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September 12, 2007

Soli Deo Gloria

From Ramesh Ponnuru over at The Corner:

I have only just read Christopher Blunt and Fred Steeper's analysis of how Missouri voters became more pro-life between 1992 and 2006 (available here or here).

Their analysis highlights one factor that I did not stress in The Party of Death: that the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, though bitterly resisted by pro-lifers at the time President Clinton signed it, ended up redounding to their benefit by giving the movement a more moderate image.

Glory be to God, who turns defeat into victory.

Re: The Painted Veil

Thepaintedveilpic So, I finally took Lori's (and my mother's) advice and checked out The Painted Veil. What a refreshing escape from the typical romance saga that stocks our Blockbuster shelves. Instead of boy meets girl, fall in love, sleep together, maybe get married, it was almost the exact reversal. Boy barely meets girl, get married, hate each other, fall in love, sleep together.

From the get go, they hate each other. Almost immediately after they get married, they move to China where he (Edward Norton) works as a bacteriologist. She (Naomi Watts), already bored to pieces with her proper and reclusive husband, falls for a dashing (married) ex-pat. Norton discovers the affair and gives Watts a Catch-22: accept his divorce papers or move with him to a cholera-infested region of the country where he has volunteered to help curb the outbreak. She pushes back her pride and joins him on an uncomfortable pilgrimage to the remote village.

From there, their hatred peaks, softens, and bows to deep love for the other's virtue. And then, the sex scene. But, unlike most such scenes, where I typically give a disapproving "oh, there goes Hollywood again" shrug of my shoulders, I was captured by the beauty of real passion based on so much more than a summer fling.

When was the last time you saw true, unadulterated passion in Hollywood? And, if you saw The Painted Veil, what was your take?

Facing the Music

It's really refreshing when Christians are willing to admit that they've rethought their position on something and come to different conclusions based on what the Spirit has been revealing to them. Sally Morgenthaler, author of Worship Evangelism, has done just that (HT: Glenn Lucke at Common Grounds Online).

In a recent article in Allelon, Morgenthaler gives some background behind what led her to renounce some of her previous positions on how to reach the lost and what led her to commit what she calls "career suicide." Two years ago she taught her last workshop strictly on worship, and a year ago she shut down her website.

You'll want to read the full article, but here's a bit about why:

Continue reading "Facing the Music" »

The Gospel According to Bach

Christian_history_and_biography Christian History & Biography magazine has just come out with a beautiful edition (Issue 95, Summer 2007) which focuses on the music of J.S. Bach. The entire magazine is a testament to why the "old church music" is still the best church music because of its commitment to proclaiming the timeless truths of God's Word in music that stirs and elevates the soul. 

Calvin Stapert writes this about Bach, "a man whose staunch Lutheran faith informed his life, his career, and his view of music":

He believed that music was a "refreshment of spirit," as some of the title pages of his works stated. He believed that music was a powerful tool for the proclamation of the gospel, as his cantatas, Passions, organ chorales, and other compositions clearly show. And ultimately, he believed that music brought glory to God, as the initials SDG (Soli Deo Gloria, "To God alone be glory") at the end of most of his scores bear witness.

Every article in the magazine is a delight, and I urge readers who love traditional church music to check it out.   

Blog-a-Book: Wittily Ever After

Cyrano2 [Ed. note: Major Cyrano spoilers below!]

Cyrano has seemed to play the part of a noble hero through most of this story, but after Act V's denouement, it is hard to see him as more than a noble fool. He had won the heart of his beloved, yet he refused to accept it, instead allowing her to languish in mourning for a love that she hadn't even lost.

Following Christian's death, Roxane had joined a convent to spend the rest of her days grieving her late husband. The ever faithful Cyrano spends the remainder of his life offering her -- and the nuns -- abundant friendship, bringing weekly updates and conversation. Yet he also continues to be an outspoken public figure, and eventually his enemies catch up to him.

Run through
  By a hero's sword, that's what I said, but look!
  Here is my real fate, struck from behind
  With a lump of wood, by a servant -- even my death
  Will have been laughable.

Continue reading "Blog-a-Book: Wittily Ever After" »

What’s to Be Done?

"Poor poetry, it is the Darfur of twenty-first century literature. Everyone wants to do something about it, but nobody quite knows what is to be done."

So writes Joseph Epstein in The New Criterion (Sept. 2007). He is lamenting the literary Gresham's Law that has destroyed verse in our lifetime, replacing it with what "seems weightless, without gravity, free-floating, language flying around the joint." Too many poets, too many prizes for nonsense, too many journals that will publish just about anything that doesn't look like real poetry, too few rules. A wasteland.

But in the midst of this wasteland a few oases of real verse continue to refresh those who are willing to wade through the sand to find them, and, mirabile dictu, many of these oases are soundly Christian: the late Denise Levertov and Czeslaw Milosz, the very much alive Richard Wilbur, Wendell Berry, Scott Cairns, Joyce Sutphen, and Dana Gioia. "Poetry can do much, it's true," wrote Milosz, but you have to be willing to search out that which has sufficient gravity and grace to reward the search with lasting images, penetrating insights, and profound sentiments.

This is going on my Netflix queue right now

A former professor of mine, Crystal Downing (note the many Sayers references ;-) ), co-authors this article on "the best film you didn't see last year," Stranger than Fiction. Beware of major spoilers -- I'd recommend stopping with paragraph 6 if you don't want to know how things turn out -- but this description of a film with a rare understanding of both theology and storytelling made me kick myself that I indeed didn't see it last year, and resolve to remedy that as soon as possible. Thanks yet again, Dr. Downing -- not only did you give me help and insight when I was your student, but apparently you never stop giving!

