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May 31, 2007

A New Kind of Fundamentalism

To the enlightened elite it is unthinkable to cede any limit to human understanding. If some poor fellow should suggest the incomprehensibility of the universe absent a “higher power,” he’ll quickly find himself banished from polite society, charged with committing the unpardonable sin of invoking the “God of the gaps.” Yet those who dismiss him as a glassy-eyed fundamentalist trapped in the “demon-haunted world” of religious superstition are drones of a fundamentalist movement all their own: materialism.

To read more about this new brand of fundamentalism and the quicksand upon which it is built, see my new BreakPoint article, “Breaking the Spell of Materialism.”

Making marriage work at work

From the Wall Street Journal:

People often complain they are married to their jobs. Now, some companies are helping employees work on their marriages, on the job.

A small but growing number of companies have implemented training programs designed to help employees strengthen their marriages or other personal relationships. Some companies are motivated by religious values to encourage strong marriages and families. But now, amid evidence that divorce and relationship stress can make workers less efficient, more companies have begun offering marriage training programs with an eye to keeping their businesses running more smoothly and profitably.

One company that is helping its people build stronger marriages is Chick-fil-A, which already stands out from the crowd of fast food restaurants by closing on Sundays.

At annual conferences that Chick-fil-A hosts for its franchise operators, the Atlanta-based restaurant chain has seminars on topics such as "How to Divorce-Proof Your Marriage" and offers marriage counselors for individual sessions with couples. The company also makes available to its corporate staffers and franchisees and their spouses Christian marriage training sessions at a rural retreat in Georgia.

What Does It Mean to Be Manly?

"What does it mean to be manly?" was the discussion I had with my men’s small group Tuesday night and also happened to be a title of an article in the Washington Post that same day. Is it "swish or swagger?" Rough or refined? Or a crossover?

In today's culture we are bombarded with different notions and ideas of what real men should be. Beer commercials, hip hop music and movies are some of the best examples of these suggestions and many of us fall into the male stereotypes or images society has defined for us. But society doesn't create the image of a man, what he should and shouldn’t be. From the article:

Women succeeded in creating positive new roles for themselves. What we haven't come up with is what a positive image of a man would be.

Look no further, God’s word has plenty of description about manhood. People today need a fresh perspective of true masculinity that only the Bible can provide.

The Bible is clear: true manhood/masculinity bears the image of God, treats women as an extension of his own body, sacrifices his own needs for others, treats his wife as a daughter and bride of Christ, acknowledges that he is a sinner, is a leader by setting an example of humility, is not threatened when his wife takes initiative, and conforms to the biblical standards of sexual purity.

Now, that's what it means to be a man.

Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith; be MEN of courage; be strong. Do everything in love. (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)

Is Altruism Really Hardwired or Is the Study Just Another Form of Reductionism?


I was curious about the claim that altruism is hardwired; I contacted Denyse O’Leary, a journalist who writes about science issues. Besides being funny (my highest compliment) and an experienced writer, Denyse co-authored a book with Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard titled, The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul (Harper 2007). 

Here is her quick take:

Anyone who has raised children (and not made a complete hash of it) will realize that pleasure in acting generously is a learned type of pleasure -- usually both explicitly taught to the child AND modeled by the parent.

I wish I had more time to write about the concerted current effort to find materialist reductionist "explanations" for altruism. Mario and I discuss this in The Spiritual Brain. The agenda is as crashingly obvious as the "explanations" are defective, by any reasonable standard.

While she hasn't blogged on this issue yet, people can purchase her book at the link above. (Note to self: buy the book.)

Truth or Fiction?

As you embarked on the beginning of your holiday weekend, how many of you read the Friday release of the Gallup poll results on Bible literacy in America? Fascinating results, and rather surprising.

Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council had a few words to say today regarding the poll. What caught my eye was his highlight that

Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and 69% of Democrats say that scripture is totally accurate in all of its teachings.

Interesting. Apparently "belief" in the infallible Word of God doesn't always impact the actions of one's voting life. Should I be surprised? I've often wondered how many people really believe what they read, versus how many are caught up in the romanticized response: "Of course I believe in the Bible." Measure that for me. Fruit, anyone (take this, for example)?

On another note, the Washington Times  ran a feature in 2004 marking the results of the previous Gallup poll that stated only 75% of Protestants believe in the literal Creation as recorded in the Bible. As I was surfing the Internet recently I came across this discovery. The battle for truth and the inerrancy of the Word of God still continues. I, for one, would love to see this museum. Anybody been there? I love this quote from the article:

Opponents [of the museum] argue that children who see the exhibits will be confused when they learn in school that the universe is 14 billion years old rather than 6000.

Why be so concerned about just the children? It seems to me the entire adult world is confused as well. But since when does possible "confusion" restrict us from debate? Perhaps our "evolving" brains are not capable of filtering such conflicting information through our noetic structures. How thoughtless of me.

Those were the days

Sunday, February 4 [1984]

Called a woman in Peoria Il. who had wired after the St. of the U. Her complaint was over freedom of choice. She was referring to abortion & she called herself an ex Repub. who wouldn't vote for me. I was going to write her & then just on a hunch I phoned. It took a little doing to convince her that it was really me. We had a nice talk & I was right that her problem was abortion. I made my pitch that there were 2 people's rights involved in abortion -- the mother's & the unborn child. She promised to give that some deep thought. We had a nice visit. She's a 51 year old divorcee working for less than $10,000 a year -- has a 17 year old son ready for college & a married daughter. I think I made a friend.

-- Ronald Reagan, The Reagan Diaries, 217-8

The Right Not to Know

Here’s an interesting article from Mark Vernon, journalist and former Church of England priest, advising people to approach religion and science with a little less certainty. 

May 30, 2007

What is CT Thinking?

I just received the June issue of Christianity Today, whose cover includes what appears to be a poster shot for the movie Evan Almighty with the hook, “Evan Help Us—How a Movie and a Movement are Partnering with the Church to Change the World.” It piqued my interest.

Evan Almighty is the latest film by Bruce Almighty director Tom Shadyac. Although the film is not due for release until June 22, the movie trailer has been at theaters for some time now. Billed as “A comedy of biblical proportions,” the trailer depictions remind me of a church billboard near my house that reads: ”Laughter. Applause. The Presence of God.” Somehow, I doubt that Moses would agree. If I recall, he was one of the many who were undone, falling prostrate and trembling in God’s presence.

At any rate, the CT cover intrigued me, so I searched for the feature article. It wasn’t to be found. I combed the issue a second time only to find a quarter-page interview with the director, who said his purpose was to “tell a human story and hook people who had some of these questions, thoughts, and frustrations.” I wondered, “What questions, thoughts, and frustrations?” He doesn’t say. I was flummoxed that a short interview warranted a whole cover without addressing “How a Movie and a Movement are Partnering with the Church to Change the World.”

Then I noticed it. In the upper right hand corner of the cover, in tiny print, is the word ”ADVERTISEMENT.” I’d been hoodwinked.

I find it odd that CT sells a faux cover for a sight-unseen movie that, from the trailers at least, treats the biblical narrative glibly. Unsettled by the whole thing, I can’t keep from wondering, “What was CT thinking?”

The Canine Prisoner

English_bulldog_puppy You've probably gotten an email that reads something like this:




This is what's known as a "Nigerian 419 scam." Despite the name, it's actually a variation on a classic con known as "The Spanish Prisoner." It's hard to believe that anyone would fall for this scam but apparently people do.

