Friday, March 31, 2006

PC(USA) News: Still outnumbered but surviving

PC(USA) News: Still outnumbered but surviving:
"NEW YORK CITY — Probably no modern denomination knows more about being a religious minority than the Waldensian Church.

The Waldensians, rooted in a 12th-century Protestant movement in defense of the poor and oppressed of France and Italy, have always taken a side seat to the religious giants of the world — especially the Roman Catholic Church...."

For those interested in Church history, the Presbyterian News Service published this article yesterday.

The Waldensians were founded by an Italian merchant named Peter Waldo in the late 12th century. They were dedicated to living in poverty and preaching the Gospel. The preaching caused then to run afoul of the Roman Catholic Church for operating outside the control of the clergy, and they were brutally suppressed.

St. Francis of Assisi began his ministry in the early 13th century. Both Peter Waldo and Francis of Assisi were well-off people who abandoned their wealth and privilege to serve and preach among the people, but Francis (who had difficulties with his family) was able to secure the permission of Pope Innocent III to create the religious order that today bears his name.

I was particularly interested to see in the PC(USA) article, that the modern day Waldensians have kept up their ministries to the poor, passing through an era of fairly expensive and money-losing operations, but are now concentrating on "light deaconship." Gianni Genre, senior pastor of the Waldensian Church of Milan is quoted in the article:

"...The future of the church, he said, is in 'light deaconship' — work that can help the poor and disadvantaged without requiring huge financial investments.

'This is the new frontier of our commitment to the gospel,' he said, and we want to pursue it with a renovated and stronger, yet wiser and somewhat humbler, effort.' "

I know a person who refers to the sending of money to organizations (instead of actually getting involved) "contact avoidance". It sounds like the Waldensians are reclaiming their history of direct service to and among the poor.

Technorati tags: ,

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Christian Convert Gets Asylum - Los Angeles Times

Christian Convert Gets Asylum - Los Angeles Times:
(free registration required)
"ROME — An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity received asylum in Italy on Wednesday.

Abdur Rahman, 41, arrived in Rome days after he was freed from a prison on the outskirts of Kabul after a court dropped charges of apostasy against him for lack of evidence and suspected mental illness...."

I hope that remaining Christians in Afghanistan and other Islamic countries won't become victims of a backlash resulting from this.

From what I have been reading, there is nothing in the Koran that calls for death for those who become Christians, yet that seems to be the prevailing view in many Islamic states. It makes me thankful that we live in a country where there are protections:

"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."

--The Constitution of the United States, Amendment 1

Still, this is great news, and a victory over persecution for one man, at least.

Technorati tags: ,

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Gruntled Center: The Law is a Teacher

Gruntled Center: The Law is a Teacher:
"...Churches, in contrast to sects, do not and cannot take that approach. George is a Roman Catholic, of the churchiest of churches. They know, as George writes in the essay in question, "the law is a teacher." Committed conservatives will stick to traditional marriage no matter what the law allows. Committed liberals will allow and experiment with every possible combination that nature and custom make possible. For the majority in the middle, though, what the law supports and allows does instruct our sense of right and wrong...."
Beau Weston, at The Gruntled Center, has been blogging on marriage, and what it is and what it means in the Church and society. His postings of the past two days have been particularly interesting, and I recommend them.

Not everyone is going to agree with his assertions, but they certainly are clearly stated and well supported. His centrist approach should be carefully considered by all who want to see a way for the PC(USA) to emerge intact from our internecine conflict.

Technorati tags: ,

Monday, March 27, 2006

Deep problems

Deep problems:

Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required)
"The long-awaited Report of the Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity (TFPUP) is in hand. Thanks and assessments have been offered. We’ve invested a great deal in this effort: good people who were called in recognition of their capacity for such work, thousands of dollars gathering them and broadcasting their work, precious time for their work. Clearly they have had a powerful experience, calling us now to follow the principles that guided them, seeking similar experiences for ourselves.

Of course, the TFPUP Report does more. It proposes actual changes to the structure of our life together. And it is here that incisive questions need to be asked...."
This Outlook Forum article by Barry Ensign-George, an Associate for Theology for the PC(USA), discusses the recent Task Force on the Peace, Unity and Purity recommendations and raises questions he feels that we need to consider. His reasoning is careful, and his conclusions are well-stated.

My initial response to the TFPUP report was that its theological sections were of great use and that, while one reading of the recommendations could lead one to believe it was suggesting "local option", it really wouldn't change things. "Local option" is already present whenever and wherever governing bodies avoid questioning in particular areas.

I have read the TFPUP report as well as the viewpoints of those individual members who chose to provide them to Presbyweb. I have read the comments from the Presbyterian Layman and the Witherspoon Society. It is easy to dismiss the latter two as representing the fringes of the PC(USA), but it is not so easy to dismiss well-reasoned discussions from persons in the center. I certainly plan to give more thought to this.

Technorati tags: ,

How Presbyterians dealt with conflict in the past

How Presbyterians dealt with conflict in the past:

Presbyerian Outlook (free registration required)
More than fifty years ago, historian Lefferts Loetscher in his classic The Broadening Church (1954) argued that American Presbyterianism contained two elements: one stressing “precise theological formulation” and “orderly and authoritarian church government,” the other placing “more emphasis upon spontaneity, vital impulse, and adaptability.” “It has been the good fortune and the hardship of the Presbyterian Church,” Loetscher noted wryly, “to have had ... these two elements in dialectical tension within itself from the beginning.”

