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April 30, 2007

The Descent of Horror

The_descent According to USA Today, "no fewer than 39 fright films have been scheduled for the big screen" in 2007. For the previous three years, "the average was 20."

Studios like horror films because "in most cases, a fright flick costs less than $30 million and easily makes that back in theater and home video revenue." The problem is that what USA Today calls the "glut" of horror films threaten to -- puns definitely intended -- cannibalize each other by eating into each other's audience. The result is disappointing box-office numbers.

It might help if some of the movies were actually, you know, scary. This past weekend, I watched The Descent, which was written and directed by Neil Marshall. Why? At the risk of seeming completely shallow, here goes: the cover, which featured this picture, had long intrigued me, albeit in a bad way. More importantly, it was one of the few blu-ray discs available for rent at my Blockbuster. A good scare in high definition picture and sound, deal me in. Add the superlatives thrown around at IMDb and I figured it was worth a rent.

The Descent is about six women from the British Isles who go caving somewhere in the Appalachian mountains. (The license plates on the rental cars read "North Carolina.") As you can guess, something goes terribly wrong.

Wrong but not particularly scary. The Descent is a textbook example of what Roger Ebert calls "movies that go 'Boo!'" They don't frighten you so much as startle you. You don't feel a sense of menace while watching movies like "The Descent" -- you feel nervous. Eventually, even someone who is as easily startled as I am gets over the nervous feeling as we can predict with 97.3572 percent accuracy when something is going to pop out of the background. (Propeller-head A/V geek aside: one of the advantages of high definition, especially on a properly set up monitor, is that objects in dark areas become more distinct than they usually are in your local multiplex. IOW, I could see the "crawlies" coming.)

Continue reading "The Descent of Horror" »

Re: Convenient Correction

Faith, Professor Stephen Bainbridge has some good comments along the same lines.

I think these cases raise a very interesting and difficult moral issue. Back in the early days of the Civil War, a wealthy individual who was drafted could pay a substitute to go in his place. Indeed, sufficiently wealthy individuals could buy their way out of the draft by paying a $300 commutation fee. An analysis of the 1863 draft in Wisconsin found that "Of the 14,955 men drafted state-wide, 628 actually served, 252 hired substitutes, 6,285 were discharged for physical reasons, 5,081 paid the $300 commutation fee, and 2,689 never reported." In other words, over a third of those drafted bought their way out of service.

In reply one of Bainbridge's readers nails it:

A two-tiered system of punishment, in which wealthier people are punished less, is something like the beginnings of the state maintaining two justice systems for different groups of citizens.

Punishment is more than time served. The sentence includes the conditions under which the time will be served. If you want to further undermine confidence in our criminal justice system, encourage the development of a "two-tiered system." And don't even get me started on whom the "good people" in "Bad things happen to good people," are supposed to be.

I was wrong

It seems you don't need Dr. Phil for all your absolution and reconciliation needs.

You just need a computer.

Convenient Correction

So how could this NY Times article not catch your eye as you glance through your normal Monday news? Apparently these "buy-your-cell" situations are not all that new, but this is the first I've heard of them.

I guess money really does buy you a better life... at least if you're prone to disobeying the law. (Note to self, if you're going to be a criminal, be a rich one.) It seems the justice system is reverting back to a sub-standard approach to life: rich = convenience, poor = tough luck. What does this teach society (and our children) about justice and life?

I'm also wondering how many of the "clients" are priviledged whites as opposed to African-Americans. Many if not most of the African-Americans behind bars come from poor inner-city families. I'm guessing the five-star option is a little out of their league.

But on the flip side, how nice to have paying customers in an overbooked, overcrowded, increasingly costly justice system. Right?

The demise of the lady

Carol Platt Leibau has written a thoughtful essay on something that should concern us all: the need to restore decorum (a sense of what is and is not appropriate public behavior) in our increasingly vulgar culture. What prompted her article, called "The Demise of the Lady," was yet another Rosie O'Donnell rant, this time at the Matrix Awards luncheon, which celebrates women in the media and which included 17 high school girls being awarded scholarships. I won't repeat the offensive details here, nor will I claim to be shocked by anything Rosie comes up with these days (it's hard to believe that a few short years ago, she was called "The Queen of Nice"). It's the event's sponor, New York Women in Communications, that reveals a deeper problem. According to Leibau, the group's leader called Rosie "fabulous" and one magazine editor in the audience actually praised Rosie for being offensive. Here's Leibau's response:

How times have changed. Traditionally, people who stooped to crass behavior were understood to be implicitly conceding the limits of their own intellect, refinement and self-restraint.... What's more, resorting to public vulgarity at once marked the one doing so as not a lady or a gentleman. No doubt the terms "lady" and "gentlemen" have been devalued over time.... But the essence of being a well-bred, civilized person -- male or female -- was to behave in a way that never caused needless discomfort to other people. Good manners were understood to be primarily an expression of kindness and concern for others' feelings. This was particularly true for women, who were generally seen as civilization's gatekeepers.

Liebau goes on to encourage the women in the audience who were offended to protest Rosie's speech, but also to make certain that they follow a different and more wholesome path in their own careers. And that's good advice for all of us. Imagine how different our public debates on important issues would be if we would all follow Paul's admonition in Ephesians 4:29: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

Holy Depressing Metaphor, Batman!

In a troubling sign for the American-financed rebuilding program in Iraq, inspectors for a federal oversight agency have found that in a sampling of eight projects that the United States had declared successes, seven were no longer operating as designed because of plumbing and electrical failures, lack of proper maintenance, apparent looting and expensive equipment that lay idle.

The United States has previously admitted, sometimes under pressure from federal inspectors, that some of its reconstruction projects have been abandoned, delayed or poorly constructed. But this is the first time inspectors have found that projects officially declared a success — in some cases, as little as six months before the latest inspections — were no longer working properly . . .

