Thursday, November 30, 2006

EurekAlert!: Mystery of ancient astronomical calculator unveiled

EurekAlert!: Mystery of ancient astronomical calculator unveiled:

An international team has unravelled the secrets of a 2,000-year-old computer which could transform the way we think about the ancient world.

Professor Mike Edmunds and Dr Tony Freeth, of Cardiff University led the team who believe they have finally cracked the workings of the Antikythera Mechanism, a clock-like astronomical calculator dating from the second century BC.

Remnants of a broken wooden and bronze case containing more than 30 gears was found by divers exploring a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera at the turn of the 20th century. Scientists have been trying to reconstruct it ever since. The new research suggests it is more sophisticated than anyone previously thought.

Detailed work on the gears in the mechanism show that it was able to track astronomical movements with remarkable precision. The calculator was able to follow the movements of the moon and the sun through the Zodiac, predict eclipses and even recreate the irregular orbit of the moon. The team believe it may also have predicted the positions of some or all of the planets.

This can be filed under "seriously cool". This will be published in Nature and I am looking forward to reading the article when it appears. Professor Edmunds raises the tantalizing question of what else the Greeks were making at the time, if they could design a mechanical computer as sophisticated as this.

My Family Over The Years

The Hancock siblings, ca. 1960
(scan snagged from my brother Jim's website)

The Hancock Family, ca. 1969
(scan snagged from my brother Jim's website)

The Hancock family, spouses, and grandchildren in August 2001 on the occasion of our parent's 50th anniversary celebration. My siblings and I are toward the back on the left.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Gruntled Center: The Evangelizing New Atheists Will Lose More Centrists Than They Gain

The Gruntled Center: The Evangelizing New Atheists Will Lose More Centrists Than They Gain
"The current crop of evangelizing atheists – most notably Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Daniel Dennett (Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon), and Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) – want to convince agnostics that tolerating religion is wrong. The time has come, they argue, to drive the delusion out. ..."

Gruntled uses religious imagery to describe such people as Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett (the latter I am not familiar with), and this may not be well-received by the trio, but in terms of the belief system and the proselyting in which they engage, I think the choice of words is apt.

Belief in a negative (i.e. "there is no God") is logically unprovable, thus atheists must have faith, especially if they are going to engage in a crusade against those whose faith leads them on a different path.

Read Gruntled's full posting -- it's short, but packs more into its few paragraphs than most people could say in a considerably larger essay.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A New Family Member

Two years ago around Halloween we lost our 15 year-old Australian Shepherd, who had come to us at age 12. We had known Holly since she was a newly-weaned puppy, and she was a familiar fixture at Susan's parent's home. Now both her parents are gone, and Holly spent her remaining years living with three cats and three people.

We were reluctant to get another dog and resolved to wait until the right time came and the right dog came along.

Over the past few weeks we were made aware of an Australian Shepherd female that was available for adoption. She is a little over three years old, and has been around children and cats. So, after driving 16 hours Saturday, we spent the night in our own beds, went to church in the morning, had lunch with friends, and drove 50 miles to pick up our new dog.

Dally (the name she came with) was born September 18, 2003 and is an Australian Shepherd of the Red Merle variety with one blue and one amber eye. She looked at the two cats who were present when she entered our house and had a "yeah... whatever..." look on her face. Our black cat, who had really hit it off with Holly, seems to think Dally was brought home just for him. When Dally took her first walk with her new people, our black cat walked right alongside as was his custom with our previous dog.

Susan and Dally

Uhhh... There's a cat in my dish.

Well, if the cat survived, I guess it's safe for me.

Grace and the Angler

Coffee Groundz in Sugarland, Texas was the venue for a pleasurable meeting between Quotidian Grace, her husband El Jefe, and Mr and Mrs Reformed Angler. (I know, anybody who pays attention knows our real names, but we'll go with the blogging names).

QG and El Jefe had flown in from Florida about noon, so we set the rendezvous for 4:00 PM in Sugarland. It was a simple drive from my parents and we converged on the coffee shop within minutes of each other.

Our conversation ranged widely on topics as diverse as sports, renaissance festivals, our respective families and, of course, the PC(USA). One regret is that we never touched on one of El Jefe's and my mutual interests -- the Civil War -- but I hope that if we meet again we can remedy that.

