Friday, September 30, 2005

The Daniel of Religious Rights - Christianity Today Magazine

The Daniel of Religious Rights - Christianity Today Magazine:
"In the Longworth House office building on Capitol Hill, on an unusually warm April afternoon, Nina Shea is moving to the drumbeat of a southern Sudanese Shilluk tribal dance. The typically reserved, influential director of the Center for Religious Freedom (CRF) at Freedom House is with a broad coalition of clergy, congressional representatives, human-rights activists, and Sudanese war survivors. They are celebrating the January signing of Sudan's comprehensive North-South peace agreement.

Shea and the coalition she helped assemble have been pushing for agreement for more than a decade. The 22-year genocidal jihad waged by the ruling National Islamic Front against Sudan's predominantly Christian and animist South has ended. But Shea and others say they will not rest until peace is restored to Darfur, where a second genocide rages on...."

I posted a few days ago on an article on The Shame of Darfur, an article from First Things, that contrasted the quickness of Evangelicals to address Christian persecution with the relative lack of response to persecution of other religions. The current Christianity Today article shows that Christians ARE engaged in the issue of Darfur, if not to the extent that they should be.

Nina Shea's story is an interesting one. Her faith journey took her from a Catholic upbringing, to falling away from the Church, and back to a strong faith. Her activism on behalf of human rights began in high school and has continued to the present day. She worked for a while for the International League for Human Rights and traveled in Central America where she investigated human rights violations in El Salvador and Nicaragua. During what she called her "secular years", she encountered a double standard when she was pressured to suppress a report on Sandanista human rights violations. During this time of disillusionment with the Left, she grew spiritually, began to see the importance of the Church in areas of oppression, and grew to realize that the Church was being persecuted and that few people seemed to care.

A favorite Biblical passage for her is the story of Daniel in the lion's den -- where God sends an angel to close the mouths of the lions. That story and the parable of the Good Samaritan drives her to service to others, extending the love of Jesus to those in need regardless of whether they are Christians or not.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science - New York Times

Agreeing Only to Disagree on God's Place in Science - New York Times:
[free registration required]
"It was on the second day at Cambridge that enlightenment dawned in the form of a testy exchange between a zoologist and a paleontologist, Richard Dawkins and Simon Conway Morris. Their bone of contention was one that scholars have been gnawing on since the days of Aquinas: whether an understanding of the universe and its glories requires the hypothesis of a God...."

Of course scientific inquiry does not require a belief in God, but on the other hand, belief in God does not undermine a scientist's ability to conduct valid research.

This story describes a two-week meeting hosted by the John Templeton Foundation which is dedicated to "to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science." It presupposes that science and religion are synergistic, which raises questions as to how Richard Dawkins, an avowed atheist whose antipathy toward mixing science and faith is well-known, could participate effectively. The Templeton Prizes, by its own guidelines, are not awarded for "approaches that erect walls between religion and science and begin with the assumption that they should never have anything to do with each other."

The reporting of this conference leaves me with the impression that the conversations were fairly civil and productive. Even Dawkins, for the most part, laid aside his more intemperate opinions to engage in dialogue.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The Circle of Faith

Mike Kruse has an excellent post today titled "Polarity Management" in which he discusses ways to view issues using a 4-celled matrix. This model can help clarify how the positive and negative aspects of a polarizing issue can affect the dynamics of a group.

Mike writes:

"...The fact is that in most polarities, most of us tend to lean toward one pole or the other. We tend to be overly (if not exclusively) focused on the positive aspects of our preference and the negative aspects of the polar opposite. Throw together people leaning toward opposite poles and what too often happens is a power struggles to make one pole or the other prevail. The irony is that should either one win, they will likely kill the organization; just like valuing inhaling over exhaling..."

In other posts Mike has described a book that GAC was discussing called Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love by Eugene March, which seems to want extend the limits of belief to encompass as many people as possible. (Disclaimer -- I have not read the book, but am relying on reports by those who have). In any event, I am quite familiar with the concept of extending the boundaries, having spent many years trying to do just that, to the point where I was willing to accept just about any belief or even lack thereof as being equally valid. Over the past 30 years I have come to the realization that it DOES matter what I believe, and more to the point, how my beliefs are defined.

Reading Mike's post on Polarity Management brought out some things that I have been thinking about over the past few years that relate to the limits of our Christian Faith. I am not comfortable with "anything goes" as a paradigm for the Church, but neither am I comfortable with fellow Christians who can say with certainty that this person is clearly going to Hell while that person is clearly headed for Heaven.