(The ubiquity of this scam and others like it has, in turn, prompted an Internet subculture comprised of people who seek to scam the scammers. Known as "scam-baiters," their goal is to humiliate would-be scammers by using the scammers' greed against them. Their antics, which are the subject of this article in the current Atlantic Monthly, often verge on the cruel, although, I must admit, funny.)

Now, according to the Los Angeles Times, scammers have found something besides Taliban gold and Nigerian petro-dollars to lure would-be dupes: puppies.

Continue reading "The Canine Prisoner" »

Rediscovering Rouault

Misere1_2I was delighted to see the New York Times highlighting the work of the painter Georges Rouault in the Arts section. As writer Michael Kimmelman notes:

You wouldn’t call it a full-fledged revival, but Georges Rouault is back in our sights. A few months ago some of his work was at the Metropolitan Museum in a show about his wily dealer, Ambroise Vollard. Now a couple of dozen pictures are at Mitchell-Innes & Nash.

At one time Rouault’s reputation rivaled Matisse’s, and his clowns and prostitutes were as ubiquitously reproduced as Ben Shahn posters. He had retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in 1945 and 1953; when he died in 1958, at 87, the French government organized a state funeral.Misere2

Then he slipped down the memory chute.

Rouault's work is an underappreciated treasure. As the Times mentions, "Rouault was never chic: he was too moral, too religious, too tender, too popular. But at his best he was touchingly strange, and a model of integrity."

I am especially drawn to Rouault's works depicting Christ. Unlike some so-called Christian art which focuses on the idealistic, Rouault's work thrusts the suffering that is also part and parcel of the Christian life before the audience. His strong use of lines, influenced by apprenticeship under glaziers and the medeival stained glass windows that heMisere3 helped renovate, gives a harsh and sometimes stark quality to his works. If you're not familiar, take a little time to explore his series of paintings entitled Misere. There were 58 completed in 1927 alone. Many agree this is one of the most important print series of the 20th century. I'll add a few of his images from the Misere series here.

Substance and Form in Worship

Kudzucar I don't have any particular animus against contemporary worship or the use of "praise" songs in the assembly of God's people. There is always a place for singing new songs to the Lord and for introducing aspects of native culture into the life of faith. Contemporary pop culture, however, poses a unique challenge to those who insist on making it more and more the language of faith and worship.

All forms of pop culture are like kudzu, the tenacious Southern vine which, unchecked, will overgrow and overwhelm everything it touches. It is not uncommon, in places in the American South, to see fences, telephone lines, stands of trees, even abandoned farm buildings completely overgrown by this fast-growing herb. While a kudzu-form is recognizable, the original substance has been buried. The result is that everything looks the same. Even though the forms of fence, lines, trees, and buildings are still recognizable, it's all kudzu, and, while there's a certain beauty to the phenomenon, it soon becomes tiresome.

Pop culture, including that which finds its way into the worship of God's people, can be like kudzu. It will overtake whatever it attaches to and transform it into itself, replacing what was a distinct substance with a pop form, and obscuring or completely eliminating the reality that lies beneath. I hope this won't be the fate of worship in the American Church. But if we continue clothing the substance of worship -- liturgy, music, preaching, and so on -- with pop forms, leaving behind the rich tradition and heritage of worship bequeathed by our forebears, ultimately, all we will be left with is a pop culture form of worship. All the rich substance of worship will be buried under the rhythm and beats, lights and multi-media props, skits and anecdotal sermonizing that is coming increasingly to characterize much contemporary worship.

But for those believers nurtured in this kudzu environment, do they even know what they're missing? Not likely. How many advocates of contemporary worship have even the slightest sense of worship's rich history and heritage? Take, for example, this portion of a litany, written for the personal use of pastors, and as a ground for their preaching and teaching, in 14th-century Ireland:

O Savior of the human race; O true physician of every disease, O heart-pitier and assister of all misery; O fount of true purity, and of true knowledge; O bestower of every treasure; by the heavenly Father, by the Holy Spirit, by Your own Divinity; by Your great compassion, by Your great affection to the human race from the beginning of the world to its end, grant me abstinence in place of gluttony, chastity in place of lust, compassion in place of greed, gentleness in place of wrath, spiritual joy in place of carnal sorrow, tranquility in place of anxiety, silence in place of loquacity; impart to me Your fear and love around my heart and in my thought, that I may despise every carnal pleasure, and all vain glory of the present life, that I may desire earnestly to meditate on You, to pray to You, and to praise You forever.

Let us hope and pray and study to ensure that such substantial gems of devotion are not lost and forgotten under the ever-growing kudzu of pop culture in worship.

If It Feels Good, Do It!

I was intrigued by this Washington Post piece over the weekend which suggests the human brain is hardwired for altruism. Neuroscientists at the National Institutes of Health asked volunteers to "think about a scenario involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves." Their brain scans revealed that "when the volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that supresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable" (which is probably why we have the phrase, "Give until it feels good." It really does feel good.).

Neurologists are, the Post says, "using brain imaging and psychological experiments to study whether the brain has a built-in moral compass." The research is showing "that morality has biological roots...that have been around for a very long time."

Predictably, neuroscientists say this apparent hard-wiring for altruism is "most likely the result of "evolutionary processes that began in other species." (Which immediately brought to mind those nature programs that show sea lions killing younger siblings so they can continue nursing, and big cats killing the offpsring of competitors so the cubs' mother will be willing to mate with them. Animals are NOT altruistic, excepting mothers who die to protect their offspring.)

The Post quotes Joshua Green, a neuroscientist and philosopher who says experiements such as the one described above suggests that morality is not "handed down" by philosophers and clergy, but "handed up," an outgrowth of the brain's basic propensities.

I don't know about that. One explanation for the fact that humans appear to be hardwired for morality is that a loving, self-giving God who made humans in His image designed us that way. Such a design undergirds God's commands regarding how we are to treat one another. He intends us to care for the poor, the sick, and the needy, for those in prison, for orphans and widows--and His design of the human brain apparently follows this divine plan. So--we have a brain designed for altruism, and Christian clergy to teach us how to direct this impulse. 

Of course, if your intellectual spam filter blocks any consideration of God, then naturally you're going to see this fascinating research as just another aspect of our evolutionary history.

Thought for the day

To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible. -- St. Thomas Aquinas

(via Daily Guideposts)

May 29, 2007

Re: Dancing Fool


Let me clarify a bit:

First, I was JOKING. (Well, not about Billy Ray Cyrus's mullet; that right there is no joke.)

Second, even *I* have taken ballroom dancing. A beginner and intermediate course, thank you very much! And you know what? It was great; my wife and I took the classes when we first got married and had a lot of fun. Of course, that was 11 years ago, and now I possess no skills whatsoever. The only thing more humiliating than last week's post admitting to the nevermore-to-be-mentioned entertainment sin might just be the spectacle of me dancing the foxtrot or waltz, over a decade removed from our lessons. (We're going to a wedding in two weeks, and I fear hearing the DJ shout "Clear some room for the Lord-a-Leaping Footwork Freakshow or risk your very lives!!")

Third, if guys aren't inspired by the nevermore-to-be-mentioned American Idol-esque dancing show, perhaps it's because the show -- at least the finale that I saw -- effectively communicated that ballroom dancing requires men to wear painted-on pants and sequined shirts unbuttoned to their navels. The Donny Osmond look??  No thanks!

