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March 23, 2009

They were expendable

Knowing The following contains extensive spoilers about the recent films Watchmen and Knowing, so I'm going to put almost the entire post under the jump. Proceed at your own risk!

Continue reading "They were expendable" »

Quote for the Day: C.S. Lewis on Money


One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realise your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. 

-- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Is it possible that one of the hidden blessings in our current economic meltdown is that many of us will turn away from worshiping the god Mammon, and instead turn our hearts to Yahweh? That is my hope and prayer, for myself and for others in my country. 

Care For Children of Divorce: What Is Your Church Doing?

Dad and daughter.jpg As you may recall, Elizabeth Marquardt has conducted research that confirms that children of divorce suffer from loneliness. As she puts it, "Growing up, the children of divorce feel lonely, set apart, adrift, too often misunderstood." What you might not have known or thought about is that those same children might be sitting in a pew next to you, feeling that sense of loneliness and estrangement.

Marquardt is sharing information with readers about how churches can start to combat this problem. She's offering free copies of her DVD, Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, to churches and parachurch organizations.

Marquardt also offers information about an outreach program, Divorce Care for Kids. Are any Pointers or Pointificators familiar with the program?

(Image courtesy of ToTheSource)

The Point Radio: Risky Information

What are your teens telling online?...

Click play above to listen.

March 20, 2009

Daily roundup

The Twouble with Twitter

Twitter Gina's video post on Twitter shows a good example of using humor to expose the flaws of mankind -- see also Zoe's article in BreakPoint WorldView Magazine (click here for a free subscription). 

People are jumping on the social media bandwagon in big numbers, and businesses and organizations are discovering it as an effective communication or public relations tool (check out BreakPoint on FaceBook and Twitter). With all its popularity, one can’t still avoid the truth that if uncontrolled, social networking sites can be isolating and addicting -- just as in the video, where many are “randomly bragging about our unexceptional lives… and have become reliant on this constant state of self-affirmation.” Or in Biblical terms, committing idolatry.

A threat to Christian books in prison

Prison chapel libraries may soon become sparser if the Bureau of Prisons gets its way. In its zeal to prevent inmates from becoming violent religious radicals, the BOP has proposed a policy that would snatch from inmates' reach any materials that “could” incite, promote, or suggest violence. Religious liberty groups, such as the Alliance Defense Fund, are up in arms. Rightly so.

The Bureau of Prisons’ proposed language casts such a wide net that many Christian books and even the Bible itself could wind up on the banned list if someone can conjure up their possible link to violent behavior. The BOP tried something like this a couple of years ago by setting up the Standardized Chapel Library Project, which created a black list of religious texts to be removed from prison chapels. The list was so extensive that it threatened prisoners’ right to practice religion. Thankfully, the Second Chance Act discontinued the Project. The Second Chance Act also tried to prevent any future BOP schemes by allowing the Bureau to only remove materials that “seek” to incite violence. Apparently, the BOP has little intention of remaining within the bounds of the law.

Keeping inmates from becoming religious radicals is necessary for public safety. But the BOP’s broad, hazy language poses a grave threat to peaceful religious expression. If the BOP is truly interested in protecting us from violence, it will encourage inmates to read books that lead to their moral transformation. 

First Church of Nobody

This is a phenomenon that has always fascinated me: atheists gathering together in a church-like setting to talk about -- well, I'm not exactly clear on that part. I can understand that some people would choose not to believe in God, for varying reasons, but it seems a little strange to meet regularly to talk about it, or to passionately evangelize for the cause.

Yet as this Washington Post article points out, the human need for community and companionship cannot be evaded even in the most self-centered of religions.

Richard Lints, a professor of philosophical theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a prominent evangelical school in Hamilton, Mass., said the humanist desire for greater community is understandable. He believes God "hard-wired" humans to need it.

But he said he doubts humanism can sustain itself in the local congregations Epstein envisions because community is not a natural part of humanism, where the individual is the ultimate source of meaning. If humanism becomes concerned with the "greater good," and a sort of natural moral order that implies, it starts to resemble religion and humanists will back away, he said.

The community at the center of the Post's report was initiated by the humanist "chaplain" -- a rather paradoxical title -- at Harvard. And he offers a rather paradoxical reason for bringing fellow "believers" together: "Salvation is here on earth. . . . We have evolved over 14 billion years without purpose. Now we want purpose, we need to build it into our own lives."

If humanism were true, the purposelessness of life would indeed be the universe's greatest tragedy. Yet real purpose is not something that can be created from within.