A friend of mine uses a circle as a metaphor for describing the faith community. For those who need a quick refresher in geometry, a circle is defined by a central point and a radius.

If we acknowledge Jesus as the center, then the radius defines the limits of the Christian community for if there is an area defined by the center and the radius, then there must be an "inside" and an "outside."

Physicists recognize centrifugal force which tends to accelerate objects away from the center and centripetal force which draws objects toward the center.

Are we to be centrifugal Christians, pushing the boundaries? Or are we to be centripetal Christians, allowing ourselves to be drawn toward the center? I believe we should concern ourselves less with how wide our circle is and focus more on the center -- Jesus Christ -- who is calling us to come in closer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

FEMA Plans to Reimburse Faith Groups for Aid

FEMA Plans to Reimburse Faith Groups for Aid:
(free registration required; read the whole article)
"After weeks of prodding by Republican lawmakers and the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations that have opened their doors to provide shelter, food and supplies to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

FEMA officials said it would mark the first time that the government has made large-scale payments to religious groups for helping to cope with a domestic natural disaster.

"I believe it's appropriate for the federal government to assist the faith community because of the scale and scope of the effort and how long it's lasting," said Joe Becker, senior vice president for preparedness and response with the Red Cross.

Civil liberties groups called the decision a violation of the traditional boundary between church and state, accusing FEMA of trying to restore its battered reputation by playing to religious conservatives...."

This is one of those situations where you can't please everyone. It is instructive to note that the American Red Cross has been pushing for this. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have extended the Red Cross to the point where they have been asking the churches to house people rendered homeless on a much longer term than is usual:
"...Becker [senior vice president for preparedness and response, ARC] said he and his staff at the Red Cross also urged FEMA to allow reimbursement of religious groups. Ordinarily, Becker said, churches provide shelter for the first days after a disaster, then the Red Cross takes over. But in a storm season that has stretched every Red Cross shelter to the breaking point, church buildings must for the first time house evacuees indefinitely...."

The guidelines issued by FEMA limit such reimbursements to cases where the Red Cross has asked churches to provide housing where the Red Cross is stretched beyond its capability to provide shelter.

Even so, not all eligible churches intend to apply for reimbursement:
"Volunteer labor is just that: volunteer," said the Rev. Robert E. Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. "We would never ask the government to pay for it."

However individual congregations have compelling reasons to view the FEMA move as being attractive:
"...For some individual churches, however, reimbursement is very appealing. At Christus Victor Lutheran Church in Ocean Springs, Miss., as many as 200 evacuees and volunteer workers have been sleeping each night in the sanctuary and Sunday school classrooms. The church's entrance hall is a Red Cross reception area and medical clinic. As many as 400 people a day are eating in the fellowship hall.

Suzie Harvey, the parish administrator, said the church was asked by the Red Cross and local officials to serve as a shelter. The church's leadership agreed immediately, without anticipating that nearly a quarter of its 650 members would be rendered homeless and in no position to contribute funds. "This was just something we had to do," she said. "Later we realized we have no income coming in."

Harvey said the electric bill has skyrocketed, water is being used round-the-clock and there has been "20 years of wear on the carpet in one month." When FEMA makes money available, she said, the church definitely will apply...."

This seems reasonable. Many churches participate in some sort of social service, and some even provide overnight shelter to those who need it, but this is normal and expected. Long-term housing has stretched not only the Red Cross, but churches the Red Cross has asked to assist, and I doubt the "Wall of Separation" between Church and State will crumble if some congregations who have sacrificed so much to feed, house, and clothe the homeless in this extraordinary time are given some financial support.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Can We Defeat Poverty? - Christianity Today Magazine

Can We Defeat Poverty? - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Fresh help for Africa is on the way. When evangelicals joined U2's Bono this past summer in lobbying the political leaders of the world's richest nations for more trade, aid, and debt relief for Africa, the movement's heavy hitters signed on: John Stott, Billy Graham, and Rick Warren.

Jesus said, "The poor you will always have with you" (Matt. 26:11a). But he might also have cited corruption as another ever-present human condition. In Africa, neither the poor nor the corrupt have been transformed by the $1 trillion in foreign assistance poured over the last 50 years on that continent of 57 nations with 11.7 million square miles of land and 906 million people.

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) study released in June, shortly before the Group of 8 summit, found that there is no correlation between aid and prosperity in sub-Saharan Africa...."
It isn't just Africa that has systemic corruption problems. There are just as disturbing reports out of our own country concerning diversion of infrastructure funding into pet projects of local politicians in one of the states hit hardest by Hurricane Katrina.

