Sunday, April 30, 2006

Gruntled Center: Need to Balance The Church Headquarters Budget? Fire the Prophets

Gruntled Center: Need to Balance The Church Headquarters Budget? Fire the Prophets:
"...The church needs prophets, as does society as a whole. That is why God keeps sending them. The place of prophets is outside the house of power, speaking truth. The Presbyterian Center is a house of power. It needs servants who the local congregations can trust. If the church trusted the HQ, the money would flow.
The Gruntled Center has a rather provocative idea for stewardship of the dwindling dollars that the dwindling members of the PC(USA) send to Louisville.

As he points out, this is a matter of trust. It will be difficult to rebuild that trust as long as there is such a disconnect between the beliefs and values of the local congregation members and those of the office in Louisville.

Still, I hope that when the details of the cuts emerge that they will demonstrate a commitment to strengthen Mission while eliminating that which is extraneous the the six Great Ends of the Church.

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PC(USA) News: Council adopts budget of $97.3 million

PC(USA) News: Council adopts budget of $97.3 million:
LOUISVILLE — After three hours of private sessions Saturday morning — and more than 15 hours earlier in the week — the General Assembly Council (GAC) has adopted a revised 2007-2008 “Mission Work Plan (MWP) Budget” of $97.3 million.

The budget, built around the eight MWP objectives, represents cuts of $9.15 million in program and staff at the Presbyterian Center here. No details were announced, as layoff notices will not be given to employees until Monday.

The Presbyterian News Service will post the names of program and staff cuts by 2 p.m. Monday. Detterick will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. Monday and a staff meeting at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Presbyterian Center.

In a brief written statement, the council hinted at a few of its decisions. It asked for a comprehensive review of evangelism and witness programs between now and the GAC’s September meeting, including “alternative programs that will directly speak to communicating the gospel in clear ways which will give a stronger integrity to our mission work plan.”
The top two items in the Mission Work Plan budgets for 2007 and 2008 are poverty and evangelism at $22.7 million and $16.7 million, respectively.

Mike Kruse, of the Kruse Kronicle, is a member of GAC and has posted a (necessarily) vague, but optimistic update on the GAC decisions.

I look forward to seeing the PNS story on Monday as well as Mike's commentary.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Task force proposed to find divestment alternatives, report findings in 2008

Task force proposed to find divestment alternatives, report findings in 2008:
Presbyterian Outlook (registration required to read the full article)
"LOUISVIILLE – Seeking to calm the storm over divestment and get people talking constructively about the Middle East, Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the 216th General Assembly, is proposing a plan.

First, the General Assembly this summer in Birmingham would create a task force to carefully monitor events in the Middle East – a task force whose members would be committed both to working with Palestinian Christians who want to end the Israeli occupation and to deepening relations with Jews and Muslims in the area. That task force would present ideas on “how to move forward on these sensitive areas” to the assembly in 2008.

Second, the assembly would refer all overtures regarding divestment (and there are a truckload of them) to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee. Many of those sending overtures want the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to revisit the assembly’s highly controversial decision, made in 2004, to begin a process of phased, selective divestment in some companies doing business in Israel....

Third, Ufford-Chase is recommending that conversations begin – including MRTI, the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation – regarding alternate investment possibilities “that promote peace and strengthen the economies both in Israel and the occupied territories.” A number of the overtures sent to the assembly want to explore this area, he told the council – so there already seems to be some energy coalescing around this possibility...."
The PC(USA) is not going to please everyone, no matter what it decides at the upcoming General Assembly. If any damage was done (and I think our credibility was one casualty), then it happened in 2004 when the divestment overture was approved. Since then there have been overtures ranging from endorsment of the 2004 action to repudiation of divestment, and many in the middle.

The overtures representing the middle seem to focus on affirmative support for peacemaking rather than trying to take a political and punitive approach targetted mainly toward one side in the conflict.

It seemed that "damage control" began immediately following the 2004 action of General Assembly and it became obvious that the MRTI committee was not given the power to act independently. All recommendations would have to come before a subsequent General Assembly. MRTI has already made it known that no recommendations will be presented at the 217th GA, thus the earliest any actions can be implemented is 2008.