The Point Radio: Biblically Illiterate

As kids head back to school, wouldn’t it be great if they could study the Bible in their public school classroom? Good news, they can....

Click play above to listen.

To find out more, follow these links:

Continue reading "The Point Radio: Biblically Illiterate" »

September 11, 2007

Dismantling a 9/11 myth

Anne has an article at NRO that refutes one of the ugliest and most pervasive myths of 9/11:

It’s deeply frustrating that sometimes, no matter how great the evidence to the contrary, conspiracy theories, hoaxes, rumors, and myths just won’t go away.

Take, for instance, two of the earliest and most insidious rumors to begin circulating about the September 11 terror attacks: That President Bush had prior knowledge of the attacks, and that Israel secretly warned Jews to stay home that Tuesday, to avoid being killed in the attacks —- all supposedly orchestrated by Israel.

Read more.

Public Safety for Dummies

As we all know, today marks the 6th anniversary of the dreadful 9/11 attack on U.S. soil. Reflecting on the past six years it's easy to recognize notable strides our country has taken to prevent another similar attack, but we're far from achieving immunity.

Unfortunately, I can't help but question several of the "safety" measures enacted by our government, with some being downright laughable. But the policies that bother me most are the broad, sweeping regulations that practically throw the baby out with the bathwater in the name of public safety. Apparently finding solutions that work is just too hard. Take, for instance, a new policy enacted by our own Bureau of Prisons (BOP): a prime example -- in my personal opinion -- of a regulation that seeks to address a public concern the easy way.

The NY Times relayed the issue well in what became the most emailed story of the day yesterday, "Prisons Purge Books on Faith from Libraries." Now, if that doesn't just scream "lawsuit," then I don't know what does. And that's just what the BOP got: a class-action lawsuit. Good for them.

Now, I would heartily contend that some action by the BOP in this area was appropriate. Books inciting violence should not be permitted within prison walls. But perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised to see the Bureau take the easy road and just randomly start burning books, regardless of their content. If one book is bad, they must all be bad... unless the government randomly declares them safe. Hmmm, puts one in mind of communist China.

“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer," Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley said. "There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”

Continue reading "Public Safety for Dummies" »

Lives Juxtaposed in Death

I remember as a teenager when I was studying the assassination of John F. Kennedy, my mom casually mentioning to me that C.S. Lewis also died on that same day, November 22, 1963. My mind couldn’t help but swirl around the juxtaposition of these two interesting figures, of Kennedy and his Camelot, of Lewis and his Narnia.

A few years out of my high school studies of Kennedy, and into college, the world was again transfixed by another death, that of the beautiful Princess Diana. Five days later, on September 5, 1997, Mother Teresa went bravely into the night. Again, the juxtaposition seemed haunting: two very different kinds of princesses, one continually in the spotlight of the world, one a daughter of the King who poured out her life in the shadowy slums of India.

In the summer of 2001, my small church community in Florida had been hovering like moths around the flickering life of one our dear elders, a wonderful man of God, a father of three, a loving husband, who at around the age of forty had been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. We’d watched this marathon runner and pillar of our church slip from a state of life-giving vitality to a slim figure in a wheelchair requiring feeding, bathing, and the continual care of his loving wife and church community. In the year of his rapid decline, Mr. Putnam had written to our church regular letters. He called them Pilgrim Putnam’s Progress. In the letters he wrote us about what it means to die well. Meanwhile, he made preparations for his own parting, writing letters for his three children to be opened on their birthdays or on special days of their lives like graduation or a wedding.

On September 11, 2001, our dear friend John quietly went home to be with the Lord after a year of all of us slowly preparing to let him go. Meanwhile, 2,974 men and women who had gone off to work as on any other day never came home. They had perhaps only moments to deal with the reality of their lives prematurely snuffed out. Were they prepared to meet their Maker as was our dear pilgrim Putnam? Only God knows.

Continue reading "Lives Juxtaposed in Death" »

Joe Zawinul, R.I.P.

Zawinul01 The music world lost a giant yesterday: Josef "Joe" Zawinul died yesterday in Vienna. If you're not into jazz, you may never heard of him, but there's one of his compositions I'm pretty sure you have heard: "Birdland."

If my happiest memories were movies, many of them would feature Zawinul's music in their soundtracks.  It's the product of a time when experimentation and excellence went hand-in-hand, before the dark times of "authenticity," when inarticulateness, musical as well as verbal, became mistaken for true primitiveness and lacing pages with profanity and playing the same three chords over and over again is called "art." Given the contrast between then and now, USA Today's obituary doesn't do Zawinul and his music justice:

Zawinul, who turned 75 on July 7, won widespread acclaim for his keyboard work on chart-topping Davis albums such as In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew, and was a leading force behind the so-called "Electric Jazz" movement.

In 1970, Zawinul founded the band Weather Report [link mine] and produced a series of albums including Heavy Weather, Black Market and I Sing the Body Electric.

One of my longest iTunes playlists is called "The 'F' Word." The title is taken from an XM Radio show of the same name that plays the electric jazz of the 1970s, what was then (and now) derisively called "fusion." It's 90 percent Weather Report and 100 percent insanely great music. Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, the legendary Jaco Pastorius and the other members of Weather Report were indisputably masters of their instruments. You may not like all of their songs but you can't deny the excellence.