Genius book titles

Mister Ego It's been a pretty good week for these. First there was Mister Ego and the Bubble of Love (thanks, again, to Bookshelves of Doom for that one). I don't even begin to know what to make of that. Then there was Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul, which wins the award in the subcategory of Genius Subtitle.

Anyone got any more?

(Image © Namaste Publishing)

Open book thread

Open book 2Go here (and do a bit of scrolling) to see what I've been reading this week. Then come back and tell us what you've been reading!

Eve of Destruction: Plagues, or ’Pardon Me, but Your Buboes Are Showing’

Black_deathbrueghel In June of 1347, Joan, the favorite daughter of King Edward III of England, was arguably the happiest 15-year-old in Europe. Her father had arranged her marriage to Pedro of Castile. Her betrothed had sent her a troubadour to serenade her, and she was setting off for her wedding with a huge retinue of soldiers and ladies-in-waiting that included her own armada, one of whose ships carried nothing but her dresses.

Fifteen months later, Joan was dead. Like an estimated one-third of her fellow Europeans she was struck down by what John Kelly called, after the convention of the time, The Great Mortality.  

We know it as The Black Death. Whatever you call it, it was, in all likelihood, "the most devastating plague of all time," as the cover of Kelly's book puts it. The numbers, as best as can be reconstructed, are mind-boggling: between one-third and (in some parts) one-half of Europe dead. As many, if not more, dead from Northern China through the Middle East (the plague followed the Silk Road and the routes of Mongol conquest) and North Africa.

As devastating as its demographic impact was, the cultural impact of the Black Death, as chronicled by Kelly, Norman Cantor, and William H. MacNeill was almost as great. Among the victims of Yersinia pestis were political, social and religious verities, which isn't surprising. Once a society evolves much beyond a "big man" level, a kind of unspoken (sometimes spoken) covenant comes into play: in exchange for formal authority and the perks that go with it, the elites will protect hoi polloi from the Big Bads out there. Maybe not every time, but often enough to make life tolerable.

Catastrophes call the whole arrangement into question. People who have put up with a lot of . . . well, a lot are no longer as inclined to submit to authority -- any authority. 

As you probably know, that wasn't the last that mankind saw of bubonic plague: there were more localized European outbreaks for the next three centuries, most famously in seventeenth-century Britain. And the "Third Pandemic" in the latter half of the nineteenth century killed an estimated 12 million people in China and India alone.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Plagues, or ’Pardon Me, but Your Buboes Are Showing’ " »

Global Warming, a New Kind of Morality

Earth3 Thanks to Pointificator Michael Snow for alerting us to an important video hosted by scientists refuting the global warming myth.  

The Discovery Channel (among others) is making a bunch of money running global warming stories, so I suggest that it is important for all of us to become educated on this worldview issue (Humans vs. Earth). Michael Snow is correct about who will suffer the most from bad policy decisions based on error-ridden science: the poor. 

Myths are hard to break. For instance, malaria was well on its way to being wiped out before Greeners decided that DDT was bad for the environment. (See Dr. Robert Cihak's article DDT vs. Death by Malaria.)

It always amazes me that we throw out perfectly good ethical and moral priniciples and replace them with nonsense. I guess St. Augustine was right: "our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee." If we don't find rest in God, we'll try to find rest in something else--like Earth worship and bad science.

(Image © The Discovery Channel)

The Point Radio: Your Own Stem Cells Work

With medical breakthrough after medical breakthrough, why aren't we hearing about it?...

Click play above to listen.

Miracle Cells,” BreakPoint Commentary, 18 February 2009.

March 19, 2009

Daily roundup

In the land of the twits

Despite the fact that BreakPoint has its own Twitter (Twitterpage? Twitterspot? Twitterspace?), this video from BoingBoing is too funny not to post. (Contains profanity.)

Bored? Join a Flashmob

Tired of playing video games, twittering, Facebooking, or contemplating your navel? Then flash mobs might be for you.

A flash mob activity might include walking into the Grand Central Station in New York City or a Whole Foods store and, on cue, freezing in mid-motion for, say, five minutes. Then another cue tells you to nonchalantly carry on as if nothing had happened.

In San Francisco it got messy as the mob conducted a public pillow fight. City officials were not too happy about this as it cost thousands of dollars to clean it up.

You can read about the trend here, or watch the video showing how it worked in Whole Foods.

And here's a question to ponder: Will there ever be a flash mob actually doing something meaningful?