Continue reading "Re: Dancing Fool" »

Re: Speaking the Truth on Same-Sex Attraction

Sorry, Brian (or anyone else), if you felt hurt by my post. But you know the nature of discussions on The Point and the convictions of the writers on this blog.

Anyone is free to choose the identity they want to adopt. The point of my message is that there are many gay people who are Christians who can find homosexuality fine with their faith, and there are also many who find homosexuality not compatible with their faith. These are men and women who wanted to live beyond their sexual feeling and choose not to act out homosexual behavior despite their same-sex attraction. I believe resources for change should be also made available for them, the same as resources are available to those who embrace homosexual behaviors. Someone who is seeking an alternative lifestyle other than homosexuality should know that change is possible and many have become successful in their pursuit whether in celibacy or heterosexual behaviors.

Both those who are pro- and those who are anti-homosexual behavior can present different research data to support their claim and any new scientific study will always be challenged by the other camp. This only shows that man’s knowledge on this issue is limited and any research data are only secondary to God’s word. All of us Christian should not depend our feelings on statistics and research but always go back to the main source and sole authority on this issue -- God’s Word, and base our lives and actions first on what the God the Father says about homosexual behaviors. What does He truly say about the behavior?

A Dancing Fool

Astairerogers I’m weighing in a little bit late, but Allen, like you, I take pride in not watching “reality” type shows, including this one. So I can offer no comment except this: Social dancing, meaning something with rules and structure, has been a shared universal human activity since the beginning of time. Yes, even ancient societies produced folk and formal dances of some sort. So it is with great sadness that I say somehow Americans have lost the art of social dancing.      

There is a dearth of men willing to learn ballroom dance; I know because I love dancing. There have been plenty of times that I have shown up for lessons only to wait until a guy’s available. Aarrggh. I think guys see this as a womanly activity. (Not that you suggested it, Allen.)

What poses as today’s American social dancing isn’t the swing or cha-cha, but a lonely self-indulgent repetitive jiggling of sorts. 

What I like about ballroom and folk types of dancing is they require you to connect physically or at least rhythmically in some way with your partner or group. The difference between the two is that ballroom is a lead-follow dance and in the other type you have groups of people doing the same things—like line dancing.

Besides the physical activity, dancing is beneficial because it teaches manners. It requires you to learn rules and etiquette like: Learn the steps and turns; learn the art of polite conversation; pay attention to hygiene and dress; gals, don’t be noodles; guys, don’t squeeze too hard. 

So if this celebrity dancing show encourages at least a few people to sign up for lessons, I’m all for it.

Getting Ready for the Feast: A Primer on Works (8 of 8)

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory; for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. Revelation 19:7, 8

The image of clothing appears frequently in Scripture to indicate the believer's responsibility for taking up the good works appropriate to salvation. The psalmist pleads with God to clothe His "priests" with righteousness (Ps. 132:9), and God happily agrees to do so (v. 16). Jesus used the story of a man improperly dressed for a wedding to warn His hearers about how they must appear before the Lord (Mt. 22:1-14). Paul employed the image of changing our wardrobe to urge his readers to put off the old clothes of the unbelieving way of life and to be clothed on with the "new man" of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:17-24). John indicates that the saints of God will not be ready for the eternal banquet of glory until they have been properly clothed for the occasion (Rev. 19:7, 8).

The wording of this text echoes the image of Psalm 132. The saints are "granted" to be clothed, as if it were something eagerly sought by them. Evidently, those saints who have been paying attention understand that, when it comes time to meet the Lord, they need to be properly attired. They cannot expect to stand before Him in the old garments of their unbelieving lifestyles. They need "new clothes" -- fine, white linen -- so that they will honor Him at the banquet He is preparing for them. So they seek the Lord for the wardrobe He alone can provide, for unless God is at work within us, making us willing and able to do good works, we shall have no hope of being properly attired for the marriage feast that is even now being prepared (Phil. 2:12, 13). 

Every day is shopping day for the followers of Jesus Christ, as they seek the Lord for the clothing He insists they appear in at His coming. It's not a matter of what we like or may prefer; it's a question of what the Lord will welcome when He returns in glory. Seek the works of righteousness -- outlined in the holy, righteous, and good Law of God (Rom. 7:12) -- that Christ Himself performed, and when the King returns in His glory, to feast with His Bride, then we will be ready for the eternal festivities that are even now being prepared.

This old world itself will put off its worn-out clothing and be made anew. The remnants of sin will be dissolved, and the new heavens and new earth will host the Lord and His Bride in eternal joy. "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God..." (2 Pet. 3:11, 12).

Did Jesus Play Tag?

Christthelordoutofegypt Like many who live in the DC Metro area, I have a long commute. So, I make the most of it. I eat my cereal in a mug for the first five minutes of my commute, call my mom, then pop in a book on tape. Currently on my tape deck—Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt by former vampire series author Anne Rice.

I’ll admit I was skeptical, and the first chapter began to confirm my initial suspicions. The book opens with 7-year-old Jesus accidentally killing the neighborhood bully, only to bring him back to life minutes later. And, then big brother James tells Jesus never to do that again, just as He shouldn’t make real birds out of clay pigeons.

But I gave it a few more minutes, and the miles started to spin past as I began to consider the mystery of the incarnation.

Rice’s Boy Jesus may be a little more polished than we’d expect of a typical 7-year-old, but that’s where she really got me thinking. What was kid Jesus really like? Let’s face it—the Gospels don’t give us too much. We know that Boy Jesus was 1) wise (He astounded men in the synagogue when he was just 12) 2) obedient (He returned home with Joseph and Mary) 3) developing (He grew in wisdom, stature, and favor). But, be honest, you’d like to know so much more. I would. What was His favorite childhood game? Tag? Charades? Did He ever tell jokes? Did He make believe? Did He eat his broccoli (or, should I say, fig leaves)? Did He always know He was the Son of God or did He find out at a designated place and time? We’ll never know for sure (at least as long as we’re mortal), but Rice takes a stab at it.

Her Boy Jesus is clever—so smart in fact, that the highly-respected Philo of Alexandria wants to raise Him as his own prodigy. He is perceptive—He understands the nuances of adult interactions. He is powerful—He prays the rain to stop, and it does.

And, He’s curious.

Continue reading "Did Jesus Play Tag?" »

Creating Culture -- Christianly

One of my favorite speakers at the Q Conference was Andy Crouch, editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today. Andy kicked off the conference with some of the big ideas from this article on his blog, describing the postures Christians have taken towards culture in the past, and his proposal for the biblical posture that can bring about cultural transformation today.

Three movements and postures that American Christians adoped towards culture in previous generations were those of the fundamentalists, who tended to withdraw from and condemn popular culture; the "New Evanglicals" who critiqued culture (think Francis Schaeffer); and the 60s "Jesus Music Movement" who copied popular culture (like my man Larry Norman -- the grandfather of Christian Rock 'N' Roll). Now we have consumerist Christians, who voraciously ingest or consume culture in almost all its forms.

Andy says that to understand a biblical posture towards culture, we need to study Genesis 2, where God exhorts us to create and cultivate. As His image-bearers, we are to continue His work of creating and cultivating/caring for the earth and all that it contains for His glory.

He emphasizes that within a proper biblical posture, it will be appropriate in some cultural contexts to condemn, critique, copy or consume, but these attitudes or actions should be gestures, not postures. "Like a dancer, if your posture is correct, you have access to all gestures."

