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February 27, 2009

Daily roundup

Dobson takes next step in succession plan

Dobson2.ashx "James Dobson has resigned as chairman of Focus on the Family but will continue to play a prominent role at the organization," says the AP:

Dobson, 72, will continue to host Focus on the Family's flagship radio program, write a monthly newsletter and speak out on moral issues, [Jim] Daly said.

Dobson's resignation as board chairman "lessens his administrative burden" and is the latest step in a succession plan, the group said. Dobson began relinquishing control six years ago by stepping down as president and CEO.

Best wishes to him and to the organization as they make this transition.

(Image © Focus on the Family)

Of chimps and men

Chimp Even though a certain segment of the population happily spent eight years comparing President Bush to a chimp, making such human/monkey comparisons suddenly has become a very naughty thing to do. As you may have heard, the New York Post recently published a cartoon that drew parallels between the economic stimulus plan and the chimp who went on a rampage and mauled a woman. Although the cartoon chimp showed no signs of being a direct representation of President Obama, this cartoon was taken by many as a racial insult. (There's an interesting conversation about this going on at Ed Gilbreath's Reconciliation Blog.) The scandal prompted a breathtaking display of obtuseness on the part of cartoonist Ted Rall -- who blogs at the Smirking Chimp blog (named "in dishonor of [Bush]") and who perpetrated this little gem of racism -- who declared himself a moral authority in these matters.

Of course the comparing of racial minorities to animals has a long and shameful history. (Thanks, Mr. Darwin!) That's why many made the leap that they made in viewing the cartoon, even though I sincerely doubt that any such meaning was intended.

But I think this controversy should get us thinking in broader terms about the way we talk about our fellow human beings, black or white. And along those lines, here’s a question to ponder: In recent years, as we're often reminded, we’ve found out that we and chimps have 99 percent of our DNA "identical in regions that we both share," as Regis wrote. So why are we still propagating negative stereotypes about our simian cousins? (The Washington Post has now apologized for running a chimp cartoon that had no racial implications at all!) Why aren’t we embracing them instead? Are we going to get all high and mighty over 1 measly percent?

Or is it possible that it really does make a difference after all?

Are We in Danger of Losing a Free Press?

Newspaper Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”

Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Our founding fathers understood the ramifications of both statements, and created a separation of powers with the creation of Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government. They also knew that without a free press our democratic ways would not survive. So they included in the First Amendment “Congress shall make no law, . . . bridging the freedom of speech or of the press.”

Over the last 200+ years this free press has exposed many excesses of government that would have otherwise remained unchecked. We can all remember Watergate, Irangate, and Clintongate, which the free press was instrumental in bringing to the attention of the American people.

Thomas Jefferson believed strongly in the “necessity” of the free press:

"The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure."

There are three reasons why I believe we are in danger of losing the free press:

Continue reading "Are We in Danger of Losing a Free Press?" »

The Point Radio: Don’t Bet On It

It's a gamble....

Click play above to listen.

Just what we need

Freeman1 Remember the old McCain campaign slogan about Obama? (Not ready to lead.) The appointment of Charles Freeman to the NIC has observers on both the right and the left realizing that maybe it wasn't just a slogan....

(Image courtesy of Fox News)

Lenten Thoughts: Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness, Part Two

I think one of the most challenging verses in all of Scripture to me is James 4:17. He writes, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” It’s such a simple, straightforward statement. But it reaches out so far.

“Anyone who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” We hesitate, rationalize and equivocate. He tells us plainly.

I think it’s easy enough to pat ourselves on the back when we’ve swallowed down the words that we shouldn’t say, when we’ve wrestled our selfish thoughts to the ground, but this? Oh, it’s so hard.

It reminds me what a huge gap there is between me and the perfect standard God requires. I have committed sins. But I have also omitted goodness. I have neglected the words of praise someone needed; I’ve idled away my talents; I’ve not been generous when God has prompted.

