp. Horror. Along the lines of the spanking controversy, this article I found more amusing than annoying. Now here's a thought: do I dare make the argument that home-educated children are less likely to be spanked because they are more well behaved? And why are they more well behaved? Because they've been spanked. Oh boy.

Continue reading "Somebody needs a spanking" »

February 25, 2007

Something to think about during the season of glitz

Academyaward If you're planning to watch the Oscars tonight -- and let's face it, lots of us enjoy a little glitz now and then. I confess to an unregenerate and unwholesome longing to see Jennifer Hudson get on that stage and give Simon Cowell a verbal poke in the eye, myself -- I recommend first reading this caustic but profoundly truthful little piece. All of us, celebrities and plain Janes alike, could do with a reminder of just how ephemeral even the greatest fame can be, and how today's Z-lister may be tomorrow's A-lister -- or vice versa.

Maybe, if you're Oscar frontrunner Forest Whitaker, you "trained in opera at the University of Southern California" and "six years later won best actor at Cannes." None of that will ever erase the fact that you "starred in 'Battlefield Earth.'" BATTLEFIELD EARTH. Ouch.

Depending on how you look at it, the fact that an actor can go so quickly from Maniac Cop 3 to an Oscar-nominated turn in Little Children, or from Dreamgirls to Norbit, is either depressing or comforting. Personally, I'm inclined toward the latter. The media and the general public can both be pretty vicious today to the person they were fawning on yesterday, or will be fawning on tomorrow. What better reminder could we have that "every man at his best state is but vapor . . . surely they busy themselves in vain"? And what better safeguard than that could we Christians have against pride, envy, and the kind of schadenfreude that the rest of the culture delights in?

If nothing else, it might help us remember that the celebrities we get so sick of, often justly, are just another group of fellow human beings made in the image and likeness of the Creator and in need of a Savior. Even Simon Cowell. 

February 23, 2007

Speaking of Everyday Justice

Our own Zoe Sandvig has a moving post today over at Common Grounds Online. She reminds us that when we serve the least of these, that's when we encounter Jesus face to face. Thanks for the beautiful and inspiring words, Zoe. I pray that such convinction would burn in our souls the same way that gift certificate burned in your pocket...

The Remains of Jesus Uncovered!

That’s right! At least according to award-winning filmmakers James Cameron and Simcha Jacobovici, whose documentary to that effect will be shown later this year on the Discovery Channel, among other places.

How did they come across such a sensational find? It all goes back to the 1980 discovery of a cave in a backwater neighborhood in Jerusalem in which six coffins were scribbled with the names: “Jesua son of Joseph, Mary, Mary, Matthew, Jofa (Joseph, identified as Jesus’ brother), Judah son of Jesua (Jesus’ son -- the filmmakers claim).” Then after DNA analysis and “close work with world-famous scientists,” Cameron and company concluded that the cave contained Jesus’ remains.

But there are several things quite odd about this. First off, the names Mary, Joseph and Jesus are some of the most common names in early Palestine. Second, although DNA could establish the relationships between the remains of those in the cave, it is incapable of singling out any one of them as being Jesus of Nazareth. Third, nothing is mentioned about crucifixion forensics. Fourth, Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who wrote the official report on the cave ten years ago, concluded that the "'possibility of it being Jesus' family [is] very close to zero.' Motti Neiger, spokesperson for the Israel Antiquities Authority, agreed 'that chances of these being the actual burials of the holy family are almost nil.'"

In fact, if this cave did contain the remains of Jesus it would be nigh impossible to verify 2000 years later. That said, in the days, weeks and months after Jesus’s death, it would have been certain--an important point to keep in mind.

Continue reading "The Remains of Jesus Uncovered!" »

Re: Practical Justice

I'm glad you mentioned Acting for Women in Distressing Situations, Catherine; they appear to be an effective and worthy organization. I blogged a little bit about them here, though I failed then to mention the organization by name.

