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April 18, 2007

A ’Values Grenada’

The Supreme Court's upholding of the federal ban on partial birth abortions is joyful news in a week so grievously marked by death. One imagines enraged feminists in the nation's newsrooms pounding out  stories about this decision hard enough to break their keyboards.

A couple of notes: The AP writer makes a point of saying, partway through his story, that abortion is, of course, a "constitutional right." You know, that mysterious "right" that somehow went missing for 200 years before being dug up in 1973 by the Supreme archeologists. Journalists can say it till the cows come home (and they will) but abortion was never a constitutional right. It was invented out of whole cloth by activist judges.

Second, as I wrote in NRO four years ago this week, if the Supreme Court upheld this ban 34 years after discovering the right to abortion, it would

represent what Princeton legal philosopher Robert P. George calls a "values Grenada." Remember the  Breshnev Doctrine--the belief that where Communism had seized territory, it could never be retrieved? For years, Western leaders reluctantly accepted this Communist canon, attempting only to contain the spread. And then, George says, "President Reagan found a little outpost on the edge of the Communist empire, the weakest, least defensible, most vulnerable outpost of Communism. He undid a Communist government in Grenada, and he put the lie to the Breshnev Doctrine," proving that Communist territory could indeed be retrieved, and Communism itself unraveled.

"Partial-birth abortion is a values Grenada," George explains. "It's the weakest, least defensible, most vulnerable outpost of the abortion power.  By striking there we can begin to unravel the logic of abortion--what could be called the Blackman Doctrine--that abortion can never be pushed back."

I sat in the Senate Gallery when this legislation was being debated years ago. I listened to the most astonishing, bald-faced lies about the supposed need for this barbaric procedure (it was the debate famously marked by a baby's cry). It's such good news that the lies aren't working anymore--although plenty of people are still telling them, including, notably, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Where was God on Monday?

Vigil As our nation and the world grieves for the victims and their families of this week’s unspeakable horror, the question “Where was God?” is surely on the minds of many.

The senseless massacre at Virginia Tech is but the latest in a long line of tragedies, like 9/11 and the Indonesian tsunami, that emphatically remind us of man’s struggle against the capricious forces of evil in a world that, in the words of theologian Cornelius Plantinga, is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”

According to Christian teaching, manifestations of evil, while not created or propagated by God, are allowed for “a season” according to the hidden purposes of God. At the same time, theologian David B. Hart's words regarding the Indonesian disaster are well taken:

When we see the entire littoral rim of the Indian Ocean strewn with tens of thousands of corpses, a third of them children's-- no Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God's inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God's good ends.”

Although the sovereign will of God is fundamental to Christian doctrine, as Mr. Hart suggests, platitudes about “God’s ultimate good ends” offered to the afflicted are offensive because they are cheap compassion, often offered to relieve our own discomfort while avoiding the costly compassion of real action.

Continue reading "Where was God on Monday?" »

Re: Licensed to Carry

We've been asked to address the issue of how gun control, which Diane just posted about, relates to the Christian worldview.

Self-defense, and defense in general, have long been issues of concern for Christians. On the one hand, it would seem obvious on its face that every person has the right to defend his own life and the lives of others as well, even if that means taking up arms. On the other hand, how do we reconcile this right with the words of Christ, who told us to "turn the other cheek"?

There are no easy answers. But it is right that we continue to discuss the matter in an effort to try to find answers.

On message boards and chat rooms all over the Internet, the issue of gun control has been raised again, specifically because of the Virginia Tech massacre. So it is hard to argue that this not the time for Christians to address the topic, when it is already being addressed by the world. Isn't that what we're here for, after all -- to show how Christians from various traditions, but all committed to the cause of Christ and His kingdom, think and feel about the issues that are important to us all?

I published Diane's post because I believe she handled the topic in a reasoned, thoughtful, non-exploitative manner. However, I deleted a comment on the same topic the other day beacuse I believed that it did not handle the topic appropriately. So we are doing our best to be sensitive to the feelings of everyone at this difficult time.

Supreme Court Gets One Right

With a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court has (finally) upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion. I'm sure there will be much more debate and commentary to come, but this is very good news.

Attack on Bible Publishing House in Turkey: 3 killed

See the full story here.

Licensed to Carry

The massacre at VT has once again ignited the debate over guns in America. The one point I'm waiting for someone to make, however, is how the murderer could have been stopped long before he killed 32 people if even one of the teachers or students he encountered had been armed. I am personally licensed to carry a concealed weapon by the state of Alabama, yet I cannot legally carry a gun onto the college campus where I teach. This event drives home for me the foolishness of that prohibition.   

Rush to Heal

Dennis Prager's article "You're Dead; I'm Healing" offers some words of wisdom for those living in an instant gratification society (that's all of us, BTW). Before the butcher's bill from the massacre at VT was even tallied, the university was announcing its plans for a convocation  "to begin the healing process." 

Prager points out the fallacy of this rush to heal: 

Not to allow people time to experience their natural, and noble, instincts to feel rage and grief actually deprives them of the ability to heal in the long run. After all, if there is no rage and grief, what is there to heal from? The Jewish tradition ... is to sit "shiva" (seven) days and do nothing but mourn and receive visitors after the death of an immediate relative. One does not have to be a religious Jew or even a Jew to appreciate this ancient wisdom. It is not good for people to feign normalcy immediately after the loss of a loved one. People who have not been allowed, or not allowed themselves, time to grieve suffer later on.... [They are] likely to pay a steep psychological price."

