Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Trilemma

A trilemma is a series of three statements that provide a logical framework in which to evaluate a claim. In order for it to be useful, any underlying assumptions must be accepted, and the three statements must be independent and mutually exclusive enough to cover all possibilities. Finally, only one of the three can be true.

As a computer system administrator, I have been, unknowingly, familiar with trilemmas for many years. Software programmers are notorious for glacial progress in delivering the product. The following is the software programmer's humorous response to questions of when will be ready
  • I can do it quickly
  • I can do it cheaply
  • I can do it right.
Pick any two.

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, offered a trilemma in response to those who claim Jesus was a great moral teacher, but not the Son of God.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: "I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God." That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

Mere Christianity -- Book 2, Chapter 3
To summarize:

Assuming that Jesus, in fact, claimed to be the Son of God, there are three possibilities:
  • He was not, and he knew it, therefore he was lying.
  • He was not, but he sincerely thought he was, therefore he was delusional.
  • He was who He said He was -- The Son of God.
The underlying assumption -- that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God -- is the point at which the trilemma stands or falls. If one rejects the testimony of Scripture, then using the trilemma is probably an exercise in futility. On the other hand, if someone is on the verge of faith, or is wavering in faith, but also is disposed to accept the Scriptures, then this is a useful way to help them think it through.

This isn't the only time Lewis employed a trilemma. In The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, Peter and Susan are discussing their concerns about Lucy with the Professor. The Professor questions them about Lucy's general truthfulness compared with Edmund's reputation for unreliability, and says this:
"There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth."

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, chapter 5
Of course, the Professor did not need to convince himself that Lucy was truthful, as subsequent books in the Chronicles of Narnia make clear. But in this case it had the effect of causing Peter and Susan to take a step back and think about the ramifications of disbelieving their youngest sibling -- who had never before given them cause to doubt her word. Were they, themselves, convinced? Not yet. Ultimately, like Jesus' disciple Thomas, Peter and Susan had to see in order to believe.

Lewis' Trilemma may not be useful in all situation, but is IS a good response to the "Jesus was nothing more than a great moral teacher" belief of many who otherwise reject the idea that God became Man. It seems reasonable to make it a part of our apologetics framework and to use it when appropriate.

For further reading:

Friday, December 30, 2005

Religious following for cyber sermons

Religious following for cyber sermons

"SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Even the faithful miss church occasionally, but these days they do not have to miss the sermon -- they can download it to their play lists.

Cyber sermons are catching on with a religious audience who are on the run, torn between worship and work...."

"...Podcasts are essentially talk radio for your digital audio player, available on the Web for download, and cover content from politics to comedy to children's stories.

Religion appears to be the fastest growing segment of the podcast community, and Patchett believes this is based on word of mouth...."

There are a couple churches here in Columbia, MO that already provide podcasts of church services, and more than a few people are talking about it.

This may grow by leaps and bounds. Many churches in the past have provided cassette tapes (or cds) of services, so this is a natural evolutionary step.

Being a computer professional, I rate this high on the "geek index", but I value face-to-face interactions as well.

Have web browsing, email, blogging and podcasts really enhanced our fellowship?

I can see both sides of this issue. I have renewed old acquantances (directly and indirectly) via blogging activities, and I find email to be invaluable in communication with the members of the Mission Committee of my congregation. The information that is available on the World Wide Web is staggering and, with discretion and discernment, can be a liberating thing.

On the other hand, will podcasts, websites, and blogs reduce the fellowship that comes from sharing worship, sacraments, Christian education, and meals?

I suppose it boils down to how people use these tools. And one thing seems intuitive: People are being reached who otherwise might not be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Boundless-The Screwtape E-Mails

Boundless-The Screwtape E-Mails:
TO: "
RE: re: help

So you have finally come to ask me for help! I knew it was just a matter of time. Frankly, I'm surprised at how well you have done so far with your subject. I read her entire file with interest, but next time you really must remember to send it in Word format I can't tell you how annoying it is to read around all those little "&nsp" characters and such...."

I was reviewing my ever-increasing bookmarks, trying to organize them in a coherent way, and I came across this. It appeared in 2001, and is a humorous speculation of how C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters might appear if Screwtape used email to communicate with his minions.

The original was a much darker work than this parody, but a lot of the point gets across.

Many people don't believe that Satan exists, and I have to admit that, while I accept that there is evil in this world, and that it is supernatural, it is not something I think about a whole lot. It does remind me of something the French mathematician Blaise Pascal thought about concerning God.

Pascal's famous wager went something like this:

I can believe in God or I can disbelieve in God. What are the consequences of each?

  • The best I can hope for is eternal life.
  • The worst that can happen is that I live, I die, I simply cease to exist.
  • The best I can hope for is that I was correct and I didn't waste any time on faith and other trivial pursuits.
  • The worst that can happen is that I was wrong, and now have to deal with the consequences...
Therefore, it is in my best interest to believe in God, and to live my life accordingly.

Now, let's turn this around and mull over the consequences of believing (or not believing) that there is a personified evil in the world.

By believing that there is an evil in the world that tries to separate us from God, we can exercise vigilance and hopefully recognize the choices we see before us as leading us toward or away from God. At this point, then, we can choose, whether it be the right choice or not...

By not believing in the existence of Satan, Wormwood, or whatever name is applied to personified evil in our world, we have a lessened ability to evaluate the choices we face every day, and we are left with seeing moral equivalence between many of the alternative paths we take.

Enjoy The Screwtape Emails, but also consider reading The Screwtape Letters if you haven't already done so. It provides much food for thought.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Amy Welborn on Christmas

Amy Welborn on Christmas (National Review Online):
A Sword Will Pierce Your Heart
The dark side of Christmas.

By Amy Wellborn

"About a year ago, my husband and I traveled across the chilly cornfields of Indiana to the frigid cornfields of Ohio to have our younger son baptized.

It was not quite, but almost, spur of the moment. A bishop, an old friend of my husband's, would be visiting his mother for a few days after Christmas, and yes, he could certainly squeeze a baptism in. The parish church was available, the bishop's sister and mother would be witnesses, and there you have it: insta-baptism.

Perfect timing. A baptism is a happy occasion centered on a baby. Christmas is another happy time centered on a baby, and a fine opportunity to focus ourselves on the vaunted Real Meaning of Christmas. Babies, love, and family. Comfort, joy, and peace.

But perhaps not so fast...."

Today is the "Feast of Stephen" (as in 'Good King Wenseslas went out on the Feast of Stephen'). In the British English-speaking world it is known as Boxing Day. The origin of the name is a matter of controversy, but all the explanations I have heard revolve around service or gifts to the poor.

It is also the commemoration of the martyrdom of Stephen, the deacon. This office was established by the Apostles as a means of seeing that charitable offerings were equitably distributed among those in the early Christian community who needed assistance.

Amy Welborn, who blogs at "open book", writes about the "dark side" of Christmas, beginning with the Nativity. Jesus came into a world that was set against him for the start. It was necessary for Mary and Joseph to flee the country not long after the birth of Jesus. Herod was made aware inadvertently, by the magi, of the birth of of a child accompanied by such portents that they left their homes and travelled to see this child, who they believed was destined to rule. Simeon, who recognized Jesus as the one for whom he awaited, said this to Mary: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35) This disturbing prophesy was close on the heels of Simeon's exclamations of praise that he had lived to see the arrival of the one who would be "a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:32)

Herod's paranoid attempt to eliminate any potential threat to his throne is linked forever with the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is celebrated on December 28 -- the day the Welborn's son was baptized.