I think in our day and age, we want to shrug and laugh it off.  But there is a time for sobriety. And in this same passage where James states this so plainly, he also tells us how we should treat our sins of commission and omission: “Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

It’s the picture of repentance, true repentance. And it’s a good place to begin before we ever come close to thinking about the wrongs others have done to us.

Behind the scenes at The Point

This article sparked a heated argument via office e-mail yesterday: Are numbers inherently evil, or only abused by evil people? For fear of reprisal, I won't tell you who was on which side of the argument (like you didn't know). Just read it and decide for yourself.

February 26, 2009

Daily roundup

She’s Having a Baby

Candacenshelly A WNBA star is pregnant . . . and of course, this savvy young mother-to-be has run into opposition regarding her pregnancy. Is it because she's single and financially unstable? No -- so find out why.

(Image courtesy of Seattle Weekly)

Commemorate Gina’s Surrender in Style!

...with your very own Gina vs. Allen t-shirt, which records this well-deserved, historic victory.

Show the world that you were there when it happened, and you care. Deeply.

I mean, if the French can celebrate Bastille Day, Pointificators can surely wear their Gina Surrender Day pride, right? Absolutely!

White knot blacklist?

Add this to what Chuck was saying the other day about harassment via Google Maps, and it begins to look like we may be heading that way.

And now for these messages...

Masso Despite high telephone costs and frustrating visitation rules, people are finding creative ways to express their love to family members in prison. Radio call-in shows like Boston's Con Salsa! and California's Art Laboe Connection regularly broadcast messages to inmates from their spouses, parents, and children. 

Delivering these words of love and encouragement to the men and women listening behind bars strengthens family bonds and helps offenders persevere through the challenges of prison life.

(Image © Josh Reynolds for the AP)

New Discourse podcast on BreakPoint: Christian Filmmaking

Vinegarhill David Altrogge and Michael Hartnett are the leading principals of an innovative video production and graphic design company called Vinegar Hill Picture Works, with offices in Pittsburgh and in Gaithersburg, Md. They specialize in short videos for commercial and church clients, but also conceive and produce their own films with a redemptive Christian message.

We were able to sit down and talk with them about Christian filmmaking during a visit they made to our Landsdowne, Virginia studio. It's good to see such creative spirit and determination from this generation!

Click here for Discourse #5: Christian Filmmaking.

(Image © Peter Bang)

It’s 1984 All Over Again

1984 My ninth-grade English teacher assigned George Orwell's dystopian classic 1984. Call me lily-livered, but the book scared me stiff.

Shenanigans like the one that Paul Nelson is exposing bring back the same horror I felt while reading that book. The big difference is that this time it isn't a novel.

(Image © Penguin)

The Point Radio: Confession Time

What's been building up in your life?...

Click play above to listen.

February 25, 2009

Daily roundup


Temp_gavin In these days of officials committing ethical violations left and right, you gotta love a headline that reads, "[San Francisco's] Mayor Caught with Bottled Water!"

Lileks handles the non-story nicely:

This sums up with exquisite precision the people we elect to guide our institutions: 

Fix on something small and symbolic, and demonize it;

Propose a response that does little to address the fundamental problem;

Forbid the thing to others;

Reserve its use for yourself;

Adopt a penitent tone when caught which underscores the hypocrisy and makes you look like a dweeb for apologizing for something which, while petty, you have infused with moral failings. 

(Image © Newsom for California)

Lenten Reflections: Repentance, Confession, and Forgiveness, Day One

Rouault Before I left for Rwanda to write As We Forgive, I was reading a book called The Keys to My Neighbor’s House, by journalist Elizabeth Neuffer, who covered the atrocities of both Bosnia and Rwanda. She writes about returning to interview perpetrators. When I read this I couldn’t get it out of my mind: “What’s most chilling when you meet a murderer is that you meet yourself."

That’s not a popular thought, but it is a sobering one. And it’s a perfect place to begin my Lenten reflections.  