One other point I'd like to make: Don't forget how our man of the hour effected almost unbelievable change in his society -- through politics. Yes, that same dirty business that has so many people disenchanted these days. We tend to lose heart and drop out of that soul-numbing field when things get too tough, and decide that all we can do is try to change the culture. Of course that's important -- vitally important -- but let's keep in mind that if William Wilberforce had stuck to changing the culture only, slavery might never have ended in Britain.

Chuck Colson brings up the need to participate in politics in an NRO symposium today:

I first learned about Wilberforce after prison, through a book called God’s Politician, by Garth Lean. I was deeply inspired. Four years in the White House, and then Watergate as well, had left me disillusioned about government’s ability to change society. Wilberforce restored my hope with a model of how Christians can, and should, work in the political realm to fight against great social evils—even if now, as in Wilberforce’s day, cultural elites argue that Christians should stay in their pews and not “impose their morality.”

But Chuck then goes on to talk about how we cannot hope to make such great changes without also changing the culture. So the two -- culture and politics -- have to go hand in hand.

RE: Practical Justice: What Can I Do?

Here are a few more things I found to add to the discussion on how we can work practically to end modern-day slavery and relieve victims.


The Undersecretary of the State of Global Affairs, Paula J. Dobriansky, responds to the question of how ordinary people can respond to the modern-day slave-trade:

Awareness is often the first and most significant step to combating trafficking. Many people have no knowledge of this human rights abuse and egregious crime. Some have misperceptions of the true nature of illegal commercial sexual exploitation and other forms of servitude to which trafficking victims are subjected. Americans who travel abroad can play an important role in raising the visibility of this issue, and encouraging citizens of other nations to do their part in ending trafficking. They can also assist in education -- especially in rural communities -- about the ways in which traffickers mislead and coerce would-be victims.

I think it is important that we don't downplay the role of raising awareness. Mark Earley talked a little about the importance of bringing evil to light in Tuesday's BreakPoint on Wilberforce and the Spirit of Awareness.

Continue reading "RE: Practical Justice: What Can I Do?" »

You don’t always get what you want

Charlotte Allen, in today's WSJ, says viewers of Amazing Grace may receive the impression "that Wilberforce was a mostly secular humanitarian whose main passion was not Christian faith but politics and social justice." The Wilberforce who "also wrote theological tracts, sponsored missionary and charitable works, and fought for what he called the 'reformation of manners'" has been "played down" by director Michael Apted, Allan writes. And she notes that Apted told Christianity Today that he decided to play down Wilberforce's religious convictions in order not to be too "preachy."

Meanwhile, over at the New York Times, Manohla Dargis calls Grace a "squeaky clean" film that "carries a strong whiff of piety," offering a Wilberforce who "is a fanatic, a true believer, a crusader, a man of action and God .... who talks to God while lying in his garden." In other words, despite Apted's efforts, Amazing Grace is just too darn preachy. (Somebody please lead Ms. Dargis to a Victorian fainting couch and dab her forehead with cologne.)

I've seen the film twice. There are several quite inspiring scenes depicting the religious beliefs and motivations of both Wilberforce and John Newton. Overall, the film is superb. If Christians (and Wilberforce historians) do not see everything they would like in this film, my question is: When have we ever gotten everything we wanted in films about Christians? Many fans of C.S. Lewis had similar concerns about Shadowlands, including Chuck Colson, who thinks the film fell "painfully short" as genuine biography.

Continue reading "You don’t always get what you want" »

Who needs Charlton Heston when you’ve got this guy?

Roberto, no need to send out the troops. Just ship this busload of senior citizens over and they'll "handily" disarm the chimps.

Will I Have to Kiss Her?

I was having a good day. I'd just put the finishing touches on a particularly dense and complicated BreakPoint piece. As has been the norm lately, my Capresso/DeLonghi/Trader Joe's combination had produced a latte that was as good (if not better) as what you can get at *$ for pennies.

Then I read this and my wa vanished.