The new findings come after years of insistence by American officials in Baghdad that too much attention has been paid to the failures in Iraq and not enough to the successes.

Brig. Gen. Michael Walsh, commander of the Gulf Region Division of the Army Corps, told a news conference in Baghdad late last month that with so much coverage of violence in Iraq “what you don’t see are the successes in the reconstruction program, how reconstruction is making a difference in the lives of everyday Iraqi people.”

And those declared successes are heavily promoted by the United States government. A 2006 news release by the Army Corps, titled “Erbil Maternity and Pediatric Hospital — not just bricks and mortar!” praises both the new water purification system and the incinerator. The incinerator, the release said, would “keep medical waste from entering into the solid waste and water systems.”

But when Mr. Bowen’s office presented the Army Corps with the finding that neither system was working at the struggling hospital and recommended a training program so that Iraqis could properly operate the equipment, General Walsh tersely disagreed with the recommendation in a letter appended to the report, which also noted that the building had suffered damage because workers used excess amounts of water to clean the floors.

Read the whole article here.

Faith by Any Other Name

As I previously wrote, “In the nineteenth century, Lord John Morley had a dream: ‘The next great task of Science is the building of a new religion.’” Considering the developments over the last century, Lord Morley could rightly be called the “Daniel” of neo-Darwinism.

As with all religions, neo-Darwinism has its patron saints: Charles Darwin; its founding text: The Origin of Species; its creed: The Humanist Manifesto; its martyrs: Galileo; its evangelists: Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins; its holy days: Darwin Days; its holy relics: fossils; and its religious symbol: the Darwin fish plaque.

And now it has its evangelistic pageants. On April 21, the Cambridge Science Festival debuted Lifetime: Songs of Life and Evolution—a 90-minute musical aimed at “spread[ing] the good word on evolution.” The performing cast was made up of families with children as young as five singing paeans to our evolutionary origins. Cast members sported the Lifetime t-shirt, complete with a logo depicting a primate evolving into a singing man.

The performance included tributes to Richard Dawkins, celebrations of diversity through our evolutionary heritage, and even lyrics against speciesism: "Don't you dismiss, this protist ... What's so great about being the same shape every day?"

Underneath the celebratory patina, one gets a whiff of desperation in all this. Yet one thing’s for sure: you can’t say that those Darwinists aren’t people of faith.

April 27, 2007

Orwell lives

Next week on BreakPoint, Chuck Colson will be talking about the dangers of Thought Police legislation (a.k.a. "hate crimes" laws). If the law currrently being considered by Congress (disingenuously named the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act) is passed, we can expect far more of this: High school students who get in trouble for peaceful, verbal objections to the normalizing of homosexual attraction and behavior. These laws are not about violence or hatred; they're about using the power of law to silence those who disagree with you. They're about redefining civil discourse into "verbal attacks." That is, if someone "feels attacked" by words--even words on a tee shirt--then he HAS been attacked, and the "attacker" should be punished by the Ministry of Love....er, by the federal government.

Shortchanging teen girls

Seventeen And we wonder why so many teenage girls become obsessed with body image, hooking up, and materialism. Novelist Marie Myung-Ok Lee writes about how teen and preteen magazines like Seventeen and Mademoiselle have gone from stories by Flannery O'Connor and Truman Capote and articles on travel, technology, and getting into college, to "Sexy Legs Workout," "How to Get a Natural-Looking Spray Tan," and "Love Secrets."

Of course, back then, Seventeen had a bit of an unseemly focus on appearance and boys as well, but it is difficult to imagine the slightly neurotic "When Your Boyfriend Forgets Your Birthday" of 1982 eliciting any frisson compared with today's "Do I Have an STD?" There seem to be plenty of articles on what to do about rejection from a boy but none about rejection from a college. In fact, as opposed to thoughtful articles on college, joining the Peace Corps or relating to parents, in the current Seventeen (Spring Shopping Issue!), life beyond instant gratification seems utterly absent.

Read more -- and consider buying your daughter, if you have one, some good classic books instead of renewing that Seventeen subscription.

Channeling Helen Lovejoy

In her latest column in the Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan writes, "I would hate to be a child now." Why? Because "we are scaring our children to death" and "we're doing it more and more."

Now, to paraphrase a character from what my buddy Alex Wainer calls Star Trek: The Motionless Picture, my objection to what the late Henry Fairlie called the "fear of living" is on the record. And I agree with Noonan when she writes that

We are not giving the children of our country a stable platform. We are instead giving them soul-shaking sense that life is unsafe, incoherent, full of random dread . . .

Affluence buys protection. You can afford to make your children safe. You can afford the constant vigilance needed to protect your children from the culture you produce, from the magazine and the TV and the CD and the radio. You can afford the doctors and tutors and nannies and mannies and therapists, the people who put off the TV and the Internet and offer conversation . . .

And I certainly agree with this:

If you have money in America, you can hire people who compose the human chrysalis that protect the butterflies of the upper classes as they grow. The lacking, the poor, the working and middle class--they have no protection. Their kids are on their own. And they're scared.

Too bad no one cares in this big sensitive country of ours.

Still, I found her argument unpersuasive, despite my, for lack of a better phrase, cultural affinity with Ms. Noonan. First, when she insists that "they're scared," I can't but wonder if Noonan, like the liberal adults she criticizes, isn't projecting her concerns unto the kids.

Continue reading "Channeling Helen Lovejoy" »

Who needs God when you’ve got Dr. Phil?

That seems to be the idea here, anyway. Rehab, Dr. Phil, or any other psychiatric trend du jour: one-stop shopping for all your absolution and reconciliation needs. Must be nice.

Making it to the Top 100

After TIME magazine picked YOU to be man of the year, they want YOU to pick this year’s 100 most influential people. Poll results as of April came out this week at Time.com. The list contains questionable candidates but also features interesting and deserving personalities.