There’s this stubborn thing that honest people know. I don’t mean honest in the sense of never telling a lie. I mean the people who are willing to not gloss over their own flaws. I mean the people who are willing to judge themselves not by the measuring rod of others, not even by the measuring rod of the face they present the world, but by the measuring rod of what’s in the heart.

The prophet Jeremiah put his finger on it: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus picked up the theme. He said:

"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

If I tell myself that I never could have done what the killers in Rwanda did, that I never could have done this or that, I kid myself. Apart from God’s grace, the murderer I’m interviewing could be me. I don’t want to look into the murderer’s mirror, but I need to. But for God, his eyes are my eyes. And even more chilling, on the days when I think angry thoughts about others, Jesus says that murderer’s heart is my heart.

Sackcloth and ashes: these need to be mine.

A Primer for Lent

As a neophyte to the liturgical calendar, I was honored when my pastor asked me to compose a devotional on Lent. As I researched the observance, I stumbled across some excellent "textbooks" on the subject from those whose eyes have had a little longer to adjust to the bright and rich world of Christian tradition. If you, too, need a primer for Lent, here are a few excellent places to start:

  • "On Keeping a Holy Lent" by Craig Higgins provides a basic history of Lent and casts a vision for how we can make the observance count in a modern context
  • Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson peers into the paradox of Lent: that true fasting can lead to richer feasting
  • "Nothing for Lent" is a 40-day devotional by Prison Fellowship International that connects the sorrow and joy of Lent to the life that can spring forth in prison.

And, if you're interested in my stab on the topic, you can read it here at Common Grounds Online.

Daily Wisdom from Oswald Chambers

I have been using Oswald Chambers' devotional My Utmost for His Highest for many years, and I'm fairly confident that a number of our Pointificators could say the same. The entry for February 24 has struck me with both its depth and beauty. Here's an excerpt and the link to the full entry:

When the Spirit of God has shed abroad the love of God in our hearts, we begin deliberately to identify ourselves with Jesus Christ's interests in other people, and Jesus is interested in every kind of man there is. We have no right in Christian work to be guided by our affinities; this is one of the biggest tests of our relationship to Jesus Christ. The delight of sacrifice is that I lay down my life for my Friend ... for Him and His interests in other people, not for a cause.... If we are abandoned to Jesus, we have no ends of our own to serve. 

(Mark Earley is also talking about Chambers today, in his BreakPoint commentary.)

How to help kids ’get it’

Kids.jpg A new BreakPoint column about young people and worldview, by John Stonestreet, executive director of Summit Ministries, contains some helpful insights that relate to the conversation Anne started yesterday.

I often hear students describe their experience of Christianity in these terms: “I’ve been a Christian my whole life, but I don’t really get it”; or, “I prayed the prayer when I was four, but I don’t think it stuck”; or, “I committed my life to Christ when I was 15, but I am not sure it stuck.” . . .

Often, our approaches to youth ministry sanctify adolescence. Whereas teenagers have the capacity—and thus, I would argue, the calling—to think deeply and broadly about their culture, confront evil and injustice, and champion the truth, they instead are encouraged in their adolescent narcissism. We present a neutered Gospel, only about them and their needs, lacking vision (Proverbs 29:18).

Read more here about why Christian kids aren't "getting it," and how we can help make sure they do.

Prisons without Bars: ’Reservation Road’

While everyone else has been talking about Revolutionary Road, I took the road less traveled and watched Reservation Road a few weeks ago.

The film came out in 2007, but for the life of me, I can't remember hearing about it. From the director who brought us Hotel Rwanda comes this compelling story of two men--one torn by guilt (Mark Ruffalo) and one torn by grief (Joaquin Phoenix). It is rated R, and some may not have the stomach for it. I'd say it's a sad story, more than a violent one.

But for me, it was an interesting opportunity to take a look at what crime does to both the victim and the offender. In this case, an accident becomes an even greater crime when the driver leaves the scene. There are a few unlikely coincidences in the film, but if you can get past those, the acting is quite good, and the themes--how guilt and bitterness can be their own prisons--are worth mulling.