Chimpanzees living in the West African savannah have been observed fashioning deadly spears from sticks and using the tools to hunt small mammals -- the first routine production of deadly weapons ever observed in animals other than humans . . .

Using their hands and teeth, the chimpanzees were repeatedly seen tearing the side branches off long, straight sticks, peeling back the bark and sharpening one end. Then, grasping the weapons in a "power grip," they jabbed them into tree-branch hollows where bush babies -- small, monkeylike mammals -- sleep during the day.

It gets worse: the spear-wielding chimps are women and they appear to like it.

"It was really alarming how forceful it was," said lead researcher Jill D. Pruetz of Iowa State University, adding that it reminded her of the murderous shower scene in the Alfred Hitchcock movie "Psycho." "It was kind of scary."

Psycho? Think Planet of the Apes! Yesterday, rocks and excrement. Today, females with sharp sticks. Tomorrow, who knows? Blunderbusses? There's a clear threat to our way of life here and I say let's not wait until there are reports of Senegalese chimps looking to purchase Yellowcake from Niger. I say destroy their habitat now!

Practical Justice: What Can I Do?

Yesterday Joel submitted this comment to my post Humming the Same Tune:

I too have been seized by a passion about [the slavery issue] for the past several days, but I'm finding it increasingly difficult to find an outlet for this passion. Sure, I can donate to something, but I want to be hands-on involved. I see there's a petition to sign so I sign, but then see that they only have less that 50,000 so far and want to get 390,000 in the next few weeks -- a daunting task at best. Certainly not impossible, but much more than a web campaign is needed for those kind of numbers. I start thinking about printing out pages, setting up a table at church, making announcements, going door to door with whomever else I can recruit to help, sitting outside of the supermarket...but then I have to ask what the point is. I don't mean freeing slaves; that point is quite clear. But what's the specific point of the petition exercise? So we can all tell Congress that we don't like something that's largely (granted, not entirely) going on elsewhere in the world? What will that accomplish? Ditto the idea of creating our own Clapham Circles (another idea on the Amazing Change site) -- what's the point? So we can sit around and talk about how rotten the world is? Again, what will that accomplish?... Am I making any sense?

Joel, thanks for the comment. I share your frustration at times. I believe your question relates particularly to the issue of ongoing slavery around the world. You are right to be asking practically how you can help. I just went over to the Amazing Change website and spent a little time on their “what you can do” section and I agree, it is not particularly helpful. I’m not an expert on the issue of human trafficking, but here’s what I do know:

Continue reading "Practical Justice: What Can I Do?" »

So how IS that Wilberforce movie, anyway?

Amazinggrace "I never listen to critics" is a common refrain these days, and not entirely without reason. But for those who do want to know what kind of reaction the film we've been promoting all week is getting from the reviewers, Rotten Tomatoes -- a site that collects reviews from all over the country -- ranks Amazing Grace at 61 percent positive so far, enough for a good rating of "fresh" (according to RT's admittedly whimsical way of putting these things). Go here to look over the collection of reviews, and note that the rating is subject to change as more are collected. And if you see the film this weekend, come back here and give us your own mini-review in the comments section; we'd love to know what you think.

(Note: As always with sites containing lots of links, photos, and so forth, we can't vouch for the content of Rotten Tomatoes or any of the publications to which it links; visit at your own risk.)

Also today, Chuck Colson concludes his weeklong series on Wilberforce and the movie with a BreakPoint commentary titled "Go On in the Name of God." That, we can vouch for.

February 22, 2007

Encouraging reading -- through film

Micheal Flaherty, president of Walden Media (the production company behind Amazing Grace; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Bridge to Terabithia; and others), recently gave a remarkable speech at Hillsdale College about one of Walden's most important goals. It is, to put it mildly, unique.

A few years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts released a report entitled “Reading at Risk.” Many people here are probably familiar with its findings, but allow me to repeat the headline: For the first time in modern history, less than half of the adult population now reads literature. The decline is across all races, all education levels, and all age groups. While this may come as a surprise to Hillsdale College students, the decline is the most pronounced in their age group. In just twenty years, young adults have declined from being those most likely to read literature to those least likely. . . .