Prager points out that this rush to heal is really quite narcissistic: it focuses on 'my pain' not on the victims or even on the murderer -- who should be the target of our righteous anger. Yes, healing and forgiveness need to come ... but later, after the pain has done its job.

Personally, I believe our culture engages in this rush to heal because we don't want to come face to face with God. As C.S. Lewis reminds us, pain can be God's megaphone to get our attention off ourselves and on to Him. We want to skip the soul searching and the God-seeking that such events should provoke in us, and in our day there seems to be no end of feel-good gurus who will offer us such an easy escape -- to our everlasting shame and destruction.

Hope Amidst Anger, Hate, Suffering

Peter Wood, whose book Mark has been discussing on BreakPoint this week, weighs in on the murderous rage that seems to appear far too often in places of learning.

It is comforting in a way to think of devils as bat-winged haunters of the back woods. When radical evil really manifests itself, it is more often in the midst of everyday life. This week it was in a college dormitory and a lecture hall. In my book on anger, I declared that I would set aside one subject -- the link between anger and violence -- because that is the only aspect of anger that usually gets serious attention. I wanted to examine anger in its own right to see if it has other qualities that had been overlooked. What I found was “new anger,” a self-justifying, narcissistic rage that our society once regarded as akin to madness, but now extols as self-empowerment and authenticity.

What happens when the new anger goes beyond snarling epithets in the blogosphere or the tennis court? Perhaps a gunman seeks his authenticity with a couple of handguns and extra clips of ammunition. Schools and colleges offer innocent and defenseless victims to the killer to maximize what the trendy theorists in the humanities like to call the sense of “transgression.” And the college campus is also the place of hidden hierarchies and exclusions that can be banished in an instant with a spray of bullets. Mass murder is about nothing if not self-empowerment, and what better venue for the ultimate exercise in self-empowerment than the institution that preaches it night and day?

Continue reading "Hope Amidst Anger, Hate, Suffering" »

April 17, 2007

Shards of Light in the Midst of School Shootings

While as mentioned earlier, the horror of the Virginia Tech tragedy underscores the very real presence of evil in our world, at the same time, within tragedies of this nature, we often also see inexplicable shards of light.

One of those shards in this tragedy appears to have come with professors and students putting their bodies in between the perpetrator and other students as they sought to block doors. Anne has already mentioned Romanian-born Liviu Librescu, a 76-year-old Holocaust survivor, who barricaded the door so that his students could have time to jump out the window. (Zengerle, Reuters).

The Denver Post reported:

"My father blocked the doorway with his body and asked the students to flee," Librescu's son, Joe Librescu, said today in a telephone interview from his home outside of Tel Aviv. "Students started opening windows and jumping out."

The incident reminds me of other shards of light we have seen in similar school shootings.

Continue reading "Shards of Light in the Midst of School Shootings" »

Tim Kaine Got it Right

As I watched the live video feed of the memorial service at Virginia Tech, I was saddened, but not necessarily surprised, by the watered-down messages delivered by university's religious leaders. Perhaps at the expense of offending non-Christian attenders, the Protestant representative urged the audience to seek refuge in the "the light that shines in the darkness" and the "hope that defies despair." Light from where? Hope in what?

How can we even begin to comfort someone dealing with a tragedy of this magnitude by treating God, the one true Comforter, as the "elephant in the living room?"

I think Virginia Governor Tim Kaine got the real message across when he spoke of Job's mourning and Christ's gut-wrenching words, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"

Let's pray that the families of the victims (including the family of the gunman), the students, and the faculty discover the true light and hope of Jesus Christ in the midst of this devastating aftermath.

Greater Love Hath No Man Than This

The most moving thing I've read about Virginia Tech murders yesterday, from Carol Iannone on National Review Online (Phi Beta Cons blog):

And there were moving instances of heroism. A Holocaust survivor whose life had been spared decades before gave it for others yesterday. He barricaded the door of his classroom against the killer, enabling the students to escape through the windows.

This reminds me of the actions of a pregnant teacher during a grade school shooting a few years ago: She put her body between her small charges and a killer, sacrificing her life for theirs.

Would I have the courage to do what these people did, for strangers? I don't know.

The places where we are fed

Mcdonalds Zoe's post on No Kum Ba Yah Here and the comments it is generating put me in mind of something my youngest brother wrote over the Easter weekend. He gave me permission to paraphrase his thoughts, which I found both insightful and provocative. He began by contrasting the Mom and Pop diner with the franchise fast food restaurant. 

Fast food, by definition, is all about numbers. Get 'em in, get 'em out, keep the drive-thru line moving. If the local Wendy's closes, we might miss the chili, but we can just as easily go to McDonald's and get virtually the same dining experience. 

Sadly, Mom and Pop diners are becoming more and more rare, but these are places that tend to cultivate a sense of community. That might sound surprising if you've never experienced it, but I can tell you it's true.