I have now met three Presbybloggers -- Mike Kruse, whom I have known for over 20 years; Beau Weston, whom I met a few years ago before either of us were blogging; and Quotidian Grace, who is the first blogger I have met first through blogging activities. It is certainly a pleasure to be in such company.

Friday, November 24, 2006

CNN - Gene makes wheat more nutritious

CNN - Gene makes wheat more nutritious:
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Scientists have found a way to boost the protein, zinc and iron content in wheat, an achievement that could help bring more nutritious food to many millions of people worldwide.

team led by University of California at Davis researcher Jorge Dubcovsky identified a gene in wild wheat that raises the grain's nutritional content. The gene became nonfunctional for unknown reasons during humankind's domestication of wheat.

in the journal Science on Thursday, the researchers said they used conventional breeding methods to bring the gene into cultivated wheat varieties, enhancing the protein, zinc and iron value in the grain. The wild plant involved is known as wild emmer wheat, an ancestor of some cultivated wheat.

represents one of the major crops feeding people worldwide, providing about 20 percent of all calories consumed. The World Health Organization has said upward of 2 billion people get too little zinc and iron in their diet, and more than 160 million children under age 5 lack adequate protein.

Nice timing on this article, the day after Thanksgiving....

It would be great if this resulted in more nutritious grain, especially as it restores a gene function that was present in the wild ancestors of wheat. Bread wheat is actually a hexaploid, meaning that it has 6 copies of each gene (compared with most organisms which are diploid, having two copies of each gene). Emmer and Durum (pasta) wheat are tetraploids resulting from natural crosses between a diploid wheat and another, similar, grass. Domestic hexaploid wheat (a cross between Emmer or Durum, and a diploid grass relative) occurred at many different times and in many different combinations in the history of agriculture, well before anyone tried controlling hybridization.

The significance of this is that it uses only what is already available in domestic wheat and its wild ancestors. Hopefully this will blunt the inevitable criticisms of the anti-biotechnology crowd...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving 2006

We are at my parent's house in Houston for Thanksgiving week, and there will be three out of four of the Hancock siblings present. At Christmas, there will also be three out of four present. We won't be there, but my brother from Annapolis and his family will be, so between the two holidays, all of us will be there.

We may all be down shortly into the new year when my parents move from the house to a duplex. I hope it will work out that we all can help in the move.

The meal will be a "tur-duc-hen" with cajun seafood stuffing. This will be a new experience and I am looking forward to it. It sounds like a real taste treat, but I may need a long nap afterwards.

Our family has much to be thankful for, and not the least is that we are able to be together.

One of my favorite hymns for Thanksgiving is this one. The hymn was written in 1844 by Henry Alford and is generally sung to the tune St. George's Windsor, written in 1858 by George J. Elvey. My source of information is The Cyber Hymnal, an excellent source for words and history of hymns.

Note that "corn" is a term applied to the prevailing food grain in a region, whether it is wheat or maize (or rye or barley, for that matter).

Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
God our Maker doth provide for our wants to be supplied;
Come to God’s own temple, come, raise the song of harvest home.

All the world is God’s own field, fruit unto His praise to yield;
Wheat and tares together sown unto joy or sorrow grown.
First the blade and then the ear, then the full corn shall appear;
Lord of harvest, grant that we wholesome grain and pure may be.

For the Lord our God shall come, and shall take His harvest home;
From His field shall in that day all offenses purge away,
Giving angels charge at last in the fire the tares to cast;
But the fruitful ears to store in His garner evermore.

Even so, Lord, quickly come, bring Thy final harvest home;
Gather Thou Thy people in, free from sorrow, free from sin,
There, forever purified, in Thy garner to abide;
Come, with all Thine angels come, raise the glorious harvest home.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Penn State -- Twin Star Explosions Fascinate Astronomers

Penn State -- Twin Star Explosions Fascinate Astronomers:
"21 November 2006—Scientists using NASA's Swift satellite stumbled upon a rare sight: two supernovas side by side in one galaxy. Large galaxies typically play host to three supernovas per century. Galaxy NGC 1316 has had two supernovas in less than five months, and a total of four supernova in 26 years, as far back as the records go. This makes NGC 1316 one of the most prodigious known producer of supernovas. ..."

This is pretty impressive, especially when you consider the scale that must be involved here. According to Wikipedia, NGC 1316 is about 100 million light years from Earth. According to HubbleSite, NGC 1316 is 60,000 light years wide. By comparison, our own galaxy, the Milky Way is estimated to be about 100,000 light years in diameter, but its diameter includes the arms that spiral out from a central disc that is much smaller and more compact.