Chasing the American ’Myth’

Scratchbeginnings Is the American Dream a myth? Adam Shepard doesn't think so.

In 2006, the recent college graduate did a 365-day experiment in homelessness. Leaving home with just $25, a sleeping bag, and his notebook, he worked his way to a furnished apartment, a car, and $2500 in just a year. Here's an excerpt from the intro to his book Scratch Beginnings:

As you're going to see throughout the course of my journey, this is not a modern day rags-to-riches, get-rich-quick story. “I made a million, and you can too!” Nope. Too cliché, and, ironically, too unrealistic. Mine is the story of rags-to-fancier-rags. I'm not an extraordinary person performing extraordinary feats. I don't have some special talent that I can use to “Wow” prospective employers. I'm average. My story is very basic, simple. My story is about the attitude of success. My goal is to better my lot, to provide a stepping stone over the next 365 days for everything else I want to accomplish in my life. I aim to find out if the American Dream is still alive, or if it has, in fact, been drowned out by the greedy and the lazy.

So, here we go. You, my audience:

The dad who can use this book when his 12-year-old is complaining about not having the latest video game. The 15-year-old who doesn't quite understand why he or she has to study so hard and take “all of these worthless classes that I'll never use in real life.” The recent college grad who – drowned in student loans and limited opportunities (and, of course, living at home) – is searching for any little bit of strength and direction. The 72-year-old grandfather who already has a firm grasp on the concept of my story and has doubtless lived many of these same experiences. The 32-year-old mother of two who is working multiple jobs just to get by. The one making the sacrifice so her children can have a shot at the American Dream that she gave up on long ago.

You, the underdog, sitting behind the 8-ball, wondering when your number is going to be called.

And me, with my personal belongings on my back, ready for the craziest adventure of my life....

(Image © SB Press)

The Point Radio: A Fast that Counts

It's Lent, but that doesn't mean you have to give up chocolate...

Click play above to listen.

Media bias? What media bias?

You must be imagining things.

Update: The culprit turns out to be Chris Matthews, who offers a badly spelled excuse.

February 24, 2009

Daily roundup

Chuck Norris Is Fighting Mad

Norris Chuck Norris doesn't have too many kind words to say about the recent government bailout in this article (warning: some mild profanity). I must agree that passing the problem on to our children and grandchildren is not the solution. Here's what Chuck recommends:

We must restrain our government, and we must restrain ourselves. Feeding the money monster will not reduce its size -- it will perpetuate the problem.... We must return to a time when we put a bridle on the spending of government and of our households. We've got to simplify our lives. We've got to learn to be happier with less. We've got to get out of debt.

The apostle Paul told how he had learned to be content, regardless of his financial status. We, too, need to reject the cult of consumerism that got America into this mess and learn the wiser way of contentment, saving, and making what we have last longer and stretch further. While members of my family are fortunate in the sense that we still have jobs (and we're not in much danger of losing them at this point), we're all looking for ways to be better stewards of what God has provided. If for no other reason, we should do this so we will have extra resources to help those who have been hit hard by the economic downturn. 

Check out what your church or other compassionate ministries are doing in your city and think about how you can share what you have. Does the local foodbank need more donations? Do you have used clothing in good condition that you can donate to a homeless shelter or to the Salvation Army? Can members of your Sunday school class chip in to help pay someone's rent each month? What other ideas do you have for helping your fellow citizens weather this storm?

The Dangers of Fetal Stem Cells

In desperation, the parents of a very sick child sought treatment from physicians in Moscow. Unfortunately, the physicians used fetal stem cells--with terrible results. You might want to check out Chuck Colson's recent commentary about this very issue. 

A Lenten poll

Thanks to everyone who participated in our poll about watching the Oscars. And the envelope, please? (That's not mine -- I swiped it from Travis.)

Total Votes: 347

3.2% - 11
17.6% - 61
6.6% - 23
Just long enough to see the dresses
62.5% - 217
Wouldn't watch it on a dare
10.1% - 35

All lowbrow-ness aside, I think it's nice that we have a bit of a mix there. It's just my own personal theory, perhaps, but it always seems to me that any group of Christians is stronger and more balanced when it has some variety within the ranks in matters of taste and culture.