For years, my grandparents were patrons of a little smoky dive of a place in their central Illinois hometown. Walking into Ernie's on a weekday night was to see community at work. Flannel-shirted farmers and young factory workers in t-shirts would make the rounds, shaking hands and slapping backs, before settling into a table or booth. Waitresses knew most of the customers by name, and I don't think a week went by when my grandparents didn't have their tab picked up by Ernie's son. The atmosphere was lousy and the food wasn't much better, but you knew when you walked in that you were among friends, even if you were a stranger.

Just like the difference between Mickey D's and Ernie's, our churches offer vastly different experiences.

Continue reading "The places where we are fed" »

’Salvo’: An Important New Mag in the Culture Wars

If you haven’t gotten your hands on Salvo magazine, I strongly encourage you to do so.

Under the same mother company as Touchstone, Salvo differs in its punchy and edgy style, with a voice that will resonate with a postmodern culture. Below is an excerpt from their mission statement.

Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death…

Critiquing destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness.

Recovering the one worldview that actually works.

To get a feel for this bright, new apologetic vehicle, click here. (If you check closely, you may notice a feature by yours truly, which challenges the theories of gender identity.)

Don’t Make It Worse

Then Job answered the LORD and said:

I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.

I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.

I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.

Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.

Continue reading "Don’t Make It Worse" »

Speaking the truth in love

In a follow-up to yesterday's BreakPoint commentary on the culture of anger, Mark Earley deals with the topic of how Christians can avoid being sucked into that culture.

Clearly, our nation and our culture are polarized. Discussion and debate have been replaced with yelling and demonizing. We Christians cannot retreat from the public square. We are called to speak the truth in love. But how do we engage others in a world where sound bytes compete and angry rhetoric is the order of the day?

Read more for some helpful ideas.

April 16, 2007

Missing the point on Giuliani

In a debate over what Giuliani said and what he was implying, I think Andy McCarthy at The Corner is completely missing the point. (I tried to e-mail him to say this, but his e-mail address link isn't working, so you all get to read my ruminations instead.)

McCarthy writes,

He's got to make socials understand that he hears and respects what they're saying, and he wants their vote because he's largely with them — and it can't be BS.  If it is, he's toast.  Obviously, I don't think it is, but it really doesn't matter what I think.  That's why the Post story upsets me.  It intimates a "[Mild expletive] you" to the socials that is very far from the Rudy I know.  I think Rudy considers himself very competitive for the votes of pro-lifers.  As JPod has noted, he's been very careful and respectful in this regard.

Whether he's respectful is not the issue. I couldn't care less what Rudy Giuliani thinks of me. I care VERY much about what he would do about the issue of unborn children should he become President. And that's why his friends and well-wishers should be concerned about what he's saying -- and why pro-life voters should pay very careful attention to it.

Evil exists

Our attention has been focused today on the horror at Virginia Tech, where a gunman murdered more than 30 people. The press has repeatedly called this the worst school massacre in U.S. history.

Tragically, they are wrong. The deadliest school massacre took place on May 18, 1927, at the Bath Consolidated School in Bath Township, Michigan. That morning, farmer and school board member Andrew Kehoe set off a series of home-made bombs, killing 45 people and wounding 58 more. According to Wikipedia,

Kehoe first killed his wife and then set his farm buildings on fire. As fire fighters arrived at the farm, an explosion devastated the north wing of the school building, killing many of the people inside. Kehoe used a detonator to ignite dynamite and hundreds of pounds of pyrotol which he had secretly planted inside the school over the course of many months. As rescuers started gathering at the school, Kehoe drove up, stopped, and detonated a bomb inside his shrapnel-filled vehicle, killing himself and the school superintendent, and killing and injuring several others.

Kehoe's reason for killing his neighbors' innocent children? He was disgruntled by what he viewed as an excessively high property tax (used to finance construction of the school building) which he blamed for the financial reversals that led to the foreclosure of his farm.   

Of course, the real reason he murdered these children was that he was an evil man who chose to engage in evil acts. How else to explain the fact that he secured his farm animals in their pens to ensure that they would burn to death when he blew up his farm? How else to explain the fact that he bludgeoned his wife to death?

Continue reading "Evil exists" »

Rudy’s Risk

Doug Bandow in The American Spectator also offers a strong commentary warning that the death knell of Giuliani's campaign might be his apparent willingness to allow abortions to be funded at taxpayer expense.

Should social conservatives be single issue voters? There's no easy answer, since even many people on the same side are more or less passionate and often feel more certain of their positions than do others.

Moreover, one can never compare political candidates thinking "all other things being equal." All other things never are equal, so one has to weigh widely varying packages of personal and policy factors against one another.

Thus, it's fair for social conservatives to consider voting for a pro-abortion candidate like Giuliani. But the leap is further, much further, when the pro-abortion candidate believes in forcing all taxpayers to underwrite the process.

Public funding for abortion creates an official imprimatur of respectability and makes us all complicit in a great moral wrong. If Mayor Giuliani can't understand such a fundamental issue, or worse, understands it but doesn't care, he's likely to disappoint conservative voters in other important areas as well.

There are some deal-breakers in politics. Public financing of abortion should be one for social conservatives.