Cultural restoration, Russell Kirk said, begins at home. Certainly the same is true of literacy. And in today’s media saturated culture, I dare to say that it may also begin at the movie theater. Walden Media was started several years ago by myself, Cary Granat, and Phil Anschutz. We wanted to create a company dedicated to recapturing imagination, rekindling curiosity, and demonstrating the rewards of knowledge and virtue. All of our films would be based on great books, great people, and great historical events. They would be made by the best talent in entertainment and they would all be linked to educational materials developed by some of the best talent in education. We were taking Henry David Thoreau’s famous advice—to march to the beat of a different drummer—to Hollywood, which is why we decided to name our company after Thoreau’s most famous book, Walden.

How does this work out in practice?

Continue reading "Encouraging reading -- through film" »

Re: When the mission field comes to you

Kristine's post on Soulforce has sparked a lively discussion that apparently includes some of the group's participants. Their prevailing sentiment seems to be that any lifestyle can be acceptable in God's eyes, and it is hypocritical or judgmental to suggest otherwise. One commenter notes:

I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone, on both sides of the police line we will be standing on, that no one can say who has favor with God and who does not. To make such assumptions is awefully [sic] pretentious, ridiculously pious, and extremely dangerous. It defeats our purpose, which is to find a common middle ground. We cannot move from the place where we stand if we believe that we have, in our possession, an infallable [sic] truth. We are only human.

To the contrary, our purpose is not to find a "common middle ground" on issues like this, but to discern the desires, expectations, and designs of Almighty God -- however much they may disrupt our own. No one is going to perfectly understand any part of this while part of fallen humanity, but it is disingenuous to pretend that Scripture is so ambivalent or indecipherable about such basic matters of sexual morality.

It need not be a matter of disrespect or "hate" to make this point or discuss its merits. But let us be clear that if the objective is merely to find a resolution satisfactory to everyone's choices or impulses, then we've lost all bases from which to argue. We must either search for the proper standards to which we are called to live, or declare that no such standards exist.

Indeed, we are all human -- broken, confused, and in need of a Savior's intervention. And if we're paying attention, we are reminded of that every day. But that's even more reason to stand firm upon the principles that God has set before us, to seek to be more like Christ and less like a sinful human.

Celebrities in the Sty

As I was jogging at the gym the other day, the news flashed yet another notice about Britney Spears's latest buzz--shaving her head. The announcer followed with a statement along the lines of "Research has shown that celebrities are actually more insecure and are on a path to self-destruction." The woman on the treadmill to the left of me chuckled a little as I felt a smile creeping to my own lips.

Britney's life, along with Brad Pitt's, Angelina Jolie's, Jennifer Aniston's, and Anna Nicole Smith's, has become a joke to us--a soothing balm in the grocery store line that reminds us that no matter how awful we may be feeling, at least we don't make out with Madonna and shave our heads.

But I (and I'm sure you can relate) have struggled with the correct response to People magazine's latest headline. Britney has made a mockery of herself, but does that give me the liberty to make a fool of her as well?

Continue reading "Celebrities in the Sty" »

Humming the Same Tune

Zachhunter I think Zach and I are humming the same tune. Join us?

Will you Be the Change?

February 21, 2007

Share Thou the Vision?

Sometimes in our lives God captivates us with a glimpse, a vision of something, and try as we might, we can’t get it out of our heads. A few years ago I heard about the Clapham Circle for the first time. Here was a group of Christians who lived life together, who pooled their creative energies and by God’s strength and blessing literally changed the world in which they lived.

It started when a couple of cousins decided to live together. They started a holy bachelor pad that they lovingly called The Chummery. The Chummery was a place where they could encourage each other in their Christian calling. Pretty soon a few more moved to live in the same neighborhood. They prayed together, they ate together, and most of all they planned together—actions birthed out of their Christian convictions. They even called themselves “the Cabinet” and set aside a room for Cabinet meetings.