Now I'll ask you the "Qs" Andy asked us:

Continue reading "Creating Culture -- Christianly" »

Now that the horse has been stolen . . .

From IMDb:

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker has launched a crusade to cover up young America with her new cheap-chic clothing line Bitten. The former Sex & the City star's new Steve & Barry line of affordable womenswear features only conservative attire - because the actress is tired of seeing young girls baring almost all. The 2004 Designers of America Fashion Icon award winner says, "There's not going to be any inappropriate midriff showing, regardless of your age. I really don't care for it. I feel like, as a culture, we have seen enough damage done by it. It's provocative in a way that I just don't feel comfortable with."

Gee, Ms. Parker, I wonder how that could have happened.

(Note: Don't look if the "provocative" bothers you.)

May 28, 2007

Saved Only By Sacrifice

As the days slowly began to lengthen, meaning decent fighting weather was approaching, tension increased. Inevitably the young men thought of death. Few made their thoughts articulate, but Webster dealt with his directly. He wrote his mother, instructing her to "stop worrying about me. I joined the parachutists to fight. I intend to fight. If necessary, I shall die fighting, but don't worry about this because no war can be won without young men dying. Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice."

Band of Brothers, p. 55

Band of Brothers is the perfect book to be reading on Memorial Day. Private Webster, in the days leading up to D-day, wrote a letter to his mother back home in Massachusetts. He penned a timeless truth.

Those things which are precious are saved only by sacrifice.

Memorial Day is a time to ponder and reflect on sacrifice. We enjoy freedom because of sacrifice. People like Pvt. Webster and Lt. Dick Winters of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division, who jumped into Normandy on June 6th, 1944, purchased freedom from tyranny and liberated the world from the terror of fascism.

Freedom is precious. Freedom is worth it. True freedom is purchased only by sacrifice.

Continue reading "Saved Only By Sacrifice" »

A Victim’s Greatest Gift

Gary Ceran received the worst possible gift this past Christmas season: the death of his wife and two children by a drunk driver on Christmas Eve. But in response he gave one of the greatest: forgiveness. And the media actually decided to share the story with us.

My heart goes out to Gary and what remains of his family. Yet, his story provides much hope and direction to the rest of the world. Standing in a courtroom next to the drunk driver who had killed his family, Mr. Ceran offered Carlos forgiveness, and petitioned the judge for mercy on his behalf.

In response, the public prosecutor said that "he couldn't recall ever arguing for a harsher sentence than the one ought by a victim." What an amazing concept. (Too bad he couldn't have left his words at that. He practically slapped Mr. Ceran's face with his continuing comments.)

Prison Fellowship has long promoted the principles of restorative justice, a practice which emphasizes forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration (responsibility). Forgiveness is so important for both the victim and the offender if there is to be healing from the crime. No matter what the sentencing results in this case, I'm so glad that Mr. Prieto and Mr. Ceran found justice, healing and peace beyond the confines of the courtroom.

’Here Lies the Nation’

Anthony Esolen writes poignantly at Touchstone's Mere Comments blog:

The virtue of patriotism, which is linked to a sense of belonging to this land, here, and loving it, a virtue that did not begin with the nation-state but could at least survive in it, is fading away. A man calls himself a doctor or a lawyer, a golfer, a husband and father, a collector of postcards, even a Methodist, before he calls himself an American. I have an old Army-Navy hymnal at home, and to look through it is to be astonished by the number and variety and quaint eloquence of its patriotic anthems, most of them now long forgotten. Even our most common patriotic hymns have been reduced, in the lived experience and memories of citizens, to a single verse, usually only dimly understood. Lines such as these from the hymn that used to be called simply America are almost incomprehensible now, not semantically but affectively, and would certainly never be written:
          I love thy rocks and rills,
          Thy woods and templed hills;
          My heart with rapture fills
               Like that above.

     When did it die, this love, this sense that at the deepest springs of my being I am an American? Again, I'm not saying that we should feel this way; I'm only observing that we don't. I don't know when the worm turned, but it has. How many of the people running for the presidency do not really like America? How many of them never have anything good to say about it? How many bear hearts that do not beat warmly when they hear of Teddy and the Rough Riders, or Washington crossing the Delaware to surprise the Hessians at Trenton? How many do not truly love the ways of Americans, even in such harmless things as food and sport, but rather agree when other peoples think them crazy or foolish? For how many has the Constitution sunk below a thing of contempt, to become nothing but a dead letter, along with all other venerable American traditions? I can name at least four or five candidates from both parties, including one of the most prominent candidates, who have never shown the slightest trace of actually liking America, let alone hoping that America is victorious in her struggles with other nations.

These words made me reflect on my own upbringing. A military childhood is not exactly a picnic in the park -- though it's nothing compared to what actual military members and their spouses go through -- and I've sometimes wondered if I would have chosen it had I had the choice. (I definitely would have chosen my parents -- I've just wondered if I would have wanted my dad in a different field.) But I have always been deeply thankful for one thing it gave me: "this sense that at the deepest springs of my being I am an American," and the joy and gratitude that sense brings with it.

Esolen may be unsure whether we should feel this way -- although, with all due respect, he's not terribly convincing with that statement -- but I wish more of us did. It's a sad thing to live in a nation -- in particular a nation with a great and unique heritage -- that's full of people who look down their noses at it, who can't even speak the word American without tacking on an ugly in front of it. Yes, America has faults. Are we to love nothing and no one that has faults? Then we've just eliminated 100 percent of the human race as worthy objects of love.

Have you taught your family about the virtues of America as well as its faults? Today, when we honor those who gave up their own lives for the sake of this nation and its people, would be a great time to start.

’Faith under Fire’: A message to our troops

Memorialday "Where is God amidst the horrors of war?"

Chuck Colson asks that question in his Memorial Day BreakPoint commentary, and talks about how soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have helped to answer it through their courage, their selflessness, and the profound insights they've given in their letters home. Read or listen to the commentary here and then send the link to someone you love who's in the miliitary. It's a message of gratitude and appreciation to all our troops.

May 26, 2007

What’s Next for Dalit Christians?

Dalit Here's the latest from Joseph D'souza, head of the Dalit Freedom Network. In his latest blog entry he talks about the latest recommendations of the Justice Mishra Commission in India and its impact on the Dalit people, the lowest of India's caste system and once known as "the untouchables."

May 25, 2007

Life Imitates the Movies II

A few weeks ago, the British Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) gave a London fertility clinic permission to genetically screen for what amounts to being cross-eyed. The ruling and what it portends is the subject of a new piece of mine over at Boundless.

Sometimes, as my friend Dave the Swede (not his real name) says, all you can do is cry "how long, O Lord?"

Speaking the Truth on Same-Sex Attraction

This article, "Facts, Not Flattery, About Same-Sex Attraction," is another outstanding example of the battle for the truth on a really sensitive issue -- homosexuality. An excerpt says:

Defenders and promoters of homosexuality try to cover up the scientifically documented serious promiscuity, inability to maintain sexual fidelity, partner abuse and psychological and medical illnesses associated with the lifestyle. Also, they tell persons with same-sex attractions (SSA) that "It's genetic," "You were born that way," or worse "God made you gay."

The article reveals plenty of truths about homosexuality and backs it up with references to scientific data that you and I can verify and check.

Gay activists and mental health professionals tell our society, why fix something that’s not broken, and that being open and honest about one’s homosexuality leads to a healthier and happier life. Unfortunately, these assertions are seldom backed up by strong scientific studies.