From my perspective, the issues include the following:
  • The apparent one-sidedness of the action, targetting Israel, but minimizing the actions of Palestinian terrorists.
  • Erroneous assertions that Caterpiller manufactured "armor-plated bulldozers" for Israel. (They don't. Armor plating is applied by a third party)
  • The legal difficulties in managing pension funds for any other reason than the benefit of its shareholders.
  • The failure to take into account the intertwining of the Israeli and Palestinian economies, making it difficult, if not impossible to "target" Israeli investments without causing harm to all sides, including the people.
  • The failure to discuss this with wider constituencies prior to the 216th GA.
Our penchant for doing things "decently and in order" has slowed this process down, and many, if not most seem to agree that this could have been handled far better. We have the opportunity to correct our missteps, achieve some measure of reconciliation with the Jewish community, and concentrate on pastoral efforts to bring about peace.

We are not, nor should we be, the agents of punishment, and I am heartened to see so many overtures that express pastoral concern to the Middle East, and I hope the 217th GA adopts one of these thoughtful overtures as the paradigm through which our social mission in the world is carried out.

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Busy. Busy. Busy.

I am still in Arlington, VA attending the Internet2 Spring Meeting. My days have been full, but interesting, and I just haven't had time to do much blogging, although I have tried to answer comments.

I did have a unique opportunity as chair of our congregation's candidate care committee -- one of our seminarians is doing an internship in Washington DC, and we were able to have a very nice dinner and conversation Monday night. He is ready to proceed to the candidacy phase, so I (and the committee and session) will be seeing him in Missouri in a couple weeks. It's great when business and pleasure can be combined.

My brother, who lives in Annapolis, will pick me up this afternon at the hotel and we will have dinner, following which he will deposit me at Reagan/National Airport in time for an 8:40 flight back to St. Louis. I will then drive back to Columbia and arrive in the wee hours of Thursday.

Later Thursday my parents will arrive, and I plan to take Friday off and visit with them. That will be a good time, and we are looking forward to it.

And I am looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.

Monday, April 24, 2006 - A green Christian conservative - A green Christian conservative:
By Rod Dreher

"Earth Day is not my day, not really.

As both a conservative and an avid indoorsman, I've always seen it as a high holy day for hippies, Whole Foods devotees, spotted-owl fetishists and sundry crunchy-granola types who believe that "Think Globally, Act Locally" is the Eleventh Commandment.

But you know, I've got to wonder how much longer we on the right can justify an environmental philosophy that amounts to little more than sneering at liberal tree-huggers...."
Good article; more to come when I get a chance to take it all in...

[UPDATE - April 25, 2006 6:17am CDT]
OK. I have some time now. Rod Dreher, who is an assistant editorial page editor for the Dallas Morning News as well as a blogger (Crunchy Cons blog on, sees environmental policy as a Christian reponsibility. To him it is a matter of "moral and spiritual integrity" and that the challenge facing humankind "dwarfs the narcissism of the usual left-right politics."

Whether you agree or disagree with how the important issues are identified, and the solutions that are proposed, Dreher certainly has presented something worth thinking about. I concur with him that letting ideology get in the way of our duty as Christians is a matter of serious concern.

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Back after a long weekend...

I spent Friday night and half of Saturday with the Boys Scouts at the Spring Camporee, but returned in order to pack by bags and make other preparations for the Internet2 Spring Meeting being held in Arlington, VA.

I spent the morning of Earth Day, 2006 at church, and in early afternoon I loaded my bags into my environmentally correct 4-cylinder front-wheel drive Ford Escape, picked up my boss, drove to the St. Louis airport, and boarded a fully-loaded jet for Reagan-National Airport. A call for volunteers to willingly give up their seats apparently was successful, since we did take off on time and arrived a few minutes early into the D.C. area.

This morning I read the complimentary USAToday newspaper (dead tree edition) and noticed two viewpoint articles on religion and environment: Is God an Environmentalist? and A Green Christian Conservative.

The former is a bit strident, but worth reading. The latter shows how one Christian was able to get past the ideology often associated with evangelical Christians, and start to realize that stewardship of creation is one of God's callings. More on the second article will follow this posting.