Whole Foods Flash Freeze from Flash Mob Austin on Vimeo.

Not in my womb

Eggs This is where the Brave New World has brought us: You can abort a child who's not even your own.

(Image courtesy of Slate)

The Moment Your Story Begins

Pregnancy I just stumbled on a delightful commentary by Lorraine Murray on Mary's "yes" to God. Seasonally, it may seem a little out of place to be talking about this closer to Easter than Advent, but I liked where the author goes with it. She reminds us that most stories of great men begin with their birth. But the story of Jesus begins at conception.

Here's one conclusion she draws:

Perhaps a reason that Christ’s story begins at conception is to bring a message to a world in which the womb is no longer a safe haven.

Perhaps it is to remind us that the most beautiful words in the world are not those spoken at the birth of a baby when the doctor pronounces the child alive and healthy.

Instead, the most exquisite words are the little veiled conversation that goes on in the heart of the mother many months earlier, when she first learns that she is pregnant.

The loveliest words of all come despite inconvenience, despite having other plans, despite being too young or too old, despite being too poor, despite being scared, despite being unmarried, despite being afraid of death.

The most beautiful words of all come at the moment when the mother whispers to God: “Let it be.” And that’s where the story begins.

(Image © Paulus Rusyanto)

Eve of Destruction: Supervolcanoes, or ’Run, Yogi and Boo Boo, Run!’

Yogi Sometimes various scientific disciplines come together in an almost musical way to produce new knowledge that gives us yet another thing to be terrified of.

That's what happened when volcanologists and geneticists looking at very different sets of data both inferred that something really big happened approximately 75,000 years ago. 

For Dr. Michael Rampino and other earth scientists, it was ocean cores that pointed to a sudden 10-degree drop in ocean temperatures 75,000 years ago. As he told PBS' NOVA, "At the time I thought, 'There's something wrong here, this isn't normal. This isn't the way climate usually works.' It usually works on a much slower, more steady basis."

For population geneticists, it was DNA evidence of a population bottleneck about the same time. The evidence seemed to be pointing towards a catastrophic event that greatly reduced human population around the world: perhaps as much as 97-99 percent.

Put the two disciplines together and you get the Toba Catastrophe Theory.  

What is a "Toba"? Toba is (not was, is) a supervolcano on the island of Sumatra. All volcanoes are rated on something called the Volcanic Explosivity Index, or VEI. For our purposes, all you need to know is that the index runs from 0 to 8; Mt. St. Helens, which ejected approximately one cubic kilometer of material, rates a five; and the index is logarithmic, i.e., each whole number represents a 10-fold increase in material ejected. Thus, Mt. Pinatubo, a VEI 6, ejected 10 times more material than Mt. St. Helens. A VEI 7 would eject 100 times more and a VEI 8, a.k.a. a supervolcano, 1000 times more.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Supervolcanoes, or ’Run, Yogi and Boo Boo, Run!’" »

Who’s outraged now?

There is something decidedly disingenuous about proclaiming yourself outraged at the bonuses given to AIG employees when your own political campaign took contributions from the corporation even after the first bailout. If certain Washingtonians (see ABC's partial list here) don't cough up that money, I suggest they stay mum about the whole AIG debacle or we may have to add them to the Captain Louis Renault Award nomination list.

The Point Radio: What's the Alternative?

Not much cash to spend?...

Click play above to listen.

Judith Schwartz, “Alternative Currencies Grow in Popularity,” Time, 14 December 2008.

March 18, 2009

Daily roundup

’Just don’t kill the baby’

Bristol Tripp Pastor/blogger Rob Harrison has the best analysis I've seen of evangelicals' response to Bristol Palin, and to unwed pregnancy in general. It's so good I wish I could repost the whole thing, but I'll settle for a couple of excerpts.

I'm reluctant to give props to David Frum, who looks more like a giant wooden horse every time I see his byline, but he did a much better job than [Jon] Swift on this issue in an article he wrote six months ago for Canada's National Post.  He opened his piece in a manner Swift would no doubt approve—"Whoever imagined that we would see a Republican convention rapturously applaud an unwed teen mother?"—but then went on to actually think about what that really meant, and what it really tells us:

That moment confirmed a dramatic evolution in American politics: the transformation of the pro-life movement from an unambiguously conservative force into something more complex. . . .

The pro-life movement has come to terms with the sexual revolution. So long as unwed parenthood is considered disgraceful, many unwed mothers will choose abortion to escape disgrace. And so, step by step, the pro-life movement has evolved to an accepting—even welcoming—attitude toward pregnancy outside marriage.