Each person brought his or her own talents to the mix. Among them was the second richest man in Europe at the time, one of the youngest Parliamentarians, a lawyer, a gifted playwright, a preacher or two, and others.

The more I read, the more I find out how this little band of merry men and women literally changed the world by putting their energies and talents together for God’s Kingdom.They started a missionary society, the Sunday School movement, projects to help the poor and imprisoned, and, oh yeah, by God's grace, they ended the slave trade in England.

Continue reading "Share Thou the Vision?" »

Meeting the Candidates, Facebook to Facebook

And for a less important use of social networking sites, Newsweek's Gaggle blog notes that Barack Obama far and away leads all 2008 presidential contenders in the tally of MySpace friends.

In other words, if the election were held today, and all the voting booths were on MySpace, Obama would totally be president. But Republicans shouldn't give up just yet. Apparently--and this gets kind of technical so we're simplifying a bit--listing someone as a MySpace friend doesn't count as an actual vote for that candidate on election day. "Friending is still a bit of a murky phenomenon. It's a pretty trivial kind of association and I'd never say we should take it as any proof of what will happen as far as voter turnout," techPresident editor Micah Sifry told NEWSWEEK. Well, yeah. But it's still cool to be voted "most likely to become president" even if you wind up a total loser.

Following the selection of "you" the Internet star as Person of the Year, it seems fair to conclude that websites like MySpace and Facebook -- and certainly YouTube -- will for the first time be a fierce political battleground during a presidential election. We had a sneak peek of this in the last one, with the advent of groups like MoveOn.org. Who knows what all of this will look like by the time November '08 comes around, but the Web-based voting bloc will be a key part of every candidate's campaign.

On the other hand, one has to wonder whether a candidate's list of MySpace followers will actually be a part of the demographic that shows up to vote on Election Day.

Re-telling His-Story with Our Days

Snowpicture Today snow is melting outside our offices. Being a Floridian, I’m new to this whole season thing and am seeing everything still with a child’s eyes. The roads are slushy in a way that makes me want to run to 7-Eleven for an ICEE. Brownish green grass is peaking out from under the mess looking a little unkempt and surprised to have the early visitor of spring temperatures. I step in a puddle of melted snow and I can’t help but think of Aslan on the move and Narnia’s always-winter-never-Christmas thaw.

Seasons—they are a glorious retelling of God’s story, aren’t they? Death and life, sowing and harvest. Poets and philosophers have been moved by these same sights since the dawning of time.

We are creatures who inhabit time and season and space.

Even our culture operates around seasons. These become rhythms to our life. The media punctuates time with things like back-to-school season, Halloween, spring break, the Emmy Awards, play-offs, Final Four. It moves things along somehow. And we come to anticipate them.

For centuries, Christians have looked at time through their own lens.

Continue reading "Re-telling His-Story with Our Days" »

When the mission field comes to you

This spring, students, faculty and staff at Christian colleges across the country have a unique opportunity to present a Christian witness to the world. Equality Ride, a traveling troupe of protesters, is making uninvited visits to several dozen colleges and universities. The protests are sponsored and organized by a group called Soulforce, which says on its web site that its goal is "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance."  Members of Soulforce staged a mini sit-in earlier this week at the headquarters of Focus on the Family, which ended when the two protestors were arrested for trespassing.

In March and April, Equality Ride will show up at the campuses of Union University, Gordon College, Cedarville University, Calvin College, and many more. For a full listing of colleges on the target list, see here and here.