Friday, April 21, 2006

'You Trying to Say Jesus Christ Can't Hit a Curveball?' - Christianity Today Magazine

'You Trying to Say Jesus Christ Can't Hit a Curveball?' - Christianity Today Magazine:
"Even I didn't think the season would effectively end this quickly. Back in spring training I wrote about my unhealthy allegiance to the Kansas City Royals. Already 2-11 and riding a nine-game losing streak, the Royals may be lucky to lose fewer than 106 games, the franchise record they set last year...."
1985 seems like such a long time ago...

I will stick with the Royals, nevertheless. They are my team whether they win or lose. They kind of remind be of the Mid-Missouri Mavericks, Columbia's minor league team. They certainly have a similar win/loss record.

The rest of the article is worth reading.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Judas' deal, 2,000 years later - Los Angeles Times

Judas' deal, 2,000 years later - Los Angeles Times:
[free registration required]
"...The Gospel of Judas tells a riveting story that many people find new. It says that Jesus asked Judas to betray him, thus setting the Passion into motion. But the gospel's provenance shows that some things don't change in a couple of millenniums — except for inflation. Thirty pieces of silver then, or $1.5 million now: It's still about money...."
This LA Times editorial raises issues about not only the provenance of the Gospel of Judas manusript, but the ethical issues involved in how it was acquired and how it is being used today -- issues which National Geographic did not address in the program they aired recently.

These issues, of course, do not detract from the fact that this is a significant historical document that provides many clues as to the mindset of the Cainite Gnostics of the second century A.D. (even if it does not tell us much useful about Jesus).

An interesting assertion in this editorial is that the antiquity dealer's lawyer sold only the rights to use the material to National Geographic -- since selling an antiquity whose history is not documented is illegal. It is also interesting to note that this particular dealer has been convicted in the past of possessing looted objects.

The LA Times points out that that National Geographic did make it possible to restore the manuscript, and it seems that the papyrus is now under Egyptian control. But the act of cutting deals with questionable antiquity dealers and the failure to acknowledge that fact leaves out an important part of the story.

Much important information has been irretrievably lost by looters and unscrupulous dealers -- information that could have been obtained by competent archaeologists using the methods of their profession. Such information would have given us even more insight to the various groups operating at the fringes of Christianity.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The top ten responsibilities of the Session

The top ten responsibilities of the Session:
"Whenever I ask our young people a rhetorical question at the time for the Children’s Sermon during the service of worship several of them inevitably give the answer “Jesus.” No matter what I ask, the response is the same. Presumably they have learned that the odds are good that he is the right answer to almost any query. Somewhat similarly, when I lead officer training workshops in our presbytery and around the country I always ask new elders, deacons, and trustees to give a singular answer to this question: What duties of the church belong to the session? “All of them” is usually the right answer since the session has to make decisions on most matters that concern the life and work of the local church unless they are specifically given to the pastor or to some other governing body.

What are the top ten responsibilities of the session?


Top Ten Session Responsibilities

1. Evangelism
2. Mission and Justice
3. Worship
4. Education
5. Stewardship
6. Finance
7. Transformation
8. Administration
9. Higher Governing Bodies
10. Ecumenical Relationships

Earl S. Johnson, pastor of First Church of Johnstown, NY, has finished a 6 part series on "What is a Presbyterian Elder?" In this installment he looks at the Book of Order and its treatment of the responsibilities of an elder.

Having served on Session for 3 terms over a span of 30-some years, I can say that a better job can be done as far as elder training is concerned. All too often new elders are given a Book of Order and a short class in how a Session operates. It sounds like elders at First Church, Johnstown, NY get a comprehensive orientation to their functions.

I have a book, courtesy of my mother, called Presbyterian Polity for Church Officers, which I read last year. It tells a lot about the polity of the church, from the local congregation on through the General Assembly. The title is linked to Amazon.Com, and its price of $17.95 is reasonable. It might be a good investment for congregations to ensure each new elder has a copy.

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Washington Post:: Is Jesus Risen? Literal View Gains Ground

Is Jesus Risen? Literal View Gains Ground:
"Growing up in Fairfax County, Donita Dickerson and her family typically didn't attend church on Easter. She would dress up and go with her grandmother some years, but the holiday's central theme -- that Jesus rose from the dead -- was symbolic, not real.