The solution, of course, cannot involve disengagement, but rather the solution must address all aspects of the problem, including local corruption where it is found. Debt relief, new aid, and fairer trade are three prongs of an attack on hunger, but many critics of such programs say that they are in vain in the face of corruption.

The Church in Nigeria is setting an example:
In the central Nigerian city of Jos, Anglican Bishop Benjamin Kwashi told Christianity Today, "The only way the church can stamp out corruption is to begin from within. In our diocese, we are mercilessly insisting on accountability to the last penny."
The article concludes with a section titled "Hope, not Optimism." There are 30 elected heads of state, a ten-fold increase from 30 years ago. The Church has been proactive on exposing corruption. But massive poverty still remains and threatens all progress that has been made.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

A Bible Textbook Begat by Church-State Separation - Los Angeles Times

A Bible Textbook Begat by Church-State Separation - Los Angeles Times:
"Who asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Was it Cain, Noah, Abel or King David?)

What happened on the road to Damascus? (A: Jesus was crucified. B: Mary met an angel of the Lord. C: St. Paul was blinded by a vision from God. D: Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss.)

Only a third of the American teenagers in a nationwide Gallup poll last year correctly answered the first question, attributing the quote from Genesis to Cain. And, a similar percentage of the 1,002 teens in the survey were aware of the story of St. Paul being blinded by a vision from God on the road to Damascus.

An overwhelming majority of the nation's students are biblically illiterate, educators say. Yet, they add, knowledge of the Bible, its characters and references is essential in understanding Western literature, art, music and history even for students who come from other religious traditions, are agnostics or are atheists. On Thursday, a new textbook designed to help teach public high school students biblical content without violating the separation of church and state was released in Washington, D.C., by the Bible Literacy Project, a nonprofit group that promotes the study of Bible content, not belief, in public and private schools...."
Maybe it's my low expectations, but it surprised me that as many as 1/3 of teenagers could answer those questions correctly. I had been under the impression that the level of Biblical literacy in the country was lower, and not just for teenagers.

A wide spectrum of religious groups scholars and Constitutional experts has endorsed the project. The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is deferring comment until his organization can carefully examine the new textbook The Bible and its Influence.

I am reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a high school history teacher who was also a Christian. He told me that the latest history textbooks for public schools had essentially purged any mention of the religious dimension of life in colonial America, as well as how the Presbyterian Church influenced the form of government the new United States would take. One of his comments was that this was like teaching Elizabethan era literature without recognizing the many Biblical references and allusions that characterized much of the writing of that era.

It is heartening to know that people have worked long and hard to come up with a curriculum that takes into account the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution, but at the same time recognizes the significant contribution of the Bible to literature, art, music, history, and culture.

Friday, September 23, 2005

First Things October 2005: The Shame of Darfur

First Things October 2005: The Shame of Darfur:
The Shame of Darfur
Allen D. Hertzke

Copyright (c) 2005 First Things 156 (October 2005): 16-22.

"In April 2005, a striking celebration occurred in Washington to mark the signing of a peace accord between rebel groups of southern Sudan and the Islamist regime in Khartoum, ending Africa’s longest and bloodiest civil war. In a packed room in the Longworth House Office Building, Sudanese exiles mingled with the American officials and religious leaders whose efforts helped halt Sudan’s two-decade genocidal war against its non-Muslim population.

The event marked a triumph for both the Bush administration and the faith-based human-rights movement that has burst on the American foreign-policy scene in recent years. But the triumph was muted, for the Sudanese government in Khartoum has now turned its attention from the southern part of the country to the western, undertaking massive ethnic cleansing in the region known as Darfur. And so far, neither America’s religious community nor its government has acted with the same vigor in addressing the crisis.

Indeed, the administration’s mixed signals, alternately condemning and lauding the regime, have done little to rein in the Janjaweed marauders who keep the Darfur people from leaving fetid camps to plant crops and rebuild their shattered villages. And one reason the administration has not acted more forcefully is that the potent Christian groups involved in foreign affairs—those who anchored the religious coalition that compelled results in southern Sudan with unity and toughness—have been fragmented in their response to Darfur. This fact tarnishes the achievement in the south, and the stain will fall most heavily on the evangelical world. Born-again Christians in America, it will be said, care more about the deaths of their fellow believers in the south than about the deaths of Muslims in the west...."

-- Posted by permission
Have we Christians been so concerned about the persecuted Church in the world that we fail to see persecution of other faiths? Allen Hertzke makes a compelling case that this is indeed so, and I must agree.