Continue reading "Joe Zawinul, R.I.P." »

And You Call This Happiness

I’ve said it before (see the comment section), but every time someone mentions a celebrity antic, I shut my eyes, plug my ears and hum to keep from cluttering my mind with more boring and often scandalous trash. However, one of my colleagues emailed a news blurb that caught my eye from the New York Post, titled “Britney a Bust." I contemplated Ms. Britney’s waning fame, and realized the real story is not her sad performance, but the fact that most of us think fame can bring us real happiness. 

Before we list the things that can bring us real and lasting happiness, we first need to list the things which will not make us happy, and thanks to philosopher Theresa Farnan on Thomas Aquinas in Today’s World, I have a handy list of those.

  • Money: is a means to an end and is something that enables us to take care of our bodies. 
  • Honor: recognizes one’s accomplishment, but an award is not a source of happiness because it is only recognition.
  • Fame: is dependent on human opinion, but is not lasting.
  • Power: is the principle by which we do things. It can be used for good or evil, but again, it is not lasting.
  • Health: taking care of one’s self is moral, but regardless of our self-care, sooner or later we become sick and die.
  • Pleasure: is a good, and it accompanies happiness and is closely related to it, but it is not happiness in and of itself.
  • Contemplation: is a source of happiness, but is not internal to us.

Continue reading "And You Call This Happiness" »

From the dude who invented ’insane’

I was just chuckling over James S. Robbins' piece in NRO titled "Not Osama's Best Work," in which he pokes fun at bin Laden's apparently dyed and styled beard and his comments on global warming, the JFK assassination, and Vietnam--not, Robbins says, the kind of rant you'd expect from a terrorist mastermind.

What caught my attention, however, was Robbins' discussion of taxes. Osama, in a blatant attempt to appeal to American conservatives, notes that America's taxes are "insane" and that if we'd all just convert to Islam, we'd have to pay no taxes at all--only zakat of 2.5 percent. But as Robbins points out, "[Ezekiel] 45:13 passim discusses taxes in the .5 percent to 1.5 percent brackets, so if we need theological justification for lower taxes, we can always use that one."

Hmmmm. Okay, I know this rate applies to ancient Israel, not a modern nation-state, plus we have disposable income and the Israelites mostly didn't. However--I can't help thinking that 1.5 percent is just about right. It's only been in recent decades that it became acceptable to impose--yes--insane taxes on American families.

I wonder if any of our "family values" presidential candidates are aware of Ezekiel 45:13? I'd love to see a journalist pose a question about biblical teachings on taxes and compare them to each candidate's own views about the proper tax rate on families struggling to pay college tuition for two kids at the same time (like, uh, my family). Again, 1.5 percent sounds just about right to me....

So what’s with clothes... or the lack thereof?

Ebbert Unfortunately, I couldn't escape from hearing the yadda yadda on Friday about the poor little Southwest traveller, a.k.a. Hooter's girl, who was publicly humiliated for her apparently "revealing" wardrobe. A snicker made its way out as I read the headline, but honestly I wasn't too appalled by the accompanying photo, which reminded me of just about any highschool or college female you might see strolling through the mall. Not that I think such attire should be socially acceptable, but society never stopped to ask my opinion.

I would have ignored the story completely if I hadn't stumbled across this wacked out piece of news: Judge Says California Carpenter Has Right to Work Nude. You've got to be kidding?! I mean, I know it's California we're talking about... but still.

Both of these stories trigger the same question in my mind: What happens when my right to personal expression crosses your right to live decently as you choose? Who wins?

’Soft Terrorism’

From today's BreakPoint commentary with Chuck Colson:

First came the news of the arrest in Germany of three suspected Islamic terrorists. They are accused of plotting bomb attacks against the U.S. Air Base at Ramstein and Frankfurt International Airport. According to the Associated Press, the terrorists nursed a “profound hatred of U.S. citizens.”

Then there was the latest rant from Osama bin Laden, celebrating the ugly work of the September 11 terrorists and spewing more hatred for the West. He also invited all Americans to convert to Islam. Thanks, but no thanks.

But as a Muslim convert to Christianity notes, we have more to worry about than violent attacks. We should be just as concerned about the quiet inroads Islam is making in Western societies.

Read more.

Thoughts for the day

Groundzerocross1 Creator, Sovereign, Lord of all, help us.
Even though we do not deserve it,
We ask for Your mercy
We ask humbly that You would please bless the country
That we so dearly love.

Protect us from our enemies
    We ask not merely for ourselves, but for our children
    We ask not merely for our children,
    but for their children

Protect us from ourselves
    May we never
        exercise the strength of tyrants
        misuse talents entrusted to us
        or lord over those allotted to our charge . . .

Michael J. Easley, from "Protect Us," a prayer given before the U.S. House of Representatives, published in Interludes

"But," people say, "how do we cope with monstrous evil? How do we respond when it strikes our own homes and hearts?"

The answer may be found in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who spoke at a memorial service for the British victims of September 11. "I am reminded," he said, "of a dear friend who lost his three children in separate accidents. One day I asked him: 'Have you and your wife never asked God why?'

"'Of course I have asked God why,' his friend gently replied. 'But I soon discovered that is not the right question. The proper question is how? How may I use my suffering to help others and to point the way to God's love?"

Chuck Colson, from "Healing the Wounds," reading for Sept. 11, How Now Shall We Live Devotional


911 How do you reconcile a national tragedy like September 11th and the biblical mandate to forgive?

In light of my recent travels to Rwanda, I'm wondering today about this question. Obviously, a person wronged against, a victim who survived, or a family member who lost loved ones, are the main people who have the difficult struggle and right to forgive. But, still I think that in some way as a national tragedy, 9/11 affected each of us and begs the question, what is the role of forgiveness in such a loss?