"We were coming out of the 1960s, and everything was being challenged," she said. "My father was very into being against the establishment, and everything was about questioning everything."

Now 41 and the mother of two sons, Dickerson is in a study group at Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon that reads books such as the best-selling "The Case for Christ: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus," which focuses on supporting the traditional Christian view that Jesus returned from the dead, an event commemorated today.

"As you mature in your faith, at some point you say, 'I'm just going to believe this,' " she said as the group of 10 women gathered recently for an Easter-themed discussion. Everyone else nodded as she said, "I still believe it. That's why they call it faith."...

This article from The Washington Post (free registration required) is a well-balanced look at the upsurge in traditional beliefs concerning the resurrection, even in the face of well-publicised criticisms from the Jesus Seminar, and and the recent promotion (by a fiction bestseller) of an older theory that Jesus survived the cross and had children by Mary Magdalene.

What is Christianity without the Resurrection? It seems that many people are asking that question, and finding the answer, not in science, but in faith. As we have seen with the recent "scientific" studies of the efficacy of prayer, the methods of science are not quite up to the task of studying the supernatural.

This does not preclude the use of rational thought in matters of faith. For example -- which is easier to believe? That the physical resurrection of Jesus took place as Scripture describes? Or that those who were there for Jesus' ministry were willing to die for what they knew was a lie?

But logic can only take us so far.

Faith is where the answer ultimately needs to be found.

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Sunday, April 16, 2006

He Is Risen!

Ac 10:34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

Ac 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a tree, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

The Holy Bible, New International Version. Pradis CD-ROM:Ac 10:34.

He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog's Invitation - New York Times

Fibonacci Poems Multiply on the Web After Blog's Invitation - New York Times:
and rumor
But how about a
Rare, geeky form of poetry?

THAT'S exactly what happened after Gregory K. Pincus, a screenwriter and aspiring children's book author in Los Angeles, wrote a post on his GottaBook blog ( two weeks ago inviting readers to write "Fibs," six-line poems that used a mathematical progression known as the Fibonacci sequence to dictate the number of syllables in each line.
The Fibonacci Series is a numerical progression starting with zero and one, where the succeeding numbers result from the previous two added together:
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, ...

Fibonacci poetry, at least as defined by Gregory Pincus, consists of 6 lines, the first of which is 1 syllable, and the last of which is 8 syllables. (Zero is actually the first element of the Fibonacci Series, but Fibs start at one for obvious reasons)

Here is my humble offering:

God's Son;
died, and was buried.
rose; we are justified forever!

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Be Thou My Vision

Ever since I was old enough to sing hymns, one of my favorites has been Be Thou My Vision:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

I first encountered this haunting hymn in the early 1960's in a United Presbyterian Church in the USA congregation in Northern Virginia. We used the "green" hymnal (The Hymnal, 1933). When I moved to Colorado in the early 1970's the congregation I joined was using The Worshipbook (1970, 1972). In subsequent congregations I sang from the Hymnbook (1955). All three of these hymnals used the same four verses with no changes.

Not so with The Prebyterian Hymnal (1990) -- The four familiar verses were whittled down to three, and the middle verse (number three above) was changed in two places to use gender-neutral language. The last verse consisted of the first two lines of the traditional verse two and the last two lines of the traditional verse four.

I like most of the hymns in the 1990 hymnal. Where it does best is in the inclusion of new hymns, but I have to say that altering existing hymns rarely results in an improvement.

Hymns are poetry, and "retrofitting" poetry to conform to modern requirements is difficult at best (if the flow of the words is to be preserved). But more importantly, these hymns were a labor of love. I think it would be better to leave them out entirely rather than change them to fit the current ideas of what is correct. There are a number of people who can write new hymns that are every bit as meaningful as the hymns of previous centuries.

Be Thou My Vision has a symmetry about it in its traditional form, and it is rooted in Irish history and culture. By removing references to the High King, the only obvious reference to Ireland is on the upper left side of the page where it is identified as coming from an ancient Irish poem.