In this image, the large bright blob at the center is the galactic core, and the bright object on the left is a star that is considerably closer than the galaxy itself. The two supernovae are circled, and the one on the right was first noted on June 19, 2006. The one on the left was first seen on November 5, 2006. They would have gone supernova 100,000,000 years ago -- about the middle of the Cretaceous period.

I can't back this up with facts and figures, but for a long time it has seemed to me that the scientific discipline in which the highest percentage of committed Christians are found is the field of astrophysics. Could it be the sheer awesomeness of what is to be seen here?

The very idea of seeing things that happened so long ago is mind-boggling. Not that many years ago Comet Hale-Bopp passed close to Earth and provided a spectacular view. It's period is approximately 4300 years, placing its last perihelion around 2300 B.C. Who saw it then? What did they think about it?

Ps 8:3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
Ps 8:4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

-- Psalm 8:3-4, NIV

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Brazos Bend State Park

Brazos Bend State Park is a 5000 acre park about 30 miles south of Houston. This area is represents the first Anglo settlement in Texas, but archaeologists believe that people first visited the area around 300 B.C. This particular area was part of the land grant from the Mexican government to Stephen F. Austin in the early 1800s. This was an important area in commerce, as the Brazos River is navigable, and served to supply the settlements along its course.

This park is home to a population of American Alligators, and we were hoping to see some, but considering the physical limitations of two of us, we were only able to enjoy a nature walk that looped around Creekfield Lake. There was plenty to see and enjoy, and also to listen to. There were Great Blue Herons, Snowy Egrets, American Coots, Common Gallinules, Common Crows, various sparrows, and I heard what sure sounded like a Pileated Woodpecker.

American Coots were pretty common in Creekfield Lake.

This striking bird is a Common Gallinule, a member of the coot, gallinule and rail family. Note the red beak with its yellow tip. (You'll need to click the image to open it in its normal size.) This is a new addition to my life list.

This little caterpillar was fairly common on the emergent vegetation of Creekfield Lake.

This was the only aquatic reptile we saw, but then we were not able to get to the prime alligator viewing areas.

If there was anything that characterized this visit to Brazos Bend, it would be the vultures. I estimate about there were about 50 Black and Turkey Vultures. They tended to roost in separate trees, but if you look carefully, the uppermost bird on the right in this group of Black Vulture is actually a Turkey Vulture.

Every so often a group of vultures would take flight and circle around. The Black Vultures have the light parts of their wings at the tip, while the Turkey Vultures have the light area extending from the tip along the trailing edge of the wing.

Brazos Bend State Park offers camping, hiking, cycling, birdwatching, fishing, and camping. (Important point of alligator etiquette: If you catch a fish and an alligator wants it, let it have it.)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thanksgiving in Houston

We are in Houston this week visiting my parents for Thanksgiving.

On our way down we stopped at the Texas Renaissance Festival, as we did last year, and visited my brother Jim. We found to our surprise and pleasure that my niece (sister's daughter) and her boyfriend were participating this year.

Pictures and more will follow soon .... And here they are:

A costumed participant in the noontime parade

I'm not sure just how period-correct this costume is, but he certainly put a lot of effort into it.

Hmmmm. Must be one of those space-time anomalies....

My brother, Jim (AKA The Burley Minstrel)

I decided to leave out the images from the chain-mail fashion show. This is, after all, a blog that I'd like the kids to be able to read.

Presbyterian News Service -- Southern California pastor tapped to lead PC(USA) mission programs

Presbyterian News Service -- Southern California pastor tapped to lead PC(USA) mission programs:
"LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Tom Taylor, a Southern California pastor touted by colleagues as bridge-builder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has been named Deputy Executive Director for Mission by General Assembly Council (GAC) Executive Director Linda Valentine.

If Taylor’s appointment is confirmed by the GAC’s executive committee when it meets Dec. 7, he will begin work here Jan. 8.

Taylor, currently pastor of the 1,400-member Glenkirk Presbyterian church in Glendora, CA, will oversee all of the GAC’s mission activities, including supervision of six program directors who will be named in coming days to manage the council’s six restructured program areas. ..."

It sounds like the reorganization of the General Assembly Council staff is well on its way. I hope that our mission in the world will be enhanced by these moves.

