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May 22, 2007

An Immigrant’s Perspective

The proposed immigration bill is being debated in the Senate this week. Highlights of the bill include a temporary guest worker program for foreign nationals and a new visa classification, "Z visa," to be offered to some 12 million illegal aliens that would help them toward permanent residency.

I personally have a strong conviction on this issue. As immigrants, my family chose to play by the rules when we moved to the United States. Playing by the rules meant, for my family, spending thousands of hard-earned dollars to pay for legal fees and years of separation from my family, especially my newly wed wife, in 2001 just to stay and work legally in the US. There are many individuals and families who endure similar or even much greater sacrifices, all from respect and not wanting to break the law of this country.

I haven’t read the full proposed immigration bill and I only base my comments on the news reports I hear and read. Proponents of the bill deny that the new legislation is amnesty, but there’s an old saying, “The more one says something is not, the more likely it is.” I’m still waiting for someone to give immigrants like me who followed the rule of law and assimilated in American life a good explanation why it’s not an amnesty.

My hope and prayer is that the Bible still remains the ultimate authority in our immigration policies. It's the best immigration guidebook because it's filled with stories of immigration and characters alien in foreign lands. May this country continue to care for the poor, widows, orphans and strangers and at the same time preserve order and provide justice to everyone by enforcing the rule of law. Isn’t that what established the United States  as a great country in the first place?

Apples and oranges

Thegoldencompass2 The trailer for The Golden Compass, based on the Philip Pullman novel of the same name, begins with the words, "In 2001 New Line Cinema opened the door to Middle-earth. This December they take you on another epic journey."

New Line's marketers are no fools. Having cleaned up on The Lord of the Rings films, naturally they're going to milk that connection for all it's worth. Nonetheless, aside from the genre -- and even that provides only a superficial bond when you get right down to it -- there is no real comparison here. Even Pullman dislikes the comparison, though he claims it's because Tolkien's works, with their focus on "maps and plans and languages and codes," are "infantile."

But that's sidestepping the real difference. Tolkien was interested in creating fantasy worlds that reflect the soverignty and goodness of God. Pullman is interested in sweeping God out of the way and establishing a new order in which humans can live undisturbed by old-fashioned concepts of morality. Think I'm exaggerating? Pullman's series ends, in part, with "God" being exposed as a weak, pitiful old fool, and dying an inglorious death, while those who have tyrannized over others in his name are defeated and destroyed.

Nevertheless, for the reason I've cited, the comparison to Tolkien's works -- and to C. S. Lewis's Narnia books and their film adaptations -- will be made over and over again in the coming months. Don't fall for it.

For more on the superficial similarities and fundamental differences among Pullman, Tolkien, and Lewis, here's a piece I wrote after reading Pullman's series.

Blowing the Kid Off

Kristine, I was not so much heartbroken as revolted by Liza Mundy's "Too Much To Carry?" piece in Washington Post Magazine. My personal nomination for the most grotesque sentence: "If you inject [potassium chloride into the baby's heart] too fast, you blow the kid off your needle," he explained--"he" being the doctor who kills healthy kids like these every day, and has deluded himself that he's a great humanitarian.

Scenes like this are the natural offspring of a culture that says nobody should be denied anything they truly want, and that there is no price too high for others to pay so that we may have it--freedom from an unwanted spouse, as Chuck noted in yesterday's BreakPoint, freedom from unwanted children (either through abortion or abandonment) and freedom from infertility, even if it means killing one's own children in order to achieve parenthood.

Second, throughout history, there has never been a shortage of people willing--eager--to play God--to desire the power to decide who gets to live and who gets to die. The results are uniformly evil. The consciences of god figures become numbed, as Dr. Evans demonstrates, and the love of power over life and death increases, along with their ability to deceive themselves. Dr. Evans' work is not about "saving lives," or helping parents "have children"; after all, doctors save lives every day without killing other people in the process, and infertile parents have children all the time--via adoption. Instead, this is about Dr. Evans' willingness to kill kids in order to help infertile parents in their narcisstic goal of having children with the "right" genetic material: theirs. (And it IS narcisstic when they are willing to pay such a destructive price to achieve it.)

Third, Mundy reveals to us the grief of mothers who are "forced" to chose between one child and another, in order to increase the chances that one child, at least, will live. On the one hand, it's a good thing that Mundy is not hiding the trauma of these mothers or minimizing the humanity of their unborn children, in direct contrast to the way abortion supporters have, for decades, minimized and continue to minimize both the humanity of the unborn child and the long-term pain endured by mothers who deliberately kill their children.

Having said that, it's worth reminding ourselves that these women actually did have a choice--unlike, say, African women caught up in a famine who attempt to carry their children hundreds of miles to food and water.

Continue reading "Blowing the Kid Off " »

May 21, 2007

’Repellent meaning mongering’

Thomas Hibbs -- author of the excellent Shows about Nothing -- helps explain why my children, should I ever have any, will not see Shrek or its sequels -- at least not until they've been given a thorough grounding in classic fairy tales (and possibly not even then). As too few moviegoers and too few filmmakers seem to realize, you shouldn't see the satire -- especially not the "parasitic" variety -- until you can understand and appreciate the original.

(For you newbies, Catherine and I had a discussion way back when about some of the Shrek series' unintended messages.)

You can’t win

Excerpt from an article Roberto sent around this morning, by a man who with his wife adopted an autistic child:

A colleague at work confronted me in the mailroom with this memorable gem: "Have you tried in-vitro?" She feared that we hadn't availed ourselves of the many wondrous technologies that rescue infertile couples. "Wouldn't that be better than adopting a child with a disability?" she asked, drawing out the word "disability." "God knows what that kid's parents were doing when they conceived him."

Excerpt from a commenter at Liza Mundy's online Q&A about her article on selective reduction:

Our society is trying to give everyone everything they want -- if you can't get pregnant without modern science, perhaps you shouldn't be getting pregnant -- perhaps you should adopt the millions of kids out there without parents who you could help.

You gotta wonder sometimes if people are really concerned about the fate of children at risk and adults who long for children, or if they just love butting in.