A favorite resource I have is The Cyber Hymnal, which has many hundreds of hymns, presented with all the verses that are known. It turns out that Be Thou My Vision has five verses. The following is placed between verses two and three of the traditional verses:
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.
One piece of interesting history is that the hymn tune, Slane, refers to Slane Hill -- about 10 miles from Tara, where the High King, Logaire, ruled during the time of Patrick. On Easter Eve of 433 A.D. Patrick defied the High King by lighting candles on Slane Hill.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Jesus and Judas Papers: A Look at Recent Claims about Jesus - Christianity Today Magazine

The Jesus and Judas Papers: A Look at Recent Claims about Jesus - Christianity Today Magazine:
Questions about history may be sincere, but make no mistake: There is an agenda at work.
by Darrell Bock | posted 04/13/2006 09:30 a.m.

"Keeping up with all the new Jesus books these days takes a scorecard. Just about the time one thing is behind us, a new one pops up on the radar. There is no doubt that The Da Vinci Code movie has spawned an array of works trying to take Dan Brown to the next level. Not all these efforts possess the same significance, but they all are trying to hype a revised understanding of Christian history. We may well be entering an era of more discussion about early Christian history than has existed in decades.

It is important to appreciate that many people asking questions or embracing the recent materials have no background in church history, so they have no way of assessing what is being said. Their questions are quite sincere in light of the repeated message they are hearing that the new materials should change our view of church history. However, the group that is producing this material is quite certain that these new finds do change our history significantly, even though the new finds do not really reach back to the first century. Such hype needs to be shown for what it really is, more efforts to discredit Jesus, the apostles, and the Bible and to exchange these central elements of Christian faith for a less unique, domesticated form of Christianity...."

A "domesticated form of Christianity"? It calls to mind the Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan is characterized as "not a tame lion".

This article discusses many issues that need to be addressed, including the relative lateness of the manuscripts and the theology that is proposed.

Read this Christianity Today article along with the Gospel of Judas -- It should be obvious reading of the translation (even with its gaps due to manuscript damage), that it is far outside what is accepted by the Church. Certainly the implication that eleven of the disciples worshipped another god, and that Jesus descended from Seth, Cain and Abel's younger brother, and that Jesus represents the true god (Barbelo), should raise questions.

Much of the confusion surrounding this proliferation of new gospels, revisionist histories, and novels that are confused with non-fiction can be dealt with by informed Christians who can articulate their faith clearly to those who are seeking answers.

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Controversial Social Activist, Dies at 81

The Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Controversial Social Activist, Dies at 81:
Presbyterian Outlook (free registration required to read the whole article)
Jason White, Religion News Service
c. 2006 Religion News Service

"The Rev. William Sloane Coffin Jr., a fiery and controversial social activist, Presbyterian minister and author who saw social justice "at the heart of the Gospel," died Wednesday (April 12). He was 81.

Coffin, who had been suffering from congestive heart failure, died at his home in rural Strafford, Vt.

He rose to prominence in the 1960s as Yale University's chaplain, a position he used to great effect to campaign against the Vietnam War and fight for civil rights for blacks...."
Whether you agree or disagree with how William Sloan Coffin conducted his ministry, it is a fact that he was one of the giants in the Presbyterian Church. He spoke on behalf of those without voice during a time when much of what he said needed to be said.

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Judas Code

The Judas Code:

Father Raymond J. de Souza, National Post
Published: Monday, April 10, 2006
"In the year 4006, an enterprising team from Global Geographic announces that experts in late second-millennium languages and data retrieval have pieced together an authentic copy of the long-rumoured-to-exist Da Vinci Code. Religious experts say that the discovery challenges traditional Christian doctrine, as the widely circulated document shows that early-21st-century Christians believed that Jesus was not divine, had married Mary Magdalene, founded a royal dynasty, etc ... It is believed that early fourth-millennium Vatican officials suppressed the sacred text

That is more or less the story of the much-ballyhooed Gospel of Judas. It is, no doubt, a remarkable historical find -- an apparently authentic fourth-century copy of a second-century document. But it tells us no more about Christian doctrine than does Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code...."
Here's an interesting look at the issues surrounding the Da Vinci Code by a Canadian priest. He points out that the appearance of the Gospel of Judas in the seccond century A.D. was not the first time a "false gospel" would appear, nor would it be the last.