The tension was apparent as American Presbyterians cobbled themselves together first in a presbytery (1706) and then a synod (1716). Initially these bodies had no official creed, but by the 1720s, some were calling for mandatory subscription to the Westminster Confession. “Now a church without a confession, what is it like?” asked one proponent of subscription, and he replied that such a church was “in a very defenseless condition, as a city without walls” liable to infiltration by heresy and error. By contrast, opponents feared that required subscription was “a bold invasion of Christ’s royal power” and noted the “glaring contradiction” of requiring ministers to adhere to a document which itself declared: “God alone is the Lord of the conscience.”
James Moorhead, a professor of American Church History at Princeton Theological Seminary, has encapsulated much of the history of conflict in the Presbyterian Church as well as the means by which it was resolved.

I do have a bit of a quibble with his partial quote of of "God alone is the Lord of the concsience..." There is an all-too-common failure to include the part that anchors our consciences firmly in God's Word, and further, that to force people to subscribe to doctrines that are not rooted in God's Word is a betrayal of our freedom of conscience. The full statement reads as follows:
II. God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his Word, or beside it in matters of faith or worship. So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commandments out of conscience, is ts betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.

-- Chapter XX of the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)

This article really can't cover the history of the Presybyterian Church, but it provides a useful outline for further inquiry.

Two books I have found useful are Leading from the Center and Presbyterian Pluralism, both by William J. (Beau) Weston. Beau Weston hosts The Gruntled Center, and has an engaging writing style.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Rising Tide of Applications Lifts Fortunes of Christian Colleges

Rising Tide of Applications Lifts Fortunes of Christian Colleges:

Washington Post (free registration required)
By G. Jeffrey MacDonald
Religion News Service
Saturday, March 25, 2006; Page B09

"Evangelical Christian colleges are attracting record numbers of applications this year, a trend that bodes well for an educational niche that was struggling to survive a generation ago...."
This article describes an educational trend that has resulted in a 70% increase in enrollment since 1990 at the 102 member schools of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). During the same time period public colleges increased by 13% and private colleges increased by 28%.

By and large, the article was was positive, although it quoted Philip Altbach, a Boston College professor of higher education, as saying that parents' desire to keep their kids separate from the society at large drives the market for Christian higher education. I'm not sure where Altbach gets his information, but my experience with Christian colleges, and the students they turn out has been quite positive. And these students are not clueless when it comes to the "real world".

My education was public on through my M.S. in zoology, but I taught for two years at Sterling College, a member of the CCCU. I can vouch for the academic rigor of the program as well as the fact that many pre-medical students chose to attend a small college due in part to suggestions from medical schools. It seems that the smaller classes and greater personal attention provided at Christian colleges, coupled with academic quality, helps develop the characteristics that professional schools are looking for.

A high school senior could do a lot worse than look to Christian colleges as an option for their higher education.

Technorati tags: , ,

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Eagle Bluffs on a Saturday Afternoon

My wife, son and I took a short trip this afternoon down to the Missouri River bottoms. The Eagle Bluffs Conservation area is a wetland that is a major stop on the migration routes of many birds. It's getting a little past the peak for the early migration, but there were a ton of Americal Coots, as well as lesser numbers of Northern Shovellers, Blue-Winged Teal, Buffleheads, Snow Geese, Canada Geese, and Mallards. Great Blue Herons, Redwing Blackbirds, a variety of sparrows, and a couple Redtail Hawks and vultures were hanging around as well.

Great Blue Heron

Blue-Wing Teal

Redwing Backbird

The famous record-sized Burr Oak

The Burr Oak survived the floods of 1986, 1993, and 1995, but is a perennial target of vandals. It also seems to be a party location.

We are fortunate here in Mid-Missouri to have several conservation areas around the Missouri River. Many of these areas have remained permanent wetlands following the floods of the 1980s and 1990s, and birdwatchers, casual visitors, and waterfowl hunters are the better for it -- not to mention the environment.

Purpose-Driven and Presbyterian: One new paradigm at work

Purpose-Driven and Presbyterian: One new paradigm at work:

Presbyterian Outlook (free registration needed to read the whole article)
"Michael Carey has heard the skepticism: the Purpose-Driven church approach is “too Baptist,” not Presbyterian enough in its theology, caters too much to those brand-new to church and not enough to those who’ve been around.

But what Carey, pastor of Trinity Presbyterian in Satellite Beach, Florida, ( ) knows firsthand is this. His congregation has been following the Purpose-Driven model for eight years now, and:

-The average Sunday attendance is 700, out of 830 members – a typical weekly attendance of close to 85 percent.

-About 500 adults attend Bible study, and 400 are committed to participating in a significant ministry at the church.

-Last year, the people of Trinity gave $2.4 million to support the church (including funds for a building program).

-And a conference in the spring of 2005 for Purpose-driven Presbyterians drew 400 people, who came from 166 congregations in 36 states...."
This article is part of a series that explores different models of ministy, and provides a clear and balanced description of the "Purpose-Driven" program as it is applied to Presbyterian churches around the nation.

Something to think about....