One observation: Richard Dawkins (#7) is way ahead of Pope Benedict XVI (#123) and Rick Warren (#155), which ought to raise some questions. But there’s a place in the website where you can submit your own ideas.

Did YOU make the cut? Sadly no! However, it’s not too late to cast your votes and, importantly, start influencing other people. Isn’t that exactly what God has planned for us believers? To live in such a way that we influence other people and impact the world for Christ. The mission is to be the salt and light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We live by spreading the “flavor” of Christ through our interaction with others and by reflecting and illuminating Christ’s presence through our conversation and conduct.

Consider the impact you can make by following and thinking like God today. You may not make it on TIME’s top list but you’ll make it on God’s eternal list.

’Kid’ding the Face of Justice

Note: This blog entry has content for mature readers only.

The public has little sympathy for criminals. And why should they? Daily, Americans are confronted with news and images of horrific and gruesome crimes. Sometimes I find myself thinking, "What will they think of next?"

Recall to mind the last hideous crime you heard about. Now what if I told you that crime was committed by a child. How would you react then?

The accountability of adult criminals can be summed up easily: we expect you to know better, and if you do the crime, you pay the time. But should this same response, and the same laws that apply to adults,  apply to children? If so, what happens when kids get life? Life in prison, that is.

PBS is asking that question and others on a new episode of Frontline, airing May 8th. I, for one, am anxious to see what they have to say. This isn't the first time Frontline has delved into such topics, having previously aired an episode entitled "Little Criminals," which reported at length about the murder of a toddler by two young boys in the '70s, known as the "Crucifixion Murder." The original perpetrators are now in their 40s, having received time in therapy rather than behind bars at the ages of 7 and 10. The older of the two has remained crime-free and lives a normal life with his family. The other has had some minor indiscretions.

Continue reading "’Kid’ding the Face of Justice" »

April 26, 2007

The Nature of Work: A Primer on Works (2 of 8)

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Galatians 5:6

My edition of Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia defines work as "a force exerted on a body while the body moves at the same time in such a way that the force has a component in the direction of the motion." In theological terms we would say, work is God's love acting through God's agent to accomplish God's ends. Or, as Paul has it, "faith works through love."

Faith works. It doesn't just point to some external indicator -- like a profession of belief in Jesus, church attendance, participation in an activity or group, or possession of some degree or type of knowledge -- for its validation. The Apostle James dared his readers to try to show him their faith apart from works, insisting instead that the only way to validate real faith is through real works (Jms. 2:18). Faith works, and the essential nature of faith's work is love.

The work which faith engenders derives from the force of God's love exerted upon a human being: "we love, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). When a person comes under the influence of God's love -- shown to the world in His giving His Son, Jesus, for the forgiveness of sin -- the force of that love exerts transforming power on that person's life. No one can know the experience of God's love and remain the same. The love he has come to know impels him, as he moves about in the world, to carry that love to others. To recapture the language of Van Nostrand, the body (person) that has come under the influence of God's force (love) as it moves through the world, becomes a conveyor of a component of that force (love) to whoever is in his path. The work of faith is accomplished when the love with which God loves us -- self-denying, sacrificial, redemptive, restorative -- moves us to touch others with that same love of God, so that they experience what we have come to know in the love of God. 

In the Christian life the only thing that matters is faith working by love.

So while, as we saw in our first installment, Christians are not saved by works, no one can be said to have come to true faith without works, specifically, without their faith working by love toward the people around them. The end of God's love is faith, working by love, communicating God's love to other people. Where the force of God's love has been received, the transmission of God's love necessarily ensues. The work of faith is love.

Heretics Unite!

A number of us have been discussing, off-line, this QuizFarm questionnaire designed to determine to what degree one is a heretic. As with most such quizzes, the questions are imperfect, but these things are mostly entertainment anyway, and they lead to interesting discussions.

My own opinion was that several of the questions raised were rather pointless, because one simply cannot know with certainty one way or another via Scripture. Other colleagues rightly noted that, in fact, all of these heretical issues were addressed by the creeds and are thus, indeed, quite relevant and important  Admittedly, while I obviously agree with the creeds, I do not possess a solid understanding of all of the many heresies addressed thereby (although Shelley’s excellent Church History In Plain Language is slowly redressing my ignorance).

Now, I’ve said before that theology isn’t my beat. And that’s for good reason: I don’t possess enough theological knowledge and would rather not disclose my ignorance for all to see (and mock). Even more so, I am weary of theology unnecessarily being used as the Evangelical Church’s blackjack for busting the heads of those who challenge the popular theological preferences du jour.

Continue reading "Heretics Unite!" »

Christian Martyrs in Turkey

Kristine, thanks for your post on the Wonderful Words of Life. I can't help but think about the three Christian men who worked at a Bible publishing house whose throats were slit in Turkey last Wednesday-- their only crime, selling Bibles. One of them was a student at Martin Bucer Theological Seminary's branch campus in Turkey. The president of MBS Turkey described how Necati Ayidin, one of the three martyrs, had distributed Bibles: "Beginning in 2006, the Malatya team of Zirve Publishing House, led by Aydin, has been able to make 10,000 Bibles available to interested Turks."  Konutgan hopes that now, after the tragic murder of three Christians, the word of the church father Tertullian will be fulfilled: “The death of martyrs is the seed of the church.”

A report from the seminary translated by Prof. Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, Director of the Comenius Institute, Prague, and Fellow of the International Institute for Christian Studies, described Ayidin as follows:

Necati Aydin was born into an Islamic family in the Izmir area and came to a living faith in Jesus Christ in 1994. For many years he openly and actively confessed his faith, and for this he was repeatedly condemned by Muslims. In 2000 he spent four weeks in jail for distributing Bibles from a booth on the street, even though this is completely legal in Turkey. He was released from jail because no one found that he had done anything wrong. He was not able to enjoy the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, to which he had appealed his case. Necati also played the role of Jesus in a large theater production, which was repeatedly held in major Turkish cities.