I took the opportunity Sunday to download a pdf file of the Gospel of Judas from the National Geographic website. I read it in preparation for the 2 hour television special on the discovery and subsequent history of this "lost gospel". This TV special told us much about the gnostics, as well as the cultural milieu of the time, and one would have to concede that these papyrus fragments do tell us much about the Gnostics (at least the particular sect that wrote the gospel). But does it tell us anything substantive about Jesus? I suppose one way one could characterize the Gospel of Judas is "genuine, but false" (as opposed to being "fake, but accurate...").

Having read the Gospel of Judas and heard what the people interviewed on the National Geographic special had to say, I am grateful that the canon of Scripture left it and the other gnostic texts out.

As reformed Christians we believe that the Scriptures alone determine "what Man is to believe concerning God and what duties God requires of Man" (Westminster Shorter Catechism). There is no secret knowledge that is imparted to just a few. We all have equal access to the foundations of our faith and we are to pass on our faith to each other, and to the larger world around us.

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Monday, April 10, 2006

Blessed is the Law—Up to a Point - Christianity Today Magazine

Blessed is the Law—Up to a Point - Christianity Today Magazine:

A gentle challenge—and invitation—to the critics of our recent immigration editorial.
by Mark Galli, managing editor of Christianity Today

"We expected a fair amount of criticism for portraying sympathetically the plight of immigrants in "Blessed are the Courageous." We did not expect one complaint to be repeated in nearly every email:

'Your article "Blessed Are the Courageous" misses the point. People, regardless of their beliefs, nationality, good or bad are illegal if they do not follow the law to enter the country. If we are a nation where the rule of law is supreme, then it is wrong to only obey the laws we believe in, and disobey those we don't.'

Since nearly every critic expressed this exact sentiment, we thought some clarifications were in order, as well as a challenge for our law-and-order brothers and sisters. While legislation has been temporarily scuttled, we nonetheless want to encourage conversation about issues surrounding immigration...."

I have been following this discussion and have been disturbed by the rhetoric that pervades this issue. It is even more disturbing when Christians, who should know better, adopt the same rhetorical style as those whose motivations are purely ideological.

Christianity Today is not condoning lawlessness, nor is it minimizing the very real issues of social services that are stretched to their limits, but it is promoting Christian love toward those whose desperation drives them to seek a better life. This editorial goes on to point out some uncomfortable facts to any who see the law as "supreme":

"...This is nothing less than a biblical principle, as witnessed in Daniel's determination to worship his God despite "the laws of the Medes and Persians," in Rahab's betrayal of her people to help Israeli spies, in Jesus' unwillingness to submit to Sabbath laws when they harmed people, in the early apostles' refusal to cease preaching despite the authorities' command. As Peter put it to them, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God" (Acts 4:19). In each instance, the law of man was superceded by the law of love—of God and of neighbor...."

We seem to have forgotten that we ALL are of immigrant stock -- even Native Americans. We are here because our ancestors sought a better life. We seem also to have forgotten that our nation was founded in a massive (and bloody) act of civil disobedience -- because the law was unjust.

Christianity Today has shown considerable courage itself in speaking clearly to us in ways that do not resonate with the public at large, let alone many Christians.

Perhaps a little Christian compassion and mercy ought to temper our desire to uphold the law.

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

Most don't believe in the resurrection - 04/09/06 - The Detroit News

Most don't believe in the resurrection - 04/09/06 - The Detroit News:
"Most Americans don't believe they will experience a resurrection of their bodies after they die, putting them at odds with a core teaching of Christianity.

The findings of a Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll surprised and dismayed some of the nation's top theologians since it seems to put Americans in conflict with the Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed, ancient statements of faith meant to unify Christian belief...."
Note here that the question was not "the resurrection of Christ", but "the resurrection of the body", although it seems odd to me that one could believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but have difficulties with resurrection of the body at some future time. Or for that matter any number of "lesser" miracles.