Technorati tags: , ,

Friday, March 24, 2006

Researchers Look at Prayer and Healing

Researchers Look at Prayer and Healing:
[free registration required]
Conclusions and Premises Debated as Big Study's Release Nears

By Rob Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 24, 2006; Page A01

"At the Fairfax Community Church in Virginia, the faithful regularly pray for ailing strangers. Same goes at the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington and the Islamic Center of Maryland in Gaithersburg.

In churches, mosques, ashrams, "healing rooms," prayer groups and homes nationwide, millions of Americans offer prayers daily to heal themselves, family, friends, co-workers and even people found through the Internet. Fueled by the upsurge in religious expression in the United States, prayer is the most common complement to mainstream medicine, far outpacing acupuncture, herbs, vitamins and other alternative remedies...."
Research that attempts to explain how the supernatural and the medical profession interact tends to elicit opinions. The topic of prayer and healing has drawn fire from people that think that "...the work is a deeply flawed and misguided waste of money that irresponsibly attempts to validate the supernatural with science." It has also drawn comments from believers who "...say it is pointless to try to divine the workings of God with experiments devised by mortals." Others see the demonstrably large number of people who pray for themslves or others, and believe that such research is desirable and may address questions that need to be answered.

It is already accepted that devout believers tend to be healthier, but there is no way of knowing whether the healthy are more more likely to join churches, if if they may take care of themselves better as a consequence of their beliefs.

Two new studies are slated for publication that are said to conclude that prayer has no effect on healing, but not all the people quoted in this article think this will definitively answer the question.

What it may distill down to is the fact that the supernatural is, by nature, not amenable to study using the methods of science. And the the type of experimental designs needed to answer such questions are not easy to get approved.

And perhaps most significant -- the 50% of the people who regularly pray for themselves or others will continue to do so.

Technorati tags: , ,

Thursday, March 23, 2006 - Peace group hostages freed in Iraq - Mar 23, 2006 - Peace group hostages freed in Iraq - Mar 23, 2006:
"BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. and British forces have freed three Christian aid workers held hostage in Iraq, ending a four-month ordeal in which an American captive was found dead on a Baghdad street.

No shots were fired and no captors were present when the hostages -- Briton Norman Kember, 74 and Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32 -- were freed early Thursday, officials said...."
This is great news, especially that no additional deaths took place.

We should also note that the fourth Christian Peacemaker Team member, Tom Fox, an American, was murdered about 2 weeks ago.

Technorati tags: , ,

Back from California

The return flight was fairly smooth, what little I remember of it. I slept most of the way from LAX to STL, and got into Columbia about 8:15pm.

Tuesday dinner was at Buca di Beppo's, an Italian restaurant in Santa Monica. We were a block from the ocean, but it was too dark to see anything. The only clue was complete darkness looking west. Our time was pretty much totally taken up with conference things, and I had no time to take in any local sights.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

A new Reformation?

A new Reformation?:

Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required)
"...Although he seldom receives credit for it, many new paradigm churches, some of which count their membership in the thousands, carry to a younger generation the ideas pioneered by Schuller.

Are these new paradigm churches thrusting us into a new Reformation, a Holy Spirit-inspired Reformation? Or are such churches simply capitulating to the values of a self-absorbed, dumbed-down, conspicuously consumptive, trivialized secular culture?

It appears that the movement is promoting all of the above...."
Jack Haberer provides an interesting look at the issues involved in reaching out. He gives Schuller credit for focussing on the younger generation, but raises some questions as to how it is implemented. One thing seems sure -- a lot of Presbyterian churches are implementing some aspects of Schuller's program.

You may not agree with all Haberer says in this article, but it's worth reading (and Presbyterian Outlook is worth registering for).

Technorati tags: ,

Monday, March 20, 2006

Arrived in Los Angeles

There's a lot of bumpy air between Columbia and Los Angeles. We were a few minutes late leaving Columbia. The pilots were having an earnest discussion as the wintry mix started to fall at the airport. Finally they decided they could do it, and we headed off to St. Louis. Actually, their story was that they got in late last night and had to meet the FAA-mandated off time before they flew out. I think that was a PR gesture. The flight attendant mentioned that they were awaiting some weather data before they made their decision.

I arrived in LA on time, caught the shuttle, and made it to the meeting place with about 10 minutes to spare. Lunch was eaten literally on the run.

The software installation was about as turbulent as the flight out, but after debugging a few scripts, and googling for error messages, things finally coalesced into a working setup. Basically, this is all done on a laptop -- with webserver and tomcat (for Java-based web applications). All-in-all a productive, if sometimes frustrating afternoon and early evening.

I doubt I will have time to do much blogging, but we'll see. The hotel has free broadband, so I can do a little recreational web surfing.

Right now my strategy is to go to bed at an hour that will permit me to sleep until 6am local time. My history with West Coast travel is that I tend to wake up at my normal Missouri time (i.e. 4AM out in California). It gets really annoying.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Off to Los Angeles...

Monday morning at 6:00am I will fly out of the Columbia Regional Airport and connect with a westbound flight at Lambert Field in St. Louis. If all goes according to plan, I will arrive at LAX at 11:42, hop a shuttle to the Midtown Radisson, and be ready for a software installfest by 1:00pm.

If all goes according to plan...