Amy Welborn closes with as clear a statement of the meaning of Christmas that I have seen. The fight over whether people should be able to wish people "Merry Christmas" is insignificant by comparison to what actually happened, and is still happening to those who choose light over darkness:
"...Glad tidings of comfort and joy, and Merry Christmas indeed. But without awareness of the risk of discipleship, and the reality that the baby in the manger ends up hanging on a cross, those words have about as little power to change the world as "Happy Holidays."
Amen, and may we all be reminded on this day that acts of service to others are as if we did them for Jesus Christ himself.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Word Became Flesh

Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jn 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Jn 1:6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

Jn 1:10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Jn 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

-- John 1:1-14, New International Version

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Teach, Don't Preach, the Bible - New York Times

Teach, Don't Preach, the Bible - New York Times:
"YESTERDAY'S ruling by a federal judge that "intelligent design" cannot be taught in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district has the potential to put the teaching of the Bible back where it belongs in our schools: not in the science laboratory, but in its proper historical and literary context. An elective, nonsectarian high school Bible class would allow students to explore one of the most influential books of all time and would do so in a manner that clearly falls within Supreme Court rulings...."

This may be a solution to the long-standing conflict over whether the Bible can be taught as literature, or even be mentioned in relation to other areas of learning. I cannot imagine how American history could be taught without reference to the religious motivations of many of the people who emigrated from Europe. Certainly the contributions of the Presbyterians to our type of government cannot be ignored. The myriad of Scriptural allusions in literature of all eras provide a dimension that would be lost if the Bible were ignored in the curriculum.

When the Bible is taught in our churches, I prefer that those doing the teaching at least believe that it is the Word of God. My personal approach to the Bible is that I presume it to mean what it says, unless my study causes me to think otherwise. It is, after all, one of the key underpinnings of the Reformation.

When the Bible is taught in the public schools, though, it is entirely appropriate to keep such discussions neutral so all can come to their own conclusions unfettered by the biases that affect all of us. This is difficult to acheive, and there have been failures in the past to present balance, but this should not prevent educators from trying.

Bruce Feiler points out in this NYTimes Op-Ed piece that the extremists on either side are the ones who define the debate to the public, via the media. It is up to the center to join the debate with examples that counter the far right and far left.

Beau Weston over at the Gruntled Center has adopted the theme of "Principled Centrism". It would be worthwhile to read his articles, especially those linked on the sidebar under the heading "A GC Manifesto".

My biggest fear is that the battle between the extremes on this and other issues will ultimately turm people away from the Presbyterian Church. If there is a "winner" in all of this, what will they have won? The rubble of a once great denomination? An infrastructure that costs far more to maintain that the base can support?

We will have lost our historic witness to the nation and the world.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Dazed by Disasters - Christianity Today Magazine

Dazed by Disasters - Christianity Today Magazine:

"A woman and her daughter were inside the government-run eye clinic in Battgram, Pakistan, when the ground suddenly began to shake. Running outside to safety, the mother turned and urged her girl to hurry. But it was too late. Before the child could escape, the building collapsed. The clinic is now just a heap of corrugated metal and concrete, in which the girl's lifeless body is entombed.

There are countless stories like this in the heavily Muslim Kashmir region of Pakistan, where more than 73,000 people perished and 100,000 were injured when an earthquake struck on October 8. Tens of thousands of more lives are at risk, and at least 3 million people have been made homeless.

Yet after a brief burst of coverage, the media have moved on to other topics. Many American Christians apparently have, too. "Some people probably are becoming numb to these tragedies," Richard Stearns of World Vision told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. "What we call 'compassion fatigue' may be setting in...."

From my corner of the Universe, it seems the church has more staying power than the media, whose attention can shift rapidly. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has an ongoing program to meet needs in this country and worldwide.

This editorial acknowledges that Christians have met the call since the hurricane season of 2004, the tsunami that devastated southeast Asia in the last week of 2004, on through the hurricanes of 2005 and the earthquake in Pakistan. Aid workers in Pakistan believe the response has not been at quite the level of earlier giving. This editorial suggests "Yes, charity may begin at home. But for globally minded Christians, it shouldn't stay there."

Two suggestions are made in the editorial:

(1) Budget for disasters. We have had two severe hurricane seasons, and meteorologists suggest that we are beginning a cycle of increasing risks (it has happened before).

(2) Work to reduce risks. The 2000 lives lost resulting from Hurricane Stan in the Yucatan was due more to inadequate construction than to the force of the winds and rain. The same holds true for the earthquake in Pakistan. A program of helping people construct more sturdy homes or to improve agriculture might allow them to mitigate the forces of nature that can be so devastating in their countries.

We Presbyterians are (justifiably) proud of our Self Development of People program which celebrated its 35th anniversary this year. The philosophy of this program is to let people determine their own development, rather than be dependent on handouts that deal with symptoms rather than causes. It would be good stewardship to use our considerable resources to help people reduce devastation before the storms arrive.

Monday, December 19, 2005

“… and on earth, peace"

“… and on earth, peace" (Presbyterian Outlook, free registration required):
"So we know that the Scriptures are inspired by God and are authoritative for the church’s faith and life. Does that mean that the words in Scripture uttered by angels are just as inspired as those spoken by God or humans? Do their words carry clout, or can we dismiss them as being platitudes? Getting specific, what’s to be made of the angels’ song to the shepherds, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…” (Luke 2:14a)? If the chief end of humans is to glorify God, then the first line of the angelic song sounds substantive. What about the second line, the one that sings the promise of “peace?”

Granted, modern translators differ as to who should receive the peace promise. Is peace to be experienced by “all people?” Is it intended for “all people of good will?” Or is it being offered only to “those on whom God’s favor rests?” What’s for sure is that the peace is to be experienced by many, including at least all recipients of God’s saving grace. It may be intended, as suggested in other biblical passages, for all persons created by God. Indeed, given the plan for the wolf to lie down with the lamb, it appears that God promises peace for all creation.

What about that peace? Holiday carols sing its melody. Christmas cards echo its refrain. But do we really want it?..."

Jack Haberer, the newly installed editor of Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required to read the full articles) asks the question "But do we really want [peace]?" He then goes on to make a cogent case that we DO want peace -- even those who look at issues from different perspectives.

The General Assembly in 2004 urged divestment from Israel and this action caused an immediate response from Jewish organizations who are understandibly sensitive to attacks, both military and rhetorical. It also resulted in what Haberer calls an "angry backlash" from persons within the PC(USA) who wanted to see the Palestinian acts of violence condemned in equal proportion. Haberer points out the both sides "yearn to see peace among those conflicted peoples", and differ only on methods of approach.

The 2004 action, if I understand the path toward implementation correctly, cannot take effect before the 2006 General Assembly, although research and recommendations have taken place. In addition, there have been conversations among Presbyterians in local congregations and presbyteries. The wild card in all of this is that each general Assembly consists of a new slate of commissioners, who can, and often do, overturn or modify previous GA actions.

These actions are symbolic. Caterpillar (which does NOT manufacture armor-plated bulldozers; that is put on by a third party) will sell its stock to others and will no doubt continue to show an ever-growing bottom line. The symbolism is, on one hand, an expression of displeasure with the way Israel responds to terrorist attacks on its citizens. On the other hand, we are symbolically assigning blame for the conflict. The PC(USA) is perceived as beng less than even-handed in dealing with the problem. Having read the news releases from PNS and the Washington Office, I see both sides being criticized, but not in a balanced way.

The criticism of the anti-Israeli factions seems almost like an afterthought, and the impression I get is that our demoninational stand is that Israel is the primary offender in all of this. I cannot accept that. Our credibility would be greatly enhanced if, when we condemn Israel for bulldozing the homes of suicide bombers, we condemn in equal terms the hate for the Jews that drives this terror against Israelis. Peace can never be a reality in Israel and Palestine while hate is taught to succeeding generations.

Haberer's point is that with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, both sides of the debate are seeking the same outcome, just as those who want immediate withdrawal from Iraq are seeking the same goals as those who feel that we can only leave when Iraq is stable, and democracy is working.

He suggests that we consider halting our internal conficts over how to achieve our goals of peace and "cooperate with God in helping them come to pass"


Friday, December 16, 2005

Scandal for Cloning Embryos: 'A Tragic Turn' for Science - New York Times

Scandal for Cloning Embryos: 'A Tragic Turn' for Science - New York Times:
"Last May, a stunning research paper in Science, one of the world's most respected scientific journals, instantly changed the tenor of the debate over cloning human embryos and extracting their stem cells. A team of South Korean scientists reported in the paper that they had figured out how to do this work so efficiently that the great hope of researchers and patients - to obtain stem cells that were an exact match of a patient's - seemed easily within sight.