Many fear forgiveness washes over the offense. True forgiveness, however, does not deny the wrong. It speaks the truth of the wrongdoing, and says through the power of Jesus Christ, I forgive. It is an invitation, not to more wrong-doing, but to a future in which the past is not repeated. Are you praying for the kind of future in which terrorists are transformed? Moments before his death, Todd Beamer prayed, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Are we willing to both work for justice, and open our hearts to forgiveness?

A Cup Half-Full, and a Contest

Writers of the world, don't despair! Yet! The news is grim, it's true. According to Dr. David G. Williams (Alternatives, September 2007, alertly espied by my wife, Susie), the statistics on book readers are potentially disheartening: 1/3 of high school graduates will never read another book; 42% of college graduates, same; 80% of US families did not so much as buy a book last year; 70% of all US adults have not visited a bookstore in the past five years; and 57% of all new books are not read to completion. For someone still sniffing the high of his most recent release, it's hard to believe that there's a pony in that pile of, well, you know. But ever the optimist, I prefer to think that my work may yet capture the 2/3 of high-school graduates, 58% of college graduates, and so on, who will continue to read.

But I'm not taking any chances. So I am herewith announcing the first possibly annual Contest to Encourage Americans to Read Books. I'm even offering the first recommendation for our elite panel of judges -- The Point bloggers -- to evaluate: I propose a tax deduction for every book read -- say, $5 per. You would have to itemize those books on your Schedule A, of course, and be prepared, in case you get audited, to give a one-sentence summary of any book requested by the auditor. But history has proven that whatever gets a tax breaks gets a bump. So there's my offering. We'll take suggestions for the next, oh, two weeks? and then ask our esteemed panel to vote.

C'mon readers, have a little sympathy for us writers! Give it your best effort in our Contest to Encourage Americans to Read Books. I'll send a free and, if requested, signed copy of my newest book, Culture Matters , to the winner.

The Point Radio: The Christian’s College Survival Guide

Intolerance—now there’s an ugly word today....

Click play above to listen.

For more on surviving college, follow these links:

Continue reading "The Point Radio: The Christian’s College Survival Guide" »

September 10, 2007

’Glory is for God’: A tribute to D. James Kennedy

Kennedy Alan Sears pays a moving tribute to his old friend Dr. D. James Kennedy on the BreakPoint site:

Last October, just a few weeks before Dr. D. James Kennedy suffered the heart attack that led to his passing, I had the great pleasure of presenting him with a blue-ribbon-wrapped copy of a decision by a federal judge, that upheld the Ten Commandments display at the Haskell County, Oklahoma, courthouse. . . .

Typically, and tellingly, he persisted in turning the spotlight and the gratitude to others. It was teamwork, he said, all of it—the great church, the seminary, the cultural centers, the books on politics and theology, the nationwide broadcasts. He accepted the applause with sincere but brief thanks, and stepped quietly aside.

Glory is for God, and in the meantime, there was work still to do.

Read more.

More on Madeleine

Christianity Today has been revisiting some articles about Madeleine L'Engle (see here and here). And John Podheretz at NRO shares this lovely story:

. . . As a young boy, I knew her as the kind-faced and friendly woman with the two fluffy big nice dogs (in contrast to the constantly barking and lunging German Shepherds who lived on 12 and scared the bejeezus out of me and everybody else). Then, when I was 9 or 10, I read A Wrinkle in Time and my sister Naomi told me offhandedly that she was its author.

I wrote her the first fan letter of my life and, heart pounding, rode the elevator to 9 and slipped it under her door. Within hours a package was left at our door with an inscribed copy of its recently published sequel, A Wind [in] the Door, a box of baked chocolate chip cookies, and a response that was so appreciative I could hardly believe it, it was so gracious and thoughtful. . . .

Quote of the day

"Anyone who tells a lie has not a pure heart, and cannot make a good soup."

Ludwig van Beethoven (see para. 4 of this essay)

Back-to-school poll

Schoolbus2 Thanks to everyone who participated in our last poll. The question, for those who missed it, was whether Christians should be willing to call God "Allah." Here are the results, out of 515 votes:

4.9 percent (25)
Yes, it's just another name for God.

0.2 percent (1)
Yes, it helps keep the peace with Muslims.

82.5 percent (425)
No, Allah is not God.

12.4 percent (64)
No, it accomplishes nothing.

Our new poll is designed for the back-to-school season. The question: "If they have other options [recognizing that many Christians don't], should Christians put their children in public schools?" Vote and then, if you wish, share your thoughts on the subject with us in the comment section under this post.

Disturbing Factoids on Mormonism

A recent article in Good Magazine highlights some disturbing factoids about the growth and tactics of the Mormon Church:

  • "In 1950, there were just one million Mormons; today, there are nearly 13 million."
  • "Each year, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sends 20,000 missionaries around the world. These highly devout Mormon youth are the force behind the rapid expansion of what is arguably now the world’s fastest-growing religion."
  • "Mormons have seven times as many volunteers in the field as the Peace Corps, and they’re in 145 countries—as opposed to the Peace Corps’ 75."
  • "20,000 recruits .. come through the [Mormon missionary] training center each year [and] go on to convert roughly 300,000 people annually."
  • "[Mormon] missionaries rise at 6:30 each morning and study more or less straight through until bedtime at 10:30 sharp. Beyond forfeiting control of one’s life to the Church hierarchy, throughout their service, each missionary is assigned a rotating 'companion'—a system of constant surveillance that makes it all but impossible to stray."
  • "Saving discussion of the faith’s most difficult sacrifices and most unusual beliefs for late in the conversion process is key."
  • "More recently, the Church redesigned its logo to make the words 'Jesus Christ' much larger, possibly in an attempt to minimize the differences between Mormonism and traditional forms of Christianity."