A few years ago Necati moved to Malatya, where he became pastor of the local Kurtulus Congregation (part of an association of churches led by Pastor Ihsan Özbek). He also became a staff member of Zirve Publishing House, which is a Christian publisher based in Istanbul with distribution offices in various Turkish cities.

Last October he began his studies at the MBS study center in Ankara, to be equipped for his ongoing pastoral ministry. He is survived by his wife, Shemza, and their two children, Esther (age 5) and Elisha (age 7).

The seminary has established a trust fund for Ayidin's widow and children and to assist the other survivors, victims, and help protect the local church. All contributions will be directly sent to those in need, without any administrative fees being deducted. The bank information for this special support account is:

Institut für Weltmission und Gemeindebau e.V.
Kto.3 690 334
BLZ 520 604 10
Evangelische Kreditgenossenschaft Kassel eG
Verwendungsweck: Märtyrer Malatya
IBAN:  DE02520604100003690334

Or you can contact Dr. Johnson at [email protected] or [email protected]. Please pray for the Christians in Turkey. They continue to face fierce persecution.

Wonderful words of life

Tyndale Can you imagine life without a Bible? 

I just took a quick inventory in my house. I own ten different Bibles (complete texts or portions of Scripture) in five different translations. When writing or researching, I am just as apt to click on over to Bible Gateway or Blue Letter Bible, where I can find dozens of translations in as many languages, each helping me better understand the nuances of God's written revelation.

PBS's series Secrets of the Dead featured a vivid reminder last night of the sacrifices that were made some five hundred years ago so that you and I can read the Bible for ourselves. We take this so much for granted that it is difficult to imagine a time when only priests were allowed to read Scripture, when the words of God were purposely kept locked away in the vault of archaic, scholarly languages that so few could understand.

In the "Battle for the Bible" episode, Secrets of the Dead explores the history of early Bible translators, with particular attention to John Wycliffe and William Tyndale. Like their German counterpart, Martin Luther, both were convinced that God's Word should be available to the common people in the common language.

Wycliffe managed to die a natural death, only to be declared a heretic some years later and have his body dug up and burned. Tyndale faced the pyre while still in full possession of his earthly life. Thanks to their sacrifices, we have the Scriptures today in our own language.

The next time you open the pages of your Bible, give a thought to the lives that were spent and the blood that was spilled so that you could have such precious words at your fingertips.

Kids and church

Jesus_and_children A new study coming soon to the journal Social Science Research will be the first showing that children from church-going families are better behaved and happier. Sociologist John Bartkowski asked parents and teachers of children to rate the youngsters on behavior, happiness, and peer relationships, then compared those results to parents' reports of church attendance and at-home discussions of religion. The analysis showed that moms and dads who frequently attended church together had the most socially successful children.

One more reason to get the kiddos dressed and out the door on Sunday morning.

(H/T: Family Scholars blog)

April 25, 2007

Idol Gives Back

My husband and I are watching tonight's American Idol special, "Idol Gives Back." We have been especially touched by the stories coming out of Africa, though it's good to be reminded that there are many American families who are also living in extreme poverty. If you want to donate, check out their website. I think it's wonderful that this program (which, in my mind, has been terrific this year) is using its considerable popularity to raise awareness and funds to help the "least of these." 

The Green Police

LightbulbI'm surprised nobody blogged about this week's Earth Day events. I heard an amusing "Save the Planet" story from my older son, who is attending a college I'd prefer not to name because I don't want to subject him to Green wrath.

A group called the Green Campus Initiative hosted a campus-wide event called "Battle of the Bulb." The idea was to encourage students to turn off lights and other power sources for an entire month in order to save the planet. Whichever dorm saved the most power would win an environmentally friendly lamp.

My son had recently taken an earth science class in which he learned that over millions of years, the earth has regularly warmed and cooled. The professor who taught this class is skeptical that human activity is likely to have much effect on the global temperature. (Obviously, other experts feel differently.) So my son's enthusiasm for the bulb event was lukewarm, to put it mildly.

Students "who actually thought we were saving the earth by doing this would make announcements at house meetings and remind us to turn off our room lights, our computers, and our TVs when we weren't using them," my son reported. It wasn't long before they began rigorously enforcing their agenda on  unenthusiastic dorm-mates. "It got to the point that if you went to the bathroom, when you came back to your room, you'd find that somebody had been in there turning off the lights. People started locking their doors even if they were leaving their rooms for just a few minutes."

Next, the Greens went after the common areas, including the lounges. "If you turned the lights back on, they would yell at you and question your commitment to the house," my son said. "It was ridiculous because people were sitting there trying to study or socialize in the dark."

It didn't take long for a rebel alliance to form.

Continue reading "The Green Police" »

Language matters

GetReligion has comprehensive coverage of what Travis and I touched on recently: the tremendous importance of terminology in the abortion debate. As Brooke Gladstone of NPR puts it: "It’s the words that you use that change the way a debate is framed." And GetReligion's Mollie Hemingway takes it one step further: "The courts pay attention to what happens with media coverage of this issue." Read more.


Re: We’re Not All Hokies

Last week, I alerted readers to an excellent op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Rosa Brooks. Now, I'd like to direct you to that rarest of birds in contemporary American culture, an intelligent and winsome discussion between two people with different points of view: Brooks, who can be fairly called a liberal, and Ross Douthat of the Atlantic Monthly.

In their exchange on Blogging Heads TV, Brooks and Douthat discuss Virginia Tech, stupid adult preoccupations, global warming and abortion without once throwing things at the camera or even raising their voices, and yet expressing their disagreements, in ways that leave the viewer respecting both of them.