We cannot afford to hide behind the attitude that "this is not my battle to fight." We may not be able to individually respond to all cases of persecution around the world, but where we are made aware of such persecution we need to react collectively in some fashion and our combined voices may be the best way to respond.

The same framework that allows evangelicals to speak so forcefully on behalf of persecuted Christians can be brought to bear on any persecution. Hertzke notes that evangelicals enjoy significant access to the current administration, and it has been efectively used to help bring about positive change in some areas.

A "tectonic shift" in the population patterns of Christians has resulted in ever increasing numbers of Christians in the Third World. The areas in which the church is growing the fastest are also areas of warfare, violence, poverty, and persecution -- something that many Christians in developed nations have difficulty relating to.

The effectiveness of the Church's witness in the world can be greatly enhanced when the ministry of compassion reaches all those who are persecuted, not just Christians.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Blogging from Internet2

I attended the New World Symphony presentation, but Hurricane Rita interfered with the demo.

The New World Symphony, based in Miami Beach, is a framework for symphony musicians to attend workshops, master classes and individualized instruction using video conferencing. Unfortunately the studio of the New World Symphony had been evacuated earlier Monday due to the approach of Rita (which has passed the Florida Keys, and is now a category 4 hurricane heading toward Galveston.)

Instead we saw and heard a HDTV session with a cellist and her professor from Northwestern University. It was quite impressive. She played the Praeludium from the Sixth Suite for Unaccompanied Cello. Those who know that piece can appreciate the technical expertise required to play it -- as well as the hurdles an effective video conference must overcome to show it.

Video conferencing has been around a while, but it seems that HDTV video conferencing over the internet is here.

I probably won't bore you again with Internet2 proceedings, as most of the sessions I am attending have to do with authentication and authorization issues with middleware applications. It's time to mosey on back to the sessions now the the break is coming to an end.

Expressing My Faith

About 20 years ago I read an article in the Manhattan (Kansas) Mercury written by a Jewish theologian. This article was one of several that appeared Easter weekend and while I do not remember the name of this theologian, I remember quite clearly his thesis. He wrote about the Resurrection in a way that filled in my ability to clearly say what I believe and why.

He described the Friday and Saturday of a group of 11 frightened men in hiding. These men had followed, shared bread, endured hardships and formed a close personal relationship with a man they believed was the Son of God and the Annointed One of Israel. Several days earlier he and they entered Jerusalem in what they thought would be the beginning of the end of Roman rule. By Friday all this had crashed around them, and they were despondent over the loss of the close friend. In addition, they were in fear of their lives and were hiding, some in one place, and others beginning to scatter.

A day later they were overjoyed, and beginning to tell an incredible story of resurrection. They appeared openly telling their news to all who would listen. What was earlier a group of frightened men and women -- and there were more than just 11 men who had felt the loss -- was now empowered to preach what Jesus had taught them

This Jewish theologian could not explain this in any other way than that something extraordinary had happened on the first day of the week. He conceded that resurrection made sense – otherwise why would these people appear openly telling a story that could get them killed in such a hideous way as crucifixion? Why would so many of them ultimately suffer execution for something that they did not see with their own eyes?

This theologian’s take on this was that Jesus did, in fact, come back to life and is the savior of the gentiles – but not the Messiah the Jews still seek. Here is where I must respectfully disagree, but what he wrote before became a major turning point in the way I have been able to articulate my faith.

At that time, I had been an elder for11 years. I had answered the ordination questions with “yes”, but I didn’t think much about the ramifications of my answers. By the mid 1980’s I had grown in faith, and I was ready for this change in the way I understood my own faith.

Paul, in First Corinthians, lays out what I call the “Smoking Gun” of Christianity. If he were called before Congress someone would ask “What did you know and when did you know it?” Paul’s answer might look like this:

1Co 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Pradis CD-ROM:1Co 15:12.

The Resurrection is clearly a defining event in all our faiths, and when I started thinking through the ramifications of the Resurrection it became obvious to me that there were other things that were starting to fall into place. If God can raise Jesus from the dead, then what is God incapable of? The Incarnation becomes plausible. The miracles become believable. I still resist getting into arguments about specific miracles, but the Resurrection is where my articulation of my faith must begin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Medical Benevolence Foundation -- Personal Hygiene Kits

Medical Benevolence Foundation:
"Due to the overwhelming response of Presbyterians across the country our warehouse is now at capacity and we are no longer asking for churches and individuals to send us these kits...."
This is amazing. The generosity has been overwhelming, to the point of overloading an entire warehouse.