But that rosy future has been cast into doubt with the statement last month by Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, who led the team that wrote the paper, that it contained fabricated evidence. Questions have also been raised about earlier research and a new debate has begun.

Scientists and ethicists caution that the full story is not in, but they are staggered by how the research has unraveled so far...."

Well, the NY Times has picked this up, and while they quote scientists who urge caution, it appears that the paper in Science is going to be withdrawn due to academic fraud.

This underscores the need for continuing research in the use of umbilical and adult stem cells, which has shown promising results lately. See earlier blog entries on November 2, October 11, and October 3 for further information and links to the original articles.

PM - Shock as scientist allegedly confesses to faking research

The following is a transcript of the first few moments of an ABC Australia newscast. Follow the link for the entire report. It appears that the story that aired on NPR's Morning Edition earlier this week is taking on a potentially devastating turn with other researchers being sucked into the web.

PM - Shock as scientist allegedly confesses to faking research:
"MARK COLVIN: The world of genetic science is in shock after a highly regarded South Korean researcher allegedly admitted to colleagues that he faked results on a key stem cell study.

Pictures of Dr Hwang Woo-suk with his genetically engineered dog Snuppy were flashed around the world earlier this year.

In South Korea, which has been positioning itself as a hub for biotechnology, he's been hailed as a hero.

But after Dr Hwang reportedly told colleagues that he'd fabricated earlier research into "tailor-made" human stem cells, biotech stocks in Seoul plunged and the South Korean President immediately called an emergency cabinet meeting...."

I'll await further word before I consider making any more comments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Belief in the balance

Belief in the balance:

"Tom Phillips is a cell biologist. So when his 3-year-old son developed a life-threatening case of pneumonia, he knew exactly what was happening inside the boy's body. He had an intimate understanding of how antibiotics would attack the bacteria trying to kill his child. But that was hardly comforting.

"I wasn't thinking about the medicines that were going to save his life," Phillips said. "I was saying prayers."

Like many Americans, Phillips, a practicing Catholic and biology professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, only feels complete with a life that allows room for both science and faith. He sees no need to reconcile his knowledge and his belief...."

This is a local story to Columbia MO, so it is unlikely that readers outside the Mid-Missouri area have seen it.

This is one of the most balanced pieces I have read on the topic of science and religion and has none of the vitriol and little of the condescension that often characterizes discussion of the relationship between theory and theology.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Perspectives on the Christian Peacemaking Teams

Mollie Ziegler at "Get Religion" makes a much needed point during this time of uncertainty regarding the CPT hostages in Iraq:

GetReligion: December 12, 2005:
"...The Christian Peacemakers require its corps members to be “deeply grounded in Christian faith.” So you have a group of peace activists who may have already lost their lives because of their interpretation of the Bible. Leaving apart the possible merit or naivete in their political understanding, why aren’t reporters teaching us more about their Quaker-infused theology?..."

The Saturday deadline is nearly 48 hours in the past and there is is still no word as to their fate.

As Ziegler points out, there is no consensus among Christians as to whether wars can ever be justified, but there is no serious question as to what motivates the CPT. Yet to read the news stories about this, the closest they seem to come to suggesting a motive is simply reporting the name of the organization.

CPT has an informative website and goes into detail into why they do what they do. The qualifications to be a part of the corps are sufficient to weed out the people who might want to try it out because it's just too cool:

"...Team members are selected to represent a range of ages, skills, life experiences, and ethnic backgrounds. CPT seeks applicants who are:
  • at least 21 years of age
  • deeply grounded in Christian faith
  • committed to peacemaking
  • experienced in nonviolent direct action
  • adequately free from responsibilities in order to move into life-threatening situations on short notice
  • willing to commit to three years of service
Members may also have special skills or significant experience in a particular cross-cultural setting...."

Whether you agree or disagree with their stance, their rhetoric, or their methods, these people are truly committed to the Lord and are in need of our prayers.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Chronicles of Narnia -- The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

My wife, son and I went to the 1:00 pm matinee (cheaper tickets, usually fewer people). After a few glitches with the audio, the movie unfolded. I won't spend any time reviewing it in this post, other than to recommend it highly.

Two suggestions: (1) hit the bathroom during the previews; and (2) don't be in too big a hurry to leave the theater when the ending credits start to roll.

Enjoy it.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Disney film renews interest in Lewis

Disney film renews interest in Lewis:
"LOS ANGELES — When 8-year-old Douglas Gresham met C.S. Lewis, the man who would be his stepfather, he was disappointed. The American boy expected the British author of The Chronicles of Narnia fantasy books “to be wearing silver armor and carrying a sword with a jeweled pommel.”

Instead, the person he encountered “was a stooped, balding, professorial-looking gentleman in shabby clothes, with long, nicotine-stained fingers,” Gresham, now 59, recalled in a phone call from his home in Ireland...."

Well, today's the day, and the PC(USA) has weighed in with a PNS news release.

A quick look at the Yahoo Movies web site reveals that the critics give it a "B" and the viewers give it a "B+".

No one in my family really wants to deal with the opening day crowds, so we will just have to wait for a day or two to form any kind of an informed opinion.

The PNS news release makes note of some of the controversies surrounding C.S. Lewis and the themes that are evident in The Chronicles of Narnia, but quotes Gresham as saying this:
“If you want to remember him,” Gresham said, “remember him as a man with all the foibles and difficulties and dark times in his life that men have ... not as some kind of plaster saint. He wasn’t like that at all. He was a man of great humor, great warmth. He was a fun bloke to be around...."

“People should not be trying to remember C.S. Lewis at all,” he said. “They should be trying to remember the Jesus Christ whom he represented and whom he preached.”

This is fantasy literature, wrtten in a way that has nearly universal appeal. I hope it doesn't get ruined by adults who forget what it was like when they were children.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Iraq peacemakers await word on hostages' fate

Iraq peacemakers await word on hostages' fate:
"LOUISVILLE — As the Christian Peacemaking Team (CPT) in Baghdad awaits news about the release — or executions — of four of its team members held hostage for 11 days, former team members in the United States are reflecting on what it means to love one’s enemy.

Even if it kills you...."

An Associated Press update from yesterday reported the deadline, originally today, had been extended to Saturday. The situation is still very tense, with a video being broadcast of one of the hostages pleading for his life.

I know of no one who fails to see this as a barbaric and unwarranted act, and most people are bewildered as to just what is going through the minds of the captors. In this PNS article a Presbyterian member of the Baghdad CPT team said "When we learned of the demands, we were fairly astonished. Our work is working with detainees and advocating (for) detainees … with human-rights organizations."

The problem is that logic appears to play little role in the violence perpetrated upon people who otherwise are opposed to the war in Iraq. CPT has issued a statement condemning the "our own governments" for their actions in Iraq, and asking for the release of the hostages.

This CPT statement may work, but I am not hopeful. The terrorists have killed at least one humanitarian worker in the past. The four CPT hostages are in God's hands, and prayers are their hope -- prayers not only for them, but for all the parties involved in the continuing situation in Iraq.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Narnia's lion really is Jesus - Sunday Times - Times Online

Narnia's lion really is Jesus - Sunday Times - Times Online:
The letter, written from Magdalene College, Cambridge, where Lewis was a don, contradicts this. [the idea that there is no religious content] “Supposing there really was a world like Narnia . . . and supposing Christ wanted to go into that world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?” he wrote.

“The stories are my answer. Since Narnia is a world of talking beasts, I thought he would become a talking beast there as he became a man here. I pictured him becoming a lion there because a) the lion is supposed to be the king of beasts; b) Christ is called ‘the lion of Judah’ in the Bible.”

