Friday, December 29, 2006

Christianity Today: The Scandal of Forgiveness

Christianity Today: The Scandal of Forgiveness
"The grisly, premeditated shooting of 10 Amish girls—five of them fatally—by Charles Carl Roberts at a one-room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, on October 2 was shocking.

The Amish response, however, was even more so.

The bloody incident ended with Roberts—who apparently intended to sexually assault the girls first—taking his own life when police stormed the building. Within hours, the Amish community publicly forgave this outsider and expressed loving concern for his widow and three children. Many of the mourners at Roberts' funeral were Amish.

"Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need," the killer's widow, Marie Roberts, wrote the Amish later. "Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world."

In awe, most media observers, at least for a moment, dropped their prevailing storyline that religion is, at best, irrelevant to truly important matters and, at worst, dangerous. ..."

There are lists being assembled of the top religion news stories of 2006, and this appears on at least two that I have seen: and Religion News Writers.

Stan Guthrie's article reminds us all the the horror of the events of early October 2006. My earlier posting on the Amish response to the massacre has some pertinent background information linked.

Guthrie provides a frank discussion of the difficulties in forgiving, and that it is not the world's way -- but it is the way of Jesus Christ. Corrie Ten Boom found this out in a personal way when a former guard at the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp came up to her after one of her talks in the late 1940s. It was not until soul-searching and prayer that she was finally able to forgive the man who had humiliated her in many ways during her incarceration.

I concur with the choice of this story as being in the top 10, and we can all take lessons from the way the Amish put their faith into practice. It is a terrible price to pay for such a lesson, but the Grace of God can divert evil to good.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Presbyterian Outlook: Presbyterian mission in a flat world, part 2

Presbyterian Outlook: Presbyterian mission in a flat world, part 2
by Scott Sunquist
"Last issue we started to look at how Thomas Friendman’s “flat world” might have implications for our new patterns of missional involvement. Let me describe four of the ten “flatteners” that have changed our world and should change our missiology.

1. 11/9/89: “The New Age of Creativity: When the walls came down and the windows went up.” The Berlin wall fell on 11/9. Friedman says, “I realized that the ordinary men and women of East Germany peacefully and persistently had taken matters into their own hands. This was ‘their revolution’”
The second part of this flattener was “Windows” from Microsoft. The 3.0 series was a major breakthrough which bridged people and machines as never before. ..."
Whatever opinions one has about Microsoft and its methods, this is true. The events leading to Tiananmen Square involved a lot of faxing of information back and forth (email was not a major player yet). And repressive regimes are starting to employ firewalls at their borders to restrict the content that their citizens can access.

"... 2. 8/9/95: “The New Age of connectivity: When the Web went around and Netscape went public.” Brit “Tim Berners-Lee posted the first Web site on Aug. 6, 1991 to foster a computer network that would enable scientists to share their research more easily.” (p. 59) As Friedman notes, “He designed it and he fought to keep it open, nonproprietary and free.” What made this even more valuable and freely accessible was the development of Netscape (went public Aug. 9, 1995); a way to search and find information across the various Web sites. This innovation opened up the portal to information to all people in the world as never before. The openness of this new world of information (remember: knowledge is power) gave power to common people like you and like me, as never before. “Open, nonproprietary and free:” this was truly revolutionary in the history of knowledge. ..."

An excellent point here. I've been involved with web sites since I first put one up in Fall of 1993. There was a point in the mid-1990s when the daily traffic using the http protocol exceeded all other internet protocols -- including email, telnet, and ftp. And the web usage has continued to dominate the internet. I heard Tim O'Reilly (of O'Reilly and Associates book publishers) speak at one of the Open Source Conferences in the latter 1990s on "killer apps" -- those applications that make people want to embrace a new technology. For the personal computer it was a spreadsheet called Lotus 123. What was the killer app for the World Wide Web? People who had no interest in spreadsheets, word processors, or even solitaire had a web site they could not live without. Since that time there have been other "killer apps" like Ebay,, and now any one of a number of blogs that are revolutionizing how we acquire and pass on information.

"... 3. Work flow software. Animation today is produced through a global supply chain, not by a bunch of techno-artists in a Disney studio. Work flow software made it possible for people all over the world (in Starbucks, my home, a factory or an internet café in Timbuktu) to add on ideas, concepts or to make critical decisions.
Consider how this applies to our missionary activity. When it comes to Presbyterian missional work, we have many standards in place, but we need to have a “work flow software” mentality that would allow us all to work together and to listen together. The General Assembly Council’s mission division can be and should be the “clearing house” for the standards, values and strategies of Presbyterian-Ecumenical mission. But their job, like eBay, is to free up “the People” to be more effective; to have more power and control of their work. ..."