The need continues, though, and MBF has a few suggestions for what to do with any kits that have not been sent out.

Hurricane season is not over, and Tropical Storm Rita is expected to reach hurricane strength today.

Blogging from Philadelphia

I am at the Internet2 Fall Meeting here in Philadephia -- three and one half days of discussions, workshops, and demonstrations. We also have some pretty good connectivity here, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania.

One demo I am looking forward to seeing is how the high-speed backbone can be used in musical instruction. The video conferencing I have seen, and it is awesome.

A lot of my time will be spend in middleware issues to provide a framework for people to use the resources more effectively and securely.

One thing that many people may not be aware of is that if you are on a university network that has a connection to the high-speed backbone, and are sending materials to another institution that is also connected, chances are it will be routed over the high-speed backbone, thus avoiding the commodity internet. It is difficult to really see a difference, since most people have only 10/100 mbs to the wall port, but it does make a difference when traffic on the commodity internet is running high (as it does every day).

Monday, September 19, 2005

Truth In Love Network - Overtures

Truth In Love Network - Overtures:
On Saturday, September 10 First Presbyterian Church of Bradenton (Florida) presented four overtures (see below) to the Peace River Presbytery. Elder Al Munn, vice-chair of the Bills and Overtures committee moved to have these overtures sent to committee. This motion passed. The overtures will be submitted to the full presbytery for an up or down vote at the November stated meeting.
These 3 overtures, and concurrence with a fourth from Mississippi all make a certain amount of sense, and I hope they receive the courtesy of honest and respectful debate.

The first overture is to direct General Assembly agencies to neither advocate for or against abortion, but rather leave it up to individual congregations to "voluntarily support organizations and ministries that best reflect the convictions of those individuals and congregations." A quick comment on this: It recognizes the diversity of opinion with the PC(USA), which is not always evident in official communications. Further, it is one thing to say this, and quite another to have compliance, as we have seen with the recent GA directive that agencies of the PC(USA) neither advocate for or against the Federal Marriage Amendment.

The second overture relates to reapportionment of the presbyteries within the synods, in an attempt to place presbyteries on a more equal footing from one region to another. My gut reaction is that reapportionment is a tremendous opportunity for mischief, although it is true that there are inequities in the numbers of members in the various presbyteries. Also, the less dense states in terms of population really cannot be expected to have as many members as an eastern urban presbytery without becoming so large as to make travel unfeasible.

The third overture relates to the "Property held in trust" sections of the Book of Order. This is one that has compelling arguments on both sides. I have seen presbyteries deal with congregations that have expressed a desire to affiliate with a different reformed denomination by appointing an administrative commission, only to see the vast majority of members leave without the property. In other words, the PC(USA) loses the people, but keeps the building. I have seen other presbyteries counsel with the congregation in a pastoral way, and once satisfied that this is indeed what the congregation wants, sell the property for a nominal price, thus preserving the concept of the "property held in trust." The California courts seem to be ruling in favor of the congregations at this time, and it remains to be seen as to whether it is the beginning of a trend in the law. In any event, we really ought to be able to deal with these issues in a more pastoral way than we have.

The fourth overture is to concur with a Mississippi presbytery's overture to ask the GA to revisit the divestment issue regarding Israel. The recent pastoral letter from the denomination leadership seems to indicate that things will not happen quickly, and the next GA will have an opportunity to discuss this again, and perhaps mitigate the apparent one-sidedness of the last GA's actions in this area.

Thursday, September 15, 2005 - Google unveils blog search engine - Sep 15, 2005 - Google unveils blog search engine - Sep 15, 2005:
SAN FRANCISCO, California (AP) -- A new Google Inc. specialty search engine sifts through the Internet's millions of frequently updated personal journals, a long-anticipated development expected to help propel "blogging" into the cultural mainstream.
This has been a long time coming, but now users can search topics in all blogs or limit the search to the current blog. This also clears up a mystery for me: Why didn't the "Search this blog" button at the top of the page work, even though I had requested indexing from Google a few weeks before? Concurrent with this new development, a new button appeared with the title "Search all blogs".

I tried a small search using the words "ecclesia reformata semper reformanda", and came up with many hits, including my own entry. Your mileage may vary. Keep in mind that blogs may have somewhat of an advantage when it comes to indexing, but the hits I have seem come from other blogs as well.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Analyzing the Circuitry of Stem Cells - New York Times

Analyzing the Circuitry of Stem Cells - New York Times:
"...Scientists at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., have developed a technique for uncovering the interactions of transcription factors. These are the agents that switch genes on or off in the cell. By figuring out these interactions on a genomewide scale, they have reconstructed the top level of the controls that govern a human embryonic stem cell.