In light of the current efforts to get The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe removed from the grade school reading list in Florida, this revelation might help fan the flames. I hope not, but I suspect that the controversy is far from over.

Children have read and loved the Chronicles of Narnia, and not all of them have realized that there is an underlying message. The themes of betrayal, redemption, courage, commitment, self-sacrifice, and good overcoming evil are ones that few people can speak against -- and these themes are explicitly treated in the Chronicles.

What is not very explicit is the parallel between Christ's redemption of the world and Aslan's care and love for Narnia. The closest the Chronicles come to "spelling it out" is when Lucy, having been told that she would not be able to return to Narnia, asks Aslan how she will remember him. Aslan's answer was that he WAS in her world, but under a different name. Lucy would have to learn to know him by that name.

The letter, which will be published in 2006, sheds a great deal of light light on what was going through Lewis' mind as he wrote these stories. He did not, however, write in such a way that only Christian children could read and appreciate the stories; the stories have been read and loved by children of diverse religions.

These are stories that children can love and that their parents can also read and enjoy. I first read the entire Chronicles after I turned 50 (I had read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and parts of The Magician's Nephew when I was in my 20s. I was brought up in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord" and that laid the ground for my continued growth, and I was able to see the underlying meaning of the Narnia books.

I regret not having taken the opportunity to read The Chronicles of Narnia as a child -- It would have been nice to experience this as a child, with a child's wonder.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kirkpatrick on capital punishment

Kirkpatrick on capital punishment:
"LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), issued a statement on capital punishment on Dec. 2, shortly after the death of the 1,000th person executed in the United States since 1976.

Kirkpatrick, noting that the PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations “have long been opposed to capital punishment,”said: “Capital punishment is wrong because it is impossible to know that a person who has murdered can never be redeemed or restored. As a matter of faith and faithfulness, this possibility must be left open for every human being.”

The statement was mailed to the governors of all states that still have capital punishment...."

Follow the above link to read the full text of Kirkpatrick's letter.

My feelings on capital punishment have evolved over the past 35 years from full support as a college freshman in 1970, to starting to have doubts in the mid-1980s, to believing that it is morally indefensible in any circumstances.

I do not use the rhetoric of some who say it is murder -- murder is defined as the unlawful taking of a human life. It is, however, killing, and I tend not to use euphemisms to describe it. By the same reasoning neither can abortion be called murder.

I do not always agree with what Kirkpatrick says (or what he has leaves unsaid), but here he says what needs to be said, and I am thankful for his witness.

Friday, December 02, 2005 - University cancels creationism class - Dec 2, 2005 - University cancels creationism class - Dec 2, 2005:
"TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) -- A University of Kansas course devoted to debunking creationism and intelligent design has been canceled after the professor who planned to teach it caused a furor by sending an e-mail mocking Christian fundamentalists...."

I mentioned this situation a couple days ago. Apparently apologies did little to reassure the University of Kansas that this course could be taught fairly in view of the actions of the teacher.

It's too bad, since this could have been an occaision for fruitful debate -- and while I am not in favor of teaching ID as science, I think that there is potential for dialog -- but first each side must acknowledge that a diversity of opinion exists, and respect it and each other.

Bioethics in Narnia? - Christianity Today Magazine

Bioethics in Narnia? - Christianity Today Magazine:

Nigel M. de S. Cameron writes:
"When I interviewed Leon Kass for Christianity Today on his appointment to chair the President's Council on Bioethics back in 2002, I asked why he got into bioethics. One reason he gave was a short and stunning essay by C. S. Lewis.

As the world awaits the Narnia movie, and Lewis's extraordinary work receives the acclaim of a fresh generation, nothing demonstrates his genius like that little essay with the strange title, The Abolition of Man. It runs to just over a dozen pages. Not only are they the most profound pages he ever wrote, they may also be the most significant pages written by any writer of the 20th century. They are certainly the most relevant to the technological challenges of the 21st century...."

Nigel M. de S. Cameron notes that C.S. Lewis was "way ahead of the curve" when it came to reflecting on how the modern world could ultimately affect the human race. In The Abolition of Man Lewis started with "...three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive." (Note that during World War II, the wireless was radio, the aeroplanes were taking on a more military role, and contraception was fairly new on the scene. )

Lewis continued with an analysis of how science can be used well or used destructively. He suggested that the final "victory" of Man over Nature might place power into a ever-dwindling number of hands:

"The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man's conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man's side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well aas stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man's conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho' and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?..."

-- The Abolition of Man (1943), Chapter 3

At the time of Lewis' essay, the atomic bomb had not yet fallen on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the structure of DNA was still unknown, genetic engineering was done the old-fashi0ned way (one hybrid cross at a time), cell phones were not a reality, computers were in their infancy and personal computing was unknown, the rapid dissemination of information (truth or lies) via the Web could not be predicted, supersonic "aeroplanes" were not anywhere to be seen (or heard), and space travel was only a theme of some science fiction writers.

It would be interesting to see what Lewis' reactions would be to OUR modern world. Yet in reading the essay I see Lewis asking questions that people are still asking or perhaps more accurately, should be asking.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Intelligent Design: Kansas Prof. Apologizes for E-Mail - Yahoo! News

Kansas Prof. Apologizes for E-Mail - Yahoo! News:
"LAWRENCE, Kan. - A University of Kansas religion professor apologized for an e-mail that referred to religious conservatives as "fundies" and said a course describing intelligent design as mythology would be a "nice slap in their big fat face."

In a written apology Monday, Paul Mirecki, chairman of the university's Religious Studies Department, said he would teach the planned class 'as a serious academic subject and in an manner that respects all points of view.'..."
I am not a big proponent of teaching ID as if it were a scientific theory. Any system of belief that resorts ultimately to an untestable assertion is not science.

Having said that, it is extremely harmful to honest debate when a professor starts off with ridiculing opposing points of view in addition to trash-talking their adherents. Even with an apology, it calls into question whether or not this professor can truly accept differing points of view, especially when they flow from faith in God.

Read the whole article for additional information.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Now or never in Darfur

Eric Reeves, an english professor at Smith College, has written a provocative article in The New Republic Online (registration required):

Now or never in Darfur:
"What will happen after humanitarian organizations leave Darfur? The question grows more relevant daily. For much of 2004, humanitarian groups ramped up their operations in Darfur. These efforts temporarily blocked the genocidal aims of the Sudanese government from coming to full fruition. Throughout 2003 and 2004, government-backed militias terrorized Darfur's African tribal populations, evicting them from their villages and cutting them off from their livelihoods. Many ended up in refugee camps, where only the efforts of humanitarian groups have allowed them to stay alive. Sudan's leaders would like nothing more than to see these groups leave the country, so that disease and malnutrition can finish the work the militias started three years ago...."
With all the crises that develop worldwide, it is easy to get overwhelmed by it all. Apathy has killed people in every time and every place. How many Jews might have been spared had the Allies not ignored or scoffed at news filtering out of the Third Reich during the 1930s? How much suffering could have been alleviated in the former Yugoslavia had the world been willing to act earlier? More recently in Africa, the world saw a horrible genocide in Rwanda and did little to stop it. Now in the Darfur region of Sudan, the events unfolding bring a sense of familiarity.

The UN removed "nonessential" staff last month, as did some humanitarian organizations, due to attacks on aid workers. The janjaweed militias are becomong bolder in their attacks, and many organizations feel they cannot act in safety. The Sudanese staff will remain behind, but without the eyes and ears of the international community in Sudan, they may be in danger.

The resources that aid workers count on are dwindling, due to what Eric Reeves calls "donor fatigue". The future of the Darfur region may well depend on Christians not succumbing to fatigue or despair.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Return Home and the Civil War in Southwest Missouri

We have returned from a nice visit with my folks in Houston. As is our preferred schedule, we did about two-thirds of the driving the first day, and and coasted into Columbia the second day.

As we left our overnight stop in Joplin, Missouri, I glanced down at the instrument panel and noted that we were about at 1/8 tank. We got off the interstate at Carthage and filled up.