Friday, November 17, 2006

PC(USA) - News Service - Philanthropy Expert Says Conservatives Are More Generous

PC(USA) - News Service - Philanthropy Expert Says Conservatives Are More Generous:
"SYRACUSE, NY — Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks is about to become the darling of the religious right in America — and it’s making him nervous.

The child of academics, raised in a liberal household and educated in the liberal arts, Brooks has written a book that concludes religious conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts of charitable activities, irrespective of income. ..."

There have been indications of this trend in the PC(USA). In many ways it is not surprising, since those who are orthodox in their theology can be expected to put their faith into practice. For the orthodox, giving to the needy has never ceased to be the responsibility of the Church. We live, however, in a country where the Church has outsourced charitable giving and social programs to the government -- or perhaps more accurately, allowed the government to take over what had been their historical calling. Many, including some within our own denomination, are uncomfortable with the Church involving themselves too heavily in social programs, especially the "faith-based initiatives." Yet the need continues to mount and the governmental programs at all levels are not able to keep up with it, thus the continuing need for the Church to be involved.

Brooks, a professor of public administration at Syracuse University, has written a book being published later this month, called Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism . lists it for release on November 27, 2006, and it is available for pre-order.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Medical News Today: Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Clot Risk

Medical News Today: Dark Chocolate Lowers Blood Clot Risk
If you eat a little bit of dark chocolate each day you could be reducing your chances of developing a blood clot, say researchers from Johns Hopkins University, USA. They say dark chocolate helps thin the blood, in pretty much the same way as aspirin does.

I knew it! Dark chocolate is therapeutic. I wonder if my physician will write me out a prescription?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Time Magazine: God vs. Science

Time Magazine: God vs. Science
"There are two great debates under the broad heading of Science vs. God. The more familiar over the past few years is the narrower of the two: Can Darwinian evolution withstand the criticisms of Christians who believe that it contradicts the creation account in the Book of Genesis? ..."

"But in fact creationism and I.D. are intimately related to a larger unresolved question, in which the aggressor's role is reversed: Can religion stand up to the progress of science? This debate long predates Darwin, but the antireligion position is being promoted with increasing insistence by scientists angered by intelligent design and excited, perhaps intoxicated, by their disciplines' increasing ability to map, quantify and change the nature of human experience. ..."

Time Magazine hosted a 90 minute debate between Richard Dawkins and Francis Collins in their New York City offices, and that debate comprises the bulk of this quite lengthy article. This was a fairly spirited debate with neither Collins nor Dawkins yielding to the other, yet there are humorous parts as well. There is no question that the two scientists are extremely articulate and present their cases clearly. The Time interviewer was fair, and asked good, probing questions, and there was a minimum of posturing by either side. I suspect the lack of a crowd to which to play had a beneficial effect on this exchange.

All-in-all, I felt that the debate does much to clarify the issues at stake here, and I recommend reading the entire article.

San Diego Presbytery: Task Force on the Way Forward

San Diego Presbytery: Task Force on the Way Forward
"It is the conclusion of the Task Force on the Way Forward that the Presbytery of San Diego is divided and therefore polarized over some key theological issues. As a result we are unable to experience ecclesiastical unity. The advisory survey taken by commissioners at the Special Meeting of Presbytery on October 24, 2006 and the complexion of our recent presbytery meetings confirms our conclusion. As a result of this polarization, our ability to do mission and ministry together is greatly hampered. Often we spend more time arguing our respective positions than proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ. Much like Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41, we seem to have reached an insurmountable impasse.

It is time to tell ourselves the truth and bring an end to this entrenched dispute. In our opinion, it is futile to keep arguing our respective cases, hoping to persuade our brothers and sisters in Christ to change their deeply held beliefs and values, while vehemently defending our own. We simply cannot continue in this state of sharp disagreement. We will either continue to fight among ourselves or we will move forward, but we cannot do both. We must find a way to break this destructive cycle and come to a place where mission and ministry take precedence over unproductive debate. We may need to find a way to commend one another to the grace of God so that we can pursue faithful and fruitful ministry options. We must find a common ground where we can work together to further God’s kingdom here on earth, or we must part company. Anything less will not bring glory to God or increase His kingdom here on earth.

Therefore, the Task Force on the Way Forward presents the following recommendations to the Presbytery of San Diego for immediate adoption and implementation. ..."