(That said, the rest of that one commenter's quote is quite profound: "Perhaps this whole IVF thing is something we shouldn't be doing . . . I was crying as I read the piece -- and I am the staunchest supporter of choice there is." Perhaps some readers learned something from that devastating article. I hope so.)

Hearing the Cross in Bach and finding Christ the Truth

Yesterday I heard a Persian (from Iran) Christian share his journey from practicing Muslim, to relativist, to Christian. He said that as a Muslim, he had believed in God, loved him, desired to follow him, but found him very distant. So he turned to relativism and New Age beliefs, but lost the sense of the absolute, which he had found in the God of Islam.

An accomplished musician, he was particularly drawn to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and through Bach, regained a sense of the absolute. One day, as he finished playing a Bach piece for his teacher, he was told that his performance had been terrible, even though it was technically perfect. His teacher, not a Christian, said, "You cannot play Bach without keeping the Cross in mind," and that only when he could hear the cross in the piece would he play it as Bach intended.

So the former Muslim, relativistic, unbeliever, at the instruction of his non-Christian teacher, drew a big red cross at the top of his sheet music, and focused on that Cross as he played Bach until he could hear the Cross in the music. To make a long story short, by focusing on the Cross, and hearing the Cross through the music of Bach, he came to know the Christ of the Cross, and today is a leader in his local church.

While Roberto or T.M. or others more schooled in musicology and theology than I can elaborate further, I find this to be a remarkable demonstration of how God has placed the knowledge of truth in hearts and minds, the power of the Cross to speak without words, and the ability of music to express truth, goodness, beauty or lead people to seek the Truth.

Interestingly, while Bach was a Christian and created music for the glory of God, I've also had more than one person tell me that they've come to faith in Christ thanks to the early music of -- Bob Dylan. Not the stuff he wrote after declaring he'd become a Christian, but the music from his early days, because, they said, he was seeking truth, and that search for truth ultimately led them to Christ, who is the Truth.

Have you ever had experiences where music has spoken to you in unexpected ways? Have you seen God in music?

It’s the Devil’s fault!

Raise your hand if you're disturbed by this article. The story, and others like it, can offer such a jolt to what we thought was our firm foundation of a belief in God. Suddenly we're not so sure. Who is this "God person" really, if he goes around forcing loving mothers to murder their children and provoking innocent fathers to microwave theirs?  Certainly not one with which we wish to affiliate ourselves! But before you denounce your Christianity in light of the day's headlines, read on.

Once befuddled by the same types of questions, I wrote a college paper to dissect the differences between Andrea Yates, Deanna Laney, and the Call of Abraham as retold in the great novel of Soren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling. (Although I wish the paper was handy to link to, the truth of the matter is that my writing was fluffy and it would be a boring read anyway.) After much research, I found several satisfying answers to my plaguing questions. The greatest truth was this: God is not a God of contradiction

I drew first from the story of Abraham. We all know how the Lord told Abraham to sacrifice his son in order to determine Abraham's obedience and loyalty to the Lord. (I love this particular passage.) But in the process God stopped Abraham, and Isaac was spared.

Now, flip over one book to Exodus, where the Lord commands "thou shalt not murder." Think for a minute just how ridiculous it would be if God demanded one thing and then commanded the opposite?!  Foolishness! A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

The concept of contradiction also applies to the recent article of the "pastor" who microwaved his daughter. Here we look not for a contradiction with God's commands, but for a contradiction in the life of a so-called "Christian."

Continue reading "It’s the Devil’s fault!" »

Must-See Movie

Sophiescholl You want to watch a real Christian worldview movie? Rent or buy Sophie Scholl.

Better yet, approach life like Sophie Scholl.

Choosing which life

Twinswomb This is one of the most heartbreaking articles I've read in a long time. The article discusses "selective reduction," the deliberate killing of one or more babies in utero to reduce the number of children a mother is carrying.

Most of this is "necessary" because of reproductive technology that significantly increases the likelihood of multiples. Unfortunately, carrying multiples means a high-risk pregnancy.

Conflicted over the ethical and moral dimensions of her job, the sonographer in the story told the reporter, "Some of these people tried to get pregnant for the past five years and prayed to God. And now that they are pregnant, they are telling God: You gave me too many. I sometimes feel like we are playing God, and that is very emotionally stressful."

Ironically, while medical technology has advanced, giving premature babies a better chance at a healthy life, the doctor featured in this story has actually become more willing to eliminate babies.

When he was working to establish bioethical principles, Evans decided that he would not reduce a normal twin pregnancy. He would take somebody from three to two, but he would not take somebody from two to one....But Evans's thinking has changed. He is willing now to reduce two to one, and he does so. Not often, but the incidence is increasing. There are now data showing that reducing one twin does not affect the physical well-being of the twin who remains. Plus, many of his patients are women in their late 30s and early 40s, some married for the second time. Both partners may already have children, and what they want is one child together.

Is your heart breaking yet?

Continue reading "Choosing which life" »

May 20, 2007

Keeping hope alive

While "the rest of the world has really moved on" from the Virginia Tech massacre, writes a Campus Crusade for Christ staffer at the campus, "the reality of the situation for us here is that this is nowhere near over." Take a look at CCC's Virginia Tech Web page to read about how the ministry is still providing hope, comfort, and guidance for those who will be dealing with the fallout for years to come.

May 18, 2007

God returns to the big screen

Evan Speaking of Noah, fans of Steve Carell from The Office are in for a treat this summer, as he is starring in Evan Almighty, a movie that features Steve as a modern-day Noah, complete with ark and lots and lots of animals.

According to director Tom Shaydac, a professing Catholic, "Christians think that to write a religious or spiritual movie, it has to have a priest, minister, nun or a church in it. But Jesus told stories that had seemingly nothing on the surface to do with religion, yet they were spiritual stories. He told stories about a farmer, a man who had two sons and the parable of the 10 virgins. We tell stories..." Shaydac just happens to tell really funny ones.