Carthage was the site of another Civil War battle on July 5, 1861 involving the Missouri State Guard under General Price Governor Claiborne Jackson, and Federal units under Colonel Franz Sigel who had been dispatched by General Nathaniel Lyon to cut off the retreat of State Guard forces following the battle at Boonville on June 17, 1861. After Boonville, the Missouri State Guard retreated quickly to the southwest and arrived ahead of Sigel's federal troops at a point north of Carthage. Sigel attacked, apparently unaware that he was seriously outnumbered, and the Missouri State Guard ran them through Carthage. Sigel and his men got out of the way, and headed back to Springfield where the rest of the Union forces in the area were gathered. Price, later joined by CSA General McCulloch, headed for northern Arkansas, which was his original objective. As battles go, the casualties were relatively light -- 44 Union, 74 Missouri State Guard -- but these forces would meet again in a month at Wilson's Creek as the Missouri State Guard attempted to position themselves to retake Springfield.

As mentioned before, Wilson's Creek, was a loss for the Union, but the Confederates were weakened. The Union troops withdrew from Springfield, moving closer to Rolla and the railhead, and the Missouri State Guard, for the moment, occupied Springfield. By the end of October, Price, having won several victories, including a major one at Lexington, Missouri, withdrew to Neosho at the approach of additional Union forces. Governor Claiborne Jackson and about 10% of the Missouri State Legislature (far from a quorum) met in Neosho on November 3, and passed an act of secession. By late December, Price had been forced into Arkansas along with the secessionist government (which never actually exercised any civil authority in Missouri) and settled in to prepare for further operations in Missouri, which would finally be thwarted at Pea Ridge in early March of 1862.

There were numerous battles and skirmishes in Missouri and the West, including some of the bloodiest of the early stages of the Civil War. Overall, the war's effects fell disproportionately on the South, and cost measured in civilian suffering was enormous.

As we enter Advent 2005, I want to present a familiar hymn of the season, but with two verses of the original poem that are not ordinarily sung. These verses, four and five in the original seven, lead into the verse beginning with "Then in despair I bowed my head." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words in 1864 at a particularly dark time during the war:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Longfellow wrote this as a poem rather than a hymn, but it has established itself as one of the best-loved Christmas carols. The complete words are on the Cyber Hymnal website, along with more than 5400 other hymns, many of which have historical information along with the words.

Friday, November 25, 2005

One Child at a Time - Christianity Today Magazine

One Child at a Time - Christianity Today Magazine:
"...Envision a wagon wheel with six spokes. The hub represents abject, unrelenting, bone-grinding poverty. These people live in the garbage dumps of Caracas and Cairo and Calcutta, clutching their stomachs in hunger, shivering in the rain.

The outer rim of the wheel represents the opposite. By the way, the opposite of poor is not rich. The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It's "enough." "Enough" indicates the condition of wholeness, adequacy, and having one's needs met.

How do we move people from the hub to the rim? One spoke, yes, is economics—money. But equally important are the other spokes: health, education, the environment, sociopolitical justice, and spiritual life. If Christians are serious about overcoming poverty, then churches must care about each spoke. Poverty requires a multifaceted response..."
The author of this piece knows poverty in an intimate way, having grown up in West Africa, where his parents were missionaries. He has continued in that field, spending time in Haiti, where the conditions are as bad as any worldwide.

He makes a complelling case for not just sending money, but dealing constructively with all aspects of poverty. He speaks of the corrosive effects of poverty on the mindset of the victims -- they think of themselves as locked into their situation and there is nothing they can do about it.

I would also add to it the fatalism of well-meaning Christians who ask "What can we possibly do about it. The problem is too big."

A spiritual battle needs to be waged, and the Church is equipped to provide spiritual hope as well as helping to meet the more temporal needs. Wess Stafford has given us a provocative call to work on all aspects of poverty, especially the spiritual damage that poverty causes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Interviews: Dennis Quaid - Christianity Today Movies

Interviews: Dennis Quaid - Christianity Today Movies:
"Few actors have had as versatile a career, or have matured as well, as Dennis Quaid. Born in Houston in 1954, he rose to stardom in the 1980s with roles as diverse as a real-life astronaut (The Right Stuff), a New Orleans homicide detective (The Big Easy), a test pilot who is miniaturized and injected into Martin Short's body (Innerspace), an aging football jock (Everybody's All-American), and of course Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire!)...."

"...Quaid spoke to Christianity Today Movies in Los Angeles—first in a private interview, then at a roundtable with several other reporters. The following is an edited transcript from both of those conversations...."
I have not seen very many of the Dennis Quaid films, but those I have seen have been quite enjoyable. Innerspace, The Rookie, and The Right Stuff were all quite well done, in my opinion.

One film not mentioned, Enemy Mine, is perhaps my favorite. In this film Quaid plays a space fighter pilot who ends up marooned on a planet along with his alien adversary. They end up teaming up in order to survive, and it is Quaid's character that has the farthest to go in terms of overcoming hate and prejudice. One particularly moving scene is when the alien teaches Quaid to read and understand the book that he reads regularly. Quaid's development into one who cares not only for himself and his allies, but also his enemies, is portrayed well in this film.

Quaid tells of his Baptist upbringing and how some of his spirituality involves meditation learned in India. He justifies this effectively by pointing out that Jesus went out alone to be alone with God. Quaid says he is a seeker, and it seems that he is looking in the right places.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Texas Renaissance Faire

On Sunday, Susan, Liam, and I arrived at the Texas Renaissance Faire a little before noon -- hungry and ready for some food. My first choice, haggis, was not to be had, which I thought was odd considering all the kilts in evidence. So I fell back to my usual renfest fare -- a smoked turkey leg. It was delicious, although I had a challenge keeping my camera out of the way of drippings. My wife had a "Scottish Egg", which was a hardboiled egg encased in sausage. The drinks were outrageously expensive, so I drank sparingly.

My parents met us at the gate, dressed in their period attire. I suppose Liam and I could have dressed in our mountain man attire, but though the cut of the shirts would have been appropriate, the gingham print would not have been. Besides, the flintlock rifle might have raised a few eyebrows...

The music was great. My youngest brother is a regular musician at this and other fairs, and it had been a few years since I had seen him in his native habitat. Liam was thrilled to see him in action again (it had been at least ten years since he'd seen him in Florida). I enjoyed his performance as well as that of a medieval group called Instanpitta.

The costuming ranged from street clothes, to meticulously researched attire, and most possibilities in between. Not all of it was historically accurate, but most of it was highly entertaining.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sucking the Church dry

Sucking the Church dry:
"Some years ago John Burgess wrote an essay for The Christian Century in which he described the drain on the ordinary life of the PC(USA) by coalitions with “reform” agendas for the denomination. To whichever coalition or covenant group you belonged, the dedication and resources with which you once strengthened the church for mission, service, and witness, now went into lobbies that were hungry for power, for theological dominance, or for political control. Burgess’ article was written in the ‘90s. Has anyone calculated the hundreds of thousands of dollars which, since then, have been contributed to the Covenant Network, the Presbyterian Coalition, PFR, and the Confessing Church movement, and the like – in staff salaries, speakers’ fees, and travel for conferences, phone bills, office equipment, and the like? If those sums of money were prudently managed and spent, they might eliminate AIDS in a medium-sized African nation...."
Mr. Sparks makes a good point here and I hope we can not only see his point as it applies to other peoples agendas, but as it applies to our own agendas as well.

Whatever one may think of the recommendations of the Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, they learned how to gather around the Lord's Table together, and modelled for the rest of the PC(USA) how Christians who differ can act as a community.

Read Benjamin Sparks' editorial in its entirety -- it will give considerable food for thought.

Pea Ridge -- March 6-8, 1862

When we left Wilson's Creek we headed for Arkansas, following a route that was often identified as "Old Wire Road." This was a road running from St. Louis to Fort Smith Arkansas and was called "Telegraph Road" at the time of the Civil War.