I have to say that when I first read this I had a deep feeling of disappointment -- but then I started to think about it. San Diego is one of the more conservative presbyteries, and, if memory serves, one of the first to clearly outline what it thought were the Essential Tenets and Reformed Distinctives of our our faith. Even though I am in accord with the general goals and many of the specific stands taken, I recognize that this presbytery (as well as nearly every other in the PC(USA)) is deeply divided on many issues. In far too many of these cases, denomination-wide, the majority prevails and fails to recognize the minority's deep feelings.

San Diego seems to be taking a path that few have chosen and that is to recognize the divisions and a way forward that allows all sides to function more as a church and less as bickering children. This report makes specific recommendation as to how to accomplish this, and it may be difficult to implement, but at least they are trying to avoid the trap of fighting to win every argument by majority vote, but doing nothing to heal the divisions.

Included in this report is the questionaire that was answered by 70 respondents. The answers show clearly the depth of division.

The Paul and Barnabas analogy is one that resonates with me. By finding a way to move forward separately, the work God calls us to perform can be done more effectively. The alternative is to remain paralyzed by our inability to agree. Our disputes seem petty compared with the needs around us, and as much as I abhor the idea of separation, it may lead to greater things for the Presbyterian Church. We need to all remember that the subject of Paul's and Barnabas' disagreement was Timothy. Paul was wrong to dismiss Timothy on the basis of a single failing, but see how the early Church was strengthened -- and see how Paul's and Timothy's relationship developed several years later to the point where they were mutually supportive colleagues in ministry. If our denomination is truly presented with a "Paul and Barnabas" moment, let's not be too stubborn to recognize it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Presbyterian Outlook: From confusion to clarity

Presbyterian Outlook: From confusion to clarity:
Presbyterian Outlook requires registration to read the full articles, but it is free.
by Jack Haberer

"...As a former member of the Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church (TTF), I have been distressed to see so many Presbyterian friends troubled, perplexed, and even angered by the actions taken by the 217th Birmingham General Assembly in response to the Task Force’s recommendations. ..."

Not much has truly changed with the passing of the PUP recommendations. Judicatories that previously chose to ignore constitutional provisions in making ordination decisions will continue to ignore the Book of Order when it finds its provisions inconvenient. Judicatories that carried out their responsibilities with integrity are free to continue to do so, and many have made it crystal clear that they intend to do so.

What has changed is that a practice has been brought back of permitting "scruples" to be declared and allowing the judicatory to determine whether such scruples place the candidate outside the "essential tenets" of the reformed faith. The Task Force failed to clarify what the essentials are, and we go on as before without any clear understanding of what they are, and without such clarification the job of promoting Peace, Purity, and Unity is going to be very difficult.

I am still willing to give it a fair chance, since the recommendations appeared to strengthen the judicial review of such decisions -- but not enough time has elapsed to see the effect of such reviews.

People seem to be divided in four groups when it comes to the Task Force on Peace, Purity, and Unity recommendations:
  • Those who are in accord with the PUP recommendations.
  • Those who are willing to give them a chance, but have some reservations.
  • Those who are opposed to the recommendations based on a study of the issues.
  • Those who never really intended to consider fairly the recommendations and are using it as a wedge issue to further their own agendas.
The preceding four categories do not account for all Presbyterians, and my gut feeling is that they do not even comprise a majority. We need to recognize that there are those who simply do not understand what is going on because it never really has been clearly or honestly explained by either the supporters or the detractors of the PUP report.

Jack Haberer has much personally invested in the PUP report and recommendations, and I respect his opinions, but the fact that there are so many people out there who are confused suggests very strongly that the Task Force needed to do a much better job of interpretation of their report to the membership.
"...Then again, we Presbyterians are pretty insistent that the sovereign God reigns. And given that God is not the author of confusion (I Cor. 14:33), the people of God listening for the voice of God ought to be able to find their way through a season of confusion into greater clarity. This edition of The Presbyterian Outlook is dedicated to helping us all to listen better, to discern more clearly, and to follow our Lord more faithfully."

This injunction should be heeded by all sides, not only in this dispute, but in all disputes that prevent us from heeding our individual and corporate calling to follow Jesus Christ.

God is not the author of confusion; we are.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Christianity Today: The Church's Great Malfunctions

Christianity Today: The Church's Great Malfunctions:
"There is a remarkable image in the closing pages of Scripture that has become a touchstone for the way my colleagues and I think about faith and culture. Amid its descriptions of the New Jerusalem, Revelation includes "the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2). The tree holds out hope that whole cultures will be healed and mended, becoming places where people can flourish. And it sets an agenda for faith as a way of life that contributes to that flourishing, in anticipation, here and now.