Call Me ’Shallow’ & ’Selfish’ . . .

. . . but I completely agree with what writer Mike Armstrong had to say in the Los Angeles Times.

A relatively new trend has emerged, and it needs to be stamped out right now.

This summer, for my birthday, my literary agents sent me a card informing me that a donation in my name had been made to the "Victims of Childhood Sunburn" or some such nonsense. Perhaps it was to some environmental group and the note printed on recycled something-or-other. Who knows? I was so annoyed, I tossed it in the trash just to make sure it could never be recycled again.

Like I said, "call me selfish" but if you want credit, karma, props, whatever, for remembering my birthday, don't mark the occasion by doing something that makes you feel good about yourself -- do something that makes me feel good about myself. It's my birthday.

I don't need a gift: a card will do nicely. As Armstrong put it, even a token gesture means that

for a few brief minutes, somebody -- however low on the food chain -- was thinking of me, even if it wasn't exactly with fondness. I like that. It means something to me.


Now, I'm not saying that you shouldn't contribute to worthy causes. On the contrary! Given a choice between people remembering my birthday and helping those in need, I choose the latter 93.53 percent of the time. But not as part of someone's two-for-the-price-of-one mitzvah. I have my standards.

Some trends never change

Funny you should ask that, Martha. I just read this passage this morning in The Screwtape Letters:

Surely you know that if a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.

The reasons are obvious. In the first place the parochial organization should always be attacked, because, being a unity of place and not of likings, it brings people of different classes and psychology together in the kind of unity the Enemy desires. The congregational principle, on the other hand, makes each church into a kind of club, and finally, if all goes well, into a coterie or faction. In the second place, the search for a "suitable" church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil. What He wants of the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful, but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise -- does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going.

Knit or tat?

Knitting According to this Newsweek article, a new book by "soccer mom" pollster Mark Penn, Microtrends, tosses out some of the current trends and fads at play in American culture, and what they might mean for how we vote, spend money, and view others, ourselves, and our place in the world.

For instance, according to Penn, the proliferation of tattoos on arms, legs, and torsoes across America, which seemingly used to be limited primarily to merchant marines and bikers, is now primarily an expression of the upper middle class. Knitting, which used to conjure up images of gray-haired grandmas rocking in front of a roaring fire, is now the preferred artistic outlet for teen and young adult girls.

There's even been a surge in, of all things, left-handedness. In the early to mid-20th century, only 8 percent of Americans were left-handed. Now, the number has doubled (and includes me, my brother, three first cousins -- including one who is adopted -- but NONE of our parents, and at least 3 other Point bloggers.)

The article, and the book, go on to discuss what these trends say about our culture's ideas about tolerance and individuality, and what it might mean for who we are becoming as a culture and country, as well as implications for upcoming elections, product development, and lifestyle choices.

It makes me wonder too -- as we continue to micro and niche and individualize and customize -- what are the implications for the Church?

Re: Cry Babies


(Yes, I'm still alive. At the current rate of life intensity, I predict that I'll be able to again blog regularly by ... oh ... around 2009 or so. At least that's what my eye-glazing multivariate regression models tell me, when they aren't busy hilariously telling future Unabombers that "there won't be any fish in the sea" by the time they grow up.)

When you say, or repeat, "That's technology," you're absolutely and obviously correct. But what's jarring is how much more true it is to say, "That's technology now."

When I was in marketing for a consumer electronics retailer, we used to marvel at the increasingly fast commoditization cycles in the market. When the VHS player came out, it took 17 years to reach commodity pricing. When the DVD player hit the market, it took only 18 months. Great for technology producers, mildly patient CE consumers, and mega-retailers whose names rhyme with "Doll Tart." Not so great for the dedicated CE retailers.

Continue reading "Re: Cry Babies" »

The Point Radio: Kids with Price Tags

Teenage girls are buying $600 designer purses for their back-to-school wardrobes. It’s no wonder marketers look at our kids and see dollar signs....

Click play above to listen.

For more help in shaping your kids with a biblical worldview, take a look at these resources available through PFM:

Continue reading "The Point Radio: Kids with Price Tags" »

September 07, 2007

The Use of Art

Philip_jackson Molly Peacock wrote, "Poetry is the art that offers depth in a moment, using the depth of a moment" (How to Read a Poem, p. 13). I was reminded of that excellent observation about the value of the arts as I read an interview with University of Mississippi artist Philip Jackson in the July/August issue of American Artist.

Jackson's specialty is still life, but not your typical fruit-in-a-bowl-dead-rabbit-and-dried-flowers variety of still life. Jackson takes as his subject ordinary objects, the kind of thing you might encounter any day -- a spoon, a piece of fruit, a Goldfish cracker, an egg -- and studies these in wondrous and strange combinations in order to demonstrate what he calls "the beauty in the commonplace."