Continue reading "Rudy’s Risk" »

No Kum Ba Yah Here

The church is often criticized for being too feminine. True or not, a group of men in Daytona Beach are taking these accusations seriously. The recently founded Church for Men, which meets one Saturday evening a month in a gym, features rock music and a shot clock which keeps sermons to 15 minutes flat.

Founder Mike Ellis said the church is a response to the supposed growing feminization of the church. David Murrow, author of Why Men Hate Going to Church, says, "Going to church is perceived as womanly behavior. We don't go to church for the same reason we don't wear pink."

Christian comedian Chris Elrod recently blogged:

Musically (men) want AC/DC and we give them Celine Dion. Lyrically (men) want Tom Clancy and we give them Danielle Steel. Spiritually (men) want "Braveheart" and we give them "Sleepless in Seattle."

Okay, we get the point.

Continue reading "No Kum Ba Yah Here" »

More on Imagination

Picturebook Last week, I posted a few musings on an essay by G.K. Chesterton. In it he says, "Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." I mentioned that I believe that a sanctified imagination is intimately tied to our ability to hope, and hope to eternity. Conversely, I hypothesized that cynicism may lead to despair and despair to godlessness and godlessness is just a euphemism for Hell.

I bumped into a couple of things this weekend that furthered my musings:

  • A book review in the New York Times suggests a trend in children's picture books, stating, "A lot of new picture books seem to reflect the concern that creative play is becoming a thing of the past."  The books seem to didactically be trying to teach children how to play creatively again. I wonder what this signals about our society? Is this a sign of a decaying imagination?
  • I also ran across this article in the Houston Chronicle bemoaning the loss of imagination in our public schools' rigorous emphasis on test-scores and benchmarks. The article recalls Albert Einstein, who was fond of saying, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
  • A movie review of Bridge to Terabithia states, "The story's insistence on the healing power of a nurtured imagination is both welcome and essential."
  • And finally I ran across a quote from Heart of Darkness where Conrad's main character, after returning from his travels and the atrocities he had witnessed, states, "It was not my strength that needed nursing, it was my imagination that needed soothing."

(Image from The Birthday Box courtesy of the New York Times)

We have to ’get beyond’ the slaughter of the unborn?

I don't think so, Mr. Giuliani.

(H/T Rich Lowry)

Update: Rich provides a sample of e-mail responses here. And Kathryn Lopez sums it all up nicely: "I can't thank him enough for being so honest."

’I hate, therefore I am’

Today on BreakPoint, Mark Earley talks about Peter Wood's excellent new book, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, on how a "national epidemic of anger" is twisting our public discourse into something so vicious it's almost frightening:

New Anger, the book explains, is not just a by-product of the political process. It has become central to it. The discourse of our time has become about anger, with pundits, politicians, and their supporters acting as if their anger and hatred were virtues in themselves. Political and journalistic careers are built on being angry. It’s a nationwide case of “I-hate-therefore-I-am,” says Wood. As traditional virtues like self-control have eroded, replaced by new “virtues” like self-expression, anger and hatred have become celebrated, even cherished.

Read more.

April 13, 2007

Update on Miller-Jenkins custody case

You may remember the case covered here two months ago (and also covered by Chuck Colson on BreakPoint) in which former lesbian Lisa Miller was fighting to keep the courts from granting her ex-partner, Janet Jenkins, custody of Lisa's daughter, Isabella. According to this article, it looks like Janet is about to win at least visitation rights.

Janet, of Fair Haven, hasn't been able to see, talk with, or write to Isabella. On April 16, Isabella will turn five. Ultimately, Janet said, she would like to be able to enroll Isabella in a Fair Haven elementary school this September.

"I'm pretty agreeable to whatever she may want me to adhere to," Janet said of her former partner Lisa.

Actually, she's not, because what Lisa wants is -- get this -- to keep her own daughter with her.

Continue reading "Update on Miller-Jenkins custody case" »

Start the Dialogue

The first thing I wondered, when reading this Washington Post piece, "Young, Gay Christians, On a Bumpy Bus Ride," was "Who's funding this? Who's paying for the meals and the motel bills?" The Post doesn't say.

Second, those riding the bus say they want students at evangelical colleges to listen to them. But how much listening do THEY do to "people of different views?" Given the contempt with which they privately discuss the students and graduates of Patrick Henry College, the answer is probably "Not much."

Third, evangelical colleges do not exclude students with gender disorders, as the Washington Post subtitle claims; it excludes the behavior they willfully engage in, just as they exclude heterosexual students and professors who advertise the fact that they engage in pre-marital or extra-marital sexual behavior. (Note: The Patrick Henry student handbook makes a point of saying that homosexual practice is inconsistent with their faith position).

Those who run evangelical colleges know perfectly well that every single student is tempted by sin in some way, and probably in many ways--tempted to lie, cheat, steal, or to engage in sexual sin--but they expect students to commit themselves, through the power of Christ, to  withstanding temptation.