One of the schools on the list is Messiah College, my alma mater, which has been told to expect Equality Ride to show up on April 13. Soulforce's grievance is that the college includes homosexual behavior among a list of sinful practices in its student handbook. The response of school officials provides a shining example of how we can speak the truth in love. According to a letter from college president Kim Phipps:

Messiah College affirms its institutional stance on homosexual behavior. ... The College has decided to respond to Equality Ride's visit as an opportunity to model gracious Christianity and hospitality to those who express different viewpoints, to encourage meaningful campus conversation about a complex social issue, and to equip students to better understand human sexuality from a biblical perspective. ... As we prepare for Equality Ride's visit, I invite you to join me in praying for God's wisdom and guidance.

Let's pray for all the Christian colleges on Equality Ride's tour schedule. Pray that God would protect the minds and lives of the students on these campuses, some of whom may be struggling with these issues or who may have never before been confronted with them. Pray that God would give wisdom to the administration at each school to know how to handle these uninvited guests. And pray that the men and women participating in Equality Ride will be overwhelmed by God's grace and compassion as they visit these schools. Pray that they would see an irresistible passion and love for God and for others shining on the faces and in the lives of the people they meet on these campuses. Pray that God, in His amazing grace, would use this experience to open their hearts to the truth that can give them true freedom.

Ash Wednesday reflections

Rod Dreher shares a lesson he's already learned from Lent this year:

I tried that this morning in prayer -- imagining that I was at the last moment before Judgment, and had to confess my sins. It's amazing how that focuses the mind, and one's prayers. I'd also been thinking about Forgiveness Vespers, and how even though my family was too ill to make it this year, we still need to ask each other's forgiveness. Praying this morning with the Judgment in mind, it came straight to my attention how hard-hearted I've been toward my son Matthew lately. To say he's a strong-willed child is to say that McDonald's sells hamburgers. We've had some serious struggles lately with his attitude and behavior, and speaking for myself, a lot of frustration. But this morning, in prayer, I thought about how God the Father must see me, and how deeply frustrating my constant falling back into bad habits of the heart must be to Him -- and how I trust in His mercy and patient lovingkindness.

Read more to learn how Rod put this lesson into practice.

Abolitionists officially enter the 21st century

You know you've arrived when you've got a MySpace site -- or is it Facebook now? Can't keep up with the kids these days . . . Anyway, via an e-mail from Family Christian Stores, I discovered this link to the Amazing Change Campaign's new MySpace site, which looks pretty impressive. Take a look and see what you think, and make sure to turn up the volume on your computer. (Usual warnings about MySpace apply.)

Anna Nicole Boycott

The news media have been all agog over the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Frankly, the fact that they have spent hundreds of hours on this story disturbs me as much as their giving her any attention at all when she was alive. She was a poor, benighted soul who, like Marilyn Monroe, was yet another "victim" of Hugh Hefner's playboy mentality. She was a FOOL, and we can grieve for the wasteland she made of her own life; but we should all refuse to wade through the filth she left behind.

Unfortunately, we can probably expect the Anna Nicole Ghoul Show to go on for months and months -- given all the slimy skunks who are crawling out of the woods to lay claim to the infant (and money) she left behind. The whole mess stinks, and I'm on a personal crusade to boycott any TV news program that mentions her name. As soon as an AN clip comes on, I change the channels. Given the ubiquitous nature of the story, I sometimes have to change channels a lot, or I simply hit the "off" button and go read something edifying.

Want to join me?

To cremate or not to cremate?

In the latest edition of Touchstone, Russell Moore has written an article called "Grave Signs" that deals with the touchy issue of whether Christians should be cremated.  It made me recall an incident in my Sunday School class just a few weeks ago. We had been asked to donate funds to help a poor family bury their mother. When our parish nurse pointed out that cremation is much less expensive, the woman who was making the request visibly blanched. Then she stiffly snapped, "Some people have a problem with that!" My family has discussed our burial wishes: my parents and I plan to be cremated, but my husband prefers to be buried. So, out of curiosity, what do our readers think?

God and Gender

Then God said, "Let us make Man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock, and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps over the earth." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. -- Genesis 1:26-27

Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. -- Genesis 5:2

Note: Hebrew adam is the generic term for mankind and becomes the proper name Adam.