Jackson wants us to slow down, look deeply into the moments and everyday objects of our lives, and try to discover new depth, reality, and beauty in these things. He says, "I want to encourage a break from our rigorous schedule to reconsider the value of life." If art can do that, it certainly should have a more valued place in each of our lives. Jackson's paintings, while constructed with wit and whimsy, are filled with profound intimations of deep and even spiritual truths. His "tension" series -- one of which includes a Goldfish cracker about to be launched into flight -- suggests the "tension" in which they live who have encountered the reality of the Kingdom of God, who know it to have come, but to be coming in greater fullness still. Jackson's masterful use of light in some ways recalls Rembrandt, both in technique and in purpose: "The role of light is probably the most important and inviting element about my work...I see light not only as a means to reveal form but also as a metaphor -- revealing grace as the element uniting everything into one." Here is a Christian artist we can both readily understand and wholeheartedly endorse. 

(Image courtesy of Jackson's website, where you can also view more of his work.)

Memories of Madeleine

Lengle If I had the tattered, highlighted, annotated copies of my favorite Madeleine L'Engle books at the office, this post would be miles and miles of excerpts from those books that have shaped much of how and what I think about the intersection of faith and art and life and about family, relationships, community and nature. Only Wendell Berry and maybe C.S. Lewis (am I the only person in the world who would list Lewis AFTER Berry and L'Engle?) have influenced my thinking in these areas so profoundly.

I was fortunate enough to attend one of her conferences (but not enough of a groupie to go up and actually meet her) and will never forget her entrance: a somewhat older than middle-aged woman in a colorful flowing caftan weighted down by a massive funky necklace, walks onstage, throws out her arms, and in a voice that could have shaken the rafters of a Broadway theater, shouts, "Fear not!" After a perfectly timed pause, she then remarks about how the fact that angels always immediately shouted that meant they must not have been the endearing cherubic creatures we fancy them to be. (If you've read The Glorious Impossible, then you've heard this before. If not, then be sure to buy a copy before next Christmas to ogle the beautiful Giotto illustrations if nothing else).

Favorite fun factoid about her: Her husband was Hugh Franklin, best known by those of my generation as Dr. Charles Tyler on All My Children.

Best helpful hint: Don't read The Summer of the Great Grandmother on an airplane. You'll embarrass yourself and scare your fellow passengers with your hysterical sobbing.   

This weekend I'm dusting off Walking on Water and the Crosswicks Journal series and re-reading my favorite passages (at home, alone) as a way to say thanks, Madeleine, for the inspiration and encouragement you gave to me and many others.

Maybe on Monday I'll post a few of my favorite excerpts.

Farewell to a legend of faith and imagination

Wrinkle One of the greatest Christian writers of our time is gone. Madeleine L'Engle, author of more than 60 books including the classic A Wrinkle in Time, died yesterday in Connecticut at the age of 88.

I hardly feel adequate to the task of blogging on L'Engle's life and work and their significance. That work is deeply loved by many of us at The Point and, I'm sure, by many of our readers. Unlike some of us, I knew her only through a few of her many books, but the beauty and power of her writing had an indelible effect on my own imagination and faith. I didn't always understand them -- the colossal size and scope of her imagination often left mine gasping in the dust -- but I loved them.

The best tribute I can pay is, one, to quote her own words:

Why does anybody tell a story? . . . It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose or say or do matters, matters cosmically.

And, two, to ask other bloggers and commenters to share their own thoughts on L'Engle and her books.

Rated PG for -- Incidental Smoking

No_smoking If I had more time to blog today, I'd have thought up something clever to say about this, but here's one I've never seen before. The new Ron Howard movie, In the Shadow of the Moon, which, by the way, I can't wait to see when it hits the wider market, is rated PG for, among other things, "incidental smoking." It's interesting to me that smoking is now considered an act that can't be portrayed or viewed on screen without parental guidance, and yet other activities can be. What's up with that?

Cry Babies Demand Apple Sauce

Ipodtouch03 This past spring, I paid $599 for the greatest electronic gadget ever made. It does everything: plays movies, games, music, surfs the web and stores my photos.

That's right, I bought a Playstation 3. And, wouldn't you know, a few months after I put down my hard-earned money, Sony went and dropped the price. That made me so . . . whatever. I'm what you call an "early adopter." I bought a first-generation DVD player; I owned a first-generation TIVO; and I was the first person in my circle to own an HDTV. In each case, something better and cheaper (often a lot cheaper) followed on the heels of my initial purchase.

As Eugene Robinson says in today's Washington Post, "that's technology." Robinson's pointing out what should be obvious was occasioned by the uproar over Apple's dropping the price of the iPhone.

[W]hen chief executive Steve Jobs announced Wednesday that Apple was slashing the iPhone's price by a third -- meaning that owning a slice of the future now sets you back only $399 -- the iPhone Internet forums lit up with buyers who felt they'd been taken for chumps.

On the everythingiPhone forum, someone with the screen name "Silverado" posted: "So much for a consumer-oriented company. This was my first Apple product and it will be my last." And on the macrumors site, "mac17" wrote that he intended to e-mail Jobs a harangue that begins, "As a loyal Apple customer I feel like I and other iPhone customers are being treated like dirt."

Continue reading "Cry Babies Demand Apple Sauce" »

Cannoli Christianity

Former BreakPoint and Veggie Tales writer Eric Metaxas has written a sequel to his book Everything You Always Wanted To Know About God (But Were Afraid to Ask). The title is--what else: Everything ELSE You Always Wanted To Know About God (But Were Afraid To Ask). The sequel, like the original, features an imaginary seeker asking questions about Christianity of a mature Christian with a sense of humor.

A sample:

Q: Okay, what exactly happened at the Council of Nicaea?