Continue reading "Start the Dialogue" »

The Necessity of Imagination

Somehow our discussion the other day on beauty had me thinking about a line from G. K. Chesterton in an essay he wrote called, "A Defense of Penny Dreadfuls." Apparently, many from the upper classes of his day were berating the cheap novels, or "Penny Dreadfuls," as they called them, read by so many of the youth of England. I'm not exactly sure, but I tend to think of these as the precursors to the Hardy Boys novels, which were probably better written but get at the youth and popularity of the genre. Chesterton, himself a brilliant writer, comes to the defense of this lack-luster writing, saying, "Fiction is a necessity; literature is a luxury."

That little phrase has stuck in my mind. Chesterton goes on to explain, "The simple need for some kind of ideal world in which fictitious persons play an unhampered part is infinitely deeper and older than the rules of good art, and much more important." I'm sure C. S. Lewis picked up on these themes as he wrote, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

I think somehow imagination is intimately linked with hope and hope is inextricably intertwined with eternity.

Continue reading "The Necessity of Imagination" »

’Are Christians Terrorists?’

Some kids may be getting that impression, says Mark Earley in today's BreakPoint commentary:

Two-and-a-half years ago, Islamic terrorists took 1,200 people hostage at a school in the Russian city of Beslan. They ultimately slaughtered 344 people, including 186 children. The attack brought back memories of the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School, in which two disaffected students shot to death twelve classmates and a teacher.

It is no surprise, then—especially after September 11—that a New Jersey school district felt the need to practice anti-terrorism drills. What shocked students was who the mock terrorists were supposed to be: homeschooling Christian fundamentalists.

Read more.

Freedom to Choose

Chuck's BreakPoint commentary yesterday on "The Miscreant in our Midst" earned a great big "Amen" from this reader.  I've been exercising my freedom to choose NOT to listen to people like Imus for years.  Currently, it extends to Rosie (wonder if her network will fire her as well ... she's at least as offensive as Imus), to news stories about Anna Nicole Smith, to the odious "Girls Next Door" series, and anything on MTV. The list could go on and on given all the garbage on TV these days.

While it's becoming increasingly difficult to find anything worth watching, I'm not quite ready to assign my TV to the ash heap: I'm hanging in there with Lost, the occasional House episode, and shows that teach me how to redecorate without spending any money! (My husband is particularly happy with that last choice.)

Working Backwards

George Barna has a new book out titled Revolutionary Parenting that helps parents make choices that will increase the chances that their children will grow up to become devoted Christians.

"Our strategy was to start by identifying desirable attributes that parents would want to see in their children, then work backwards from the existence of those attributes in young adults to figure out what produced them," Barna says. "We expected that studying people in their twenties who exhibited such qualities would reveal some common practices that the parents of such children had implanted."

It did. Read more here. Note how important it is to instill in children a biblical worldview.

New heights in marital respect

From this morning's Washington Post:

Another casualty of the Don Imus flap: His environmentalist wife -- whom the radio yakker fondly refers to on-air as "the green ho," and no, that's not really okay either -- has canceled her book tour.

See, folks, he's a loving and supportive husband and he calls his wife a "ho"! He does it fondly! Not such a big deal after all, is it?

And people wonder why we women are always griping about how hard it is to find a decent guy anymore.

April 12, 2007

Object Lessons in Humility

Thanks, Catherine, for your post yesterday and your call to pray for the Prison Fellowship Rwanda team.

This reminded me of my experience this week, which also gave me an interesting new lens on humility. I volunteered to pick up some prayer requests from prisoners, their families and PFM staff and personally pray for them. I was down in our prayer room praying for these men and women and this provided me a realization of how fortunate I am and how my own struggles and needs are small compared to what others are going through. I read heartbreaking stories and prayer requests that made me less think of myself and focus my attention to the needs of other people. What a humbling experience for me.

In connection to this, I also remember the night I saw a meteor shower for the first time. I was lying down on the grass. It was a good position because it gave me a clear view of the shower of stars that night. It too was a humbling experience. I was filled with awe at what I witnessed that night. I was reminded that I am a small part, a vapor in this huge universe. My recent personal study of the 2004 book and documentary Privileged Planet by scientists Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards strengthens my admiration of our world and my place in the universe. The book explains evidence to show that life in the universe is rare and that the Earth is not a result of natural processes and is in a central “privileged” position in the universe. The earth is “fine-tuned” to support life. With this, I can only think that no matter how small or infinitesimal I am -- I am still somehow significant in the world and I owe my life to the great designer of the universe.

It brought to my mind Jesus’ utmost act of humility. John 13:14-15: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example that you should do as I have done for you.” Jesus performed an act that was considered a very low responsibility. This act from Jesus was an object lesson to his disciples, and me, that our real position in this world is not for ourselves but in humble imitation of Christ’s life through serving other people, and in submission to Christ’s glory.

HBO’s ’Rome’ & Christianity

Rome I have only seen the first five episodes of HBO's series Rome, but I've thought well of what I've seen (gratuitous sexual content aside), especially its general historical accuracy and dispassionate view of Roman life. Over at First Things, Gerard Russello sees value in the series in that it awakens us to the brutal injustice of pagan life in Rome and, thus, enables us to appreciate the great peace of the Gospel, imagining the vantage point of a powerless Roman subject.