The truth is thousands of men and women found their homosexuality or SSA either unnatural or not compatible with their faith and are now living a happy, healthy and honest life because they didn't pursue their SSA or they left the homosexual lifestyle. They turned their back on SSA and homosexuality not mainly because these things were bad, but because they found something better: a chosen alternative of living based on one's faith and godly purpose and not on sexual feelings.

The Real War

So, John Edwards says there is no "war on terror" and that we need to back away from this phrase in order to restore some sanity to our foreign policy. OK, I'll let him dump that particular phrase if he feels so inclined, but I won't let him get away with the idea that there is no ideological battle going on between radical Islam (the sponsor of worldwide terror) and the West. Lest we forget, here's what we're up against (both quotes are from a newsletter published by the Trinity Forum called "Civilization's Fight").

V.S. Naipaul -- Nobel laureate for literature in 2001 -- had this to say about what is at stake in America's and the world's struggle to undo the terrorism: "We are within reach of great nihilistic forces that have undone civilization. Religion has been turned by some into a kind of nihilism, where people wish to destroy themselves and destroy their past and their culture ... to be pure. They are enraged about the world and they wish to pull it down." 

Charles Krauthammer wrote in response to Naipaul's speech, "We tremble because for the first time in history nihilism will soon be armed with the ultimate weapons of annihilation. For the first time in history, the nihilist will have the means to match his ends. Which is why the war declared upon us on September 11 is the most urgent not only of our lives, but in the life of civilization itself."

Whatever Mr. Edwards chooses to call it, the battle is real on both the physical front and the spiritual front. As Christians, we should be praying for the salvation of the people trapped in Muslim lands, but especially for those in Afghanistan and Iraq where American forces are currently deployed. Why? Because some of those soldiers are also Christians, and they can be used by God to get the gospel to people who are starving to know real freedom -- the spiritual freedom found only in Christ. 

Several months ago, I heard a report from a pastor friend who had gone to Vietnam to minister to the underground church there. The Vietnamese Christians said that they pray for the people in Iraq, for them to come to know Christ. In their mind, even though America "lost" the war in Vietnam, that war was the best thing that had ever happened to their country -- for with the soldiers came the gospel. 

Continue reading "The Real War" »

Housebreaking Dad

I was delighted when I saw a headline on Judith Warner's New York Times blog reading, "A Warm Welcome for Dad Lit" (TimesSelect subscription required), and when I read this opening paragraph:

Back in 2002 when I was in the thick of conducting interviews with groups of mothers for my book “Perfect Madness,” I began to think that it would be a great idea to turn the tables and interview groups of dads. After all, I was listening almost daily to mothers venting (in the nicest possible way) about their lazy, self-indulgent, oversexed, under-involved husbands; there had to be, I thought, another side to the story.

Finally, I thought, good dads were going to get their due. And high time, too. But not so fast. Warner continues:

I shared these anecdotes – and this vision – with the many men who, after the book’s publication, reproached me for not having included fathers in it.

Don’t shut us down with stereotypes, they said. Some of us are living the same life as you – and we are capable of talking about it.

Did you catch that? Some dads are "living the same life as you." In other words, those rare and wonderful dads who are worth talking to are the ones who are acting, not like dads, but like moms. Warner even admits as much, or nearly does.

That’s because what I found in these books about fatherhood wasn’t at all a journey into some dark continent of maleness. Instead, time and again, I found myself.

Not surprising, you might say, for a narcissist – but let’s leave that aside.

No, let's not, because it's a pretty important point.

Continue reading "Housebreaking Dad" »

Metaxas and Hitchens on the Paula Zahn Show

Eric Metaxas, author of Amazing Grace and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About God was on Paula Zahn's show debating Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. You can watch the debate here. Part of the subject in question was the late Rev. Jerry Falwell.

Also, on Hitchens. There was a good debate on Christianity Today the other day between Hitchens and Doug Wilson. Check it out.

Finally, Chuck Colson posted yesterday on Washington Post/Newsweek's blog called On Faith, on a question pertaining to Hitchens's book. The question was: "Is religion man-made?" If you haven't discovered On Faith yet it is quite interesting. Each week they pose a different subject relating to religion to an extremely diverse set of panelists. They each answer the question and have it posted to this site. It is fascinating to see people from so many different vantage points answering the same question.

And then there's Rod Dreher, quoting theologian Charles Moore on a recent debate with Dawkins and Hitchens and some Christians. The post, "Cleverness as a false virtue," is reminiscent of some thoughts I had earlier on "If You Can't Beat Them Embarrass Them."

Conscious Consumerism -- Intentional Shopping

Shoe I've talked about our culture's (and, shamefully, my own) obsession with consumerism here before, and while it's a topic you sadly don't often hear preached about in church, there's one pastor who had quite a bit (well, given the conference format, he had 18 minutes) to say about the topic at the Q Conference hosted by the Fermi Project in April.

Chris Seay of Ecclesia Church in Houston, challenged conference attendees to acknowledge the sin of conspicuous consumption. He says that of all the "isms" in our culture, the one we should most fear is consumer-ism. "Culture tells us there is a counterfeit story we should buy into," and that since Adam and Eve, who had perfection but desired more, we've had a thirst for "more."  According to Chris, we need to recognize that while we are addicted to consumption, we were created for creation. He urged us to ask ourselves the difficult question, "Do we have too much?" and to wrestle with our response.

Immediately after Chris' presentation, we heard from Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS shoes. Seeing the overwhelming poverty, and bare feet, of children while on a trip to Argentina prompted Blake to start a shoe company based on the principle of conscious, or intentional, consumerism -- the concept of thinking through the implications of what you buy. TOMS motto is: buy a pair -- give a pair. For every pair of shoes purchased, the company gives a pair of shoes to a child in need. The shoes, made in Argentina (fair trade!) are comfortable, stylish, affordable, and -- for people like me who suffer greatly from the "ism" of consumer-ism -- a great way to help a child in need and get a cute pair of shoes in return!

Don't need a new pair of shoes? You'll soon be able to help by becoming a "Friend of TOMS." Just visit the TOMS website and look for upcoming details.

FYI -- last year Blake and TOMS distributed 10,000 pair of shoes to children in Argentina. This year's goal? Fifty thousand pair to children in Africa. Blake says personally putting the shoes on the feet of children in need is more important than the actual shoe itself and that the company isn't as much about the shoe as about sharing the story of the needs of the poor.

Here are some "Qs" (for questions!) from these two presentations:

Continue reading "Conscious Consumerism -- Intentional Shopping" »

May 24, 2007

Pioneer women and princesses

I'm reading Dr. Meg Meeker's excellent new book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (of which more later), and my attention was particularly caught by this passage about the kind of woman you don't want your daughter to become:

A girlfriend of mine quipped that there are two types of women in the world: princesses and pioneer women. Princesses believe they deserve a better life and expect others to serve them. Pioneer women expect that any improvement in their lives will come through their own hard work; they are in charge of their own happiness. To most of us, princesses are spoiled -- but whenever we teach our daughters that they deserve "all the best that life has to offer," we help to create princesses. But princesses are often depressed, because they might not ever get the best that life has to offer. Princesses are taught to be self-centered. Their lives are centered on their needs and wants, and they will expect others -- parents, teachers, friends, and eventually spouses -- to focus on meeting those needs and wants.

I couldn't help smiling over this, recalling the number of well-intentioned Christian ministries and authors who urge men to raise their daughters to be princesses. Judging by the antics of the "princesses" of our society (Paris Hilton, get an office and then call it), they might want to rethink that idea.