Too often, however, Christian faith neither mends the world nor helps human beings thrive. To the contrary, it seems to shatter things into pieces, to choke what's new and beautiful before it has chance to take root, to trample underfoot what's good and true. ..."

This was posted yesterday on the Christianity Today website and raises some extremely uncomfortable points. What are these malfunctions? Miroslav Volf separates them into two groups -- the idleness of faith and the oppressiveness of faith.

An idle faith can easily yield to (1) temptation's lure, (2) institutional power, and (3) a misunderstood faith. With regard to the third, Volf refers to Karl Marx, who famously said that "religion is the opiate of the masses." And while that can be true to a point, Volf points out that Marx failed to see that religion can also be a stimulant that energizes people to perform service. Volf also points out that when religion is employed only as a soothing drug or a performance-enhancing drug, it is little more than a crutch. It can, and should be much more than a drug.

With regard to the oppressiveness of faith, Volf points to the violence so often done in the name of religion. He suggests three factors here as well:
  1. A thin faith -- one that puts into practice some of the tenets of faith but not others; i.e. being pro-life, but willing to commit violence to achieve that end)
  2. An irrelevant faith -- Can a 2000-year-old faith actually mean anything in the world today? There is a failure of the intellect here in that people don't try to apply the teachings of Scripture to modern circumstances. This is not a job for theologians; it a the job of all Christians.
  3. An unwillingness to walk the narrow path. Here we can compare the bloody conflicts that revolve around revenge and payback and, say, the response of the Amish community in Pennsylvania that reached out to the family of a man who had killed their children.
I'm sure these aren't exhaustive reasons, but they provide a good place to start a little introspection. Volf says this: "We Christians should be our own most rigorous critics—and be that precisely out of a deep sense of the beauty and goodness of our faith."

Friday, November 10, 2006

Washington Post: Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals

Washington Post: Let's Stop Stereotyping Evangelicals:
" ...Evangelicals led the grass-roots campaigns for religious liberty, the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage. Even the Moral Majority in its most belligerent form amounted to nothing more terrifying than churchgoers flocking peacefully to the polls on Election Day. The only people who want a biblical theocracy in America are completely outside the evangelical mainstream, their influence negligible. ..."
Here's a pretty good article about the stereotypes that have grown up around evangelicals over the years. This article acknowledges that much of it is fueled by the behavior of a small number of self-described evangelicals who say outrageous things, which are then reported widely.

A story that is not told very effectively by the press is that of inner city "megachurches" which are truly multicultural in their makeup and are heavily engaged in social ministries. Nor is the story widely told of evangelical mission workers who place themselves in danger in such places as the Sudan and Somalia as a response to God's call.

The past election involved what seems to be an unusual number of evangelical Democrats winning contests, and these are not the "evangelical left" we are talking about here; they tend toward the conservative end of the religious and political spectrum.
"...Yet it is dishonest to disparage the massive civic and democratic contribution of evangelicals by invoking the excesses of a tiny few. As we recall from the Gospels, even Jesus had a few disciples who, after encountering some critics, wanted to call down fire from heaven to dispose of them. Jesus disabused them of that impulse. The overwhelming majority of evangelicals have dispensed with it as well. Maybe it's time more of their critics did the same."

May it be so.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

CNET: Rights group names 'Enemies of the Internet'

CNET: Rights group names 'Enemies of the Internet':
"Civil liberties group Reporters Without Borders has released its annual list of "Enemies of the Internet"--regimes the group claims restrict freedom of expression online. ..."

This list includes many of the usual suspects, and some surprises. For example, Libya, an obvious suspect and a member of this list for several years, was taken off this year since no apparent censorship is currently taking place and and "cyberdissidents" are not being jailed. Muammar Gaddafi is still viewed with some suspicion, and will, no doubt, be watched closely.

Other issues of concern are the relationships between hardware manufacturers and information providers. Cisco routers, which are a key element in the world's internet infrastructure, is also the provider of the firewall that walls off China from the rest of the world. Yahoo! and Google both have made accommodations to China, and Yahoo! in particular provided email records to authorities that resulted in a ten year prison sentence for a Chinese journalist.