About recommending Blogging Heads TV: I am that big a dork.

What IS ’Christian music,’ anyway?

We're introducing a new feature today (special thanks to Travis for setting this up): using polls to solicit your opinion on various topics of interest. First up is the question "What's the wisest path for a Christian musician to take?" You can vote in the poll at the right-hand side of the page, and then use the comments section under this post to specify what you meant by "Other" if you chose that option, or just to share further thoughts on the subject.

The inspiration for this topic came from two places:

1. My conversation with Motte Brown of The Line about Chris Rice and whether he could be said to be moving in a more secular direction.

2. An interesting article in Variety about some of the struggles and decisions Christian musicians face in trying to define themselves and their music. The Christian music industry, it seems, can be a help but also a hindrance in this area.

Continue reading "What IS ’Christian music,’ anyway?" »

Forgiveness and Blame

Brian Hollar, a VT alum, has given us some excellent thoughts on my question from yesterday, "What is forgiveness?" I strongly encourage you to read it in its entirety over at Thinking on the Margin. Here was my favorite line:

To claim society is responsible is to claim there is no center of responsibility. It feels good to make this claim because it allows us to get away from thinking badly about Cho, but it also keeps us from placing blame where it belongs.

Brian quotes from Lewis Smedes' "The Art of Forgiveness" which says that we cannot begin to truly forgive someone until we blame them for what they did. As Brian says, "Attempts to avoid blaming Cho for what he did are not the same thing as forgiving him. In fact, they prevent true forgiveness from being able to take place." Brian also answers another question I've been pondering.

I do not think that it is necessary to wait until a person repents before forgiving them. Repentance is critical for reconciliation to take place, but not forgiveness. If repentance were necessary, no one could ever forgive Cho or anyone else who does harm without acknowledging the wrongness of what they have done.

Read the full piece--it is a wonderful combination of candor and compassion.

Reflections on ’American Idol’

What kind of culture have we created where we can lump "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Imagine" together under "Songs of Inspiration"? I understand allowing for different viewpoints and all, but when the ideas behind the two songs are directly opposed, doesn't it seem a bit goofy to hail both as classic inspirational anthems within a few minutes of each other? (Of course, Idol wouldn't be Idol if it weren't goofy in some way . . . ) 

Honestly, does anyone ever even listen to the lyrics of "Imagine"? By the time you've gone from no afterlife and no God to nothing worth dying for and one-world government, you're so darned uplifted you feel like flinging yourself off the nearest cliff.

Well, at least one person has actually listened. Mark Steyn (who else?) did the ultimate takedown of "Imagine" here.

April 24, 2007

What is forgiveness?

Vt_memorial headline today from the Associated Press reads, "Forgiveness Emerges in VA Tech Memorial." Of course, the article caught my eye. But as I read on I wondered whether what I was reading was an example of true forgiveness or if it is an example of rationalization or a mixture of both.

A memorial of 33 chunks of gray limestone spelling VT stands on the VA Tech drill-field. There is a stone for each of the 27 students and the 5 faculty that Cho ruthlessly murdered last Monday and one stone for Cho.

The AP piece quotes a VT professor who says, "I'm really impressed with the maturity of Virginia Tech people, they also treat him as a victim."

This didn't sit quite right with me. I'm all for the families and grieving friends coming to forgive Cho. After all, this is at the heart of restoration and peace. Furthermore, Scriptures command Christians to forgive. But this seems different to me. To say that Cho is a victim is to somehow diminish the willful role he played in an act that cannot be considered anything less than evil.

In the best of all worlds, true forgiveness happens when someone who has committed an evil act confesses and repents. That person not only speaks truth about the nature of the act, but also chooses to turn from it in the future. The one offering forgiveness does not forgive because the act itself is deemed inevitable or somehow rationalized. The forgiver calls the act evil along with the perpetrator. For the Christian person who forgives, he or she calls upon God's strength to forgive and live in peace once more with the repentant perpetrator. The forgiver is helped in this act by understanding his or her own forgiveness through Christ.

What do the rest of you think? What is forgiveness?

Inescapable Words: A Primer on Works (1 of 8)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Ephesians 2:8, 9

On his death bed, eagerly anticipating his approaching translation into heaven, the great 20th-century New Testament theologian J. Gresham Machen is reported to have said, "Thank God for the active obedience of Christ."

Everyone associates Christianity with works. Let a Christian fail to demonstrate the works others expect of him, and he's labeled a hypocrite by detractors, or a disappointment by his brothers and sisters. Works are inextricably, inescapably linked to the Christian faith. 

Christians proudly point to the many evidences of good works by which the faith of Christ has graced the pages of Church history -- everything from the rescue of exposed children in 2nd-century Rome to the care of travelers and the indigent in 4th-century Asia Minor to the care of lepers and the plague-ridden in Medieval Europe to the founding of schools and universities, the reform of labor laws, and the emancipation of slaves in the modern period. Christianity and good works just go together.  Everybody knows that.

But how do they go together? And which are the kinds of works it is reasonable to expect of a Christian? And by what means are such works engendered within us? And what is the relationship between those works and the idea of salvation?

In this and the following seven installments I want to provide a primer on good works for confused readers -- which can include everyone from those who think Christianity teaches that salvation is through works to those who are glad it doesn't, but aren't quite sure where works fit into the life of faith. We begin with the obvious: The salvation which Christians hold so precious, and which they offer to the world, is not by works

At least, not theirs.

Continue reading "Inescapable Words: A Primer on Works (1 of 8)" »

Thought for the Day

In his book God in the Dark, Os Guinness discusses a number of reasons why Christians have doubts about their faith -- often fatal doubts when they don't know how to find the answers they need. One reason Christians are susceptible to the kind of doubts that destroy their faith is because they do not understand the rational basis for faith. (Doubt, in itself, is not bad, Guinness argues, but doubts can be dangerous to our overall spiritual health if not addressed properly. I encourage others to read the book to see his in-depth treatment of the topic: it's illuminating!)