As I wrote about Frum's article at the time, though I think "welcoming" is an overstatement,

Frum has captured and crystallized something of which I was aware—in my own attitudes and approach to ministry, no less than in the lives of others—but which I hadn't consciously thought about. Put simply, when pro-life concerns cross with the concern for other issues, the tie goes to the baby.

The truth is, Frum is (if you'll excuse the pun) dead right on this subject.  Sure, time was that conservative Christians in this country stigmatized teen pregnancy and disapproved of it as hard as we could; and then folks started pointing out that we weren't really discouraging teenagers from getting pregnant—all we were doing was driving them into the ungentle hands of the abortion industry.  Collectively, we took a look at ourselves and realized that the critics were right; and over time, we by and large decided that we could live with teenage pregnancy and teen single motherhood—just don't kill the baby.

That's the message on which most evangelicals in America have settled, when it comes to kids like Bristol Palin:  just don't kill the baby, and we'll do what we can to support you and help you out.  Why else have we started crisis pregnancy centers all over the place?  We didn't have a utopian choice here, we had the choice of two evils; we stared it dead in the face, thought about it for a while, and picked the lesser one.  This is the bargain we made, and I believe it's done more to reduce the abortion rate in this country than any government policy, even as it's boosted the rate of illegitimacy.

Continue reading "’Just don’t kill the baby’" »

We’re Hardwired for Religion, Scientists Say

Brain In an article titled, "Born believers: How your brain creates God," writer Michael Brooks says that while there is scientific evidence that humans are "hard-wired" for religion, many scientists say it's just a by-product of child development. A belief in God, we're told, is merely the brain's security blanket. 

One creepy aside: In trying to make his point that contrary to the evidence, God is not really there, Brooks writes, "adults often form and maintain relationships with dead relatives..." In a 2005 Harris Poll, 21 percent of Americans believe in reincarnation. 

Reincarnation isn't new, and Westerners certainly don't have a corner on the market. What's interesting is that Westerners have made it a positive event: Instead of going from higher to lower life forms to pay for sins until one reaches Nirvana, the formula is reversed--lower to higher.  

Thankfully, in orthodox Christianity, time is linear and our sins are paid for through the atoning blood of Christ, the second person in the Trinity. 

(Image © Morphonix)

Eve of Destruction: Asteroids, Meteors and Comets, Oh My!

Jupiter_showing_SL9_impact_sites I've previously told our gentle readers about the threat posed by Apophis, an asteroid scheduled to get uncomfortably close to Earth on Friday, April the Thirteenth, 2029. There's a one in 45,000 chance that Apophis will pass through a gravitational keyhole that will alter its orbit in such a way that exactly seven years later it will return and this time strike the Earth, thus putting into motion the long-frustrated subjugation of the Tauri by the System Lords. (Yes, I am a nerd: I own all ten seasons of Stargate SG-1 and "Ark of Truth" on DVD plus "Continuum" and the original film on Blu-Ray.)

Apophis isn't a potential planet-killer, merely a severe planet messer-upper that, as far as we know, poses the most immediate threat to Earth.The best-known planet-killer is the asteroid at the end of the Cretaceous, which is thought to have caused the mass extinction known as the K-T Event. (I say "thought" because, contrary to what you may have been led to believe, there are plenty of dissenters from the "an asteroid killed the dinosaurs" theory. Bob Bakker, among others, has raised some substantial objections to the theory, citing, among other things, the lack of actual dinosaur fossils in the K-T boundary. In his opinion, the asteroid didn't commit mass murder, more like desecrated a graveyard.)

I probably don't need to describe the consequences of, say, a 10-kilometer asteroid or comet hitting the Earth. You've seen Armageddon and/or Deep Impact. Let's just say it would be bad. Not quite as bad on the "Eve of Destruction" scale as wandering black holes or gamma ray bursts, but really bad nonetheless. (My favorite is the Discovery Network's Supercomet: After the Impact, a "docudrama" that features a panel of talking heads, one of whom, described as an expert on psychological responses to disasters, tells us that in the wake of a comet striking the Earth, people would feel "disoriented." Wow.)

Instead, let me take this opportunity to sing the praises of an unsung hero without whom life as we know it would be impossible. Since time immemorial, this hero has protected everyone and everything on this planet, often absorbing horrific damage that otherwise might be inflected on us. And we've never said so much as "thank you."