Tonight shows a 6o% chance of rain mixed with sleet, and tomorrow has a 70% chance of a wintry mix. The airtime between COU and STL is only about 30-45 minutes, but in those 2-engine turboprop planes, it can be a long 30 minutes when the air is turbulent. (been there, done that)

LA should be better, and the software will be interesting -- authentication and authorization packages to help manage shared resources between campuses. The time is pretty well booked up, but we'll get out Tuesday evening for dinner on the town.

Wednesday I will fly back the same way I came out and get back into Columbia at 8:35pm.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Gruntled Center: Is Gay Essentialism a Fad?

Gruntled Center: Is Gay Essentialism a Fad?:
"...In the discussion of sex, it is normal now for liberals to automatically translate that term into "gender." The prevailing liberal theory is that no feature of masculinity or femininity is rooted in the biology of men and women. Everything is a social construction.

Everything, that is, except sexual orientation...."
Beau Weston of the Gruntled Center has a short, yet provocative posting on social construction and how it applies to sexuality and the social institutions that grow around it.

The most vehement criticism leveled against Edward O. Wilson and his book Sociobiology -- The New Synthesis (1975) was that his "rigid determinism" would lead inexorably to the abuses of nazism. I have read his book over the years, and when you look at what he actually says, rather than what he was accused of saying, you find that he strongly suggests that humans have the propensity for behaviour that is at odds with their genetic heritage. In other words we have the ability to make choices.

Ideology, not science, drove the sociobiology debate 30 years ago and is still driving it today -- even as people are now arguing the opposite point of view. When ideology starts driving a debate (e.g. intelligent design vs. evolution), truth is the first casualty -- and that applies to fringes of all sides.

As Gruntled has been pointing out for the whole history of his blog, the center is the battleground as well as the glue that holds us all together.

Technorati tags: , ,

Friday, March 17, 2006

Winning the Oral Majority - Christianity Today Magazine

Winning the Oral Majority - Christianity Today Magazine:
Mission agencies rethink outreach to the world's non-literate masses.

by Dawn Herzog Jewell

"Nearly 2,000 years ago, Jesus and his band of disciples proclaimed a revolutionary message through stories, parables, and proverbs. Although few members of the early church could read or write, the message of the gospel took root, owing partly to its method of proclamation. Today, a number of mission leaders are calling for a return to Jesus' oral method of communicating. The majority of the world's people, they say, won't be reached any other way.

"Seventy percent of the world's people today can't, don't, or won't read," says Avery Willis, executive director of the recently formed International Orality Network (ION), a partnership of 22 mission agencies including the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB), Youth With a Mission (YWAM), Trans World Radio, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Since the printing of the Gutenberg Bible, Willis says, Western Christianity "has walked on literate feet," indirectly requiring literacy for evangelism and discipleship. Yet more than 4 billion of the world's people are oral learners. According to the 2004 Lausanne paper "Making Disciples of Oral Learners," nearly 90 percent of the world's Christian workers serve among auditory learners and often use inappropriate, literacy-based communication styles...."
What grabbed me in this article was the statement that Western Christianity has indirectly required literacy in order to participate fully in evangelism. As a reformed Christian, one of the key distinctives is that we can read the Scriptures in our own language. It never really occurred to me that it might be a bar to anyone who is not literate in their own language. What we take for granted may not be an option for many people in the world today.

I should note, though, that prior to the Reformation, what the average person knew about the faith was transmitted orally, so care must be taken to ensure that the Word is transmitted accurately. The article notes, though, that hearing the Word creates a desire to read it for oneself, thus encouraging literacy.

The points raised in this article need to be taken seriously, even by we Presbyterians who are known be strong advocates of a literate, intellectual, and reasoned faith.

Technorati tags: , ,

Quotidian Grace: More Than Whiskey and Shamrocks

Quotidian Grace: More Than Whiskey and Shamrocks:
"...While continental Europe sank into illiteracy and chaotic warfare during the Dark Ages, the monks of the Emerald Isle carefully copied and preserved the essential books of the faith and Western Culture. March 17th originally was the feast day of St. Patrick and marked the bringing of Christianity to Ireland by that early missionary in the early fifth century...."
QG has a nice posting today on the Irish and their contributions to western civilization.

I read How the Irish Save Civilzation (Thomas Cahill, 1995) about 10 years ago and was quite impressed (once my wife convinced me to read it). Her great-grandfather left Ireland during the Potato Famine, and settled in Dodge City, Kansas. My background is more English/Scots, but I can relate to the considerable influence the Irish had on the development of Christianity in the English-speaking world.

Technorati tags: , ,

Thursday, March 16, 2006

British Scientist Wins Religion Prize - Los Angeles Times

British Scientist Wins Religion Prize - Los Angeles Times:
"John D. Barrow, a Cambridge University cosmologist who has researched and written extensively about the relationship between life and the universe, on Wednesday was awarded the 2006 Templeton Prize, worth about $1.4 million, for progress in spiritual knowledge.

Barrow, 53, a professor of mathematical sciences who once held research fellowships in astronomy and physics at UC Berkeley, is the sixth scientist to win the award, considered the Nobel Prize for religion...."

"...Astronomy, he said, "breathes new life" into so many religious questions that arise from humanity's quest for meaning.