But in all fairness, I think I know what they're really trying to get at -- or what I hope they're really trying to get at -- because Meeker's words also brought back a vivid memory of one of the books I loved best when I was growing up, Frances Hodgson Burnett's classic A Little Princess, with its poverty-stricken but valiant young heroine who had a very different concept of what a princess should be.

Continue reading "Pioneer women and princesses" »

To Confirm Salvation: A Primer on Works (7 of 8)

Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:18

James' point, of course, is that it is not possible to demonstrate saving faith, or be assured of possessing it, apart from the works which true faith engenders. Faith is more than intellectual assent. It is even more than tasting the good things of the Lord and delighting in them -- feeling joy or peace or other forms of subjective well-being. These are part of faith, to be sure; however, if these are all that a person possesses as proof of saving faith, they will not suffice. Faith without works is dead, James tells us -- no real faith at all (Jms. 2:26).

In the 16th century Martin Luther struggled with James' letter -- "a right strawy epistle" he said -- because of its unabashed emphasis on works. Luther was laboring to correct a view of the way of salvation that was common among theologians of his day, namely, that our works somehow contributed to our being saved (Roman Catholic theologians of the day, recognizing this same overstatement among certain of their colleagues, were at the same time working to achieve a corrective). Luther at times overstated his position of "faith alone," so much so that he gave the impression that merely confessing belief in Jesus and feeling really convinced about it were all that a person needed to be sure of heaven. The Reformation's insistence on "faith alone" as the means of justification and salvation has led to a kind of "cheap grace" in our own day -- salvation eagerly received but productive of no evidence of a changed life.  It was against this notion that James and Paul -- and, indeed, virtually all the Reformers -- wrote so vigorously.

Some, they knew, will insist that, because they understand and affirm the claims of the Gospel, indeed, have even professed them publicly at a certain place and time, they can be sure of salvation and eternal life. Faith, such people suggest, is a matter of understanding and affirming. But James says the devils do that much, yet, rather than rest assured of salvation, they shudder at the implications for their eternal plight from what they know about the Gospel (Jms. 2:19). Others will say, "Well, it's not just that I know and affirm these things. I really feel the Lord with me, in me. I can practically taste His goodness." Thus they appeal not only to an intellectual affirmation but a conviction of the heart. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that not even that is indicative of saving faith (Heb. 6:4-9). The "things that belong to salvation" (v. 9), the writer insists, relate to works of love done fervently through faith, focusing on the promises of God (vv. 10-12).

Or, as Jesus put it, referring to those who are "true trees" of faith, "Thus you will recognize them by their fruits" (Mt. 7:20). Picking up on such thoughts, the Apostle John declared that the only way we or anyone can know whether we possess true, saving faith is by the evidence of good works that comes out in our lives: "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says, 'I know him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked" (1 Jn. 2:3-6).

We are not saved by works, but we are not saved without them. Let us give neither ourselves nor our neighbors any false assurances in this matter of saving faith. Mere "faith" -- intellectual assent or heart conviction or both -- apart from the obedience of faith -- faith working through works of love (Gal. 5:6) -- is dead.

A Convert’s Testimony

In another hat tip to the most recent To the Source, here is a lovely quote from British novelist Evelyn Waugh upon his conversion to Christianity:

Conversion is like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking-Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world God made; and then begins the delicious process of exploring it limitlessly.

In response to the uproar over his conversion among the atheistic elites of his day, Waugh wrote a newspaper article in which he "insisted that the essential issue that had led to his conversion was a belief that the modern world was facing a choice between 'Christianity and Chaos.'" His thoughts on this matter put into sharp relief the recent re-affirmation that the European Union will omit any reference to God and to Christianity in its charter:

Today we can see it on all sides as the active negation of all that Western culture has stood for. Civilization -- and by this I do not mean talking cinemas and tinned food, nor even surgery and hygienic houses, but the whole moral and artistic organization of Europe -- has not in itself the power of survival. It came into being through Christianity, and without it has no significance or power to command allegiance. The loss of faith in Christianity and the consequential lack of confidence in moral and social standards have become embodied in the ideal of a materialistic, mechanized state... It is no longer possible ... to accept the benefits of civilization and at the same time deny the supernatural basis upon which it rests.

The Kingdom of God -- The Now and Not Yet

Think much about the Kingdom of God? If/when you do, what's your image or definition of it?

Lately, I've been learning more about what the Kingdom of God really is, and its implications for how we live and what we have to look forward to in the future. I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm just now clueing in to this important component of Christian faith after decades of Christian growth.

Tom Tarrants of the C.S. Lewis Institute says the Great Commission is far more than a command to evangelize the lost and save souls. While that's the first step in the process, our task is really to teach converts to obey all that He commanded. In other words, our goal is to incarnate the teachings and life Jesus spoke and modeled while he was on earth -- to be his disciples -- and to make disciples of others. A deeper understanding of his teachings, and obedience to them, will help us to more fully comprehend who God is (our Creator and King), who we are in Him (fallen but redeemed), and cause to think and act and be different (co-laborers in the consummation and redemption of His kingdom). We are called to repentance, yes, but we are also called to faith, and through that faith, into obedience. This then is the Gospel -- the Kingdom of God.

The "now and the "not yet" aspect of the Kingdom of God is what I find so intriguing, perplexing and, frankly, challenging as it plays itself out. Randy Newman, author of Questioning Evangelism, says in his chapter on hypocrisy:

Continue reading "The Kingdom of God -- The Now and Not Yet" »

Niche communities -- an oxymoron?

Community: From the Latin communitatus. Com=together; munis=exchanges that link; tatus=small, intimate or local.

Here's a new one. A recent Cool News offers a report on a new kind of retirement community called Rocinante, a clothing-optional commune for aging hippies, one of the many "niche" communities springing up across the country for folks looking to live, work and play with others just like them.

I cringe when I read that the "niche" trend continues to grow, and that the word "community" is now used to describe not just residents of a particular local geographical area but an intentionally defined and designed enclave of people of similar age, marital status, and/or special interests or affiliations (or, in the Rocinante case, clothing preferences).

Even more unsettling is that this cultural trend is so pervasive in the church -- singles groups, children's church, young married couples. Sunday schools and retreats, "seniors" outings, even the plethora of corporate worship services tailored to specific musical tastes, technological expertise, and even clothing styles and beverage intake (do you sip your Starbucks or purified water during the service or after? Dress up or down? Whichever -- we have a service for you!).

Our niches are becoming so narrowly defined that I fear we've lost sight of what true community is, and what can be gained from being a participating member of a society of people at different stages of maturity and life situations, learning from and teaching others, through modeling and mentoring, how to respond and cope and deal with challenges that arise along the way.

Continue reading "Niche communities -- an oxymoron?" »

Goodness, Truth, & Beauty--a Trinitarian Relationship?

Box This past weekend I attended the Washington Arts Convocation, a two-day conference entitled, "Jumping Out of the Self-Referential Box." The title refers to the tendency of art since the rise of the Enlightenment to deal with the question of who am I? vs. the more important question who art Thou? This gathering of Christian artists has been the twenty-year dream of Jerry Eisley, the founder of the Washington Arts Group, and he has worked the last five years on making it a reality. Among the keynote speakers were:

I particularly enjoyed Greg Wolfe's opening talk on the relationship between truth, goodness and beauty. Wolfe posited that the three have a sort of trinitarian relationship. Truth, he posed, corresponds with reason, goodness with faith, and beauty with the imagination. Drawing on the thinking of Swiss Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar, he described how beauty is the least troubled by our fallenness, how beauty can go under the radar and pierce and wound us with the beatific vision. I was particularly intrigued by his explanation of beauty's shocking quality.