A: The point of the council was to set down once and for all what everyone had already believed for three centuries. The council clarified Christian belief and weeded out false beliefs so that nothing would deviate from the core beliefs that Christians had held from day one.

Q: Why wouldn't they consider new input?

A: That's a legitmate question, but ultimately the creed is not about new ideas or old ideas. It's about truth itself, and truth is outside of time. There's really no "new" truth. All truth is eternal. It has always existed....It will never "evolve" to something else or fall out of fashion. You might get tired of it, but if you change it, the entire universe might crack and fall to pieces. You can't monkey with absolute truth. One plus one can't suddenly equal two point one. It would effect everything. Bridges would fall down.

Q: Pants, too.

A. Right.

Continue reading "Cannoli Christianity" »

Thought for the day

For me, singing is a wonderful way to clear the spiritual air, shooing away any dark spirits hanging around. . . .

It hearkens back to 2 Chronicles 20, in which Jehoshaphat was called into battle. He "appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him . . . as they went out at the head of the army." Jehoshaphat's army then made a shambles of the enemy. What a wonderful story of how songs of praise make a difference in a spiritual climate. Confusion befuddled the enemy, and their camps turned on one another. The people of God then carried away the plunder.

If you're fighting darkness or engaged in a spiritual conflict, if the Enemy is poised and ready to attack, the best defense is to sing.

Joni Eareckson Tada, More Precious than Silver, reading for Sept. 7

It's true that strains of "Amazing Grace" wafting from your cubicle might draw some funny looks, but why not try this while driving home from work today? :-) As I rediscovered the other night when choir practice started back up after summer break, singing to God is truly a uniquely empowering and enlightening experience.

Is There More to the Secret?

Other Point bloggers (here and here) have already weighed in on Rhonda Byrne's highly popular book and movie, The Secret, which promote the Law of Attraction as the answer to all of our heart's desires. Don't want to be fat, don't look at fat people. Want a nice car, dream about it long and hard enough. But, in fact, The Secret's dependence on autonomy and existentialism to accomplish one's dreams is really nothing more than a more mystical way of expressing what Frank Sinatra already did better when he sang "I Did It My Way."

Here's a thought from Ed Gungor, who just published There Is More to the Secret, a Christian response to Byrne:

Contrary to what Byrne tells us, the secret tucked away in history involved human beings, not making up their own stories but finding their places in the story being told by someone else--God. The most ancient revealing of this fact viewed creation as full of God's purposeful ideas--there was a place for everything and everyone. The law of attraction wasn't used to attract just anything; it was used to attract the telos of God. It revealed that each of us is born into God's world and it is his stage; we are but participants in his play. The psalmist said, "Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his."

Now, that's some darn good worldview.

Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Five of Five: Navigating Life with the Daily Disciplines

Catherine: I understand that you got a lot of your spiritual training when you were discipled by the Navigators. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and how it shaped you?

Mark: Well, it was great. I love the Navigators and their ministry and know many of the men and women serving with the Navs across the globe. I was led to Christ by my Sunday School teacher in high school, and he had been involved with the Navs. So one of the first things I was exposed to as a new Christian was someone helping me to learn how to have a quiet time, how to feed myself from the Scriptures, how to memorize Scripture, the importance of sharing my faith, of being involved in a local church, in fellowship. So really I was helped by just getting grounded in some basic worldview principles, some basic discipleship principles. And all of this came from a personal relationship, not simply a book or a sermon, but a personal relationship, in my case, my Sunday School teacher. That involvement with the Navs on my end grew over the years. I was involved with the Navigators in college and then after college spent a few years on their staff both here and in the Philippines.

So I think my biggest debt of gratitude I owe to the Navigators is the whole emphasis on the fact that if you’re going to follow Christ there’s some daily disciplines that you’ve got to do everyday. Just like if you’re going to be healthy physically, there are certain daily disciplines: you’ve got to eat, to exercise, to bathe. As a believer you’ve got to spend some time in the Word, you’ve got to pray, you have to live into this reality of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and not just talk about it.

The second thing I’m indebted to the Navigators for, is an understanding that our real responsibility as believers is not just to sit in the pews and be happy that we’re going to Heaven, but to get involved in the lives of other people, and help them grow, and make a contribution to them. And the third thing is the worth of the individual and that through individuals you reach the world.

Continue reading "Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Five of Five: Navigating Life with the Daily Disciplines" »

Pro-life sentiments, part 2

Everything I said about yesterday's "Cathy" goes double for today's. Remarkable. Of course it can also be taken as a playful jab at all the proud parents-to-be with the desks and albums filled with Junior's first sonogram pictures -- which of us hasn't known (or been) those parents at some point? -- but at the same time, those simple images have a power that, even on the funny pages, can be "terrifying."

The Point Radio: Changing the World on a Full Stomach

How do you change the world?...

Click play above to listen.

September 06, 2007

Blog-a-Book: More ideas on creative grace

Prayinghands My previous blog-a-book post dealt with a rather unusual kind of grace. But Charles Lamb has Robert Herrick beat in that department. I love this idea:

I own that I am disposed to say grace upon twenty other occasions in the course of the day besides my dinner. I want a form for setting out upon a pleasant walk, for a moonlight ramble, for a friendly meeting, or a solved problem. Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts -- a grace before Milton -- a grace before Shakespeare -- a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading The Faerie Queene?

Charles Lamb

What are some occasions that you think would be appropriate for saying grace?