Guinness encourages us to be passionate about Truth, and committed to understanding the reasons why we believe. He offers this wonderful quote from St. Augustine as a guide: "God has given me a mind to place the Discovery of Truth above all things, to wish for nothing else, to think of nothing else, to love nothing else." 

May we be Christians who love Truth, especially the One who is the Truth! 

Re: Calling a Spade . . . Something Else

Anna comments on Travis's post about terms used to refer to PBA, "Partial birth abortion is the neutral term. Intact dilation and extraction is the liberal term. What it really is though is murder and it's rarely called that."

Both Travis and Anna make very good points, but the phenomenon goes beyond the pro-choicers not wanting to use the term "partial-birth abortion." Many of them get downright angry about its use, claiming that we're the ones trying to use language to deceive and manipulate. Here's a case in point.

(Explore this site at your own risk, if you go beyond the bounds of this particular post. The Daily Kosites -- Kossers? Kossacks? -- are not known for pulling their punches, and the language can get pretty filthy.)

So much for the champions of free inquiry

Just when ya thought that science journals were the arena for open debate, a creation scientist’s paper in the April 2007 edition of Chemistry in Australia gets expunged from the organization’s website.

It seems that “A creationist’s view of the intelligent design debate” by chemist John Ashton, a Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, created more critical heat than the editors could absorb.

Science and Religion in Tension

Anyone who hasn’t noticed the increased tension between science and religion over the last few decades, needs to get out a little more.

Today, naturalistic science and Non-overlapping Magisteria (NOMA) are reigning paradigms in the scientific establishment. According to NOMA, science and religion address two unconnected spheres of the human experience: one, physical—the domain of sense perception open to experimentation and verification; the other, metaphysical—related to questions of being, meaning, and values which are not open to empirical proofs. Since each governs separate spheres and relies on different authorities and methods, they have nothing to say to each other.

But for the pioneers of science, the study of nature was inextricably linked to nature’s God—specifically, the God of Christianity. To learn more, check out my recent BreakPoint article here.

April 23, 2007

Seeking a truce in the worship wars

I've had the "worship wars" on the brain lately -- partly because of an interesting conversation I've been having here with one of our commenters, and partly because of this article by Warren Smith.

Now, a kind of unholy trinity exists that has turned the ministry of Christian music into the industry of Christian music. Christian radio promotes the songs, the churches use them in worship, and CCLI collects fees for the copyright holders. The big winners are the Christian record companies, many of them now owned by secular corporations, who sell records into the millions. The big loser is the church itself, which now pays to have itself marketed to every Sunday morning at 11 am.

Contrast this with the “old” method. Hymn books contain songs that are mostly in the public domain and have little or no licensing fees. They have historically been published by denominational publishers who make them available to congregations more or less at cost. They were not aggressively marketed or promoted because they are typically denominationally specific, reflecting the doctrine and liturgy of a particular church. But that is a key point: the hymnals are informed by and reinforce the theology of the church. Said plainly, hymnals are discipleship tools.

Contemporary worship songs, on the other hand, are a revenue stream for copyright holders and music publishers. They are aggressively promoted and now make up a significant share of the $4.5-billion Christian retail market. 

There's no denying that Smith makes a valid and often overlooked point -- but at the same time, there's a little more to it than that. I ran the article past Bob Welch, minister of music at Immanuel Bible Church, for whose judgment I have a lot of respect in matters both theological and musical. (It doesn't hurt that he used to teach me piano.) His response, in part:

Continue reading "Seeking a truce in the worship wars" »

Hallmark of a Christian

Crossroads Last night, CBS aired another Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. While these are usually good tear-jerkers, last night's was especially poignant because it featured a real-life story.

Bruce Murakami lost his wife and daughter in a car accident caused by street-racing teens. Initially Bruce could think of nothing but clearing the name of his wife, who had been blamed for pulling out into traffic and causing the accident. But once he found out the truth and met the young man who had killed his family, Bruce eventually realized that the only way to deal with his intense grief was to forgive this boy. To the astonishment of many, Bruce asked that Justin be spared a prison sentence; instead, he asked that Justin face house arrest and be required to work with Bruce to educate teens on the dangers of street racing.

What could possibly motivate someone to forgive like this? Only God, of course. Bruce tells his story on the Hallmark web site and gives full credit to his faith and God's Word for bringing him to a point of forgiveness and reconciliation.

What Bruce did for Justin, and what he does for other teen offenders and their victims, is an example of restorative justice. Based on biblical principles, restorative justice seeks to restore victims and offenders, mete out appropriate and relevant justice, and provide a way for the community to experience peace and safety. You can read more about how Prison Fellowship is involved in restorative justice here.

A great way to spend a year

I went to Fredericksburg, Va., Friday to give a talk on Christian worldview, and as is so often the case, ended up learning as much as I taught. I was speaking to the members of the "Year of Your Life" group at Grace Church of Fredericksburg, an intensive Christian discipleship program for young adults. The members of the program, under the guidance of George and Lynn Ainsworth, spend the length of a school year living, studying, and working together.

The students, ranging in age from late teens to late twenties, had come to this program from all over -- some from Virginia, others from as far away as Bosnia and South Africa. We had a long, in-depth discussion of all kinds of issues that they, their friends, and their families are dealing with in their own lives, and how the Christian worldview applies in those and all other areas of life. They're a great group and the Ainsworths are doing a great job with them in this first year of the program. To talk with a group of young adults so bright, engaged, and dedicated to their faith is enough to make even a cynic like me hopeful for our world's future. :-)

If you'd be interested in spending a year at Year of Your Life, or know someone else who would, you can visit their Web page to download their brochure and application form. Thanks to the Ainsworths and their students for giving me the chance to play a small role in this vibrant and important program.