Gentle readers, give it up for Jupiter.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Asteroids, Meteors and Comets, Oh My!" »

Mr. Rains, if you’ll do the honors . . .

From Mark Hemingway in The Corner, quoting Politico:

For the past two years, several hundred left-leaning bloggers, political reporters, magazine writers, policy wonks and academics have talked stories and compared notes in an off-the-record online meeting space called JournoList. . . .

I've been hearing rumblings about this for a while, and I'm glad Politico finally did a story on it. Basically, "mainstream" journalists from The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, Politico, and many others chat all day on a list-serv with liberal activists and journalists. 

Accoring to New Republic editor John Judis, "There is probably general agreement on the stupidity of today’s GOP," on the list. From a few conversations I've had with some people in the know about the list, that's something of an understatement. While members of the list such as Jeffrey Toobin insist the list isn't "pushing an agenda," why are there no conservatives participating? The article sure doesn't list any. Even though just about every staffer at The Nation, The New Republic, The American Prospect, etc. is on the list, I'm on pretty good terms with just about everyone at NR, The Weekly Standard, and The American Spectator and I know of no one who participates. (Nor is [there] any similar list-serv on the right.) Have any conservatives even been asked?

Further, one of the most valuable currencies in Washington is access to the press. The article notes that many stories have started on or been shaped by JournoList. If you're a liberal blogger or activist, you can now push your story on the highest echelons of journalism with a quick email. If you're a mainstream journalist, is it really ethical that you don't give the opposing view equal access?

There's really only one response to all this.

How the Really Rich Have Suffered

Gates You know you're rich when you can lose $18 billion and still be called the richest man in the world. Or $25 billion and be the 2nd richest.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett can attest to that statement, as can the rest of the billionaires on this list, who suffered greatly last year. Their numbers have shrunk from 1,125 to only 793 today, with overall net worth dropping by $2 trillion. Times are tough indeed.

However, I don't think anyone on that list will be clipping coupons or looking for 2-for-1 dinners at Applebees any time soon.

(Image © Kevin P. Casey for the AP)

But he looks so normal

Tchividjian The Associated Press's coverage of Tullian Tchividjian's appointment to succeed D. James Kennedy shows just how stereotyped Christians are by the media. After proclaiming that Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham, could be a "softening" influence on Coral Ridge Presbyterian, the writer seems quite puzzled to discover that the new young pastor actually believes the same things Kennedy did. After all, "his hair is spiky, his beard sometimes scruffy, his skin tan."

I guess he missed the seminary class on "How to Look Like a Proper Evangelical."

(Image © AP)

The Point Radio: Whatever It Takes

You push them to succeed. Will they do whatever it takes?...

Click play above to listen.

American Teens Lie, Steal and Cheat at Alarming Rates,” Breitbart.com, December 2008.

Dan Sabbagh, “Average Teenager’s IPod Has 800 Illegal Tracks,” Times (UK), 16 June 2008.

March 17, 2009

Daily roundup

It’s good to be the king

Kings_1_article_story_main On Sunday night, NBC premiered its new drama Kings, a modern retelling of the biblical story of Saul and David. Series creator Michael Green, a yeshiva school graduate, talks about the inspiration for the show in this interview. To my mind, the concept of the show was superior to the execution in several ways.

The biblical parallels are clear -- sometimes blatantly so -- and if the show gets more people reading the Bible to be able to spot them, that's a good thing. And there are some profound and complex insights about human nature, power, and corruption.

Where Kings departs from precedent, the results are sometimes beneficial, sometimes not. They've gone with the tired old trope about Jonathan, here called Jack, being gay (proving C. S. Lewis prescient yet again), and protests about Jack's characterization are coming from some unexpected quarters. You know you've wandered into the Twilight Zone when a gay publication criticizes a TV show for not sticking closely to the Bible. Then again, scenes where the king dictates his own version of events -- sometimes directly the opposite of the truth -- to his secretary suggest that maybe the Bible's own authenticity is being called into question.

At times the show was overly talky, the dialogue stilted, and the pace aggravatingly slow, but there were also some genuinely moving and thought-provoking scenes. My favorite was the chilling moment in which Reverend Samuels (get it?) informed King Silas that God had withdrawn His favor from him. Kings earned mixed reviews and relatively low ratings, so whether the show will get a chance to fix some of its flaws is currently up in the air.

If you saw the premiere of Kings, what did you think?