According to the official movie web site, Shaydac decided to honor the film's theme--stewardship of creation--by living out the message. He bought bicycles for every one of the cast and crew to encourage them to pedal their way around the set and nearby areas rather than drive everywhere. But most significantly (I thought) he donated all of the landscaping and building materials from the set and the full-sized ark to Habitat for Humanity.

The web site also talks about the role of the animals in the film and the challenges of having more than a hundred species together in one place. Listening to the guy in charge of that part of the film talk about "this animal eats that animal, which eats that animal" is a good reminder of what a miracle the actual ark and flood event was.

Ordinary culture-changers

Battlecry Last weekend, I was a guest of Teen Mania at their last Battle Cry event for the year, held at the Nissan Pavilion in Virginia. I was a little afraid that I might have ruined the coolness factor for P.O.D. ("The old chick likes them?!?"), but it was energizing to watch thousands of teens jumping up and down to the music and then later confessing the name of Christ and kneeling all over the stadium to commit to following Him wholeheartedly.

On the second day of the event, two individuals were given awards for making a positive difference in the culture. One was a Mexican actor and pop singer who became a follower of Christ after coming to the U.S. to further his career and picking for his English tutor a woman who was bold in her witness of the Savior. A reporter for the Christian Post wrote (via Thunderstruck) about the awards:

Eduardo Verstegui, a former Mexican soap opera star and boy band member, gave up his career doing secular work when he came to know Christ several years ago because he realized what he was doing was “offending God.” So for two years he turned down every project he was offered because it went against what the Bible teaches.

Yet his new low-budget, pro-life film, Bella, has been a surprise hit winning first place at the Toronto International Film Festival and set to receive an award from the Smithsonian Museum in September.

...The other award recipient was J. Frank Harrison III, the C.E.O. of Coca Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, who among many generous donations to charity has also taken the risk of placing a chaplain in every Coca Cola plant.

These are just two examples of people who took a stand against the tide of the culture. They were held up to the teens at the Battle Cry event as an inspiration. But they can be an inspiration to us all.

Continue reading "Ordinary culture-changers" »

Call Me ’Your Lordship’

I've finally gotten around to reading Simon Schama's magisterial account of the French Revolution, Citizens. While I'm enjoying the book a lot, I'm also feeling a sense of lack. There are all these nobles running around Schama's account: the Duc of this and the Marquis of that. As Schama points out, most of them came from families that had only been ennobled in the previous century or so. (Apparently, upward mobility, at least the social kind, was a feature of l'Ancien Regime.)

That only makes my lack of a title all the more depressing. Not anymore. Thanks to Your Peculiar Aristocratic Title, I can be addressed as something other than "hey you!" I'm "The Very Reverend Roberto the Simple of Chignall Smeally."

"Smeally" sounds a lot like Smeagol but it beats "hey you!"

Via Sacramentum Vitae

Works that Condemn: A Primer on Works (6 of 8)

By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. Hebrews 11:7

Good works, done by faith, in obedience to the commandments of God's Word, will, like Noah's ark, condemn the unbelieving world. We don't like to talk about condemnation (can't we all just learn to get along?). But the fact is, the more that we are distinguished by the good works which God has before ordained that we should pursue (Eph. 2:10), the more people will notice us (as we saw in our last installment), and the more certain of those people will be condemned by what they see.

Noah's ark -- the good work to which he was called in his generation -- created a zone of obedience, righteousness, and salvation, for those who entered into it. All who remained outside were condemned. Now there is no doubt that Noah's neighbors didn't see it that way. Surely they thought him a little batty, devoting so much time and effort to what they would have regarded as a silly work, and having no time to join them in the revelries and distractions of the day (cf. 1 Pet. 4:1-5). But when Noah coupled his good work with the preaching of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), he condemned those who mocked him, or who did not heed the warning of coming judgment. His ark -- Noah's good work -- stood out as a witness to God, salvation, and righteousness, and it condemned all those who looked askance at it.

Just so will it be with the good works we do in obedience to God's Word. It is not our duty as the followers of Christ, as we pursue holiness (2 Cor. 7:1), to put our unbelieving contemporaries at ease, assuring them that they're "OK" in God's eyes. Faith requires that we obey God unto righteousness, and righteousness always puts unrighteousness in relief, exposing it to the light of truth and leaving it bare, naked, and condemned. And for this, Jesus promised, the world will hate us, even as it hated Him (Jn. 15:18-22). Good works, coupled with the proclamation of truth explaining the reason for those good works, must necessarily condemn those who prefer lives of sin and unbelief.

This is not an invitation to offend; we are always called to love others as Christ has loved us, even those who despise us. Rather, it is simply a caveat to the redeemed: pursue good works as the outworking of your salvation, but do not expect the unbelieving world to celebrate your achievement.

Updated Information on Turkish Martyrs

Over the last few weeks I've posted quite a bit about the final hours of the Turkish martyrs. Father Jonathan Morris recently visited Turkey and has published two columns at Fox News, here and here, that relate to the recent deaths.

Meanwhile, I have updated information on where to send your gifts of support. Here it is:

Continue reading "Updated Information on Turkish Martyrs" »

New Business: Carbon Debits!

I've got the perfect website for those of you who scoff at the "carbon credit" business and wish to sell bridges to their customers: CarbonCreditKillers.com.

Their mission is as follows:

We are on a mission to take away every one of Al Gore's meaningless carbon credits by simply providing carbon debits. Help us make this dream a reality by purchasing one of the packages below. Don't let Al Gore assuage his guilt with meaningless penance, heap it back on with carbon debits – every one of which we will let him know about.

Customers purchase "carbon debits" from CCK which they dedicate to Al Gore or any other "friend" whom they wish to enrage. Their means?

Making a carbon debit is a delicate matter taking both skill and time. Our carbon debiting process starts with our FECON spinning shredder and a driver who has vendetta against trees. Add any tree and about 20 seconds and a carbon debit is born!

The photos have to be seen to be believed, by the way.