These numbers seemed a little suspect, since I recalled different numbers from polls that are published on a regular basis regarding belief in the United States. A quick Google search turned up a number of hits, and a 2005 Harris poll on "The Religious and Other Beliefs of Americans 2005" was second on the list (after "Most Americans believe in Ghosts"). These results paint a different picture, including some interesting blends of Christian and non-Christian beliefs among people who identify themselves as "Christian". In this poll 889 US adults were surveyed.

A 2003 Harris Poll that asked similar questions of 2201 US adults, but broke the results down in a different way, is also available. In this poll, Table 3 separates Christians and non-Christians in their responses:


"Please indicate for each one if you believe in it, or not."











Survival of the soul after death












The resurrection of Christ




The Virgin birth (Jesus born of Mary)








The devil












Reincarnation – that you were once another person




Statistics is not an exact science, but asking the right questions goes a long way toward providing useful results.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006

For a Greener Palm Sunday Celebration

For a Greener Palm Sunday Celebration:
"Combining ecology and theology, hundreds of churches are choosing "eco-palms" for their Palm Sunday services this year.

The idea is resonating with congregations that had not given much thought to where palms come from. But many of them have taken an interest in similar causes, such as fair trade coffee, which benefits Third World coffee growers...."
Here's a couple things I did not know about the palms the kids wave on Palm Sunday.
Personally, when given a choice between "anonymous" coffee and fair-trade coffee, I go for the fair-trade, so it would not offend me if the palm frond industry in Mexico and Guatemala went the same direction.

The curmudgeon in me asks why we are importing tons o' palm fronds for a display of dubious theological value, but the mission committee chair in me wonders if our purchasing practices could be serving people a little better, especially in areas where fair trade can really make a difference.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

Document Is Genuine, but Is Its Story True? - New York Times

Document Is Genuine, but Is Its Story True? - New York Times:
"In 1959, when the Gospel of Thomas was first published in English, many Christians were shocked to learn that any gospels existed other than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

It was also the first time that most Christians had ever heard about the Gnostics — Christian communities in the second through fourth centuries whose scriptures and spiritual beliefs barely resemble what is now thought of as traditional Christianity.

But the Gospel of Judas, another piece of Gnostic scripture, has been released in a very different era. It is a time when many Christians have been bombarded by competing claims about their faith and its history, and some are grappling with how to absorb it all...."
This story has been making the rounds for a few weeks or more, and has aroused much interest.

For better or worse, Gnosticism has become a topic of discussion, and much verbiage has been expended on whether this represents the true Christianity, or if it represents a fringe movement that died out for good reasons.

The scholarly consensus is that this manuscript originated with a group known as the Cainites -- a sect of gnostics that believed that many of the questionable characters of the Bible were actually heroes. The copy that surfaced in Egypt is dated at about 300 A.D. and is written in Coptic.

Ben Witherington III, Professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary said this:
"There is no evidence that any of these documents ever represented mainstream Christianity," Professor Witherington said. "The Cainites were always on the fringes of their own movement."
I doubt many people would suggest that this represents "mainstream Christianity", but there are many who say that it should have been the mainstream. A far greater number (myself included), feel that, having read many of the Gnostic texts, the Canon of Scripture was correctly established.

There will be a National Geographic Special on Sunday, April 9 at 8pm Eastern Time. I plan to watch it, and hear more about this text.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Looking After Creation - Christianity Today Magazine

Looking After Creation - Christianity Today Magazine:
Acclaimed physicist Sir John Houghton discusses his motives and passion for a cooler world climate.
Interview by David Neff | posted 04/05/2006 10:00 a.m.

"Mark twain may or may not have said, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it." Sir John Houghton is trying to do something about it. As a result, the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan has awarded him the prestigious Japan Prize for 2006.

The 74-year-old physicist is recently retired from a long career in researching the physics of climate and weather. During that time, he has been a physics professor at Oxford University, the chief executive of the U.K.'s Meteorological ("Met") Office, and chair of the scientific assessment for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

He began to work on the effects of carbon dioxide emissions purely as an interesting physics problem. Eventually, he came to see it as his Christian duty to study the potential results of significant climate change. He has played a key role in gathering international groups of scientists, government representatives, and businesspeople to study the signs of global warming and to advocate for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to avert the worst effects of climate change...."
Here is an interview well worth reading in its entirety. I was especially impressed with Houghton's views on how this is an economic issue for the poor, since they tend to live in poorer countries that lack the infrastructure for dealing with weather disasters.