(Image © NBC)

’Unwind’ and the imagination

Unwind As I was looking at one of my favorite book blogs recently, my eye was caught by this review of Unwind by Neal Shusterman.

Generations from now, after the Heartland War, life is protected from the moment of conception until age thirteen.  Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, the parents or guardians of the now-teenaged child have the option to "unwind" -- to retroactively abort -- him or her.  If the parents choose to do so, the teen is sent to a harvesting facility where their body is taken apart and reused. . . .

Unwind was outstanding.  Really freaking outstanding.

I was impressed by, well, everything.  It deals with abortion without ever ever ever feeling preachy -- I didn't once feel that Neal Shusterman revealed his opinion on the issue.  It was action-packed and exciting (I read the last few chapters with my heart in my throat) yet that there was so much to think about -- the characters have conversations about the soul, whether it exists and where it is, and about when life begins.  There are things that can be interpreted in different ways -- some people will attribute those events to science whereas some may attribute the same events to something less tangible. 

The three major characters have distinct personalities, and the character development (especially of the two boys) is very well done and the secondary characters never blend together or into the background.  The unwinding scene is as stomach-turning as anything I've ever read by Stephen King, but without being graphic or gory.  While exploring different visions of our future world, I look for a couple of things beyond the future-stuff:  to see enough of the familiar to make it still seem like our world and to see how our language and stories have evolved.  In Unwind, I found both.

Continue reading "’Unwind’ and the imagination" »

The United States of Me

Remember the classic elementary school short story about "The Man Without a Country?" Well, this guy took things a step further, claiming that he is his own country. I have a feeling the traffic court judge isn't going to accept that argument.

As my brother, who sent me the link, pointed out, this is what happens when we believe truth is relative.

Eve of Destruction: Gamma Ray Bursts

SN2006X-060214_small On February 18, 2006, Swift, a NASA telescope, detected what was later designated as Supernova 2006X. I'll let Gregg Easterbrook continue with the story:

Coded GRB 060218, this star detonation began as a gamma-ray burst that lasted 33 minutes -- absolutely stunning because previous gamma-ray bursts from space have lasted a few seconds at the most. The gamma rays came from 470 million light-years away. That was discomfiting because strong gamma-ray bursts usually emanate from what astronomers call the "deep field," billions of light-years distant and thus billions of years back in the past. A distance of 470 million light-years means the GRB 060218 supernova happened 470 million years ago. That is ancient by human reckoning, but many cosmologists had been assuming the kind of extremely massive detonations thought to cause strong gamma-ray busts occurred only in the misty eons immediately after the Big Bang. The working assumption was that since life appeared on Earth, there had been no stellar mega-explosion. Now we know there has.

For several days as the giant dying star GRB 060218 collapsed, this single supernova shined brighter than all 100 billion other suns in its galaxy combined. The detonation was so inexpressibly luminous that, though 470 million light-years distant, it could be seen by telescopes on Earth. And not just fancy telescopes at the tops of mountains: A few days after the Swift satellite detected the gamma-ray surge, an amateur astronomer in the Netherlands sighted the forming supernova through a backyard telescope. The stellar coordinates hit the Web -- it was at RA: 03:21:39.71 Dec: +16:52:02.6 -- and soon amateur astronomers the world over were marveling at the glistening beacon from the cosmic past. This explosion released so much energy that it happened 470 million years ago yet the light could travel for that protracted period, plus pass through the gas and dust of roughly a hundred galaxies along the way, and still illuminate mirrors of backyard telescopes on Earth.

If you're thinking "so what?" then here's the bottom line: "had GRB 060218 happened in our galaxy, life on Earth would have ended Feb. 18 [2006]." 

To understand why, check out the gamma ray burst entry at Wikipedia and the NASA Swift link above. Go ahead. I'll wait . . . .

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Gamma Ray Bursts" »

’As We Forgive’ Q&A, part 2: REACHing for forgiveness

We've gotten a little behind (this installment went up last week), but here's the second part of Mary DeMuth's six-part Q&A with Catherine about As We Forgive.

DeMuth: On page 91 of As We Forgive, you describe Dr. Everett Worthington’s path to forgiveness. What is the acronym he created?

Larson: Dr. Worthington, one of the world's leading researchers on forgiveness (his work is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation) uses the acronym REACH to talk about the forgiveness process.

The R is for recall the pain. He says that we need to go back and remember the event, remember what happened and allow ourselves to feel that pain. I would add here that when peace, or shalom is broken, that there is a righteousness to our anger and grief. If we didn't feel those emotions, there would be something broken in us. The evils done to us are "not the way [it's] supposed to be" to quote Plantinga's Breviary of Sin. But [it's] what we do with those emotions.