In late 1861 President Lincoln appointed General Henry W. Halleck commander of the Department of the Missouri. Halleck took on the immediate task of eliminating General Price and his Missouri State Guard as a threat to Union control in Missouri, thus reducing the need for a large contingent of Federal forces, which were needed further to the east.

Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis was appointed commander of the Army of the Southwest, and ordered to immediately engage the Confederate forces that remained in Missouri and northern Arkansas. The supply line for this winter offensive was a bit longer than comfortable, so he appointed a quartermaster, Captain Philip Sheridan, who would go on to gain recognition in later battles.

In the meantime, Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, having become aware of the feud between Generals Price and McCulloch, appointed Major General Earl van Dorn commander of the Department of the Trans Mississippi. Generals Price and McCulloch were placed under van Dorn's command, and took their orders from van Dorn.

In the Fall of 1861, a meeting of about 10% of the Missouri Legislature had passed articles of seccession. As far as the Confederate government in Richmond, Virginia was concerned, Missouri was now a part of the Confederacy. The problem with this is that the meeting was held about as far away from Jefferson City as could be, without being in Arkansas; the action was not taken with anything near a quorum; and the "government" quickly became a government in exile as it moved to Arkansas.

General Curtis began his offensive with alacrity, and the remaining Confederate forces removed themselves to Arkansas, comprising an army of about 16,000. In early March of 1862 this force, having left its main body of supplies near Fayetteville, marched quickly north on Telegraph Road, intending to capture St. Louis and gain Missouri for the Confederacy.

General Curtis and his 10,500 soldiers of the Army of the Southwest were dug into positions south of Pea Ridge, expecting an assault from the south. Instead, van Dorn bypassed the Union positions and moved his forces around to the north.

Van Dorn's troops had endured a three-day march in wintry weather, and were in no condition to fight effectively. McCulloch's regiments separated from the main force, and were to recombine near Elkhorn tavern, along Telegraph Road. General McCulloch, wearing his customary black uniform and riding a black horse, decided to reconnoiter alone, as he was wont to do. He told his men he would be back shortly and to await his orders. Those orders never came, as McCulloch passed too close to the Union lines and was shot. General James McIntosh was also killed, and a major part of the Confederate Army of the West was without leadership.

Price's units were doing far better and were able to hold Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph Road. The next day, General Curtis' artillery and troops retook the Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph Road and drove the Confederate forces back. By this point, General van Dorn's decision to have each man under his command take only 40 rounds of ammunition forced him to order a withdrawal. The Confederacy would never again mount an effective campaign in Missouri, and the Union was able to send troops to the east of the Mississippi River.

As with Wilson's Creek, the decisions made by the commanders were key to which army retreated. Had General van Dorn not left his main supply train 3 days to the south, his superior numbers might well have determined the outcome. Had McCulloch and McIntosh not been killed the first day and had they left standing orders, their thousands of men might have joined the battle in time to turn the tide. The Confederates relied on dispatch riders to pass messages. An alarming number of these disappeared without a trace. The Union commander, General Curtis, on the other hand, was able to communicate effectively with his forces, as well as telegraph St. Louis and receive answers in a timely manner.

The Confederates withdrew deep into Arkansas, where they were near their supply lines and in friendly territory. It would be some time before the Union gained control of the lower Mississippi, Arkansas, and White rivers, thus controlling the supply routes into Arkansas, and gaining the ability to neutralize the Trans-Mississippi West as an obstacle to the restoration of the Union.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wilson's Creek -- August 10, 1861

The three of us left at 4:30 in the afternoon on Friday the 18th, and stopped for dinner at the Lake of the Ozarks. When I went to take my evening medications, I realized that my pills were still in the medicine cabinet. I called my physician, and he called in the prescriptions to the local Walmart where I filled them. Problem solved, except for my faulty memory. Chalk it up to the rush to get on the road...

We stayed the night at Buffalo, MO and were at Wilson's Creek by 8:30 AM Saturday morning.

The battlefield is in pretty much the same condition as it was 143 years ago, and the interpretive signs along the loop drive described the terrain and troop movements. The main difference was that the battle was fought in August of 1861, and we were there in late fall so our view was not as obstructed as it would have been for the 17,000 soldiers that fought there August 10.

General Nathaniel Lyon of the Federal forces was, by some accounts, reckless in his decision to mount a sneak attack on the Confederate positions. Other accounts view this as good strategy based on the intended outcome, which was to keep the secessionist forces off guard and unable to function effectively in the southwest corner of Missouri, where they had been driven.

General Price and his 5,000 Missouri State Guard troops had joined with Ben McCulloch's 4,500 Confederate regulars in July of 1861, and were trying to maintain a hold on the southwest corner of Missouri. The were camped along Wilson's Creek, and their location was known to the Federal forces, whose force of about 6,000 men was garrisoned in Springfield. During July and early August the combined forces of Price and McCulloch totaled more than 12,000

The Southern commanders had planned a suprise attack on the Federals on August 9th, but called it off due to rain. Unlike the Union troops, with their leather cartridge boxes, the paper cartridges used by the Southern troops were carried in pockets or otherwise exposed to the elements. Inexplicably, the Confederate sentinels were not posted that night and there was no one to observe the Union movements that evening and early the next morning.

General Lyon decided to mount a surprise attack the morning of August 10, and in another fateful event, the two Southern generals were in a location that provided an "accoustic shadow". That the Confederate positions were under attack was not believed at first, wasting valuable time.

When Price and McCulloch were able to marshal their troops and give orders, the tide rapidly turned against the Union forces, and they retreated to Springfield, having inflicted about as many casualties on the Confederates as were inflicted upon them.

The Union supply line relied on the railroad delivering materiel to Rolla, the end of the railway heading toward Springfield. Well-maintained dirt and gravel roads were used to deliver the supplies to Springfield where the quartermaster allocated them to Union forces in the area.

The Confederates lived off the land, and were not able to stay in one place, since they had no supply lines through Missouri (The Union held the rivers, roads and railways). The Southern forces did not endear themselves to the local poplulace, which were not particularly sympathetic to the Southern cause in the first place, with their "requisitioning" of food, horses, and housing. The Union, for the most part, gave accounting for what they requisitioned. The war in southwest Missouri, as wars usually do, took a great economic toll on the local citizens, who were in the process of harvest.

All in all, the battle was a Southern victory, but in another fateful turn of events, Price and McCullough went their separate ways after a dispute. The regular army McCulloch considered Price nothing more than a political general leading a state militia (partially true, but a bit unfair, considering Price's record). Price had issues with General McCullough's plans and was unwilling to commit his troops to another's command.

Subsequently, when Price and his command were subsumed into the Confederacy, both Price and McCulloch were placed under another general's command, and they would serve together again seven months later at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Civil War in the West

This afternoon, when my son gets home from school, we will start heading south through Missouri and spend the night near Springfield. Saturday morning we will tour Wilson's Creek Battlefield, which was the second major battle of the Civil War. By all objective standards it was a loss for the Union, yet it was instrumental in preventing the Confederate-leaning Missouri State Guard under the command of General Sterling Price from taking enough key points to deliver Missouri into the Confederacy.

General Nathaniel Lyon, who was a captain at the outset of the war, mounted a suprise attack on August 10th 1861 with 5,400 men -- less than one-half the 12,000 men at General Price's disposal. Both sides lost over 1200 men apiece (including General Lyon), and the Union forces performed a rapid retreat, but the damage was done. Price and another commander chose to split their forces and the state of Missouri remained in the Union.

On March 6-8, 1862, about 80 miles away, another major battle involving over 26,000 combatants occurred at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. This was a clear Union victory, and pretty much ended the Confederacy's aspirations in the West.

One particularly interesting aspect of all this are the supply lines -- In Missouri, the Union controlled the big rivers -- the Missouri, Osage, and it's bank of the Mississippi. The railroad heading southwest stopped at Rolla (I-44 travels this corridor down toward Springfield today). The supply lines for the Union in Springfield were pretty long, but manageable. The supply lines toward Little Rock were several hundred miles long, thus the Union army spent a lot of time camping rather than fighting.