’Crime & Punishment’: Marmeladov’s Impassioned Exposition

My public commitment to finish reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and then attend the club’s discussion, is complete. I’m very glad to have finished this important book, and delighted to have been a part of a larger discussion. One of the people attending this group speaks and reads Russian fluently, and has a great understanding of the culture, which made for a very interesting conversation.

Earlier on The Point, my friend Dan had asked a question about Dostoyevsky’s novel: did Dostoyevsky present the gospel implicitly or explicitly, in whole or in part? There was a critique about Dan’s wording of his question, but only one or two people took the challenge to answer the question.

The reason why good discussion groups are so vital to great works is that people pick up on different aspects of the work. In my haste to start or rather finish the book, I’d missed the significance of a serious speech in part one, chapter two; however, Dan opened our group by reading it and making the connection between the speech and its Gospel origins.

Marmeladov, the drunk, has started talking with Raskolnikov, the lead character and would-be murderer, in a tawdry tavern. Marmeladov is a failed “useless worm” of a man who has a wife, three small step-children, and an elder daughter by his first wife. They all live a bleak poverty-ridden existence because of Marmeladov’s drinking. Under duress, his eldest daughter Sonia became a prostitute to support her family. Sonia, not her father, sacrifices herself and suffers greatly for others.

Continue reading "’Crime & Punishment’: Marmeladov’s Impassioned Exposition" »

Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Four of Five: That Crazy-Wonderful Thing Called Parenthood

Mark_earley Catherine: So a lot of people may not realize that apart from your role as President of PFM, you are also the father of six? What’s it like raising six kids? I think you make it look pretty easy. Is it easier or harder than it looks?

Mark: Well, it’s definitely a team sport and I have a great teammate in my wife of twenty-five years, Cynthia. So it’s wonderful. It’s loud. It’s confusing. It’s tiring. It’s joyful. It’s exciting. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We’d have kept having more kids, if we hadn’t been getting older. Our kids range in age from 10 to 24. Our oldest daughter is married and teaches in a Classical Christian school, our next son is getting married very shortly, and he and his wife will be serving overseas as missionaries in Southeast Asia. I’ve got one son in college at VA Tech and three still at home. It’s a grand and glorious thing, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Catherine: So from the perspective of a parent with kids in that pre-adolescent to college age-range, what do you think are some of the biggest challenges confronting our kids today? Do you think these challenges are unique to our time or are they more timeless?

Mark: There’s an old saying: “We’ve met the enemy and he is us.” I think the biggest challenge for kids, quite frankly, is their parents. So many kids don’t have fathers, or they are being raised in homes where their parents are so busy and distracted by other things that they really don’t allocate the time for them that their kids deserve. So when I think about the challenges facing our kids I look in the mirror and say, “Am I doing all that I can be doing in every respect to be the kind of father I need to be?” I’m convinced that if kids have strong parents they can weather the most difficult of cultures, and the most difficult of circumstances.

Catherine: Can you give me an example of how you and your wife have prepared your own children for some of these challenges?

Continue reading "Q&A with Mark Earley, Day Four of Five: That Crazy-Wonderful Thing Called Parenthood" »

Pro-life sentiments show up in the strangest places

. . . First House, now "Cathy." I don't mean to make assumptions about Cathy Guisewite's personal beliefs, but I think it's just possible that an abortion-minded mother looking at this might find herself rethinking things a little.

Ignoring the Elephants

To its credit, the scientific community is trying to come to grips with the phenomenon of religion. Stephen Jay Gould, readers will know, attempted to achieve a sort of rapprochement with religion toward the end of his life. His was an irenic effort, I think we could say, especially when compared with some more recent pronouncements on the subject from scientists here and abroad.

In the September 2007 issue of the New Scientist, Helen Phillips reports on a number of scientific studies that are trying to understand religion, especially in relation to morality and evolutionary biology. The conclusion Phillips draws from all these studies is tolerant: "Even if many no longer need religion for social cohesion or moral guidance, and think that atheism is the only rational route, we should nevertheless recognise that religion has had a pivotal role in our evolutionary history. It can still reinforce moral values and work with our innate moral sense." And foreboding: "It can also be used to justify immoral behaviour towards those who do not embrace our beliefs." And condescending: "Like it or not, religion remains an important part of what we are."

This is as good as it's going to get from that quarter until three things happen:

Continue reading "Ignoring the Elephants" »

The Point Radio: Are Your Kids Getting the Point?

What percentage of teenagers who grew up going to church, and claim to be Christians, show evidence of living a biblical worldview?...

Click play above to listen.

September 05, 2007

Re: I Know How They Feel

You're not kidding, Roberto. What was that company that used to run radio ads that had someone performing an exorcism on a computer? I can't tell you how many times that's sounded like a fantastic idea.

I Know How They Feel

More on that article to which Martha linked:

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Officials at Nepal's state-run airline have sacrificed two goats to appease Akash Bhairab, the Hindu sky god, following technical problems with one of its Boeing 757 aircraft, the carrier said Tuesday.

Nepal Airlines, which has two Boeing aircraft, has had to suspend some services in recent weeks due the problem.

The goats were sacrificed in front of the troublesome aircraft Sunday at Nepal's only international airport in Kathmandu in accordance with Hindu traditions, an official said.

"The snag in the plane has now been fixed and the aircraft has resumed its flights," said Raju K.C., a senior airline official, without explaining what the problem had been . . .

Laugh if you will, but lately I have been having terrible problems with my wireless routers. I would see Nepal Airlines' goats and raise them a few chickens and perhaps a yak if it would solve my problem.

Continue reading "I Know How They Feel" »

When worldviews collide with reality

Here's what might happen.