The next step, E, is empathizing with the offender. This doesn't mean excusing or condoning what that person did. It does mean thinking through the wrong from that person's perspective, trying to feel with that person, even imagining the circumstances, events, and emotions that led that person to that place.

The third part, A, is Altruistic gift of forgiveness. At some point, you extend the gift of forgiveness. I like that he uses the word "gift" to describe forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift--one of the costliest gifts any of us ever offers.

The next letter, C, stands for Commit publicly to forgive. Worthington believes that a public commitment to forgiveness helps us when we come back and doubt ourselves. Committing publicly makes us not only more accountable, but also makes this act of the will tied to a specific time and place in our minds.

And finally, the H is for holding on to forgiveness. So many times when you hear people talk about forgiveness it sounds like this one time act that you do. I suppose in some cases that's true, but in many cases fresh memories or pain is going to resurface and we're going to have hold on to that [commitment] we made to forgive. That's one reason I often talk about forgiveness as a journey.

Read more.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind to myself today
The strong virtue of the Invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the Unity
The Creator of the Universe.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the Incarnation of Christ with His Baptism,
The virtue of His crucifixion with His burial,
The virtue of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
The virtue of His coming on the Judgement Day.

I bind to myself today
The virtue of the love of seraphim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the hope of resurrection unto reward,
In prayers of Patriarchs,
In predictions of Prophets,
In preaching of Apostles,
In faith of Confessors,
In purity of holy Virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

Continue reading "St. Patrick’s Breastplate" »

The Point Radio: Forgiving the Unforgivable

Is there someone you just can't seem to forgive?...

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Order Catherine Larson's As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, or learn more about the book at Catherine's blog.

March 16, 2009

Daily roundup

Distraction Games with Human Life

(Ed. note: Please join us in welcoming Billy to The Point! His bio will be up on the Contributors page shortly. --GRD)

A few more thoughts on President Obama's Executive Order lifting the ban on embryonic stem cell research:

Beyond the fact that this is morally wrong, it is a strange time to bring about such a bill. Congress is supposedly hard at work saving the economy from ruin. Then why is it also pushing to create controversial legislation opening up research opportunities that will take years to produce any sort of advancement? Obama himself claims that the promised cures will come about from “painstaking and costly research.” This is nothing more than a political ploy by liberal leaders to push their ideology on our country while we are all clinging to hope that the economy will turn around. 

President Obama also said, “Some of our best scientists leave for other countries that will sponsor their work. And those countries may surge ahead of ours in the advances that transform our lives." He seems to be placing ethics and morality aside so we can claim scientific advances that trump human rights. 

Continue reading "Distraction Games with Human Life" »

Top 10 Reasons to Go to Church

Church1914 Bill Shuler, the pastor of the Capital Life Church in Arlington, Virginia, posted the following on the Fox Forum:

1. It’s a way to get a healthy glow without makeup.

2. Elvis started out in a church choir … so can you.

3. Goodness and mercy will follow you all the rest of your life–which are better than the IRS or FBI.

4. In this economy, it might be good to be hooked up with Someone who can turn water into wine. . . .

Read the rest here!

(Image © FourthChurch.org)

Eve of Destruction: Wandering Black Holes

STDoomsDay Having expressed my disregard for the apocalyptic fear-mongering many Christians seem to enjoy, I feel that I would be remiss if I didn't share with you, my gentle readers, things that really would bring the party to an end.

Using ABC/History Channel's Last Days on Earth as a guide, I'd like to introduce you to Eve of Destruction, or "How we're all gonna die!" 

Number one is Wandering Black Holes. It's bad enough that there really are regions of space with gravitational fields so powerful that not even light can escape -- it's obscene that some of these regions are on the move like the Doomsday Machine in Star Trek.

Obscene or not, that seems to be the case: according to Michio Kaku, since 2000 we've had "conclusive evidence that there are wandering black holes -- nomads, renegades -- right next to us in our own backyard of a galaxy."

And while the "probability of a black hole heading straight toward Earth and swallowing us whole is highly unlikely," those kinds of odds haven't stopped other people, including previous administrations, from treating them as virtual certainties, so you should know what's at stake.