When one thinks of the key battles of the Civil War, the ones in the east come to mind, yet Missouri was the site of many bloody battles.

We will continue heading south toward Houston, TX after our visit to Pea Ridge. My boy will miss two days of school, but his language arts teacher will expect a journal of his visits to the battlefields, and other experiences along the way. Maybe he'll be interested in blogging...

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Presbyterian Outlook: 21st century mission: Shifting center, growing diversity

21st century mission: Shifting center, growing diversity:
"ATLANTA – With the center of Christianity shifting south in the 21st century, what can North American Christians learn from what’s happening in Africa, Asia and Latin America?

What are the implications of the new alignments – with pluralism and secularism increasing in Europe and the United States, while evangelical Christianity is booming in many places in the southern hemisphere?..."

It is somewhat disconcerting to think that we here in the USA are not the center of Christendom, but when we look at it more closely we can see good news (and Good News).

It is tempting to pat ourselves on the back and take credit for planting these churches and nurturing them, and seeing them grow. On further reflection, our Western world views and experiences do little to equip indigenous Christians with the spiritual tools to deal with the challenges that are a part of life in many southern hemisphere countries.

As Vic Pentz, senior pastor of Peachtree Church learned, "his view of mission shifted. Now he sees it as God’s work, ever surprising, not something of which he’s in charge."

With over half of the world's Christians living in the southern hemisphere, a figure that is on track to reach two-thirds by the year 2050, it is good to hear that we as a denomination are doing a little introspection. As a denomination that has suffered significant losses over the past 20 years, we need to discern God's direction for us and have the courage to follow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Commentaries: Redeeming Harry Potter - Christianity Today Movies

Commentaries: Redeeming Harry Potter - Christianity Today Movies:
Russ Breimeier writes:

"I was recently interviewed on live radio about current movies, and when asked which I was looking forward to the most, I rattled off a few of my obvious choices—including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which opens this week.

"Uh oh," said the host half-jokingly, "you've just lost half our audience." I was then asked to justify how a Christian could possibly accept and endorse a series of books and films that promotes the occult. Looking back on my fumbled response, I can't help but think of that verse in 1 Peter about being prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks...."
This is an interesting analysis of the evolution in attitudes toward the Harry Potter novels. There are themes running through the novels that seem to come from Christianity, such as the Griffin which was an ancient metaphor for Christ.

I have noted that Harry Potter is at his best when he recognizes that he is dependent on others, and not just on himself.

Mr Breimeier makes a clear distinction between "invocational magic" (the calling up of powers to serve one's selfish requirements), which is clearly prohibited in Scripture, and "incantational magic" which bears some resemblance to prayer.

The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter books all refer to "magic", and and all three recognize that it can be used for good or evil. And all present "teachable moments" with regard to how the good guys respond to evil.

But most of all, they are fun to read, and reflect (even Harry Potter) a world view that is actually quite close to Christian values.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On Abortion, It's the Bible of Ambiguity - New York Times

On Abortion, It's the Bible of Ambiguity - New York Times:
"Flip to the back of any of the fancy, leather-bound Bibles that are so common in evangelical churches these days, and chances are there is an index. Called a concordance, it offers a list of specific words mentioned in the Bible and where they are referenced in the text.

There a reader can find, for example, how many times Jesus talked about the poor (at least a dozen), or what the Apostle Paul wrote about grace (a lot). But those who turn to their concordance for guidance about abortion will not find the word at all...."
I'm not sure what to make of the phrase "fancy, leather-bound bibles", but for a well-used Bible, a plain leather binding wears a lot better than the best of the hard-cover editions, which is why so many Christians choose them. It certainly is not a defining characteristic of evangelical Churches.

What this article does correctly point out is that not every issue in modern life has a specific Bible passage that can be used as "definitive guidance."

In the issues of life (abortion, capital punishment and war) there are very few people that have a consistent position, yet the Bible has been used to support both sides of each issue.

Where the Bible is silent as far as specific guidance is concerned, we need to look at the totality of God's Word to determine how we believe and act:
"...According to Mr. VanGemeren and many other evangelical Bible scholars, no single passage in the Bible clearly supports the anti-abortion stance, but they argue that the broad narrative of the Bible, with its themes of creation, God's blessing on life and humanity bearing the image of God, speak against abortion...."
The problem, of course, is that different people understand Scripture in different ways, but they at least are starting from the right place. According to Michael Gorman, who is quoted in this article, "There's an impetus in the Bible toward the protection of the innocent, protection for the weak, respect for life, respect for God's creation."

Gorman hits it squarely. This is not a conservative/liberal dichotomy. Christians who read the Bible regularly and accept its authority cannot fail to overlook Micah's prophetic words:
Mic 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
I have used this passage many times in the three months this blog has been in existence, and I will, no doubt, use it again. It is one of the best descriptions of what an evangelical Christian is.

Friday, November 11, 2005 - Robertson warns Pennsylvania voters of God's wrath - Nov 10, 2005 - Robertson warns Pennsylvania voters of God's wrath - Nov 10, 2005:
"I'd like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don't turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city," Robertson said on his daily television show broadcast from Virginia, "The 700 Club."

This is troubling, coming from any Christian, let alone a spiritual leader with a national audience. It shows an abysmal lack of understanding of the nature of God, as revealed in the Old and New Testaments.

The underlying validity of Robertson's litmus test for Godliness aside, the entire history of God's people has been one of turning away from God, and being called back by God. God has put up with far more than this, and still calls us back into His presence, and to deny God's continuing love for all is to deny God.

Pat Robertson has a long and tragic history of intemperate remarks, and this is far tamer than, say, calling for the assassination of of a foreign head of state (no matter how objectionable that person may be) -- but such remarks only feed into the erroneous sterotypes that the media promote about evangelical Christianity.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Science and Religion Share Fascination in Things Unseen - New York Times

Science and Religion Share Fascination in Things Unseen - New York Times:
"Most of the current controversies associated with science revolve around the vastly different reactions people both within the scientific community and outside it have, not to the strange features of the universe that we can observe for ourselves, but rather to those features we cannot observe.

In my own field of physics, theorists hotly debate the possible existence of an underlying mathematical beauty associated with a host of new dimensions that may or may not exist in nature.

School boards, legislatures and evangelists hotly debate the possible existence of an underlying purpose to nature that similarly may or may not exist...."

An interesting essay...

I continue to believe that much of the tension between science and religion can be dissipated when the protagonists realize that there are different sources of authority between the two realms.

Science can no more prove that there is no God than Christians can prove that there IS a God. The atheistic point of view is most assuredly outside the realm of science (and logic) because you cannot prove a negative -- and this is why I have some issues with otherwise competent scientists who speak ex cathedra and declare that there is no God, and that such belief is dangerous.

On the other hand, faith in God is not subject to the sorts of observation and testing that characterize scientific research. We can infer God by looking at God's creation, by how lives are changed, by our sense of what is right and wrong, and by the sense of God's presence in our lives. We can look at history and note that people who were eye witnesses of Jesus' ministry on earth not only preached the Good News, but were willing to die for the sake of their faith.

But none of this is scientific proof. In the final analysis it is our faith and actions arising out of our faith that define us, not our ability to provide a rigorous scientific proof of God's existence.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Israeli dig uncovers oldest Christian church in Holy Land

PC(USA) News Release Number 05599 -- oldest church:
JERUSALEM — Israeli archaeologists digging near a prison have discovered the remains of what they believe could be the oldest church ever found in the Holy Land.

Experts say the discovery may shed new light on early Christianity.
The approximate date of this church is the third century A.D., and it contains a tantalizing clue to how the theology of the Lord's Table developed. In addition to mosaics with Christian symbolism, there is an inscription noting that a woman “donated this table to the God Jesus Christ in commemoration.”