"We see now how it is possible for a universe that displays unending complexity and exquisite structure to be governed by a few simple laws — perhaps just one law — that are symmetrical and intelligible," Barrow said...."
I can't show data to support my opinion, but it seems that, of all the sciences, the astronomers are the most receptive to the spiritual dimension.

I thnk most of us are in awe of the universe and its vastness, power, and beauty.

Technorati tags: , ,

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The State News - Scientists don't need to dismiss religion to be credible, accurate

Scientists don't need to dismiss religion to be credible, accurate:
-- Rudy Bernard

"In a recent column, "Evolutionary theory, science needed to vaccinate irrational beliefs" (SN 2/16), John Bice promoted science as a way of protecting us from irrational beliefs, such as belief in God.

For him, religion is a disease from which only scientific rationality can save us. He seems to be unaware that faith has a rational dimension expressed in theology, which was famously defined in the 12th century by St. Anselm as "faith seeking understanding."

One might disagree with any or all theological positions, but simply dismissing religion as irrational just doesn't rise to the level of serious intellectual discourse...."
Rudy Bernard doesn't mince words here. He sees a cultural war being waged by fundamentalists on both ends of the religious/secularist spectrum, and that for each side there is no middle ground.

Bernard is a professor emeritus of physiology and neuroscience at Michigan State University, so he isn't speaking of scientific issues as an outsider.

The logical error that secular fundamentalists make is to assume that all of reality is open to scientific study. Therefore if it cannot be studied, it is not real, and thus belief in the supernatural is irrational. The methods of science do not allow for testing negatives; the scientific method can only deal with what can be measured. To make statements that there is no God is not science, anymore than is postulating Intelligent Design.

The middle is caught in the crossfire between the fundamentalists of the fringes.

Technorati tags: , ,

Spiritual Fast Food

Spiritual Fast Food

Reading God's Word need not take an eternity, say publishers of speedy Bibles.

by Emily Louise Zimbrick

"The Bible has long been one of the world's least-read bestsellers. According to pollster George Barna's January 2005 survey of more than 1,000 adults, 45 percent said they read the Bible during a typical week. But publisher Zondervan said that while 91 percent of Americans own at least one Bible, only 22 percent have read through the entire text. Fewer still seem to understand it. About 12 percent of Americans think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc, according to a Gallup poll.

Proponents of a new trend, however, hope to make God's word digestible for the masses not in years, but in weeks, days, and—yes—even minutes. The BBC reported that The 100-Minute Bible, published last September, has already sold 100,000 copies...."
Hmmm. Wasn't there a "Reader's Digest Condensed Bible many years ago? This seems to take it a step or two further.

How much of the richness of Scripture can be shoehorned into 100 minutes of reading material?

One thing is certain -- Biblical literacy is pretty low in the USA, and if this gets people in the door, as it were, then hopefully they will want to read the real thing.

Technorati tags: ,

Monday, March 13, 2006

Saw an Interesting Thing

This morning as I was driving into work, one of the lights on Stadium Boulevard was flashing yellow for the main road and red for the side street. Under ordinary circumstances the means the side streets wait until traffic is clear before proceeding. This was not going to happen, since it was early rush hour.

People on Stadium were stopping and letting side traffic enter the road. What is even more amazing is that this requires all four lanes to cooperate, so for a while, this was a de facto 4-way stop.

Maybe there is is hope yet for Missouri drivers....

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Slate -- Interview with Robert Pollack

Slate has an interview with Robert Pollack, a biology professor at Columbia University. This is part of a series of conversations with a wide range of people on the general topic of faith and reason.

If you don't like to listen to streaming video, there is a link to the full transcipt on down the page.

Technorati tags: , - Police: U.S. hostage, shot, tortured - Mar 11, 2006 - Police: U.S. hostage shot, tortured - Mar 11, 2006:
"BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- American hostage Tom Fox -- who was kidnapped with three other Christian peace activists in November -- has been found shot in the head with his body showing signs of torture, Iraqi emergency police told CNN Saturday...."
It is stories like this that make me wonder if peace will come to Iraq in my lifetime.

No matter where you fall on the continuum of feelings about the war in Iraq, one cannot ignore the dedication to peacemaking that Tom Fox, and the three others who were abducted with him, have demonstrated.

Christian Peacemaking Teams has more information on their website.

We should all continue to pray for Iraq.

Technorati tags: , ,

Gift Furthers Study of Koreans and Christianity - Los Angeles Times

Gift Furthers Study of Koreans and Christianity - Los Angeles Times:
[free registration may be needed]
L.A. County employee Dong Soon Im and his wife, Mi Ja Im, donate a $1-million windfall to fund an academic chair at UCLA.

By Juliet Chung, Times Staff Writer
March 11, 2006

"For a decade, UCLA officials searched for funds to underwrite a chair for the study of Koreans and Christianity. All their efforts failed.

Then last year someone finally emerged to endow the professorship with a $1-million gift...."

The benefactors are members of a Presbyterian church, and came into a windfall when they sold property they had owned for over 25 years.

20% of the South Korean population is Christian, and this is credited with the move toward democracy in Korea.

Korea is second only to the United States in the number of missionaries they send out, and some of them are here in the United States.

According to the Prebyterian Historical Society, Korea only became open to outside influences in 1883, and Presbyterian missionaries were among the first to arrive. The American Presbyterians followed their geographical traditions with the PCUSA working in the northern part while the PCUS worked in the south.