On to the new poll, which is on the righthand side of the page: How do you observe Lent? If you'd like to share more about that than the poll allows you to do, feel free to use the comment section below!

This explains a lot


(Image © Scott Adams, Inc.)

Chaunie’s Journey

I've just been reading "Chaunie's Journey" in The American Feminist, the publication of Feminists for Life (of which I am a member). The magazine offers a decidedly non-Christian viewpoint on abortion.

"Chaunie's Journey" is about a college-age woman who interned at Feminists for Life, returned to college, and found herself unexpectedly pregnant. She describes the unsympathetic campus nurse, the lack of housing for young single mothers, and the lack of campus daycare."I understood," she writes, "how women in such a vulnerable situation could feel they have no choices." While Chaunie was terrified of telling her parents about her pregnancy, she discovered, to her joy, that they were extremely loving and supportive, as were other members of her extended family. Relatives offered to help in any way they could.

But then she set off my worldview alarm bells (you get them when you attend Centurions) when she wrote:

It took me a long time to overcome the shame that I thought was associated with an unplanned pregnancy. I have stood next to an older, successful, married woman and heard people congratulate her on her "miracle from God," while they avoided looking at my expanding belly and muttered a quick hello. Why should one mother be treated differently than another? Does one mother deserve to be pitied, while the other celebrated, simply because of age, status or circumstance? Is it any wonder women feel driven to abortion?

Many Christians might answer: "Yes, women deserve to have their pregnancies treated differently depending on whether they are married or single, because the Judeo-Christian teachings that inform our culture tell us that sex outside of marriage is morally wrong." The non-Christian might note that 40 years of research on family formation proves conclusively that children do far better if they are born into a home that includes a married father and mother--and so we should certainly discourage unmarried childbearing. Orthodox Jews and Muslims would agree with orthodox Christians that sex outside of marriage is a sin.

However . . . 

Continue reading "Chaunie’s Journey" »

Charles Dickens, unsung Nostradamus

Mrmerdle While Gina has been reviving Dickens mania over at her blog, I've been plowing through 830+ pages of Little Dorrit. Having finished only the night before last (instead of watching the self-adulation of the Oscars), I, like Gina, am now anxiously awaiting the PBS airing of the new production of this tome.

Dickens could have been writing about our own current events in the final chapters of Little Dorrit. See if these words, written of his fictional character Mr. Merdle (a man who inspired the confidence and investments of others, investments that were sure to pay off, until of course they didn't), don't remind you of a certain Mr. Madoff or Mr. Stanford:

Numbers of men in every profession and trade would be blighted by his insolvency; old people who had been in easy circumstances all their lives would have no place of repentance for their trust in him but the workhouse; legions of women and children would have their whole future desolated by the hand of this mighty scoundrel. Every partaker of his magnificent feasts would be seen to have been a sharer in the plunder of innumerable homes; every servile worshipper of riches who had helped to set him on his pedestal, would have done better to worship the Devil point-blank...For, by that time it was known that the late Mr. Merdle...was simply the greatest Forger and the greatest Thief that ever cheated the gallows.

(Image © BBC One)

Troubling the Devil

T.M. Moore recently wrote an article called "Troubling the Powers of Darkness" that contains this sobering thought:

The great work of the devil is to deceive the nations (Rev. 12:9). [However, we] must not think that the devil is active in his power only where we find examples of Satan worship, demon possession, or occult practices. These are mere demonstrations of his power, feints in a larger society to overwhelm the world by deception. The devil is particularly active wherever well-meaning people make choices and settle into lifestyles that contradict the holy and righteous and good Law of God. When men believe that abortion is a good thing, sexual license is a personal matter, others exist to make me happy, money and things are the measure of happiness and success, and that one person's view of truth is just as valid as another's, there the devil is in full-blown assault.... The fact that, in our day, presidents, judges, academics, scientists, financiers, leaders in business and the professions, and most people you and I know believe such things as these indicates that the devil, rather than fleeing for the high ground, has found an open field of battle to work his will.