The discovery is a starting point for addressing the next question, that of how an embryonic stem cell commits itself to a specific fate, like becoming a cell of the brain or liver or pancreas gland...."
This is a moderately high level discussion of the complexity of developmental biology. If you want an even more arcane discussion, go find the journal article on which this story is based. The journal Cell should be available in any university library.

Suffice it to say that the developmental sequence is incredibly complex, and that there are no easy answers. Such research is a necessary step for further resesarch in getting stem cells to take a particular path, say, in the repair of damaged organs or the alleviation of genetic diseases.

Monday, September 12, 2005

PFR Wee Kirk Katrina Relief Plan

PFR Wee Kirk Katrina Relief Plan:
"...As the needs of many cry out to us, we have a special and urgent opportunity to be brothers and sisters to our fellow Presbyterian wee-kirkers in need. There are 107 small Presbyterian churches (less than 200 members) in the three presbyteries most affected by Hurricane Katrina (South Louisiana, Mississippi, South Alabama). A list of these churches accompanies this letter. These churches and those to whom they minister need our help!..."
In Missouri Union Presbytery we have a number of "Wee Kirks", and many (like the church where I am a member) that are bordering on being Wee Kirks. I hope these congregations can reconnect and engage in mutual support, with the support of all of us.

See the PC(USA) web page on Katrina for more information on how congregations can reconnect.

PC(USA) News Release Number 05468 -- The Sheep That Are Lost

PC(USA) News Release Number 05468 -- The Sheep That Are Lost:
"...“About all I can say is, I don’t know where my people are,” says the Rev. Tom Oler, who has been working at the South Louisiana Presbytery office in Baton Rouge because he can’t stay at his house in Metairie and there’s a tree on the roof of his church.

Twice he’s driven into the old neighborhood for quick inspections, but what was once a one-hour trip now takes six. Traffic lights are out. Only one lane is open, and it’s clogged with troops. It all adds up to slow.

Oler’s clerk of session is in Houston, his treasurer in Baton Rouge. A member of his session is headed for Louisville, but right now is still in north Louisiana. The director of the preschool is rumored to be in Mississippi, but Oler can’t reach her by phone.

Everyone else is who knows where...."

These people need our support and prayers. It is hard to imagine what these congregations must be going through, yet it could happen anywhere.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Presbyterian Outlook: The Three Rs: Revision, Reform, Reconcile

Minneapolis pastor Jin S. Kim has published a piece in Presbyterian Outlook called The Three Rs: Revision, Reform, Reconcile (free registration required). He leads off with an observation about the work of the recent task force:

“I am thankful for the work of the Peace, Unity and Purity Task Force, for modeling a way of speaking the truth in love to one another and to the church, even if there is no clear “prescription”. Patience, forbearance, and faithful engagement are marks of the church that are easily overlooked in a results-oriented society….”

I agree most wholeheartedly. Presbyterian debate can get pretty adversarial, and ad hominem argumentation is all too common, especially in the areas addressed by the Task Force. If the Task Force could learn to share the Lord’s Table together, then what is stopping the rest of us?

He goes on to suggest a parallel between the Sadducees and Pharisees of the first century AD and the liberals and conservatives of the 21st century Presbyterian Church:

“…One group is concerned about society and justice (”life and work”) as faithful Christians should be, but has pressed for an affirmation of homosexual practice that appears to many evangelicals to be beyond the bounds of what Scripture teaches. In the words of R. R. Reno, their "bourgeois bohemian" sensibility calls for sexual freedom coupled with ruling class respectability. Like the Sadducees, those on the Left are seen as comfortable with ecclesial power but not too concerned with theological orthodoxy.

On the other hand, there is a group opposed to this move whose agenda revolves around personal morality, especially the kind that kindles the anxiety of privileged, white, middle class Christians. At their best, they build up “faith and order”. At their worst, these social conservatives are like the Pharisees who were theologically orthodox, but whom Jesus called hypocrites because they would not lift a finger for the poor and oppressed….”

Rev. Kim shares his concern about the fragmented nature of the Presbyterian Church and its lack of tolerance when it comes to dissent. Something I did not realize was that in Korea there are 300 distinct denominations that call themselves “Presbyterian.”