Anyone appalled by CCK's business really shouldn't sweat it. Brandon Monahan at CCK responded to my story-behind-the-story inquiry as follows:

Well, specifically we have contracts to clear trees through the Game and Fish department. Their logic is that clearing them makes the antelope less skittish and therefore they reproduce more. Basically, that is our real job…

Well, I for one -- having enjoyed a good laugh -- appreciate Brandon's other job quite a bit.

Chimeras Approved in UK

The UK has just given the green light for the creation of human-animal embryos, overturning an earlier law banning their production. Reportedly, the purpose of these hybrids is to create new stem cell lines for the treatment of incurable diseases.

The reaction in the research community was—well, cheery. As geneticist John Burns put it, "I'm delighted that common sense has prevailed." For those with concerns over where this bold new initiative might lead, Professor Burns assures,

But what we're talking about here are cells on a dish not a foetus. We're talking about something that looks like sago under the microscope. And it's illegal to ever turn these cells into a living being.

I hear ya, Professor Burns. But somehow, I got this feeling that “common sense” will inevitably buck up against that challenge as well.

May 17, 2007

A weekly witness

Olivia Thank you, Gina, for linking to my NRO piece telling the stories of rape victims who became pregnant as the result of the attack.

One of the points I wanted to mention, but did not have room for, is the fact that the character of cop Olivia Benson on television's Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, who spends her day helping rape victims and tracking down their attackers, is herself the product of a rape. It's a weekly witness that God can bring good even out of horrific evil. More fanatical L&O: SVU fans than I probably know why the producers added this element.

I wonder how many (if any) rape victims decided to carry their babies to term because of this interesting character. Olivia is an illustration of what many assault victims say about their children: That the baby is their baby, not a "monster's" baby, and that it would be wrong to give the death penalty to an innocent child for the crime of its father.

The Way I See It

So my previous post got me thinking. One of my nobler aspirations in this life is to get on the back of a Starbucks cup with something extremely pithy, witty and profound. Congrats Bill on getting on the cup, you've done something that I've yet to do. Anyhow, I had my best idea so far and I'm thinking about submitting it. Unfortunately, I'd have to ghost-write this one:

The Way I See It:

"___________________________________________________"

                                  ---Carthusian monk, as quoted the film Into Great Silence

Brilliant, huh? I knew you'd agree.

This is also a good one. Also ghost-written:

The Way I See It:

"__________________________________________________"

                                    ---Job, from Job chapter 40, verse 6 and following

Some of you, Bill included, may be thinking that these are better than any of my previous posts. I'm sure you are right.

To a "Modern-day Nobody"

Cup So caffeine, if you haven't noticed, covers over a mulitude of sins. I'm sure that's in the Message Re-mix somewhere. (I'm joking, of course. The more I write for a Christian audience the more I discover we can be an utterly humorless bunch. I'm on a mission to change that.) Anyhow, running on fewer hours of sleep than normal, I decided to stop by Starbucks on my way to work this morning. On my cup of Java is this quote, "The Way I See It #247," submitted by Bill Scheel from London, Ontario, who describes himself as a "modern day nobody." He writes:

Why in moments of crisis do we ask God for strength and help? As cognitive beings, why would we ask something that may well be a figment of our imagination for guidance? Why not search inside ourselves for the power to overcome? After all, we are strong enough to cause most of the catastrophes we need to endure.

How would you answer Mr. Modern-day Nobody? Here's what I might say...

Continue reading "To a "Modern-day Nobody"" »

Re: Rethinking the Great Commission

While we're on the subject, Boundless's The Line is also having a pretty interesting conversation about Joe's article.

RE: Rethinking the Great Commission

Martha, 

Thanks for sending us to this link since I would have missed it otherwise. I think Joe has hit on something we all need to stay alert to -- formulaic faith.  I've certainly heard all these "tools" presented in various churches over the years, though (given my naturally contrary nature), I've resisted them. I never tried to articulate why, other than the techniques struck me as forced. I'd much rather wait on the Holy Spirit to open up opportunities for me to speak to unbelievers since He's never failed to give me just the right words for the individual I'm speaking to. My only task is to pray for open doors and stay alert to the people He brings across my path (and He does this in some pretty amazing ways).

This reminds me of a story I once heard from a pastor about the door-to-door witnessing he was forced to do in Bible college. Gene thought one man had accepted Christ, but when Gene went back on a follow-up visit, the guy said, "I just told you that so I could go back to bed! Now, leave me alone!" Needless to say, this was one pastor who did not favor the "hound them at home" method of evangelism!! 

Opportunity lost

Point blogger Anne Morse writes in today's National Review Online:

“Tell me,” Wendell Goler asked Senator Sam Brownback during Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, “Since you’ve opposed abortion in every instance except to save the life of the mother, how would you explain to a rape victim . . . why her trauma should be compounded by carrying the child to term?”

Read about what Brownback said, and what he should have said, here.

Perspective

… from the late 6th century:

All of Western Europe was in chaos. Serious men, and Gregory was among them, thought that the end of the world was at hand. “What is it,” he asks in one of his sermons, “that can at this time delight us in this world? Everywhere we see tribulation, everywhere we hear lamentation. The cities are destroyed, the castles torn down, the fields laid waste, the land made desolate. Villages are empty, few inhabitants remain in the cities, and even these poor remnants of humanity are daily cut down. The scourge of celestial justice does not cease, because no repentance takes place under the scourge. We see how some are carried into captivity, others mutilated, others slain. What is it, brethren, that can make us contented with this life? If we love such a world, we love not our joys, but our wounds."

From Bruce Shelley’s Church History In Plain Language, page 166

Stepping on Toes

Whitecenterposters For all you abstract aficionados, I’ll apologize for stepping on your toes up front.

According to the Associated Press, abstract expressionist Mark Rothko’s “White Center” painting sold for close to $73 million. I saw the painting and just don’t get it. The colors are pretty, and the horizontal shapes somewhat interesting—it reminds me of a modern-looking ottoman placed in a light-filled room. What, however, makes this different from when I see home owners and designers create “fine art" (ha!) on shows like Trading Spaces?

A little about Rothko’s life:

During his lifetime, Rothko’s style became “distorted” in part as a reaction to World War II. On the National Gallery of Art website, you can see one of his early works, which is a landscape. They give you a handy timeline to follow where you can see Rothko’s form changing and becoming darker and more menacing. 