So, what's the best defense against Satan's attacks? T.M. writes, "The battle for Truth has been engaged. It remains to be seen whether those who hold that Truth ... will go forth to trouble the devil and his henchmen." 

I hope each one of us will live such Truth-and-love saturated lives that we "trouble the devil" as he manifests himself in our culture. As James reminds us, if we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil, all he can do is flee (James 4:7).

The Point Radio: Bullies on the Loose

Is a bully targeting your child?...

Click play above to listen.

February 23, 2009


The Daily Roundup will be delayed today. Please check back later this evening.

Update: Sorry, the delay took longer than expected! We'll resume tomorrow.

The further adventures of Dr. House and the Hound of Heaven

House-515_sc21_0014 It's been a while since any of us blogged about House. Unfortunately, the innuendo and the occasional gratuitousness (which Dave the Swede complained about in a comment that I now can't find) continue -- but so, intriguingly, does Dr. House's uneasy dance with the God he doesn't believe in but can't stop thinking about.

Last Monday's episode concerned a priest who had lost his faith -- House's favorite kind of priest -- who checked himself into the hospital after seeing a vision of Jesus. Say what you will about a man who clings to the priesthood even when his belief is gone, he at least was astute enough to notice House's obsessive search for reasons to keep disbelieving.

But in the end, the priest wasn't able to help him out with that. When House was able to diagnose him only by eliminating the vision of Christ as a symptom -- meaning that it had to be attributed to something other than medical causes -- the priest, realizing just how many "coincidences" had led to his healing, embraced God once again. And the good doctor was left just a little flustered.

Where is all this going? Impossible to say. Maybe the show's creators don't even know. All I hope is that they're brave enough to keep following the road that they have, however hesitantly and skeptically, been taking this show down.

(Image © Fox Broadcasting Corporation)

Novelist Calls ’As We Forgive’ Life-changing

Novelist Mary DeMuth just posted a fantastic review of As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda over at RelevantBlog. Check it out:

As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson is one of those life-changing books that will linger with you the rest of your life. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not for the hard-hearted or those bent toward stubborn unforgiveness. It’s primarily a story of hope.

During 100 days of 1994, 800,000 people were brutally murdered in Rwanda—a genocide swifter in execution than Nazi gas chambers. Imagine Denver and Colorado Springs—every man, woman and child—suddenly gone from our population and you’ll appreciate the scope of the horror. (And go look on a map of Africa. Trace your finger due South of Uganda, due West of the Congo and you’ll appreciate how little this country is.)

As We Forgive shares the stories of genocide survivors, recounting the unspeakable. But it does not stop there. Larson pulls back the curtain of the most ostentatious acts of forgiveness I’ve witnessed, where genocide survivors choose to forgive those who perpetrated such violence.

Together, through reconciliation practices and restorative justice, they are rebuilding their country from the ruins of hatred—all on the back of the One who still bears the scars for our sins today.

I came away from this book changed, deeply moved, and inspired. Having seen the power of God to help people forgive the seeming unforgiveable, it gave me hope that my own wrestling with forgiveness would end in hope. I also appreciated that none of the forgiveness modeled was simple or easy or quickly won, nor does the book purport that reconciliation is merely forgiveness while forgetting. For true restoration to occur, the person perpetrating the atrocity must first fully own his/her own sin and grieve it as such. And for the person who was sinned against to heal, he/she must revisit the place of grief in order to heal.

All this dovetails beautifully into the message God’s been birthing in me—to help people who suffer silently to tell the truth about their pasts, to choose the difficult path of forgiveness, in order to heal.

If God can reach into a genocide victim’s heart and offer peace; if He can transform a murderer into a productive member of a reconciled society; then surely He can transform your pain today. That’s the patent hope this book gives. It’s a gift to all of us. And I pray it’s a gift all open.