Here is where software has shined. The 217th General Assembly used a business tracking website named "Les" which had its growing pains, but gave not only the commissioners on the floor access to information, but interested Presbyterians anywhere in the world could track the progress of bills and overtures and watch the plenary sessions live using streaming video. Les could be improved, but is a major step forward, at least from the perspective of one who observed the goings on in Birmingham from my dining room table in Columbia, Missouri.

"... 4. Uploading: Harnessing the power of communities. Friedman notes that the “great shift from audience to participants” occurred with the new freedom people had to add or contribute directly (p. 95). It is remarkable to note that the underlying web server for e-commerce software is a global community-built software (share-ware) known as “Apache.” ..."

For better or for worse we have seen a year when You Tube has acted a a clearing house for home-made videos covering a wide variety of subjects, including politicians and their unguarded moments. Blogs have broken news stories which main-stream media have ignored -- and then belatedly covered once the bloggers have placed it before the public. If people are frustrated that stories are not being told, or that the media have decided what is important for us to know or not know, they can get that information out. The downside is that the reader or viewer must exercise some discretion in evaluating the sources. There are good blogs and there are not-so-good blogs, but the alternative is to go back to the way things were. Nobody wants that (except, perhaps, some news organizations).

It is refreshing to see people in the Mission field recognize the power of information technology. Scott Sundquist has demonstrated clearly how technology has empowered people in ways they could not imagine 20 years ago. How are we going to use this power?

I await part three of Sundquist's series with anticipation.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Former President Ford dies at 93

CNN: Former President Ford dies at 93
"RANCHO MIRAGE, California (CNN) -- Former President Gerald R. Ford, who sought to heal the nation after the tumultuous years of the Watergate scandal, died Tuesday at age 93, his widow, Betty Ford said.

A statement issued by Ford's office said he "died peacefully" at 6:45 p.m. at his home in Rancho Mirage, California.

"His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country," said a written statement from Betty Ford. ..."

I remember the relief that I felt on that day in August 1974 when Gerald Ford assumed the Presidency. In his self-effacing way he spoke to the nation, characterizing himself as a "Ford, not a Lincoln" -- a delightfully ambiguous turn of phrase that at once was a nod to the major industry of his home state of Michigan and a nod to the history of the Presidency.

Ford, by pardoning Nixon, essentially ended his prospects of being elected in 1976, but he did the country a major service by ending the feeding frenzy that was starting to erupt. The country could begin to heal.

I still wonder how the history of the United States in the latter years of the 20th century might have unfolded had he been elected in 1976.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas 2006

Here is something that I will gladly listen to year-round, but is it especially appropriate around Christmas. Messiah, by Handel, is an oratorio, which essentially is an opera performed without acting, costumes or sets. My understanding is that this was a musical form developed to work around restrictions on performing operas during Lent.

I will resume posting after December 25th, so all of you have a joyous Christmas Day as we celebrate the birth of our Lord.

Messiah: Part I

Libretto by Charles Jennens, after the Holy Scriptures. Music composed in 1741 by G.F. Handel. First performed in Dublin for the benefit of charities. Subsequently performed regularly for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital.

Scriptures taken from the King James Version (1611) and the Great Bible (1539).

Performance by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music (1980)


Recitative, accompanied (Tenor): Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God; Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord. make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:1-3

Aria (Tenor): Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low: The crooked straight and the rough placed plain. Isaiah 40:4

Chorus: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. Isaiah 40:5

Recitative, accompanied (Bass): Thus saith the Lord of hosts: yet once a little while, and I will shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come. Haggai 2:6-7

The Lord, whom you seek, shall suddenly come to his temple; even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in. Behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. Malachi 3:1

Aria (Soprano): But who may abide the day of his coming? And who shall stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire. Malachi 3:2

Chorus: And he shall purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Malachi 3:3

Recitative (Alto): Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel: God with us. Isaiah 7:14

Aria (Alto) and Chorus: O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up and be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: Behold your God. Isaiah 40:9

Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. Isaiah 60:1

Recitative, accompanied (Bass): For behold, darkness shall cover the Earth, and gross darkness the people: But the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising. Isaiah 60:2-3

Aria (Bass): The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light, and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. Isaiah 9:2

Chorus: For unto us a child is born unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the might God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6


Recitative (Soprano): There were shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Luke 2:8

Recitative, accompanied (Soprano): And Lo! The angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord was round about them, and they were sore afraid. Luke 2:9

Recitative (Soprano): And the angel said unto them, fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

Recitative, accompanied (Soprano): And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising god and saying: Luke 2:13

Chorus: Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth, good will towards men. Luke 2:14

Aria (Soprano): Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem, behold, thy king cometh unto thee. He is the righteous Saviour and he shall speak peace unto the heathen. Zechariah 9:9-10

Recitative (Soprano): Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing. Isaiah 35:5-6

Aria (Soprano): He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: and he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. Isaiah 40:11

Come unto him all ye that labor, that are heavy laden, and he will give you rest. Take his yoke upon him and learn of him, for he is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Matthew 11:28-29

Chorus: His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Matthew 11:30

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Friday, December 22, 2006

A Cool Firefox Extension

When Blogger started up its beta version, one of the things that it broke was the ability to use "XBlog This!", which allowed you to highlight a paragraph or two from an article and post a blog entry on it. Considering the other features of the new version of Blogger (which this week officially emerged from beta status) I thought that was an acceptable price to pay.