If this church is as well-preserved as the inital excavation seems to indicate, it could yield up much more historically significant information as to what the early Church actually believed and practiced.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Disestablishing Distortions (Presbyterian Outlook)

Disestablishing Distortions:
"...Though our U.S. Constitution was produced by a congress consisting mostly of Christians, the first clause of the First Amendment prohibits the establishment of an official religion. The apparent irony goes deeper when we acknowledge the contributions of Christians in the formation of our government, beginning with the revolutionary war itself. This was something particularly true of Presbyterians. Historian Lefferts Loetscher said that the fires of the American Revolution were fanned from Presbyterian pulpits sufficient for the British to describe it as “the Presbyterian Rebellion.”

Whatever you may think of the disestablishment clause, the biblical wisdom and Reformed theological stamp that shaped our Constitution is unmistakable. James Madison, educated at Presbyterian Princeton where he was a student of John Witherspoon, was its principal author. Remembered as “The Father of the United States Constitution,” Madison helped produce what Lutheran historian Martin Marty has called “a thoroughly Calvinist document.” Marty claims that the Constitution supplies the checks and balances any Presbyterian would love, for the unspoken implication found throughout, “is the conviction that while humans have a great capability, self-interest would always turn them against the common good if left to themselves.”...

-- Willian L Hawkins in a sermon preached at New Hope Presbytery, October 2005
Benjamin Sparks, in this Presbyterian Outlook editorial, begins with Hawkins' sermon and makes a case for the Constitution, like the Bible, being a document that leads to the "Promotion of Social Righteousness." He identifies "religious arrogance" as being what the framers of the U. S. Constitution were hoping to keep out of government, but that reads into the First Amendment language that is not there:
" Amendment I: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."
Many feel that this establishes "freedom from religion", but it truth is establishes the right of every American to choose the manner in which they express their religion, or even not to express it at all.

The language issue is the most troubling:
"...What this historical review reveals is that the religious/political rhetoric to which we have been relentlessly subjected in recent years is neither Reformed nor Presbyterian. The “Christianity” that clamors to reclaim the vacant public square is often grounded in fantasies from apocalyptics and fundamentalists who exult in vengeance, rob the poor, and corrupt public life, even while they “starve the beast of government” to death. And they claim righteousness...."
Personally, I think Mr. Sparks is overreacting to a problem that is defined so subjectively that it should not be a basis for condemning other people. I know of no evangelical Christians who exult in vengeance or robbing the poor. Quite the contrary, people who take their faith seriously will "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" -- and these people are found across the spectrum of conservative to liberal Christians.

How Christians express themselves has often been a line of division in the Church. If fact, a few years ago there was discussion among some of the more liberal groups in the PC(USA) about how the "fundamentists" had coopted the language of faith, and that it was time to "take back the language". The result is that now both sides tend to use similar language in defining their positions.

Mr. Sparks has provided many thought-provoking editorials during his interim editorship, and this article is no exception -- even if it seems to condemn certain Christians a little unjustly.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Exploring a Parallel Universe - Christianity Today Magazine

Exploring a Parallel Universe - Christianity Today Magazine:
Why does the word evangelical threaten so many people in our culture?
"For almost ten years, I have participated in a book group comprising people who attended the University of Chicago. Mostly we read current novels, with a preference for those authors (Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, J. M. Coetzee) who have a connection with the school. The group includes a Marxist-leaning professor of philosophy, a childhood-development specialist, a pharmaceutical researcher, a neurologist, and an attorney...."

Philip Yancey writes about a problem that has been troubling me for a long time -- every since I realized that I was an "evangelical" Christian. Many people assume that Evangelical = Fundamentalist = Right Wing = Narrow-minded = Anti-intellectual = Hate.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but it still jars me when I see people withdraw into their shells of prejudice when they hear me characterize myself as evangelical, even when they know me and know that I do not meet their stereotypes.

This is all the more ironic when one looks at the Book of Confessions and sees that there is nothing in our core beliefs that is at odds with what most evangelicals believe. It is my contention that, on paper at least, the PC(USA) is squarely within the evangelical tradition.

Yancy relates some of his interchanges with members of his book group, and how difficult it is to correct misconceptions. In the examples he gives, sweeping statements are made by scholars, but when asked for concrete examples, they fall silent.

In his final analysis, he asks rhetorically whether it is good idea to spend the massive amount of effort required to change society's perceptions, especially when it distracts us from our primary mission.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Stem Selling: Korea to Traffic in Human Remains - Christianity Today Magazine

Stem Selling: Korea to Traffic in Human Remains - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Just when you thought it was safe to open your newspaper again, South Korea's infamous Dr. Woo Suk Hwang, the world's first human cloner, is taking his affront to human dignity to new heights. You will remember that this was the fellow who first obtained stem cells by cloning embryos and "disaggregating" them. Then he cloned the world's first dog. Then he came up with the preposterous idea that scientists should write their own ethics rules. And now he is planning to traffic human embryonic stem cells around the globe...."

This story raises all sorts of bioethical issues ranging from whether scientists will feel comfortable with using the research on which this is based as a platform for their own research to whether a decision to use the technology derived from this knowledge can be ethically made.

Many people whose opinions of stem cell research are nuanced may find themselves in a quandry with the idea of creating embryos, nurturing them to a particular stage, and then harvesting them for stem cells.

I hope that the recent hopeful reports describing how usable stem cells can be had without first fertilizing an ovum will make the harvest of human stem cells from developing embryos unneccessary.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Montreat: Preserving Southern church heritage deeply felt issue

Montreat: Preserving Southern church heritage deeply felt issue (Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required):
by Leslie Scanlon, Presbyterian Outlook national reporter

"For some folks, sitting on a rocking chair on a front porch in Montreat, N.C. calls back a lifetime of memories and connections. They hear in those hills the footsteps of Presbyterians from their own families and others they know and revere, saints of the church who served God in congregations throughout the southern United States and on mission assignments around the world.

What’s the value of someone being able to come to the archives at Montreat and find her grandmother’s name listed as a Sunday school teacher in the records of her childhood church?

It’s hard to know how to put a dollar value on that. What’s the right amount to pay to preserve such memories? When does that price become too much?

That bone-deep love for a place and a heritage is whipping up a storm in Montreat, where the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) has decided that, for economic reasons, for the sake of other priorities in the financially-struggling Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Montreat Historical Society should shut its doors...."

I am a product of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, a predecessor denomination of the PC(USA). I have grown to appreciate the PCUS as it and the UPCUSA joined together in 1983, healing a wound that had festered far too long.

As much as I am a Presbyterian, I also am a person who values history -- family, church, country, and world -- and to risk losing that history or making it inaccessible to the people who made it is a matter of great concern.

I can understand why many Presbyterians out of the PCUS tradition are upset at this proposed move, and I hope some way can be found to keep these priceless historical records in the place where much of the history took place.

Reformation 2005

As a teenager I was privileged to live in Germany for three years as a military dependent. Heidleberg was my home, and the Patrick Henry Village Chapel was my place of worship. Our choir director was German, and for special occasions, the chapel choir sang with the Hockenheim Evangelische Kirche choir in a combined group known as the Deutsche Amerikanische Kantorei.

One such occasion was the yearly observance of Reformation Sunday, held in the Protestant church in Worms, not far from Heidelberg. These services were conducted in English. In 1967 we helped celebrate the 450th anniversary of the 95 theses being nailed to the Wittenburg cathedral door.

The service was quite liturgical, and one part has stuck with me for nearly 40 years -- a setting of the 46th psalm to a hauntingly beautiful psalm tone. "A Mighty Fortress is our God", Luther's famous hymn based on Psalm 46 was also sung every year I participated.

So, in honor of the 488th anniversary of Luther's courageous call for debate, following is the Psalm that was so important to him:

For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

Ps 46:1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

Ps 46:2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

Ps 46:3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.


Ps 46:4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

Ps 46:5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Ps 46:6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

Ps 46:7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.


Ps 46:8 Come and see the works of the LORD,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.

Ps 46:9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields with fire.

Ps 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Ps 46:11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.