DeMuth's latest novel, Daisy Chain, hits stores in March. In it she explores the suffocating power of family secrets in a novel that some are comparing to To Kill a Mockingbird and Peace Like a River. DeMuth's Family Secrets blog is seeking to help others who have struggled with a secret that has a death grip on their lives. Obviously there's a clear connection to the secrets which plague us and a need to forgive ourselves, others, or confess the guilt we carry.

(Originally posted at www.asweforgivebook.com)

Take a Lenten Journey with Prison Fellowship International

The President of Prison Fellowship International, Ron Nikkel, offers a compelling glimpse into the wilderness journey of repentance in this week's Conversatio Morum. You can read it here. And we're also so blessed that our brothers and sisters in Prison Fellowship around the world have contributed their voices to a 40-day Lenten Devotional guide. You can download the entire guide here.

If you aren't familiar with the amazing work that Prison Fellowship is doing around the world, I invite you to take some time and read some of the stories on PFI's website. Time and again I am amazed at how God is using the faithfully offered fish and loaves of people in countries with so little, to feed his multitudes with the spiritual food that these prisoners, their families, and their broken communities so desperately need.

As Bread That Is Baked

Polycarp On this day, 1854 years ago, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna who was linked to John the Apostle, was martyred.

I use the verb "martyred" because, as The Martyrdom of Polycarp tells us, it took some doing.  After being betrayed by his servant, Polycarp was brought before the proconsul who urged him to "swear by the Fortune (the guiding spirit) of the Emperor; repent and say 'Away with the Atheists.'" 

Not being an atheist, Polycarp simply said, "Away with the atheists." The increasingly irate proconsul told Polycarp to "swear and I will set you at liberty; reproach Christ." To which the elderly bishop replied, Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?

That's when things became interesting: After continued refusals to renounce his faith, Polycarp was sentenced to be burned. As he was tied to the stake, he prayed,

O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.

Continue reading "As Bread That Is Baked" »

’You Commie, homo-loving sons of guns!’

Penn . . . So, sounds like I didn’t miss much.

(Image © Reuters)

Thought for the day

I cannot see, my God, a reason why
From morn to night I go not gladsome, free,
For, if thou art what my soul thinketh thee,
There is no burden but should lightly lie,
No duty but a joy at heart must be:
Love's perfect will can be nor sore nor small,
For God is light -- in him no darkness is at all.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul

The Point Radio: Silence is Golden

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February 20, 2009

Daily roundup

Hey, Allen . . .

Did you say something about "winning"?

Open movie thread: Oscar (or non-Oscar) edition

Movie camera

The Style section in today's Washington Post devotes a lengthy article to people who commit to seeing every Oscar-nominated movie, which is kind of funny, as I would estimate that these people make up about 0.00001 percent of the U.S. population. Most of my evidence is anecdotal, but between the answers we're getting in our poll (currently 63.2 percent for "Wouldn't watch [the ceremony] on a dare) and articles like this one -- sent around by Roberto with an eyeroll so loud that you probably heard it from where you're sitting -- it's hard to avoid the impression that interest in the Oscars continues to wane. I guess we'll see for sure when the ratings come in next week.

So if you're not among those marathon moviegoers making a last-minute dash between Frost/Nixon and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (or, as Roberto dubbed it, Brad Pitt Wears Really Cool Make-up), but you are in the mood to see a movie -- either current or classic -- this weekend, tell us what you'll be watching instead. Me, I'm going to see Hotel for Dogs, because my sister wants to go, and because I hear it's a pretty happy dog movie, not an "Oh no Mommy, they shot Old Yeller!" dog movie. I don't do those anymore. (And if Hotel does turn out to be one of them, my sister will RUE THE DAY.) And of course, part 2 of Oliver Twist on Sunday night. How about you?

Alternatively, if you've been watching and enjoying the Oscar-nominated films, feel free to tell us why we're a bunch of lowbrow anti-intellectual Bugs-Bunny-watchers. There's room for all sorts of viewers here!