In recent months, a slew of books, articles and talk-show programs have discussed ideas about God and gender -- most notably, the idea that church caters to women and has been feminized. See Leon Podles's The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity, his Touchstone article "Missing Fathers of the Church," and Holly Pivec's Biola newsletter article, along with some of the steps churches and parachurches are taking to attract more "manly men" to the faith (Godmen and Brad Stine).

Why do I have a sudden desire to burst into a lusty round of Monty Python's Lumberjack Song?

Now I have lots of questions -- care to tell me what you think?

Continue reading "God and Gender" »

February 20, 2007

Re: Blame the Care Bears!

Gina -- it is quite apparent that any semblance of common sense is missing from these debates, particularly when they take place among the same social change agents that are being critiqued. Do we really need studies and polls to convince us that the culture is drenched in sensuality -- or that it is producing sensualized young people? Must we really rely on the consideration of "experts" to tell us that this is a bad thing?

And in truth, the danger here is not to the body but to the soul. Obsessing over the former will inevitably stunt the growth of the latter. This does, of course, presuppose some sort of spiritual foundation to begin with, which is perhaps where the battle is really being lost. Still, young kids may not be expected to understand the influence of their clothing and entertainment choices, but their parents certainly should.

Blame the Care Bears!

Carebear So the Washington Post Health section runs a story about how, at younger and younger ages, "American girls . . . are increasingly being fed a cultural catnip of products and images that promote looking and acting sexy." Too true. It's always good to know that someone is keeping an eye on this truly disturbing trend.

But then we run smack into this zinger:

Where did this girly-girl consumerism start? Diane Levin, an education professor at Wheelock College in Boston who is writing an upcoming book, "So Sexy So Soon," traces much of it to the deregulation of children's television in the mid-1980s. With the rules loosened, kids' shows suddenly could feature characters who moonlighted as products (think Power Rangers, Care Bears, My Little Pony). "There became a real awareness," says Levin, "of how to use gender and appearance and, increasingly, sex to market to children."

Excuse me? Now it's the Care Bears' fault??

I know, the entertainment media plays a highly significant role here. But come on. Is it really THAT hard to take a searching look at what else is in the media besides the Care Bears, and to admit that the glorification of "sexual freedom" that was supposed to empower women is instead encouraging little girls to become tramps?

On the other hand, the Post's theory might finally provide an explanation for this previously inexplicable photo (warning: some may find the photo offensive). Of course -- the Teletubby made her do it!

Update: A commenter takes issue with my posting of the link in the previous paragraph. The reason for the link is to help drive home the point of the post, but for the benefit of those who might be offended by the infamous photo of teenage Britney in her bra on the cover of Rolling Stone, I added the warning.

When at first you don’t succeed...

Just a few days ago a new study was released entitled Public Safety, Public Spending: Forecasting America's Prison Population 2007-2011. Honestly, the results came as no surprise: the U.S. prison population is on the rise. No, really? We've been hounded by rising statistics for years now, but this report helped put the grim news into perspective with a price tag.

Dear Taxpayers,
Please expect an additional 27.5 billion dollars to be spent on accomodating our growing population in the next five years.
Sincerely, The Management

While many sit stunned with their mouths open, others ask the ever more burning question: why?

Perhaps the biggest factor is the poor preparation provided to inmates who are on their way out the prison gates. In fact, of the 650,000 individuals released this year, over 66% will be back in prison within 3 years. Here comes the looming question ... why?

Continue reading "When at first you don’t succeed..." »

No More Nuptials!!!

Weddingrings Imagine having this problem?

As an up-and-coming bride (only 18 days away, but who's counting? :-) ), I found the article particularly hilarious. I've often wrestled with where to draw the line on my guestlist. Have you ever gotten a wedding invitation for someone you barely know and all that you can think of is that you're a gift ATM?

On top of that, I can't even imagine a 12-hour celebration! Weddings in America certainly seem like they've been expedited. I guess that's our American way? Anyway, just a random thought.