This mission included not only evangelism but education and medical efforts as well. (No wonder Marj Carpenter is "sinfully proud" of our Presbyterian heritage...)

Evangelism in Korea has been a success story, and Presbyterians should be glad to have played a part in God's plan. I hope as a denomination we can rekindle the outward-looking zeal that American Presbyterians had in the late 19th and 20th centuries. We could do no better than to look at the Korean Presbyterian Church for a role model.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Friday, March 10, 2006

CBC Calgary - School board chair could lose job over religion

CBC Calgary - School board chair could lose job over religion:
A public school trustee from Didsbury says his job is in danger because he is Catholic.

Roy Brassard has been the chair of the Chinook's Edge School Division for the past eight years but under the Alberta School Act, a member of the Catholic faith who lives in an area where a Catholic school division is established cannot serve as a public trustee.

Catholic school supporters voted to extend the boundaries of the Red Deer Catholic School District into Didsbury in February 2005 and the change was approved by the province in June.

"I ran for our school board in good faith," Brassard said. "Then, all of sudden, this has been put in after the fact and has put my position in jeopardy, for no other reason that I happen to be Catholic. I don't think that's right."
We take a great deal for granted with regard to the freedoms we enjoy here in the United States. In the past 45 years we have gone from wondering if a Catholic president would take his orders from the Vatican to a Supreme Court that has a Catholic majority for the first time on our country's history.

I really didn't expect this of Canada, but this is a provincial law, and may not reflect Canada's actual stance on freedom of religion.

Technorati tags: ,

Inmate Who Became a Priest Is Paroled by Gov. - Los Angeles Times

Inmate Who Became a Priest Is Paroled by Gov. - Los Angeles Times:
The freeing of convicted murderer James Tramel is a turnabout for Schwarzenegger.
By Steve Chawkins, Times Staff Writer
March 10, 2006

"Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has decided to parole James Tramel, a convicted murderer who was ordained an Episcopal priest in prison, a spokeswoman for the governor said Thursday.

In declining to review Tramel's case, the governor is letting stand an October 2005 decision by the state parole board to free the 38-year-old inmate, said Julie Soderlund, a Schwarzenegger aide.

The action is a turnabout for the governor, who last year rejected the board's 2004 decision to release Tramel...."
Rehabilitation is not an exact science, but I suspect that this is a case where parole is justifed.

I blogged about this ealier this week in a posting titled "Serving God -- and Time", which refered to a Los Angeles Times article of the same name. At the time it seemed that Governor Schwarzenegger was not inclined to view Tramel's case with any sympathy, but apparently the letters on the Rev. Tramel's behalf helped, along with the articles telling the story of his journey while behind bars.

The Rev. Tramel has a position waiting for him at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Berkeley, the Episcopal congregation who supported him during his quest to serve God in prison.

Technorati tags: , ,

Thursday, March 09, 2006 - Suspect: Church fires started as 'joke' - Mar 8, 2006 - Suspect: Church fires started as 'joke' - Mar 8, 2006:
"BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (CNN) -- Three Birmingham college students were arrested and charged Wednesday in connection with a string of Alabama church fires that is described in court papers as a joke that "got out of hand," authorities said...."
I don't know whether to be relieved or scared.

It never appeared to be race-based, but this turn of events leaves serious questions.

[UPDATE] Beau Weston of The Gruntled Center posted an article called "Church Burnings Hit Close to Home" with additional details and comments.

Technorati tags: , ,

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Serving God -- and Time - Los Angeles Times

Serving God -- and Time - Los Angeles Times:
By phone from prison, James Tramel preaches at a Berkeley church. The convicted murderer has been ordained and hopes to be paroled.

By Steve Chawkins, Times Staff Writer
March 4, 2006

VACAVILLE, Calif. — Four times a year, the Rev. James Tramel preaches via collect call to Berkeley's Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd.

"The way of Jesus is radically inclusive," he said one morning last summer. "The grace of God as manifest in Jesus Christ is a grand love that embraces sinners, outcasts and strangers."
I struggle with this on a fairly regular basis. I believe in changed lives through the power of God's Holy Spirit, and I believe in redemption through Jesus' atonement. But how do you measure rehabilitation?

The Rev. James Tramel has been in prison for 20 years and by all accounts seems to have been a positive influence in prison, and has fully acknowledged his complicity in the murder of a homeless man at the age of 17. Following a 1993 encounter with a dying man in the prison infirmary, he began a course of action that resulted in his being ordained an Episcopal priest in October of 2005.

People who are supporting him include seminary professors, prison guards, prosecutors, and an Episcopal bishop.

Governor Schwarzenegger is not in that group, though, and Tramel's parole recommendation is before him for a second time.

Technorati tags: ,

Living with Tares - Christianity Today Magazine

Living with Tares - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Whenever a priest or a deacon in the Episcopal Church is removed from ministry, the cleric's diocese sends official notification to every active bishop. In the years since the church's controversial General Convention of 2003—a convention that, among other things, consented to the ordination of a partnered gay bishop—most notices contain a disclaimer: "This action was taken for causes that do not affect moral character." This is code language. It usually means that the priest or deacon has left for reasons of conscience.