Continue reading "Goodness, Truth, & Beauty--a Trinitarian Relationship?" »

Who Would Jesus Kill? Let’s Find Out...

Marshmallowman I read Doug Bandow's piece (referenced here) and also clicked to the WWJK website he mentioned to read the explanatory essay by Timothy Price. "When America goes to war," Price writes, "complete with Christians in its forces...what is the non-christian foreigner to think?" Jesus "becomes inseperable from the soldiers (good and bad) who carry out this war. Jesus becomes something other than what He really is to non-believers in these countries..."

Well, sure, if "what Jesus really is" is "Gentle Jesus, meek and mild," who spends most of his time carrying lambs and patting children on the head, as depicted in the kind of pictures that Christian parents hang in their kids' bedrooms.

Doug Bandow appears to define, and limit, true Christianity to worshiping God and (peacefully) serving one's fellow human beings. Serving them by going to war on their behalf--something that, as Chuck noted in this BreakPoint commentary, has always been considered a high calling for Christians--is ruled out of bounds. Bandow goes so far as to say that "Pacifism is the most consistent Christian response."

Rubbish (to both Price's and Bandow's assertions). We worship a Christ who used whips to drive moneychangers out of the Temple, complimented the faith of an (enemy) Roman Centurion, and who promises fearful punishment for evil-doers.

To answer the question, "Who Would Jesus Kill?"--a question apparently intended to embarrass Christians who support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan--the Scriptures are filled with instances of God either killing people directly (as He did with the great flood, the plagues of Egypt, and, in the New Testament (as with Ananias and Sapphira) or instructing others to do so, such as when He ordered the Israelites to "totally destroy" the Canannites, along with six other nations, showing them no mercy. We even read that he ordered the Israelites to "attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." Talk about total war...

Continue reading "Who Would Jesus Kill? Let’s Find Out..." »

May 23, 2007

The results are in

Here's the final tally for our poll on Christian music:

  • 20.5 percent of you said Christian musicians should stay wholly within the contemporary Christian fold.
  • 16 percent said they should join a mainstream label and play before mainstream audiences.
  • 43.3 percent said they should try to do a little bit of both.
  • 20.1 percent voted for "Other."

I found it interesting that as we were voting on the purpose and role of Christian music, Christian music itself was apparently doing a little soul-searching. As Brewing Culture recently reported, "CCM [Magazine] is finally catching the vision. With the release of their May issue, they are officially changing their definition of Christian music." Click here to read about how "Christian music" is now being defined by the industry as "Christian worldview music," and what that means for its future.

And be sure to vote in our new poll, inspired by the article on selective reduction that we blogged about here and here.

Re: After the hype: Thoughts on ’Left Behind,’ the game

Thanks for your post, Gina, and your personal thoughts on the game. (Thanks also for such undeserved praise on my behalf. Let me just say that I'm so glad my potential success in life is not factored by my gaming skills. :-) )

But seriously, it really should come as no surprise that the game was poorly designed. Commentary from a variety of different sources claimed as much, so it really doesn't warrant any further dialog, aside from noting publicly my own disappointment in the lack of a high standard for design.

The content of the game itself should raise some red flags, although maybe not evident on its face. I took a very harsh stance against the game when it first rolled out, and found myself confronted by a lead executive of Left Behind Games. During our extended conversation it became clear to me that our debate wasn't just about the game, but the presence of many other issues brought forth by its release, which had produced some very bad fruit (i.e. dissension within the Church, etc). That, in fact, was my greatest concern.

Our conversation began as very one-sided, with me listening while he attempted to shoot down all my concerns. But, I acknowledge that he did help set me straight in some of the areas where I was misinformed. I'm grateful now to have not only heard their side of the story for myself, but also to have played the game. That said, I'm still not sold.

Continue reading "Re: After the hype: Thoughts on ’Left Behind,’ the game" »

’Hello, my name is Allen . . .’

Allen, I've called "Male Dancing with the Stars-Watchers Anonymous" and made you an appointment.

Let me know if, at any time in the coming months, the need should arise for me to make a similar call to their sister group of male Idol watchers. One never knows when these addictions are going to creep up and pounce on one.

Oh-no ... I Watched "Dancing with the Stars"

Dancing ...and I feel sick about it.

To be clear, I was simply doing work on my laptop while in the same room as my wife, who was watching the show. And I barely watched any of it. And, when it was unavoidable not to watch, I only did so with one eye. And I mocked the dancing stars early and often. And I pledged to boycott every company that advertised during the show.

My problem is that I've taken great pride in the fact that I have never watched American Idol for three reasons: 

1. It's simply goofy. If we could define "goofiness" in absolute terms, American Idol would surely fit the bill.

2. I have an admittedly obnoxious popularity bias, such that anytime something becomes largely popular, I have a contrarian need to scoffingly dislike it (U2, The Simpsons and iPods as notable exceptions).

3. American Idol just isn't ... well ... manly. I'm sorry, it just isn't.

Now, given that I watched sat in front of Dancing with the Stars for the sole purpose of being in the same room with my wife, I could stay consistent with my aforementioned trifold convictions in the name of maximizing time with one's spouse, but for four words: "Wow, they're pretty good." Yep, I said it. I hate it, but I did say it. Right after Olympic short-track gold medalist Apolo Anton Ohno and his partner took their winning turn on the dance floor.

Continue reading "Oh-no ... I Watched "Dancing with the Stars"" »

An Anti-Theist’s Rant

To The Source's most recent column quotes from Christopher Hitchens:

I'm an anti-theist. It would be horrible if it were true that we were designed and then created and then continuously supervised throughout all our lives waking and sleeping and then continue to be supervised after our deaths -- if that were true, it would be horrible. I'm very glad there's absolutely no evidnece for it at all. It would be like living in a celestial North Korea. You can't defect from North Korea but at least you can die. With monotheism they won't let you die and get away from them. It's the wish to be a slave. Who wants that to be true? It's demanding the servile condition. I'll give you a hint of how much I don't like it. We don't need to go regularly to chant a liturgy or a mantra and be reinforced by a priest. We obviously absolutely don't need it.

When I read something like this, it reminds me of how utterly dark an unbeliever's mind can be. It perfectly illustrates what Paul wrote so long ago in 1 Corinthians:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? .... God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

I feel nothing but pity for Christopher Hitchens this morning. He "obviously absolutely" needs our prayers.

Re: ’Warmonger’


I don't know; I don't think many Christians would argue that jus in bello violations are permissible; but your note begs the question "What does 'taint' mean, and what are the implications if a just war is indeed so 'tainted'?" For example, if we deemed the Iraq War just, we probably wouldn't think that we ought to pack up our gear and head home because of the violations of a few National Guardsmen ... er, Guardspersons? ... at Abu Ghraib.

Would you be willing to elaborate, though, as to how you think the decision to enter the Iraq War was unjust from the get-go? My own perspective was that it was a just cause but not particularly prudent. I realize that is nonsensical, in a sense, because Just War doctrine includes a requirement of prudence. But, then again, I've always found the inclusion of prudence into the Just War criteria a bit odd. I'm hoping you can shed some light on that matter.  For what does “prudence” have to do with “justice” anyway? Sometimes … oftentimes … those two characteristics stand in opposition to one in another in matters of problem solving.