Russello concludes compellingly:

These days, some contend that a world without Christian restraints would be more egalitarian, less violent, and more individualistic. But for those with a historical sense, Rome shows that another alternative is more likely. The classical world was not all marble columns and noble rhetoric. It was a world where the strong ruled, and those who could not conquer were themselves conquered. Far from being egalitarian, the only clear rule was inequality: between masters and slaves, husbands and wives, or plebeians and patricians. Those wishing to reject the West’s Christian heritage should take a hard look at what that world was like.

The amazing reappearing blog

For those of you who keep track of these things -- all two of you -- we had to take Chris Rice's blog off our blogroll, as it was down for so long that we concluded it wasn't coming back. I still don't know what happened, but I'm happy to report that "Deep Enough to Blog" is now up and running again, and has several new posts worth reading. Check it out.

Even better, Chris's main site reports that -- oh joy! -- he's releasing a new album soon. I know not one thing about it, but I'm already recommending it to you. He is that good.

(Add to that the new Thursday Next book coming out this summer and the new Father Tim book -- follow-ups to the Mitford series -- in the fall, and 2007 is shaping up to be a pretty good year.)

A crash course in stem cells

For those who, like me, have had a little trouble keeping up with recent stem-cell developments:

  • Yuval Levin of EPPC and The New Atlantis discusses the House and Senate bills here.
  • Here, he gives an update on yesterday's vote and what it means. Briefly: two bills passed, one good and one not so good -- but the not-so-good one does not have the numbers to override a presidential veto.
  • And the text of the President's promise to veto it is here.
  • Also, Kathryn Jean Lopez, Mona Charen, and Levin discuss a possible major development in the use of adult stem cells to treat diabetes here, here, here, and here.

Thought for the Day

Thought for the day:

"All the evangelism in the world from a church that is not herself holy and righteous will not be worth a hill of beans in world-changing power." (Peter Gillquist, Why We Haven't Changed the World)

April 11, 2007

Thank you, Mr. Ponnuru

Ramesh Ponnuru talks sense about Rudy Giuliani's pro-choice stance and record. It's about time someone did.

Moments of truth

Baby_finger_4 In today's BreakPoint commentary, Chuck Colson weighs in on the odd new trend on TV that we've been discussing lately (see here, here, and here):

Whatever the beliefs of those behind the scenes, they are making an impact. Even pro-choicers have marveled over the powerful moment on House. People who never thought twice about abortion will remember Dr. House telling his patient, “Don’t thank me. I would have killed the kid”—the word fetus disappearing. People who would never listen to a sermon will remember the image of the unsentimental, rationalist, pro-choice doctor sitting alone, thoughtfully rubbing his fingers together where the little hand had touched them.

Read more.

A New Lens

I’ve been reading a lot lately on Rwanda and the 1994 genocide and what is going on there today in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation. It has put an interesting new lens on Scripture for me.

For instance, I read recently of the encounter after the resurrection between Jesus and Peter. Having been immersed in a story earlier this week about a Tutsi student who survived being beaten along with other Tutsi classmates, and then being set on fire by other kids who had only days before been friends and running buddies, I saw Peter’s denial of Christ in a whole new light. I could clearly see this meeting of Christ and Peter after the resurrection as a meet-up between a victim and a friend who had become a passive by-stander. I’ve always known this is a moment of forgiveness, but I saw it as an example of the thoroughness of reconciliation and deepness of grace in a whole new way.

Today, I heard read the Scripture passage in 2 Corinthians 5:19-21, where Paul comes as a mediator urging others to be reconciled to Christ. Two days ago I was reading about a pastor who lost 142 members of his immediate and extended family in the genocide. After the slaughter had subsided, this pastor heard the Lord calling him to go and preach in the prisons. Today, this pastor often works as a mediator between offenders and victims. He calls both parties to be reconciled to Christ and to each other. I can’t adequately put words to how deeply these stories amplify my understanding of Scripture, and how much they make me want to know Christ more deeply.

Also, just a note, please pray for the people of Rwanda, especially this week, which is a concentrated time of remembrance for them as it coincides with the 13th anniversary of the 100 days of slaughter. Please pray for victims and offenders and God’s grace to continue to bring many toward healing, repentance, and deep reconciliation. Pray also for the Prison Fellowship Rwanda staff and volunteers as they go about these works of mercy and mediation.

Does ’All’ Mean All, or the Select Few?

So the topic of sex offenders in society has lately been a popular one. (See here, here, here, here, here, here,  here, and here.) Why? Perhaps because aspects of the issue paint a picture of justice on its head? I don't really know, but no matter what the reason, this topic consistently attracts a wide range of reactions. And I'm happy to be bringing it up again.

It's no surprise that for the Christian community, welcoming sex offenders can raise some serious questions. This recent article in the New York Times asks the question of what true faith looks like in our realistic world, and I thought the timing rather profound in light of our recent discussions. The questions we face are ones faced by others all around the nation. Zoe posted earlier about a pastor who sought answers as well.

The article in the Times quoted this statement, which shook me to the core:

"Parole officers have encouraged offenders who have been jailed to seek congregations as a source of community and support..."

Where are you, church? It looks like the world is watching and we have the opportunity to step up to the plate.

Continue reading "Does ’All’ Mean All, or the Select Few? " »

’Da Vinci Code’ sequel news

Davinci . . . is at Rotten Tomatoes. (Watch out for naughty language in the comment section. Also, their advertisements are not always the most pure-minded, though at the moment I don't see any objectionable ones there.)