The departures are painful to me. Many of these clergy are beloved friends, not names on a form but fellow disciples, conscientious followers of Jesus. Why do I not join them?..."
This is a story that Presbyterians need to read and consider carefully. The reference to "tares" is from Matthew 13:24-30 ("tares" in the KJV is translated "weeds" in the NIV):
Mt 13:24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

Mt 13:27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

Mt 13:28 “ ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

Mt 13:29 “ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ”

--New International Version

It's God's job -- not ours.

Technorati tags: , , - Baseball great Kirby Puckett dies - Mar 7, 2006 - Baseball great Kirby Puckett dies - Mar 7, 2006:
"(CNN) -- Baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett, who helped lead the Minnesota Twins to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991, died Monday after suffering a stroke over the weekend, the team announced. He was 45...."
I remember watching Kirby Puckett play and was impressed with his poise and cheerfulness. He will be missed.

Technorati tags:

Drawing on the Past for New Bible

Drawing on the Past for New Bible:
Illustrated, Handwritten Edition Is a First in Recent Times

By Jason Kane
Religion News Service
Saturday, March 4, 2006; Page B09

"With the help of computers, calfskins and turkey feathers, Donald Jackson is reviving a lost art form by creating a Bible by hand, at a cost of about $4 million.

The St. John's Bible, a seven-volume, illustrated endeavor scheduled for completion next year, is the first handwritten Bible to be commissioned by a major religious institution in 500 years...."
This is quite an undertaking. This ilustrated handwritten New Revised Standard Version will contain not only traditional calligraphy and illumination, but many of the illustrations call to mind contemporary events.

Technorati tags: ,

Monday, March 06, 2006

If it’s broke …

If it’s broke …:
Jack Haberer, Outlook editor

"If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it’s broke, restructure it.

Presbyterians in the pews may be excused for rolling their eyes over reports that the General Assembly Council is restructuring itself. Many will tell you that the GAC is broke—functionally, if not financially. Many wonder if it can be rebuilt at all. Some think it’s not worth the effort.

Such a state of affairs is tragic, to say the least. Organized to implement the directives of the General Assemblies to facilitate the fulfillment of Christ’s commission, the GAC is endowed with a high purpose, a broad authority, and huge resources...."
Haberer points out the disconnect that many Presbyterians feel with their national leadership, and questions whether a restructuring will fix that and many other perceived shortcomings of the general Assembly Council.

I'll reserve judgement until I know more about what is involved, but a larger GAC could potentially represent more constituencies, but be so cumbersome and expensive that its size would end up a liability. On the other hand, the "leaner, more streamlined version" could end up being far more susceptible to shifts in power that may not represent the wider PC(USA).


Mike Kruse of The Kruse Kronicle has posted a response to Haberer's editorial.

Mike is an elder and a member of GAC and has some answers to the questions Jack Haberer posed.

Technorati tags: ,

Gadget Lets Authors Sign Books From Afar - New York Times

Gadget Lets Authors Sign Books From Afar - New York Times:
"LONDON (AP) -- Margaret Atwood has had enough of long journeys, late nights and writer's cramp. Tired of grueling book tours, the Booker Prize-winning Canadian author on Sunday unveiled her new invention: a remote-controlled pen that allows writers to sign books for fans from thousands of miles away.

Some fear Atwood's LongPen could end the personal contact between writers and readers. Atwood says it will enhance the relationship...."
As much of a computer geek as I am, I still value books with covers (preferably hardcover) and pages I can turn. In a sense, the physical book provides me what my laptop cannot -- something I can always rely on and something I can pull out and read under nearly every condition.

I don't haunt book signings, although I have several signed copies. It just doesn't quite seem the same to have a book signed by remote control. It takes the personal contact out of interacting with an author in much the same way as electronic books take away the comforting feel of a well-thumbed book.

Technorati tags:

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Back from Fishing

Well, I was wrong. We arrived at the primitive camping site at Thomas Hill Reservoir in sleet, that turned briefly to snow. There was no accumulation, but the rain continued sporadically most of the day, giving a three hour or so respite in the mid afternoon.

We drove the scouts around to the other side of the reservoir where the thermal effluent from the Thomas Hill Power Plant provided some fairly good fishing. Most of the boys caught several fish, including sunfish, bass, and channel catfish. It is somewhat odd to take a bluegill off the line, and feel that it is considerably warmer than your hands.

The night was peaceful, marked occaisionally by the yipping of coyotes and the arrival of a flock of geese.

About 1 hour before we broke camp, it rained, so all the tents were put away wet.

All-in-all, a great campout.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Off until Sunday

I'm off for a day and a half to indulge two of my other passions -- Scouting and fishing.

This is our "Fishing Campout" and 60+ boys and about 25 adults will converge on Thomas Hill Reservoir and see if any fish are up and about. We expect some rain this evening and Sunday, but nothing too obnoxious.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Bread for the World -- A Rationale

Our Session recently acted to become a covenant partner with Bread for the World, and in the course of discussion it became obvious that there were questions about the nature of the organization and its lobbying activities. This article was written originally to address those concerns. Specific references to our congregation have been edited.

A consensus is starting to emerge among people of faith that, in the face of many exacerbating factors, simply feeding people is not going to end the problem of hunger. We believe that a successful strategy to eliminate hunger involves reducing or eliminating the corrosive effects of extreme poverty.