From my very short reading on Rothko, he became an abstract painter because he felt his representative or symbolic painting became too grotesque and “mutilated." This was a result of his view that humans had become alienated from one another and the world. 

Continue reading "Stepping on Toes" »

Rethinking the Great Commission

Joe Carter posts on his Evangelical Outpost blog this list of ten fixtures of evangelicalism that he believes may sometimes produce the opposite of the intended effect. As someone who would no longer use the term "evangelical" to describe myself, partly because of how some of these fixtures are perceived outside of and used within evangelical circles, I think Joe's comments help remind us that while sometimes our intentions are well-meaning and earnest, we may need to reread Matthew 28:19-20 and grasp the full intent of what Jesus commands us to do. And then reread the Gospels with an eye toward observing how Jesus demonstrated making and teaching disciples!

May 16, 2007

A Life Lived Falwell

It would be an understatement to say that the Rev. Jerry Falwell will leave behind a mixed legacy. At the "On Faith" panel blog, for instance, a number of kind eulogies -- including a statement by Chuck Colson -- are met with incredibly disgusting vitriol from other commenters and panelists. This comes as no surprise, since Falwell was hated as passionately in life.

I never met Jerry Falwell, but from all I can tell, this was a man who truly loved God and loved his neighbor. He spoke tough words -- some of them ill-timed or off the mark -- but he also backed up those words with deeds of good will and kindness. Perhaps we should all aspire to be so despised.

Where Have All the Muslim Moderates Gone?

Muslims I confess it was not the typical Mother's Day conversation, but somehow on Sunday my mom and I got on the subject of radical Islam. Both of us were wondering aloud about where the Muslim moderates are in our society and why we don't hear more from them. I posited a few theories about the pressure that I've seen placed on people who become outspoken critics of Islam. Then yesterday, after clicking on over to Rod Dreher's column that Roberto mentioned on "Jesus and politics," I noticed that Dreher's Sunday column in the Dallas News was titled "Moderate Muslim Voices Silenced." Intrigued, I read on.

Apparently, PBS's local affiliate was to run a documentary called Islam vs. Islamists: Voices from the Center. The documentary (trailer available here) apparently features those voices of moderate Muslims that we are continually assured make up the silent majority. Why then did they pull it from the air? Dreher has a few theories in his column. I encourage you to read it. I'm quite curious too. I, for one, would have been an interested viewer. Maybe a few phone calls or letters to PBS might help them change their mind.

Taking Away from God’s Word

A little “oversight” in the Episcopal lectionary has recently come to my attention. For those not familiar, the lectionary is a collection of scriptural readings for each day of the liturgical year. For the seventh Sunday of Easter—that’s this coming Sunday—one of the readings is from Revelation 22. The interesting thing about this particular reading is that it covers verses 12-14, 16-17, and 20-21, while conspicuously omitting verses 15, 18 and 19. What do those omitted verses say?

V 15—Outside [the heavenly city] are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

V 18-19—I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. 19And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

It would appear—only appear, mind you—that the lectionary editors omitted the latter verses to conceal the judgment upon them for omitting the former one. Or…maybe it was just an innocent oversight caused by lazy eye.

When ideals collide

Anne, your post reminded me of this piece from the New York Times (H/T The Corner) about how support for abortion forces leftists into collision with what was once their most cherished ideal: equal treatment for all, including those with disabilities.

Abortion rights supporters — who believe that a woman has the right to make decisions about her own body — have had to grapple with the reality that the right to choose may well be used selectively to abort fetuses deemed genetically undesirable. And many are finding that, while they support a woman’s right to have an abortion if she does not want to have a baby, they are less comfortable when abortion is used by women who don’t want to have a particular baby. . . .

“If the response is simply, ‘You all are just anti-women’s-right-to-choose,’ I think that misses some of the important disabilities rights issues that are being raised,” said Andrew Imparato, president of the American Association of People With Disabilities.

Mr. Imparato said he was disturbed to learn recently that in several states with legislative efforts to restrict abortion rights, groups like Planned Parenthood often lobby for an exemption for women who learn their child would have a disability.

But he said that the person who alerted him was a Planned Parenthood lobbyist who was herself troubled by the tactic because it seemed to run counter to the progressive political agenda that supports both choice and tolerance of human difference.

Wouldn't it be poetic justice if the very ones so often used as a justification for abortion -- the disabled in the womb -- should turn out to be the ones who force liberal abortion supporters to rethink the whole issue? God does have a sense of humor.

The natives are restless

Don't miss Mike Gerson's first column in the Washington Post, "Missionaries in Northern Virginia," an analysis of the dispute between the American Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. 

Gerson makes clear this dispute is about far more than disagreements over same-sex "marriage." It's about the fact that whereas "in 1900, about 80 percent of Christians lived in North America and Europe, now more than 60 percent live on other continents," and these Christians "tend to take their Bible both literally and seriously."

Liberal American Christians are finding this a bit hard to take. For decades, Gerson writes, the religious left "has preached multiculturalism, but now, on further acquaintance, it doesn't seem to like other cultures very much. Episcopal leaders complain of the threat of 'foreign prelates,' echoing anti-Catholic rhetoric of the 19th century. An activist at one Episcopal meeting urged the African bishops to 'go back to the jungle where you came from.' Not since Victorians hunted tigers on elephants has the condescension been this raw."

Read the whole piece here.

Next Time, Go With the Gecko

Geicocavemenrestaurant You've probably seen the GEICO commercials featuring the upset cavemen. You may have also heard that ABC was planning a sitcom based on the characters. When I heard it, I thought, "That show has to create a partial vacuum with its mouth. The commercials are clever but no way it works as a series."

Thanks to David Mills (not the one at Touchstone), a.k.a. the Undercover Black Man, this bit of thin slicing on my part was validated. (Note: UBM link contains profanity.) The UBM, who is a television writer himself, calls the show, which ABC is promoting as "a hilarious and thought-provoking social commentary on race relations in today’s America" (really!), "one more consumptive cough in the slow death of network television."