Kim observes that both the “hard right” and the “hard left” want control, and that schism is an inherent threat of such an attitude. His question is where to go if schism does come about. And this question is not only for the Korean-American ethnic group, but for all of us who are concerned about issues of social justice but are also orthodox in our faith. What many people fail to understand is that Christians with orthodox beliefs are found all along the political spectrum, as is concern with social issues.

Rev. Kim continues with some sharp words:

“…So on the issue of ordination standards, we share similar orthodox convictions with our white conservative brothers and sisters. But where are they after we stand and vote with them on the ordination amendments? In the face of massive poverty, war and disease around the globe, and the disintegration of the family, rampant consumerism and hedonism in American society, I can't help thinking that the elevation of sexuality as the dominant ecclesial debate is a uniquely Western fetish….”

The question for me is how we demonstrate by our actions that we are concerned not only with sharing the Good News, but also with the conditions under which much of the world is forced to live. We Presbyterian have “The Great Ends of the Church”:

“The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.” – The Book of Order G-1.0200

Both ends of the Presbyterian spectrum need to pay close attention to these Great Ends of the Church – they are a prescription for a well-balanced Christian life of personal and corporate devotion to the Lord as well as a call to become engaged not only with the souls of others, but with their situations as well. Rev. Kim has done us all a service in reminding us of the gap between what we believe and the way we act.

To close, Micah's words are just as true today as they were over 2500 years ago:

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. -- NIV

Friday, September 09, 2005 - Team finds stem cells in heart tissue - Team finds stem cells in heart tissue:
TOKYO (AP) — Japanese researchers have discovered stem cells in human heart tissue, a development that could lead to improved treatments for heart disease and reduce the need for transplants, a Japanese newspaper reported Friday.
Hmmmm. Might this also be relevant to to the ongoing debate on the moral implications of the use of embryonic stem cells?

This is one of those "continuums of acceptability" issues for me. The use of tissues from embryos started for the sole purpose of harvesting stem cells is way beyond my comfort level. Umbilical cord stem cells are acceptible to me. If the heart stem cells are truly totipotent, then this could be a major step forward in treating diseases and injuries.

PC(USA) - Hurricane Katrina Relief - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

PC(USA) - Hurricane Katrina Relief - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

New website for Katrina-related information.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

PNS Release Number 05464 -- Presbyterians sheltering storm victims

PC(USA) News Release Number 05464 -- Presbyterians sheltering storm victims:
"LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians are opening churches, conference centers, their homes — even a defunct college — to families rendered homeless by Hurricane Katrina...."
No one can predict yet what the need will end up being, but there are links on the PC(USA) website front page to register as a shelter. Both churches and individuals can do so.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Katrina: Medical Benevolence Foundation Health Kits

Medical Benevolence Foundation:
"Medical Benevolence Foundation / Project CURE in partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance will begin providing immediate relief for victims of the ravages of Hurricane Katrina. The doors of the MBF / Project CURE warehouse in Houston are now open to receive Presbyterian Disaster Assistance shipments and boxes.

The needs of the survivors of the storm are great, as most have been left with nothing but their lives. Many are homeless and have no place to live now but in shelters. Presbyterians across the country are already hard at work in ways to help meet the pressing needs of these people. The Medical Benevolence Foundation / Project Cure warehouse will be the drop off center for all personal health kits and Hope in a Box kits that Presbyterian’s are putting together...."

These kits are now being assembled all over the United States, and will be shipped to the MBF warehouse and distributed to those for whom such supplies are desperately needed.

MBF is one of the validated mission support groups of the PC(USA), and is well worth looking into as a means of providing immediate assistance to the victims of Katrina.

It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, especially in New Orleans. The total destruction of thousands of homes; a death toll which is still not known for certain; congregations which are scattered all over the map, with little hope of meeting together for several months; school children who need to resume school quickly in different places, needing to provide immunization records and school records which may be difficult or impossible to get.

How can we help?

The Medical Benevolence Foundation suggests the following for people who want to help:
  • Pray for those who have been affected by this tragedy and for those who are responding quickly to His call for action.
  • Prayerfully consider financially supporting the MBF / Project CURE warehouse during its relief efforts in partnership with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. You may give online in support of shipment and supplies. Call 800 547-7627 for more information.
  • Put together health kits for those who are displaced and living in shelters because of Katrina.
MBF has put together a specification for the health kits, which includes instructions for shipping. This is a good project for youth to carry out, as well as any others who feel moved to serve in this way.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Faith and Science

Mike Kruse at the Kruse Kronicle has been presenting a series of articles on Science and Christianity. These postings have done an admirable job in defining the issues and are worth the time to browse on over and read.