Calling a Spade . . . Something Else

It is interesting that in the NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW responses to the Carhart decision, one phrase that never appears is "partial-birth." In the other media commentary I mentioned earlier, the controversial procedure at issue is most often referred to as "so-called partial-birth abortion." Both sides know that words in this debate matter.

A Point reader seems to suggest that using the term "partial-birth" to describe the process puts an unfair spin in the analysis -- but I think it would be hard to come up with a less dramatized or gruesome way to explain it.

Mollie at GetReligion further comments on this word war, noting that:

Most reporters chose to portray the ruling in the language you might hear from those who advocate for abortion, rather than more neutral language or the language you might hear from those who oppose abortion. By that I mean that we were told the ruling was a loss of rights for women or abortionists rather than an expansion of protections for unborn children or the mothers who carry them. . . .

I’m not arguing that the medical term isn’t “intact dilation and extraction” (so called because the child is removed from the womb via the cervix and then killed). Such bias against the language and rhetoric of abortion opponents is so expected these days that it’s almost become the norm, but we should remain diligent. The issue won’t stop being contentious so reporters should redouble their efforts at neutrality.

This is no small point, and it goes far beyond mere semantics. About the only conceivable reason for altering or ignoring the common name for this type of abortion is to distract the public from its egregiousness. It focuses only on the perceived right to choose to abort, with disregard for how brutally that right may be carried out.

April 20, 2007

Anesthetizing Imagination

Earlier this week, I mentioned a NYT book review that features a couple of children's books showing a trend. The books featured seem to be encouraging a return to something that would seem as natural to childhood as bedtime stories and coloring books--creative play. My mom, a saint, and a kindergarten teacher, sent me an email about the trend. I thought her insights were so salient, I wanted to share them with the rest of you:

Certainly, there has been a great impact on the use of imagination in the kindergarten classroom since the strong stress on academics has basically ended any "imaginative play time" during the school day. I noticed a commercial tonight that really gave me pause.  It was for Chrysler. It basically was touting the fact that a DVD player would be put into their new vehicles. But the advertisement began by showing a noisy scene...probably a school cafeteria. Then it shows the adult in charge pulling down the little fold-down screen on a DVD player much like you see in the back of people's minivans. The result was a sudden "hush" across the formerly unruly crowd of kids as their attention was suddenly riveted to the DVD. It reminded me of how mesmerized kids are by all kinds of video media. It is the ultimate mind control of our day, and basically sucks up most of the rest of the waking hours of our children when they go home from school. So they go from one controlled environment to another. As a teacher, I am forced to rigidly control their time with me. Unfortunately, many, many parents are unwilling or unable to insist that their children break away from the video entertainment and create their own fun.

The commercial, which I haven't seen, but did confirm was Chrysler, is kind of chilling to me. With the image of our creative God stamped into all of us, Christian parents need to make it imperative to lead the way in making sure the imagination is stoked not stifled in this next generation. Not only will this make our kids counter-cultural, I think it will also make them smarter.

We’re Not All Hokies

In her column in today's Los Angeles Times, Rosa Brooks knocks it out of the park -- the "it" being our sloppy thinking and feeling in the aftermath of Monday's killings in Blacksburg.

Brooks isn't criticizing empathy for other people's sorrow and suffering -- she's going after the way we forget/ignore/reject the fact that the sorrow and suffering is someone else's.   

Convincing ourselves that we've been vicariously traumatized by the pain of strangers has become a cherished national pastime. Thus, the Washington Post this week accompanied online stories about the shooting with a clickable sidebar, "Where to Find Support" -- apparently on the assumption that the mere experience of glancing at articles about the tragedy would be so emotionally devastating that readers would require trained therapists.

Count me out. There's something fraudulent about this eagerness to latch onto the grief of others and embrace the idea that we, too, have been victimized. This trivializes the pain felt by those who have actually lost something and pathologizes normal reactions to tragedy.

Continue reading "We’re Not All Hokies" »

A challenge to the conventional wisdom on global warming

If you're in the Washington area on Monday, you might be interested in hearing Dr. E. Calvin Beisner's presentation for Faith and Law, "A Biblical Challenge to Al Gore's Global Warming Gospel."
Dr. Beisner is co-author of "A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming" and "An Examination of the Scientific, Ethical and Theological Implications of Climate Change Policy."

To learn more, send an e-mail to [email protected].

Jesus on the golf course

Johnson Over the Easter weekend, I sat with my family and watched <gasp> a golf game. OK, not just any golf game: The Masters. This year's premier golf tournament was won, not by one of the famous names, but by a relative unknown, a newcomer, Zach Johnson. In his post-win statements, before heading into the clubhouse to get ready for his green jacket moment, Johnson told reporters that he felt the presence of Jesus with him, particularly on this holy day.

Johnson attended the same Iowa high school as Kurt Warner, the quarterback who led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory a few years back. Like Johnson, Warner is a Christian who isn't afraid to talk openly about his faith. 

The Des Moines Register has a good article on Johnson's faith, including some advice that Warner would offer the young athlete based on his own experience in the sports world:

"Zach has a great handle on why he is there and that it is by God's grace that he is in that position," Warner said. "First and foremost, he can't ever forget that the talent that he has comes from God. That is the greatest thing he can do to make sure things don't catch up with him."

Divorcing the Spirit

So Chuck Colson spoke the truth yesterday . . . and Time provides evidence for his case.

Chuck contends that when faced with difficult circumstances, such as the recent VA Tech shooting, we automatically link such carnage to a "psychological defect" of the perpetrator. He states that:

Mental illness, not human evil, is our preferred explanation for what happened in places like Blacksburg or Columbine.

Read the logic, examine the evidence. Where do you stand on this issue? Do we plead insanity, or the precious blood of Christ? Is there room for both?