Continue reading "Eve of Destruction: Wandering Black Holes " »

RE: The Coming Evangelical Collapse

If you followed the links in Gina's post, you may have decided that MIchael Spencer’s predictions are overly apocalyptic -- like this:

Within two generations, evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its occupants...This collapse will herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian West. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile toward evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good. Millions of Evangelicals will quit. Thousands of ministries will end. Christian media will be reduced, if not eliminated. Many Christian schools will go into rapid decline. I'm convinced the grace and mission of God will reach to the ends of the earth. But the end of evangelicalism as we know it is close.

But if current trends hold, there are, no doubt, troubling times ahead for Christians (but haven't there always been!).

According to a recent survey referenced here (CNN has more), the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christians is 75 percent, down from 86 percent in 1990. Perhaps more disturbing is that the only result found consistent from state to state is “an increase in the number of people expressing no religious affiliation.” With the increased social acceptability of “having no religion,” this is a trend that will prove challenging to reverse.

Spencer lists seven things foreshadowing the coming evangelical breakdown, the most significant, in my mind, being, “We Evangelicals have failed to pass on to our young people an orthodox form of faith that can take root and survive the secular onslaught. Ironically, the billions of dollars we've spent on youth ministers, Christian music, publishing, and media has produced a culture of young Christians who know next to nothing about their own faith except how they feel about it. Our young people have deep beliefs about the culture war, but do not know why they should obey scripture, the essentials of theology, or the experience of spiritual discipline and community. Coming generations of Christians are going to be monumentally ignorant and unprepared for culture-wide pressures.”

Continue reading "RE: The Coming Evangelical Collapse" »

The Point Radio: Never Too Young

You're never too young to make a difference...

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Teens to March Against Meth,” Associated Press, 16 February 2009.

March 13, 2009

The Terri Schiavo Story

Terri Has anyone heard any buzz yet about this documentary from Joni and Friends?

(Image © Joni and Friends)

’Slumdog’ Defies Oscar Norms

Slumdog-millionaire6 How did Jamal Malik, a slumdog from Mumbai, win 20 million rupees on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

A. He cheated
B. He’s lucky
C. He’s a genius
D. It is destiny

In a swirling explosion of triumphant hope and relentless love against the darkness of poverty, exploitation and violence…that question is answered.

(Spoilers after the jump)

Continue reading "’Slumdog’ Defies Oscar Norms" »

Quote for the Day

Here's a little something for contemplation.

We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.

— Calvin Coolidge

The Paradise War

The Paradise War I've been on a Celtic kick of late, reading a couple of T.M. Moore's books on St. Patrick and Celtic Christianity, as well as re-reading Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. However, a new-to-me find in a related fictional vein is Stephen Lawhead's The Paradise War (the first book in The Song of Albion trilogy). I've not finished it yet, but I'm already enthralled by Lawhead's story and, most definitely, his prose style. How can I, an English teacher, not love passages like this? The main character, Lewis, is describing what it's like to listen to a bard tell tales of Albion:

She sang their loves and hates, their striving and peacemaking, their glorious feats and pathetic failures, their wisdom and folly, their wondrous lives and miserable deaths, their towering great goodness and their shocking evil, their mercies and cruelties and triumphs and defeats, and the eternal verity of the endless cycle of their lives. She sang, and the length, breadth, height, and depth of human life passed before me. When Gwenllian sang, I knew what it was to be human....To hear [her] sing was to enter a waking dream of such power that time and the elements faded away....When Gwenllian sang, those who heard tasted of a higher life.

I suppose it is fitting that an author would capture so perfectly what it means to read and experience stories. Are there are any other Lawhead fans out there, especially those who have finished the Albion trilogy? If so, weigh in with your thoughts about why you like his works.

(Image © Thomas Nelson)

Documentary by a Former Jihadist

Tawfik_hamid1 Rick Santorum alerts readers to a new documentary by a former jihadist, Tawfick Hamid, about why Muslims should reject violent teachings. 

In the Wall Street Journal, Hamid also speaks out against the recent actions of the British government to ban Geert Wilders from their country because of his truth-filled moive, in a quest to appease Islamic forces. Hamid warns us that they made egregious errors against free speech in trying to "kill the messenger."  

(Image courtesy of Intelligence Speakers Bureau)

’The coming evangelical collapse’

This dire prediction has been making the rounds for a few days now, in two slightly different forms (here's the original blog post). It keeps popping up in e-mails, Facebook pages, and pretty much everywhere else I look. What do you think of it? A likely event, or a fate that's preventable?

The Point Radio: Foul Shot

Why are these fans booing?...

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