So it seems to me that whether or not a war is “just” in nature and “prudent” to initiate are two very different matters.

If your Just War objection to the decision to enter the war is based upon the prudence requirement, then -- as a fan of Caspar Weinberger’s Six Tests -- I can certainly understand it. If your objection is to the very merits of the Administration’s desire (and, to be fair, Congress’s and Big Media’s and nearly everyone’s desire, it seemed at the time) to enter the war, then I would like to know more specifically what you mean.

May 22, 2007

After the hype: Thoughts on ’Left Behind,’ the game

Leftbehindgame Way back near the dawn of time -- well, a few months ago, anyway -- we got a review copy of the Left Behind video game for research purposes. That was the easy part. The hard part was playing the game.

Turned out this thing requires massive amounts of memory. After it failed to load on my home computer, and then failed to load on a borrowed laptop, it then spent several weeks failing to load on our office computers, at which point our longsuffering IT guys had to order special equipment to force it to cooperate. (Sorry, guys.)

By this time I was beginning to think that researching the game might be a pointless exercise, since it seemed unlikely that any gamer would have had the perseverance and fortitude to go through all this. Nonetheless, there it finally was, all loaded and ready to go, so one day Faith Schwartz and I sat down to give it a try.

All I can say is thank God for Faith, because without her I would probably still be wandering helplessly around the tutorial screen, flummoxed by acres of menu options that never seemed to lead where I wanted or expected them to. She went at it like a pro, corralling our protagonist -- we had only one for the duration, not being able to figure out how to try out others -- and making him do more or less what he was told, including get into fistfights with the bad guys and be careful to avoid "the evil musicians" (I'm not kidding).

Besides said fistfights, we never saw any of the violence that made the game so controversial when it came out, as even with Faith's skills we were unable to get to the higher levels of the game. We did, however, see something that bothered both of us.

Continue reading "After the hype: Thoughts on ’Left Behind,’ the game" »

Re: ’Colson the Warmonger’??

I feel so . . . so . . . exposed.

If you want to engage in a meaningless, yet potentially incendiary, intellectual exercise, offer to lead a discussion on which of America's wars met the requirements of the Just War Doctrine. (To keep the fires from raging out of control, you should first agree to exclude the Civil War/War of Northern Aggression from the discussion.)

First you have to decide on what you mean by "America's Wars." Very few non-historians have ever heard of the Philippine-American War but seeing as how an estimated 250,000 to one million Filipino civilians died during the conflict, you can bet that Filipinos count it as an American war. (Hint: it doesn't make the "just" cut. Wars of imperial expansion never do,)

Then you have to decide how often and how severely the jus in bello requirements of the Just War Doctrine can be violated (and they will be) before it taints the just cause for the which the war was ostensibly being waged. Some people say that this can't happen; once the jus ad bellum requirements have been met, the conflict is always, in some sense, just. I say that this is porcarie on a stick.

Yours in endless controversy


Briny Fish

Fish Rick Warren used this analogy at the Q Conference (mentioned earlier) to describe how a Christian is "in the world but not of the world."

Ever eat a fish that lived its whole life in briny water? It was immersed in brine, and yet didn't absorb the salt or become salty. Like that briny fish, we should be immersed in culture and yet remain pure.

Here's a paraphrase of some of his key points:

Don't live in isolation or insulation, but in incarnation. When it comes to engaging culture, it's all about you incarnating Christ. The key to engaging culture is humility, integrity, generosity, civility, clarity. It's easy to be relevant if you don't want to be biblical, and you can be biblical but not relevant. Find a balance.  Engaging culture is not programmatic but personal. It's not a strategy but a lifestyle. If you want to be relevant and biblical, and engage those around you, address those topics or issues in culture that will never change -- love, guilt, healing, hurts, loneliness, meaning, purpose.

Q: - In what ways are you biblically relevant to the people and culture around you?

How have you been able to be a briny fish -- in the world, but not of it?

Hopelessly Devoted to You

Today's Washington Post has a story about three servicemen who took the oath of citizenship yesterday at Mount Vernon.

After swearing to defend the Constitution, Petty Officer Reginald Cherubin, 30, Marine Sgt. Brian Joseph, 38, and Army Sgt. Jeremy Tattrie, 24, joined another group: the more than 26,000 service members who have become U.S. citizens since the Iraq war began and the Bush administration expedited the citizenship process for military members. Seventy-five service members have received their citizenship posthumously since then.

According to the story, there are another 40,000 non-citizens serving in the military. This willingness of non-citizens to serve, even during times of war, has "some military experts [wanting] to open the armed forces to undocumented immigrants and foreign recruits to fill the ranks as the Army and Marines plan troop increases."

Someone who disagrees is Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies. He told the Post that "'a very large number of non-citizens could change the purpose of the military from the defense of the country to a job and a way to get a foot in the door of the United States,' turning military service into 'a kind of mercenary thing.'"

Emilio Gonzalez, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, sees no evidence of that happening: "After [the 2002 executive order that granted permanent residents the right to apply for citizenship immediately if they enlisted]  we have not seen hordes of people joining the military . . . These people don't join the military just to become citizens. These people joined the military because they wanted to serve."

Continue reading "Hopelessly Devoted to You" »

’Colson the Warmonger’??

Official Christian Worldview Sensationalist Post Subtitle: “Doug Bandow says Colson wrong, Iraq War unjust … and Colson’s own writer agrees!!”

Thought you might like to experience that for yourself, Roberto. Good times, huh?

Of course, you play these sorts of things cooler than I do. And so my training to reach that elusive goal – becoming Roberto Rivera – continues. Ah, but such a precious reward it will be. So I push onward in my quest.

[On second thought, the better angle and subtitle just might be: “Roberto Rivera discovers troubling agreement with libertarian; spends night dry heaving in bathroom”]

A Countercultural Suggestion for College Grads

PrimerIt's that time of year when young people across the country are graduating from college and thinking about what to do next. Resume preening and jockeying for prestigious internships or grad school programs are the order of the day for most students. I want to offer a couple of countercultural suggestions.

In centuries past, children were grounded in a biblical education from the time they were mouthing "mama" and "papa." The Bible was not only the book of life, but also a primary book of education as kids cut their teeth on it in grammar school and beyond. Today, many students, especially those who have received a public school education, have only a cursory knowledge of the Bible or experience in thinking about all of life from a biblical perspective.

We desperately need young men and women to enter diverse callings with a spiritual calling on their lives. I want to suggest if you are a college student, parent of a college student, or friend or mentor to one, consider taking or encouraging your student to take a year off before entering the work place to get grounded in a biblical worldview.

Personally, I took two years to get a master's in biblical studies at a seminary in my home state. I wouldn't trade the understanding of the Word of God and the various ramifications that grounding has had on my life for anything. This past weekend I bumped into an old friend who is currently working with the Trinity Forum Academy. Similarly, they are providing a one year post-graduate program with the same objectives. While the time and money for programs like these are not inconsequential, I believe that the eternal dividends far outweigh the costs.

Religious education used to be part of the landscape of children's lives. Today, in its absence, it makes sense that if we hope to live our own lives with integrity and impact the world around us, it could only help to take a little time and immerse ourselves in such study. Or if that option is not available, perhaps consider a distance education program or something like BreakPoint's Centurions Program. It's worth considering.