In the late 1970’s I taught a Sunday School class which dealt with Creation, and how Science and Scripture could be understood in light of each other. The class included people inclined to accept evolution as the most likely explanation of how life developed on earth and people who believed the Genesis account describes accurately events that occurred less than 10,000 years ago.

Early in the Sunday School term I had a member of the class read Genesis 1 while I drew a picture at the blackboard of what it described – An earth with dry land surrounded by waters and a sky above the earth stuicturally sufficient to keep the waters above separated from the waters below. Lights were placed in the sky above the earth as well as two great lights – the greater to light the day, and the lesser to light the night.
Genesis 1

1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

-- NIV
When I was done with this image, it became obvious that Genesis, taken literally, did not describe what we in knew in 1979. What I believed then, and still believe to this day is that Genesis tells us the “Who, What, Where, and Why” of His creation. It does not clearly tell us “When”, nor does it tell us “How.” I don’t think anyone lost their faith over finding out that a literal reading of Genesis lead one to an inaccurate view of the physical earth, but it did lead to some interesting and stimulating discussions.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Stephen J. Gould wrote about non-overlapping magisteria between theology and science. If one bases faith on a particular understanding of the physical universe, then science can destroy such faith by observing facts to the contrary. On the other hand a scientist has no business making dogmatic statements about theological matters. To say "There is no God" is not only unscientific, it in fact requires its own measure of faith because you cannot prove a negative. Maybe that is why C.S. Lewis became such a strong apologist for Christianity -- in his earlier years as an atheist, he had already experienced faith.

The common ground we found in this class was the shared belief that God created the universe and all that it contains. How that happened was open to discussion, but in true reformed fashion, the debate was over interpretation of Scripture rather than rejection of God's Word.

Friday, September 02, 2005

PC(USA) - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - PDA - Shelter Health Kits

PC(USA) - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - PDA - Shelter Health Kits

"...PDA recently found out that the Medical Benevolence Foundation (MBF), a validated mission support group of PC(USA), has offered PDA the use of their warehouse in Houston, and we are very thankful.

We have decided that a special kit can be prepared to benefit familes who are in shelters. This kit is comparable to the Gift of the Heart health kit with some modifications. We are calling it the Personal Health Kit..."

Check out the above link. These kits are needed immediately and will, no doubt, be distributed where they are needed the most. There are specifications for two different kits and only those kits can be accepted by MBF at this time. Shipping information is provided.

PC(USA) News Release Number 05458 -- Hurricane-relief workers struggle to meet special needs of pregnant women

Hurricane-relief workers struggle to meet special needs of pregnant women

"...In a Sunday school room down the hall from the sanctuary at University Presbyterian Church in Baton Rogue, LA, a woman in her ninth month of pregnancy is resting on an air mattress.

She showed up last night wearing bedroom slippers and a shift, carrying a small shopping bag filled with everything she has left from her flooded New Orleans home. When the city was evacuated, she got separated from the rest of her family and she isn’t sure how to find them.

Her baby is due any day...."

I wrote earlier today how nice it would be to start hearing about how people are performing acts of service and compassion. Here in Mid Missouri some hurricane refugees are already arriving, and the Red is coordinating local churches, social organizations, and the Boy Scouts of America in providing shelter and assistance to these people in need.

PC(USA) News -- A tragedy of Biblical proportions

‘A tragedy of Biblical proportions’

"...Katrina also damaged more than half of the Presbyterian churches in South Louisiana Presbytery, destroyed six in Mississippi Presbytery and wreaked havoc in Tropical Florida Presbytery.

At first, Peacock, the associate pastor of Lakeview Presbyterian Church in New Orleans — and vice moderator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 216th General Assembly (2004) — hoped she wouldn’t be away from home for long...."
It is frustrating, even with instantaneous communication, that so little is actually known for sure. The media provide us with stories of looting, shootings, rape gangs and recriminations, but most of it seems to be second or third hand information. This PC(USA) news release puts a human face to the suffering and provides eyewitness accounts that strike close to home.

Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is on the scene, and I expect they will continue to update the page dealing specifically with Hurricane Katrina response.

What we have been hearing about so far has been the ugly part of all of this; perhaps we can begin to hear of the selfless sacrifices of Presbyterians and others who are doing what they can to alleviate the suffering in the Gulf Coast states.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Response

PC(USA) - Presbyterian Disaster Assistance - PDA - United States - Hurricane Katrina Response Index

Follow the above link to the main index page for the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance response to Hurricane Katrina. In it are links to giving oportunities, bulletin inserts, as well as links for those contemplating volunteer work.