Reporters Without Borders deals with press freedom issues worldwide, and includes bloggers in their concern. They recently had a 24 hour vote on the "Black Holes of the Web" which shows in stark graphics where the major problems are:

Clicking the image will take you to the original site, which will probably be around for a few days.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Washington Post: In a Tech-Savvy World, the Word of God Goes Mobile

Washington Post: In a Tech-Savvy World, the Word of God Goes Mobile
"The latest cellphone technology brings new meaning to the notion of hearing God's call.

Media-savvy ministries are adapting their message for a new generation of phones, which have memories capable of holding entire books and playing videos and music.

The result: missionaries in Asia beaming testimonials onto a two-inch screen; a three-day, 100,000-person crusade boiled down to a two-minute video sermon; a Christian punk ring tone. ..."

This article goes on to point out that the cell phone has become an ubiquitous part of people's day to day lives -- they go everywhere with their owners. Other issues of etiquette are raised -- for example, is reading your Bible on your cellphone during church acceptable?

The overall conclusions of this article are that this could be a powerful tool in evangelism and spiritual development. I guess I have my reservations. I have carried a cell phone for over ten years, but I still prefer face-to -face conversations, and text messaging never quite has caught on with me. And watching videos on my Motorola Razr, even with its larger screen, just doesn't quite fire my rocket.

Saturday, November 04, 2006 Disbelief requires a faith all its own Disbelief requires a faith all its own:

October 31, 2006

"The first book I was assigned to read as a college freshman half a century ago was "Unpopular Essays" by the English earl, Bertrand Russell. His book bore that title because Lord Russell was the most devoted and articulate atheist of his time, with a self-imposed mission to persuade readers that there was no God.

Our philosophy professor, himself a Christian, assigned the book to challenge the comfortable complacencies of a classroom full of Christians and Jews not yet out of our teens. In one of his essays, "An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish," Russell related the story of an American prophetess who, in 1820, gathered thousands of her disciples by a lake in northern New York State. ..."

David Yount, author of Celebrating the Rest of Your Life: A Baby Boomer's Guide to Spirituality, lays out a good case for atheism being a faith-based system of belief. Yount makes an interesting point in his article -- science and faith are both best pursued with a humble attitude, and both are strengthened when faith is tempered with doubt.

Yahoo News: Religion on the Brain

Yahoo News: Religion on the Brain
The California Science Center's Science Matters speakers program "Religion on the Brain" will feature a neurologist presenting the latest findings in brain research about the neural processing of religious thought and experience. In light of this research, panelists will discuss how humans reconcile these different aspects of their brains in understanding the world. The panelists will discuss the possibility that humans are genetically hard-wired for critical thinking and religious spirituality. Can we believe in science and still have faith?

For those in LA, this might be an interesting way to spend a Saturday afternoon. It will be held November 4 at the California Science Center from 1:30-3:30 PM. The panelists consist of two neuroscientists, one evolutionary biologist, and one person who is identified as a "Director of the Skeptics Society". The latter two have written books on the subject.

I look forward to reading about this panel discussion after it has taken place.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Eagle and Child: What to do about upcoming elections

The Eagle and Child: What to do about upcoming elections:
"As a pastor, I'm generally pretty chary about sharing my political views. As near as I can recall, I've only written once about a specific public policy issue (a permit for a casino downtown) and never about candidates. This is mainly because I get two uneasy vibes from the general public (not from everyone, but this is a general sense): 1) they view pastors talking about specific political details with the same level of trust as they might view a used car salesman on the merits that '76 Volare that you just have to drive home today. 2) When pastors spend more time talking political policy than talking about Christ, they become pawns of political strategists rather than physicians of souls. (you may disagree with me on these two general senses -- but then I humbly ask, what is your inner response when you hear a pastor espousing political views with which you disagree. Do you immediately dismiss those views, or do you internally begin to challenge your own stances.) ..."

I attended a Presbytery meeting yesterday. During worship, one of the meditations was supposed to be about Grace, but seemed nothing more than a political commercial. There was a stunned silence during this meditation, in contrast to the other two, during which there was active participation from the assembled commissioners in the form of nodding in agreement, occasional laughter, and even an "Amen!".

Russell Smith's posting today reminds us all that God is not the property of any political party, and that we should be praying for wisdom rather than the victory of any party.

Partisanship is a corrosive evil in this country, and it is bad enough that we have to endure it during years evenly divisible by two -- but we are the Church of Jesus Christ, not a political organization. We should be setting the standard, not following the crowd.