Thanks to good ole Facebook . . .

Online networking

  • Your immune system could deteriorate
  • Your hormone levels could get screwed up
  • Bad things could happen to your arteries
  • You could get cancer, have a stroke, or develop heart disease or dementia 
  • Your brain could turn into mush

Well, maybe all of this is a tad fatalistic, but there might be something to it.

(Image © SPL)

Optional orthodoxy

Archbishop-canterbury-wide Following up on Steve's theme . . .

Over at IRD, Jim Tonkowich has a thoughtful piece about the March Atlantic's story on Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Jim argues that the Atlantic article ought to be read in conjunction with First Things’ reprint of a 1997 Richard John Neuhaus piece titled "The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy."

Jim writes,

In “The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy,” Fr. Neuhaus notes that Williams and others are not thoroughgoing relativist[s]. They propound normative truths.

These truths, however, are not embodied in propositions, precedent, ecclesial authority, or, goodness knows, revelation. They are experiential truths expressing the truth of who we truly are—“we” being defined by sex, race, class, tribe, or identifying desire (“orientation”).

As a result:

… [D]isagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a Church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, “Yes, but they are not me!”

Since Christian orthodoxy challenges all such self-justification, it becomes “an intolerable personal affront” in such settings. This is why Neuhaus began the article by stating: “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.”

Hence the war in the Anglican Communion and many other parts of Christendom. For progressives, “my experience” is the measure of truth. Orthodoxy is tolerated, but only as one option among many. The toleration ends, however, when it asserts normative theological truth and moral truth—two things considered oxymorons. These impede progressive goals such as the normalization of homosexuality. As a result orthodoxy must be suppressed.

Read more.

(Image courtesy of the Atlantic)

Whither the Lutherans?

The nearly five-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has just released a set of recommendations concerning the "ordination, consecration, and commissioning of people in committed, same-sex unions." The report, produced by the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality, is the culmination of a long discernment process initiated by the ELCA Church Council.

For the most part, Lutherans are a conciliatory bunch. They typically prefer not to draw attention to themselves, and avoid conflict the way most non-Lutherans avoid lutefisk. Thus, it is not terribly surprising that the task force has recommended what they perceive to be a "middle way" regarding the controversy.

Instead of taking a definitive position on the matter of actively gay clergy, the task force has proposed a "local option" approach, leaving it to the denomination's 65 synods to determine for themselves whether to allow such ordinations. To do this, the ELCA must eliminate language in its existing policies that requires that sexual intimacy for clergy be within the context of heterosexual marriage.

The decision to make no definitive decision is likely to exacerbate the heretofore slow decline in ELCA membership. One need only look at the ongoing disintegration of the Episcopal Church in the United States following its decision to consecrate an actively gay man as Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire to see where the Lutherans might be headed.

The task force's recommendations will be debated and voted upon in August by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly, the biennial legislative body of the denomination. The decisions made by that assembly will go a long way in determining the future of one of the largest denominational bodies in the United States.

Shoddy Science Used to Convict

Crimelab A report published by the National Academy of Sciences this week is devastating to the current practices of forensic science that are routinely used to convict across the United States.

It turns out that these methods, including fingerprinting, bite mark identification, and ballistics, are not reliable; practitioners testifying in court have little scientific basis for claiming they are accurate. These "experts" have essentially bootstrapped their hunches into accepted testimony by mutually agreeing that their methods work. And on the basis of their testimony, thousands of people have been convicted and some executed.

In addition, some police labs have had to be closed because they were not even running the tests but merely reporting the results that would help convict the person the police had chosen as the perpetrator. These scandals in crime labs involve hundreds of tainted cases handled by police agencies in Michigan, Texas, and West Virginia, and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. At least 10 wrongly convicted men have been exonerated as a result of those laboratory investigations, and the cases of hundreds of other people convicted with the help of those facilities are under review.

For more on wrongful convictions, see Justice Fellowship’s Protecting the Innocent Resource Page.

(Image © Gothamist)