If I recall correctly, the original film (disclaimer same as above) didn't perform quite as well, critically or at the box office, as expected. Do they really think audiences are up for another helping of "heroic nerd" -- a good name for a rock band, Dave Barry might say -- Robert Langdon delivering another boatload of religious hooey? I wonder . . .

Amanda and Jonathan Witt’s kids are my new heroes

Which is probably because they have terrific parents. Amanda writes in Touchstone about the way a truly Christlike family responds when this happens:

Early one Saturday morning the doorbell rang. It was a young girl—taller than I am, heavily built, but still a young girl. “Last night we moved in across the street,” she said. “And I’ve heard you have a daughter my age. Can she come out to play?”

I called my eleven-year-old daughter, and she and one of our sons—the  seven-year-old—went out to meet the new neighbor. They played with her all morning, building a fort and planning a club, and at lunchtime she asked if she could eat with us, “because we don’t have any food in the house yet.”

“Sure,” I said, and made burritos. After lunch the kids went back out to play some more, but within a few minutes my two came bursting back in, looking bewildered and upset.

The seven-year-old had learned a new word. “Her mother is a lesbian!” he announced.

Read more. If your kids are old enough, have them read it too.

Beauty Takes Time

I'm also weighing in a bit late on the article Travis posted yesterday, but I think the main point that is illustrated by the Post piece and that Travis also articulated so well is that beauty takes time. It calls us to stop and pay attention. Frederick Buechner says it well:

From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein.

…Literature, painting, music---the most basic lesson that all art teaches us is to stop, look, and listen to life on this planet, and to our own lives, as a vastly deeper, more mysterious business than most of the time it ever occurs to us to suspect as we bumble along from day to day on automatic pilot. In a world that for the most part steers clear of the whole idea of holiness, art is one of the few places where we can speak to each other of holy things.” [Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life, pp.51-53]

Most of us don't have time for beauty. Perhaps we have time for entertainment, but often beauty and entertainment are not synonymous. True beauty beckons us beyond. It beckons us to the source of beauty, which I have written about here.

This is one very good reason to order our lives around a Sabbath rest, a rest which includes not just time to worship God in the holiness of a church, but also makes space for us to experience how God calls to us through music, through nature, through art, through literature, through those things which call us to stop, pay attention, and wonder once again. Obviously beauty can become a false god, but if we let it have its rightful place, it can propel us more deeply into the presence of the one true God, the author and essence of real beauty.

I’ve changed my mind

After watching that twit Larry Birkhead (father of Anna Nicole Smith's baby) preening on television last night, I've changed my mind. I think Anna Nicole's money should be put into a trust for the baby until she is 21. Until then, Birkhead should support her. Since he's delighted to discover she's his daughter, he should have no objection to that.

A Rebel for the Cause

You might be interested in reading an interview with physicist Freeman Dyson about his recent book The Scientist as Rebel. He is encouraging young scientists to follow their proverbial noses instead of toeing the ridged “scientific consensus” line.

Mercy me, hopefully scientific freedom will become the norm so beleaguered Intelligent Design proponents will be able to purse their scientific explorations without fear of academic and professional persecution. (Remember what happened to Dr. Guillermo Gonzalez? And others who aren't proponents but published a professional peer-reviewed paper like Dr. Richard Sternberg?)

Also included in Dyson's interview is a brief discussion about his idea of an ever-expanding universe.  He believes that life will eventually adapt to different planetary environments.   

In 2000, Dyson received the Templeton Prize for progress in religion. Here’s a link to a short biographical account of his life.

April 10, 2007

Give him the money, not the baby

So former Anna Nicole Smith boyfriend Larry Birkhead is the father of her infant daughter, Dannielynn, according to DNA tests. Birkhead says he is looking forward to getting his hands on his daughter's money--er, getting to know his daughter.

Getting to know her? Doesn't he know her already? If not, why not?

I've tried my best to ignore the entire Anna Nicole controversy. But now the story is about turning a helpless baby over to an irresponsible stranger. Dannielynn will have no mother in her life, as she would if she were adopted by a loving couple uninterested in her inheritance. The baby's maternal grandmother says Birkhead is an unfit father, and she's probably right.

American courts have veered sharply to doing what adults want as opposed to what's best for children--up to and including taking children away from adoptive parents who have had them for years, and handing them over to strangers who happen to share their DNA. One hopes Bermudan courts are kinder to children. Let Burkhead have the money--on condition that he agrees to let a loving family adopt Anna Nicole's baby.

Does anybody think he'll object to that? Me, neither.

Music and community

I'm late in weighing in on the wonderful Washington Post Magazine piece about the world-famous violinist who performed great pieces of music at a Metro station during morning rush hour as commuters mostly ignored him. Two observations: I don't think the fact that children strained to see and hear him means children are more appreciative of the beauty of music than the rest of us. If Bozo the Clown had been juggling balls at the Metro station, children would have wanted to stop for that, too.