But don't take his word for it, see for yourself. Although, as Mills warns, afterwards "you’ll feel compelled to rinse your eyeballs with Clorox and set your ears on fire."

My take reflects my status as the resident Nerd-in-Chief: watching it, I thought, "They got the anthropology wrong. Those are Neanderthals, not Cro-Magnons! Don't they know the difference? The latter are modern humans, homo sapiens sapiens!"

The second thing I thought was that the UBM is right: "It’s Revolution Time, people! Y’all bring the guns, I’ll bring the paper plates."

I'll bring the plastic utensils.

Dear Brian

My heart goes out to you in your pain and frustration. Our temptation to sin is so powerful, that it almost seems “natural.” But I think your belief that you were “reduced to a sex act” sounds a bit self-pitying. Of course you are not the sum total of your sexual desires—and no one here would ever suggest it.

I sometimes feel that people look to Eros as the highest pinnacle to reach. This notion will only grow because of our continual sexual indulgences—be they mental or physical. 

Another way to say this is today’s Westerners (maybe a few other cultures too) have idolized Eros. We’ve idolized the act to our own detriment, leading us to think God’s demand for purity outside marriage is distorted. (Sex can be distorted even in marriage, if the act includes degradations like S&M.) To borrow from C. S. Lewis, love becomes the god. Lewis writes in The Four Loves, "Every human love….has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself."

Thankfully, Jesus sets the example for us—our Model was offered all sorts of physical temptations, at which he stomped His foot and said, “Satan, get behind me.” Is refusing tempations easy? No! Without God it would be almost impossible.

For 20 years I was celibate. I am now happily married, but marriage was in no way guaranteed. Was celibacy easy? Far from it—instead of being able to re-order my disordered will, to name one thing: I had to stop watching some movies because of the powerfully alluring “love” scenes.

Continue reading "Dear Brian" »

May 15, 2007

Works that Stand Out: A Primer on Works (5 of 8)

"'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.'" Deuteronomy 4:6

From the beginning of their being a nation, Israel was to understand that pursuing the works of the Law -- not unto salvation, but as the outworking of it -- would make her stand out among the nations. Moses promised that, as Israel kept the commandments and statutes of the Lord, the nations around them would be fairly astonished at what they saw, and would regard them as a "wise and understanding people." Solomon proved the truth of this promise during the early days of his reign (1 Kgs. 10). Toward the end of the Old Testament the prophet Micah declared that the impact of God's people living by God's Law would not only capture the attention of the unbelieving world, but would actually attract others to seek that way of life for themselves (Mic. 4:1-5). Jesus, Who completely fulfilled the Law and commanded us to follow Him, said that, as we did so, we would be like a city set on a hill, a light for all the world to see (Mt. 5:13-16). The message is consistent throughout Scripture: live by and walk in the good works of God's Law, and you will stand out before the watching world.

But when we minimize the role of the Law in the life of faith, or ignore it altogether, and when we reduce faith from fruitfulness in good works to feeling good about ourselves in the name of the Lord, then we end up with a situation such as Ron Sider describes in his book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. Not only do we not stand out, but we are so much like the people in the unbelieving world around us as to be practically indistinguishable from them. The Church today is not that which is depicted in Psalm 48: a towering haven of holiness and beauty, the joy of the whole earth, a force for righteousness from which all her enemies flee in terror, a people so close to the God they worship and serve as to be practically identifiable with Him -- His Body. We are a people on the margins of society, scorned by intellectuals, academics, and pundits, morphing and warping like chameleons in an effort to appeal to our increasingly indifferent neighbors, and awash with the flotsam and jetsam of materialism and pop sensuality. All in an effort to be relevant, all the while emerging into newer and more troubling forms of irrelevance.

Do we want our neighbors to notice us? Let's stop trying so hard to be just like them, and begin concentrating more diligently on being just like our God.

Can I Get a Witness?

Over at his blog, Rod Dreher asks,

How do we discern the difference between religious believers legitimately bringing their witness and values to the public square, and them doing so in the inauthentic way warned against by the pope?

"The inauthentic way warned against by the pope" refers to a quote from George Weigel's piece on Benedict XVI's new book, Jesus of Nazareth. Weigel describes a "new chord" in Benedict's writing:

Benedict XVI’s insistence, repeated several times, that a Christian Church faithful to its Lord cannot be a Church of power. Benedict does not quite describe Christianity’s alliance with state power as a Babylonian captivity. Still, he comes very close when he writes that “the temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in various forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus’ Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.”

Rod's question is a good one. Let's start with what we know is not only permissible but mandatory: working towards the maximum protection for human life from conception to natural death. Between this kind of witness and the "embrace of power" Benedict writes about, there's a lot that the Church can do.

Continue reading "Can I Get a Witness?" »

Baby Hatch

Baby_hatch This morning on the way to work I dropped off some books at the library. There is a little hatch on the outside of the library, sort of like at Blockbuster, where you can drop off the books you've finished without having to go in. Having that image fresh in mind, this morning I'm scanning news headlines and see this one: "Toddler in Japanese Baby-hatch."

This newly opened Catholic-run hospital has created a way for people to drop off babies who might otherwise be aborted. (Germany is trying something similar, as mentioned here and here.) Both options--abortion and placing your unwanted baby in a hospital hatch--are deeply disturbing. While the second at least saves the life of the child, it still makes me grieve to think that parents would by choice or by circumstance do or have to do this. I wish to God that we didn't live in such a world where a toddler would be deposited in a baby-hatch because he is unwanted or where a mother would choose to have a doctor dismember the little life growing inside her.

The State Department has outlined the requirements for intercountry adoption between the US and Japan. It looks difficult, but perhaps God will open some people's hearts to adopt some of these infants who are being dropped off like stray cats or library books. Pray for these little ones. This hurts my heart to even contemplate.

Right Beliefs or Right Conduct

A while back I overheard the conversation of two Christian women. One was telling her friend about a man she had recently met who was “such a moral and upright guy” and, by the way, was also a wiccan. Upon seeing her friend flinch, the woman continued, obviously seeking affirmation, “Well, I think what’s important is how one lives.” Her friend wasn’t buying it.