He sees care for the environment tightly linked to caring for the poor and disadvantaged.

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Monday, April 03, 2006

Quotidian Grace: Dog-Gone: Next Brown Thriller?

Quotidian Grace: Dog-Gone: Next Brown Thriller?:
"Our story to this point: Vlad Gonzales, acclaimed professor of Judaic Studies at Yale University, and Shannon Stein, the FBI's newest (and most attractive) codebreaker, have been thrown together by fate to solve one of the world's most ancient mysteries: the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant.

Having discovered that her dearly-beloved -- and recently departed -- Grammy was the leader in an elite Jewish order, the Priory of Zion, which was entrusted with the duty of preserving the secrecy of the Ark's location (and its contents), Stein is on a mission to uncover Grammy's secret so that it may not die with her.

Stein and Gonzales, on the run from American and Israeli forces, seek asylum at Vlad's weathly and eccentric friend Harold Blackstone's cottage on the shores of Crete. It is here, in this Mediterranean paradise, that Stein will learn the greatest secret in history...."
QG's daughter Portia, is guest-blogging this morning with an hilarious satire on The Da Vinci Code. Read the entire post for some well-written satire.

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Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Eagle and Child: Continuing Education -- A Course on Ancient Egypt

The Eagle and Child: Continuing Education -- A Course on Ancient Egypt:
"...Realize, I expected skepticism toward the story – I expected a debunking of the story as a myth. After all, this is a famous Egyptologist (and expert on mummification) – and there’s very little hard archaeological data for the Joseph story – no steles with Josephs name for instance.

Baird [Brier?] surprised me when he said that since we had no hard external evidence, we had to look at the internal evidence of the story (Genesis 37-50) – does it hang together from an Egyptologist’s point of view? And then he went through 9 items that indicate that the story “rings true” for him...."
Russell Smith of The Eagle and Child is viewing a 48 lecture series by Professor Bob Brier of Long Island University on The History of Ancient Egypt. He was pleasantly surprised by the treatment of the story of Joseph.

Many archaeologists note that there are apparently no written records of Joseph's time in Egypt, and conclude that the events never happened. It is always dangerous to come to conclusions from a lack of evidence, and Professor Brier went with what he had. His conclusion was that whoever told this story had a intimate knowledge of Egypt.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Prayer Doesn't Aid Recovery, Study Finds

Prayer Doesn't Aid Recovery, Study Finds:
[Washington Post, free registration required]
"Praying for other people to recover from an illness is ineffective, according to the largest, best-designed study to examine the power of prayer to heal strangers at a distance.

The study of more than 1,800 heart-bypass patients found that those who had people praying for them had as many complications as those who did not. In fact, one group of patients who knew they were the subject of prayers fared worse.

The long-awaited results, the latest in a series of studies that have not found any benefit from "distant" or "intercessory" prayer, came as a blow to those hoping scientific research would validate the popular notion that people can influence others' health, even if the sick do not know that someone is praying for them.

The researchers cautioned that the study was not designed to test the existence of God or the benefit of other types of prayer, such as praying for oneself or praying at the bedside of friends or relatives. They also did not rule out that other types of distant prayer may be effective for other types of patients...."
Last week I posted Researchers Look at Prayer and Healing, which made reference to an upcoming research article which would report that there was no discernable effect of intercessory prayer on the health of patients. The article will appear in the April 4th issue of the American Heart Journal.

Note that the researchers acknowledge the limitations of their methods in the last paragaph of the above excerpt. One of the authors, Charles Bethea, suggested that the group that knew they were being prayed for might have been under increased stress as a result of that knowledge -- in Bethea's words, "Did the patients think, 'I am so sick they had to call in the prayer team?' "

Doctors I have spoken with are quick to point out that there are a lot of intangibles affecting the course of healing, and that individual attitude and the support of family and friends has an effect on healing. No physician I have spoken with dismisses prayer as a useful adjunct to healing, and many are quite sure that it has a beneficial effect.

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