Second, I don't think any assumptions can be made about adult appreciation of great music (or lack thereof) simply because they paid little attention to the musician in their midst. And I don't think the fact that it was rush hour had much to do with it, either. I think it probably had to do with the fact that we can, if we choose, listen to great music at any hour of the day or night, thanks to the wide availability of recorded music. Why stop what you're doing to listen to great music if you know you have the DVD at home--or can buy it off Amazon?

One hundred years ago, if people wanted to hear music, they had to go to a concert in the park, or buy tickets to the theater. Or they got together at someone's home to listen to a friend play songs on the piano, and perhaps sing along. Listening to music was nearly always a social event, to be shared with others. Sadly, it no longer is for most of us, most of the time. How many of you have actually gone to someone's house to listen to live music? That's what I thought.

I think about this with real regret. While I'd not willingly give up my CD collection, I'm aware of what I'm missing each time I choose a piece of music and listen to it--alone.

The Amish are right to beware of technology that separates us from one another. Each Christmas, I tell my sons the only gift I want is for them to spend an evening playing ancient carols on our piano while we all sing along: Absolute bliss. 

Re: Children will listen

Paul Wills comments:

Has anyone considered that, perhaps, people who would have liked to stop and listen have supervisors who would rather have them at work on time.

I suspect that many are not rushing to "make it to the top" but rather to simply keep a paycheck coming and, just as important, a paid up health plan.

About the best some can do is keep the music playing at home.

That's a very good point, Paul, and one raised by other readers of the story as well. I'll refer you to this online chat with Weingarten to see how he dealt with it.

(It goes without saying, or it should, that I don't at all like the way he dealt with the unrelated question about cartoonist Johnny Hart's death. But at least on the topic of his article, I think his judgment is pretty sound.)

From Bertie Wooster to Don Imus

Wooster At The Corner, Jonah Goldberg makes the point that no one in the Don Imus controversy (with the possible exception of the basketball players in question) is coming out of this looking very good. It's a good point. One can hardly blame Jonah for "choos[ing] to look away" at this stage of the game. Faced with yet another long-running Celebrity Apology Tour, it's perhaps the best and sanest thing to do.

Yet at the same time, one can't help thinking that if only we hadn't made it a policy to "look away" when all this shock jock stuff got started, and to focus more on defending everybody's freedom and rights than on encouraging simple decency, we wouldn't have anything like this epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease that's driving us all up the wall now.

It seems the old writers (particularly Christian writers) -- everyone from Dante to C. S. Lewis -- were right to place as heavy an emphasis as they did on plain, everyday courtesy. Even Bertie Wooster, P. G. Wodehouse's goofy, good-natured, feather-brained hero (who I often think may not have been quite as feather-brained as we were meant to believe), adamantly refused to "bandy a woman's name," in any context or for any reason, and would rise up in indignation if anyone else made the slightest attempt to do so.

Call me over-nostalgic, but I find myself missing Bertie a lot these days.

Missional Tattoos?

Crosstattoo4 For the record, I don't have any tattoos staining any part of my skin. I always thought of them as painful, permanent and tacky. Tattoos used to symbolize someone's time in the military service. Now, they are commonplace.

But are tattoos merely a matter of taste? Is it possible that there is a redemptive, missional use for tattoos that I may have completely overlooked?

This article from the Columbus Dispatch got me thinking.

"We want to speak the language of the culture," said the Rev. Nathan Feathers, 26, a pastor at the CrossLink church in Grandview. "Our culture speaks in tattoos. That's a great way to speak about God."

Rev. Feathers may have a point here. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and then post a comment and let us here at The Point know what you think (after reading the article from the Columbus Dispatch).

Spinning…er, Framing the Science

Some folks are growing impatient with our dim-witted grasp of the science behind political issues like climate change, stem cell research, and evolution. To help us “get it," Matthew Nisbet and Chris Mooney advise scientists to “'frame’ information to make it relevant to different audiences.” In a recent column in Science Magazine, they tell scientists to avoid discussing the technical merits of issues with the public—which cause their eyes to glaze over—and instead “focus on [things like] the misuse of tax dollars…negative repercussions for communities embroiled in evolution battles, and ‘social progress’ that define evolution as a building block for medical advances.”

Well, when one defines “evolution as a building block for medical advances” one has moved beyond “framing” to spinning or, more accurately, outright misrepresenting the facts. For all of the technological and medical advances over the past 150 years, none has depended on the validity or recognition of Darwinian evolution.

Messrs. Nisbet and Mooney confess that their proposal sounds “too Orwellian.” But how else is a feeble public ever going to grasp these weighty subjects without some doublespeak? War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Intelligent Design is anti-science Ignorance.

Maybe someone ought to break the news to the authors: if 80 years of education have been insufficient to convince the public of Darwin’s theory, it could be, just could be, mind you, that it lacks compelling evidence for all but the ideologically entrenched.

What’s truly important

In today's BreakPoint commentary, Chuck Colson says of his autistic grandson, Max:

He is a great kid, and Emily has done a fantastic job raising him. While there are burdens, there can also be sources of great blessing—as the parent of any child with special needs will tell you.

That’s because Max and his peers have a way of teaching us what is truly important. They matter, not because of what they can do—much less do for us—but because of the fact they are. And that truth can transform even the bleakest of surroundings.

Read more, including a story about Max's recent basketball game.