Former Senator George McGovern has teamed with Bob Dole and Donald E. Messer in the writing of a book titled Ending Hunger Now published in September 2005 by Augsburg Fortress Press. The themes of this book have considerable overlap with the goals of Bread for the World and the PC(USA).

In Africa, disease, corruption, civil war, massive debt, unfair trade and extreme poverty all contribute to hunger. Bread for the World is a partner along with many religious denominations and relief organizations in The One Campaign, an organization devoted to addressing the full range of causes of hunger in the world. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has recently joined this partnership.

While war within our borders may not contribute to hunger in the United States, poverty, corruption and disease do. We have seen how recent natural disasters have affected people of all economic strata. But we have also seen how the lowest areas in New Orleans tended to be occupied by people from the lowest economic strata, thus the long-term effects of the disaster fall disproportionately upon them.

We are fortunate in this nation to have a safety net that ensures that the poor are fed: Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, school lunches, and other programs are the basis of this support. Unfortunately such programs have proven to be vulnerable to budget cuts. The Central Missouri Food Bank struggles every day to meet the needs of the less fortunate – imagine how much more difficult it would be if the Federal programs that provide basic nutritional needs for the poor are reduced or eliminated?

Bread for the World is, in their own words, “a nationwide Christian citizens movement seeking justice for the world's hungry people by lobbying our nation's decision makers.” BFW works in a non-partisan way to encourage legislative bodies to support anti-hunger initiatives. To this end BFW has helped forge bipartisan support for such legislation as the Hunger-Free Communities Act of 2005 (S. 1120 and H.R. 2717). This legislation has 30 cosponsors in the Senate and 117 cosponsors in the House. BFW activities have been instrumental in the passage of several acts to increase development assistance to Africa as well as funding to fight disease and eliminate hunger. Former Senator Bob Dole and former Congressman Leon Panetta have written a letter endorsing BFW’s 2005 Make Hunger History initiative.
Bread for the World is a lobbying organization, but they are lobbyists with a difference:

  • They proceed from a firm Christian faith.
  • They do not advocate for themselves, but rather on behalf of those who are hungry, sick, and without shelter.
  • They are non-partisan in philosophy and action, and have built effective consensus on both sides of the political divide.

Is lobbying legal for churches and other nonprofit organizations? Yes, according to the IRS, provided lobbying does not make up a “substantial part” of the overall activities of the church (IRS Publication 1828 pp 5-6). These include direct financial support, letter writing, and time spent by paid staff and volunteers. The Presbyterian Church (USA) engages in well-organized lobbying via the Presbyterian Hunger Program and the Washington Office, yet stays well within IRS guidelines.

Covenant membership in Bread for the World entails a financial commitment that is determined by the individual church. Some churches provide as much as $5000 per year while others can afford only $50. The average yearly commitment is $500. In addition to a financial commitment, covenant partners meet their half of the covenant by helping to educate the congregation about hunger issues (Bread for the World provides educational materials) and responding to calls for letter writing to local elected officials.

As Christians we are not alone in this effort. There are hundreds of individual congregations, including 180 Presbyterian churches and three presbyteries that have joined Bread for the World as Covenant Partners. In Missouri there are 11 Covenant Partners. Nationwide, over 35 denominations and church-related organizations have partnered with BFW in local, institutional and financial ways.

Bread for the World attempts to influence public policy in a way that is consistent with our call from God (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Proverbs 14:31; Isaiah 10:1-2; Jeremiah 29:4-7; Micah 6:8; Luke 4:16-20; Matthew 25:31-46). The Mission Committee believes it is entirely appropriate to engage in non-partisan efforts to influence public policy in furtherance of our Christian calling. Our primary Mission efforts will remain unchanged – providing direct aid to organizations that serve those in need – but by allocating a small portion of our budget toward influencing public policy issues that affect the poor among us, we recognize that the solution to hunger here and abroad involves more than just feeding people.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Where in the World?

I saw this on Quotidian Grace's blog, and decided to give it a try. I have the advantage that I was an army brat, so I lived on both coasts, and travelled much of the country in between.

create your own visited states map

create your own visited countries map

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Walking the Talk After Tsunami - Christianity Today Magazine

Walking the Talk After Tsunami - Christianity Today Magazine:
In a region known for its hostility to the church, Christian relief work is building bridges with Muslims.

by Tony Carnes | posted 02/28/2006 09:00 a.m.

"On remote Breueh Island, northern Sumatra, lie two fishing villages, Lhoh and Lampuyang, which serve as home to local fishermen. Lhoh faces west on the island's inlet. Lampuyang is on the other side, much closer to the island's mountains. Lhoh is smaller and is known for its popular coffee shop. Lampuyang is larger, richer, and has a vibrant downtown and the local mosque.

Stories of fishing adventures were being swapped the late December morning that a massive earthquake shook the region. Minutes later, a Lhoh villager shouted, "The water is disappearing!" The quake had moved thousands of square miles of ocean bottom to the east, triggering three gigantic waves—a tsunami of frightening proportions...."

This is a story of Christian groups, indigenous as well as external, rolling up their sleeves, doing relief work, and in the process earning the respect of the Muslim community.

It is also a story of changing perceptions, and the courage of a village leader who resisted the pressure to forcibly expel the Christian groups who were helping rebuild houses, fishing boats, and airlifting supplies.

Technorati tags: ,