Their conversation reflects a growing attitude among many in the church today, especially among those attracted to the “emergent” movement: that the correctness of one’s beliefs is superfluous as long as one lives a moral life. If you’re interested in my take on this issue, check out my latest BreakPoint article, Orthopraxy over Orthodoxy, and then share your thoughts with us.

The science of killology

As Mark Earley noted in yesterday's BreakPoint, television violence can sometimes lead to the real thing. But we really didn't need a new FCC report to tell us this. Eight years ago, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, told us the same thing in his book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence. Grossman notes that video games use the same techniques the military uses when it is training soldiers to kill. As Chuck noted in a BreakPoint commentary about Grossman's research:

Pavlov...taught dogs to salivate when they heard a bell ring. Combat training uses the same kind of conditioned response to make soldiers stop thinking with the forebrain and react with the midbrain: the reflective, animal-like portion of the brain.  In other words, they're conditioned to respond to a moving target with a "don't think, just shoot" reaction....But here's the scary part. Many video games use the same techniques, but without the controlling restraints of the military environment. Soldiers only shoot and kill on orders, and firing without orders brings serious punishment. But what happens when kids play violent video games? They learn the same hair-trigger behaviors and an us-versus-them attitude--but without the context of obedience to a command," making violent video games "murder trainers."

This ought to make our skin crawl, especially in light of recent events at Virginia Tech.

The subject of video games and their impact on kids, for good or ill, is of great personal interest to me. My younger son, who was born with a Gameboy attached to his hand, starts college this fall. His intended major: Video game design. My first thought, when he told me, was that this was a deeply unserious career choice. But I've since changed my mind. Travis is very much aware of the influence video games have on players. One of his college essays dealt with this subject, and with the cultural obligations of game designers. Travis's goal, as a future game designer and as a Christian, is to create, not games that teach kids to unthinkingly kill, but games that teach positive skills--such as how to resolve conflicts without resorting to mass murder.

I'm looking forward to playing the games he designs (or at least, watching HIM play them). Meanwhile, you can read more about Dave Grossman and the science of "killology" here.

I’ll Have What He’s Drinking

Actually, I have. Still, Daniel Larison's take on the Ralph Peters column I posted on yesterday is worth quoting.

Winning is everything. Fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it’s losing that’s immoral. ~Ralph Peters

But if winning were everything, we could  . . . [simply] bomb the place into oblivion.  Since winning isn’t everything, we don’t do that, because we are, thank God, not quite the hideous monsters Ralph Peters would like us to be. There’s a reason why it is exceedingly difficult to try to dominate another country by force in a just way: in the end, either you cease to be just, or you cease to dominate. This is why highly civilised empires and great powers cannot retain their dependencies and colonies and satellites when the native people decide that they must go; attempts to retain the colonies or satellites by force always degenerate into brutality and then often fail anyway . . . 

Peters’ line only makes sense in the context of a just war, since loss in a just war would also be a defeat for the effort to remedy some great wrong committed against you. Failure to see a just cause through to a successful end would indeed be immoral (this does not mean that unconditional surrender is therefore somehow a moral demand to make). But we’re not talking about a just cause. We’re talking about the occupation and domination of Iraq.

What he said.

The Scourge of the Earth

After all the press about the negative consequences associated with declining birth rates and aging populations around the globe, there’s this: "We need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than one billion." Say what? Ya mean that 5.5 billion folks have gotta go? Why?

Because humans are "a virus . . . killing our host the planet Earth." That, according to Paul Watson, president of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and co-founder of Greenpeace. I dunno, but I'm willing to bet that Mr. Watson doesn't include himself in that virulent contagion that needs to be expunged.

In response, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby does an able job of documenting the many societal and environmental enhancements (not impoverishments) resulting from human population growth and technological expansion. Comparing the present epoch with all previous ones, Jacoby notes,

Education, child labor, clean air, freedom, famine, leisure time, global poverty…by almost any yardstick you choose, humanity thrives as never before. Living standards do not fall as population rises. On the contrary: Where there are free markets and free minds -- economic growth and technology -- human progress and hope are all but guaranteed.

Kudos to Mr. Jacoby. But I doubt that those who consider any footprint on Mother Gaia as a sacrilege will be impressed with the living standards of those who make them. Viruses, remember, are only good when they're eradicated.

May 14, 2007

Planned Parenthood, champion of women’s and girls’ rights

Or maybe not.

(H/T FRC)

The Campaign Issue that Won’t Stay Silent

As much as abortion is supposedly on its way out as a serious campaign issue for the premature (so to speak) 2008 election, we can't seem to stop talking about it.

The Wall Street Journal makes a strong apology for Rudy Giuliani on the basis that his potential Supreme Court nominations outweigh whatever views he holds on abortion policy. Meanwhile, conservatives should not make a scene just because a candidate is on the wrong side of this issue.

As for the politics of 2008, the last thing the GOP needs is another intramural abortion brawl. As a resurgent Democratic Party advances all manner of misguided proposals for the economy, taxes, national security, health care, energy and the environment, voters need Republicans to revive their own reform agenda. An abortion fight will make the party seem irrelevant to the main voter concerns, or captive to its litmus test interests.

Mr. Giuliani has his strengths and weaknesses, but he shouldn't be disqualified for the nomination because of his views on a single issue that a President can't do much to change other than through the courts. The only victor in a drawn-out GOP abortion donnybrook will be the Democrat who winds up in the White House.

Continue reading "The Campaign Issue that Won’t Stay Silent" »

What I’m reading

Memory So on Friday, I picked up Miroslav Volf's new book, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World. I'm fascinated and intrigued by Volf's work. I read Exclusion and Embrace some time ago and have thought of it often since then. A Christian and professor at Yale, Volf is deeply thoughtful, philosophical, and honest. This book focuses on how we should remember and what we should remember, especially in this age of violence. Volf interweaves his own personal story of how to remember rightly his former interrogator Captain G., who interrogated him over a protracted period during the time of the Yugoslavian communist regime. Faith and Theology has a good review of the book. I'll give you my thoughts once I've finished it.