Daring to follow God

Evel_knievel__profile Apparently, legendary daredevil Evel Knievel gave his life to Christ last month. From Christianity Today's news round-up:

Knievel knew people were praying for him, including his daughter's church, his ex-wife's church, and the hundreds of people who wrote letters urging him to believe. And then something indescribable happened during Daytona Bike Week this March.

"I don't know what in the world happened. I don't know if it was the power of the prayer or God himself, but it just reached out, either while I was driving or walking down the sidewalk or sleeping, and it just—the power of God in Jesus just grabbed me. … All of a sudden, I just believed in Jesus Christ. I did, I believed in him!"

Knievel is 68 years old, proving that it's never too late to teach an old stuntman new tricks.

Decision Births Impartial Reactions

Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, which upheld a ban on partial-birth abortion, may end up being only a modest victory in curbing the cultural and legal acceptance of abortion. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion is a strained attempt to validate the law in question while making clear enough that the central tenets of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey remain essentially untouched.

Still, modest or not, it’s a long-awaited step toward sanity. If the practice of abortion, in general, seems fairly indefensible to some of us, the partial-birth procedure is difficult to comprehend, let alone be held as a reasonable “choice” for a pregnant mother.

But to listen to the panicked voices of pro-abortion groups and liberal media outlets, the Carhart decision smashed Roe v. Wade into a thousand pieces. That may be a bit premature. It perhaps reveals, however, that partial-birth abortion became a symbol of broader abortion freedom, leaving this week’s ruling to suggest that an outer perimeter of that freedom has now been breached.

Continue reading "Decision Births Impartial Reactions" »

April 19, 2007

A New Twist on Human Amusement...

... Parks, that is. Yes it's true, England will soon be opening its very own amusement park of sorts with a historic twist. Details for the new Charles Dickens theme park include Ebenezer Scrooge's haunted house and Europe's largest dark boat ride. (Whatever that is).

I'm not a big amusement park fan (at least not the death-defying roller-coaster versions), but I would LOVE to go see something like this!

Bill Frist on Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

Former Senate majority leader and surgeon Dr. Bill Frist had this to say yesterday about the Supreme Court's recent ruling upholding the ban on partial birth abortions:

Today's ruling reaffirms that human life is precious and that we cannot tolerate a procedure that puts into question our medical ethics. It represent yet another important step in our endeavor to restore a culture of life....

The practice of brutalizing a tiny baby the very moment she is ready to emerge into the world is an affront to my whole medical experience ... and to the decency of a civilized society. We respect human life far too much to let it be ravaged in such an inhumane way.

Amen, Dr. Frist. And thank you, thank you to the Supreme Court justices who made this life-affirming decision. My prayer is that I will live long enough to see future court rulings that will end all abortions-on-demand in this nation. 

More details on two tragic stories

Christianity Today's Weblog has more details on Cho Seung-Hui's attitude toward Christianity, and on the killings at the Bible publishing house in Turkey.

Article roundup

A few new articles by Point bloggers are up on the main BreakPoint site.


An Indispensable God

The events of Monday's shooting have left me rather silent, partially because, like most, I've been filtering through my thoughts wondering what it is I really want to say. But I read this recent article in the Boston Globe this morning, "Why We Need Religion" and a certain sentence there struck me:

"...you rarely have to look far to be reminded of the indispensability of God and religion."

While columnists, newscasters, students and everyday citizens dramatically ponder and debate next steps, I've found myself disgusted over the various directions we've run to for solutions. As I overheard a pastor say yesterday, where's the person standing in front of the camera saying "let's pray, let's look to God"? Sadly, I've yet to hear any such remarks. Should I be surprised?

But going a step further, I can't help but wonder where was God in Cho's life? The recent release of Cho's writings make mention of Jesus Christ. What did that name mean to him? Tying back to the ariticle above, like it or not, we are all governed by the impression (both negative or positive) religion leaves in our lives. Yes, even atheists. So I'm curious to know... what impressions has "religion" left in your life?

The reality of evil

Chuck Colson talks about the Virginia Tech massacre in today's BreakPoint commentary:

As we seek to understand what happened and why [the killer] did this, it is vital that we not exclude an important part of the equation: evil.

And on the Newsweek/Washington Post blog On Faith:

Christians believe in the Fall, which means that man disobeyed God and introduced sin and evil into the world. Humans, therefore, are responsible for suffering and injustice.

God, however, has not remained passive in the midst of suffering.

(To see all the panelists' responses, click here.)

April 18, 2007

Re: Rush to Heal

Giovanni_speech Diane, thank you for the link to the wise Prager piece with the on-target title.

I don't know much about poet and VT professor Nikki Giovanni, but I was on her side the moment she went after one of the most loathsome clichés of our time at the memorial service with the words, "We are not 'moving on,' we are embracing our mourning." That one sentence alone was a fitting tribute to lives wiped out unjustly, and a strong indictment of what Prager calls our "psychotherapeutic culture."

The Precise Details

This passage from the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act made me choke on my Fresca:

Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision . . . which some women come to regret. In a decision so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure to be used.

Well, of course they don't want to reveal the precise details! After all, if a woman learns that her doctor is about to remove from her womb her seven-month-old, fully formed fetus, except for the head, suck out the brains and then crush the baby's skull, she might be so horrified by this barbarity that she'd walk out of the abortion clinic--and that would cut into the abortionist's income. 

This passage offends me because it suggests that women are such fragile, emotional creatures that we need the strong men (Supreme Court justices, abortionists) to make important decisions for us. And the feminists are going along with this? Oh, wait--they're the same empowering bunch who don't want women to see pictures of their unborn babies on ultrasound.

Did it ever occur to the justices that the reason many women regret their abortions is because they were deceived, not only about fetal development, but about the sadistic way their babies' lives were extinguished?