So far, I've been intrigued to read: "Remembering truth fully and rightly ... is an act of justice; and in order to expose crimes and fight political oppression many writers, artists, and thinkers have become soldiers of memory" (18). I had never really thought about memory as an act of justice or injustice before. But of course, this is true, and to some extent obvious, with all kinds of implications for how we remember our past both on personal or on a broader level. I'm eager to dig deeper into his theological exploration of memory, especially as it relates to violence and forgiveness.

Too Good?

In today's New York Post, columnist Ralph Peters tells us "Why Iraq's so Hard." He's not referring to the  soil or the underlying rock of Mesopotamia -- he means why despite "[sending] the world's best military" and "[spending] an enormous amount of money," we're going to wind up "[losing] to savages or [pulling] off a messy compromise success."

His answer: we're too nice. Or to be more precise, too moral. "We prefer to sidestep reality in favor of comfy fantasies that negotiations will persuade blood-drunk murderers to all just get along."

To be fair, Peters makes a good point when he says that we don't have enough troops in Iraq and that "with the last-ditch troop surge in Baghdad, we're half-heartedly trying an approach we should have applied with everything we had in 2003." Of course, those who made that point before the invasion lost their careers for their trouble.

But Peters doesn't stop there. His complaint isn't about the lack of troops, per se, but with our lack of "ruthlessness." As he puts it, "fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it's losing that's immoral." Thus,

Above all, we have to maintain a strength of will equal to that of our opponents. War demands consistency, and we're the most fickle great power in history. We must focus on defeating our enemies, brushing aside all other considerations.

Continue reading "Too Good?" »

More theology with T. M.

Point blogger T. M. Moore has a new article up at the BreakPoint site with an intriguing premise: Christians today are "the most Christian-educated generation of believers in all of Church history" -- but that education isn't working. How do we know it isn't working, why isn't it working, and how can we change that? Find out in "The Fruit of the Word."

Sex and Singleness

I received a post from Brian under the Peter and False Teachers post which I think deserves a new thread to respond to it. Brian writes that he is gay; thus here was his response to another blogger's comments about homosexuality:

I must admit, my heart broke a little as I began to read through the comments. As I heard inclusive teachings about homosexuality called "the most insidious" I felt a gulf swell up inside of me. As I continued to read further, the pain only continued. I was reduced to a sex act.

I am a gay person. No matter what I do or do not do, I will continue to be a gay person. As I sit here typing, I am a gay person. To have the whole of my identity reduced to a sex act... is dehumanizing....

If you would not have me be called to a life of love, commitment and partnership. If you would not have me find a "helpmate suitable for [me]" as the creation account in Genesis describes. If you would not honor my relationships and call them be uplifted and lived out with integrity...

What then would you have me do?

Brian, you ask this question as if the answer were difficult. It, however, is not. It's not what I would have you do, but what the Word of God would have you do.

Continue reading "Sex and Singleness" »

May 13, 2007

Happy Mother’s Day!

Greetings and blessings from us here at The Point to all the moms out there (especially our own :-) ). For some good reading on the importance of mothers, check out NRO's Mother's Day section. I particularly recommend  "Single on Mother's Day," by my friend and former supervisor Jennifer Marshall, "The Ring Thing" by W. Bradford Wilcox, and the symposium titled "Mom Lit."

May 12, 2007

Sphere Sovereignty and Girly Drinks

I've been working with Chuck on an upcoming Christianity Today column that is, in part about sphere soverignity--the Reformed idea that there are aspects of life over which the government has no legitimate authority, and that each "sphere"--family, church, community, government--should carry out their own responsibility before God because they can do it best.

Unfortunately, even Christians (who should know better) now tend to look to the government to solve every social and family problem. While more often than not, Christians in the political realm are simply trying to play defense against those who are damaging society and destroying our freedoms, it's worth remembering (to give one example) that the thousands of crisis pregnancy centers have probably done much more to cut into the abortion rate than any law we got passed over the past 30 years--or will pass in the next 30. We shouldn't bow out of politics, of course (God forbid!), but as we work for change, we should remember that there is much we can do outside of politics to change society for the better.   

Another thing that occured to me, while working on the column, was how much more fun it is to write ANYTHING if one is holed up in a resort hotel, room service at the ready, and a pool available when one is ready for a break (and girly drinks with umbrellas). I spent this week in Tucson, Arizona, where my husband was attending meetings--breakfast meetings, lunch meetings, evening banquets, etc.--which left me with a lot of free time in which to complete writing projects and devour prickly pear crepes. I now understand why desperate publishers occasionally lock writers into such hotels in order to get them to finish overdue books....

May 11, 2007

The Right to Read Religious Material

As a result of a lawsuit settlement, inmates throughout the California prison system will now be able to get Bible study materials without interference from authorities. The suit arose when the state prison in Corcoran refused to deliver Bible study and other religious correspondence from prison ministries to inmates.

See full story.

I spent my summer vacation in prison

That's what some kids could be writing in their back-to-school essays next fall, according to this article. Apparently, prison is a fun and exciting place to visit, with several dozen open to the public here in the U.S. Most no longer house inmates, although there is reportedly a push to open a museum at the still-active Sing Sing prison in New York State.

What's the appeal? One Park Service employee says, “Everyone has a macabre interest in what could occur if you don't stay on the right side of the law.”

Still, I have a feeling that walking the corridors when they're full of mildly interested tourists isn't nearly as informative about "what could occur if you don't stay on the right side of the law" as volunteering in a prison with actual prisoners. Relinquishing all ID to the prison staff, being frisked for weapons, and then kneeling to peer through the food tray slot so you can share the Gospel with a woman convicted of murder -- that's an experience that will make you appreciate staying on the right side of the law.

And have we got a deal for you! Prison Fellowship is always happy to train volunteers to go into prisons on a regular or occasional basis to share the love of Christ with men and women who have ended up on the wrong side of the law. You can find out about opportunities in your area here.