When coupled with Firefox 2.0 (with its on-the-fly spell checker), I thought I had a pretty good combination. One of the features of Firefox is its ability to use plugins and extensions. One such extension is the Performancing for Firefox utility with provides a WYSIWIG editor (quite similar to the blogger editor) in a split screen that allows you to cut and paste from a web page to the editor. I have been using this for a few days now, and I like most of what I see.

One thing that they could do better is not to insert so many line feeds between paragraphs. In this sense, it is not fully WYSIWIG, as I tend to edit it again with the blogger editor to format it the way I want to see it. It would also help if it supported Blogger's labeling facility. Again, if I want labels I go back into the blogger editor and add them.

Whether this will prove to be as convenient and efficient as the "XBlog This!" button I grew to depend on remains to be seen, but so far the features of Performancing for Firefox outweigh its shortcomings.

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CNN: Catholic cardinal tries his hand at podcasting

Catholic cardinal tries his hand at podcasting:

"BOSTON, Massachusetts (AP) -- Boston's Cardinal Sean O'Malley is
going high-tech. He already has his own blog, now he plans to start
podcasting to the masses, beginning with downloadable Christmas
messages. ..."

Cardinal Seán' Blog is fairly well laid out, chatty, pastoral, and at present there seems to be about one posting every week -- but it is interesting thing to see how a cardinal/archbishop of the Catholic Church is able to use blogging as a way of communicating with the people of his archdiocese.

The CNN article points out that Cardinal O'Malley, being a member of an order that requires vows of poverty, is not one whom one might expect to embrace newer technology. It is about communication, though, and the Archdiocese of Boston is looking toward using the internet to enhance their communications.

His first podcast will be available following the Christmas Eve service.

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christian Science Monitor: A new agenda for US Evangelicals

On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, Evangelical superstar
Rick Warren - author of the runaway bestseller "The Purpose Driven
Life" - hosted an AIDS summit at his California megachurch. The
keynoter? Sen. Barack Obama (D) of Illinois.
It's difficult to decide which is more astounding: a
prominent evangelical pastor leading the fight against AIDS - a disease
some Christian conservatives still tag as God's punishment for
homosexuals - or a celebrated Democrat and possible 2008 presidential
contender taking center stage at Mr. Warren's church. The Warren-Obama
event reflects striking and welcome changes under way among America's
50 million Evangelicals, with potentially dynamic political
consequences. ..."

What may even be more astounding from the ideological point of view is that prior to Obama's speech, Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) spoke to the same group echoing similar themes.

What is NOT particularly astounding is that such attitudes exist among those who could be described as "evangelical". Evangelicals have always been in the vanguard of social change. The movement toward ending slavery and the changes in attitudes toward women preaching and teaching in the churches began with Christians who, based on their beliefs and attitudes, would probably be described today as evangelicals. It was their Reformed view of Scripture that led them to believe and act as they did -- and it is such a view of the Word of God that leads people lead Sam Brownback and Barak Obama to unite with Rick Warren and other evangelical Christians in meeting the needs of the the world.

Perhaps the problem in perception is that there are some Christians who confuse political ideology with the call of God, and the various media in this country find it easier to concentrate on the intemperate remarks of a few high-profile leaders. When one looks closer one sees that evangelical Christians are just as likely to be serving with their sleeves rolled up as any other Christians.

Partisan politics is a corrosive influence in this country, and when it invades the Church, it can be quite distracting and even destructive. We need to model our lives on Micah 6:6-8 -- He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Presbyterian Outlook: Presbyterian mission in a flat world

Presbyterian Outlook: Presbyterian mission in a flat world -- free registration required to read the full article

Scott Sundquist writes in the first of a three part series on mission:
"History is not the story of those who “sense” there is a problem. We all sense that there are problems in governments, societies, and churches. Everyone knows it and everyone complains about it. History is marked by those who have the clarity to see when it is time to act, those who understand why we must act, and those who can then communicate how to act.

Very few Presbyterians are pleased with our denomination’s involvement in global mission at present. Very few people are pleased to know that at one time we had more than 2,000 full-time missionaries serving in the world (1959) and now we have fewer than 240. This is not a matter of theology or ideology. This is a general frustration with the present missional and cultural context in which we find our churches and ourselves. The world’s needs and the Gospel imperative both point to the obligation to move forward with greater innovation, participation, and creativity. This is not the time for a single prophetic leader to come forward and say, “This is the way.” This is the time when all men and women of goodwill, committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, hold hands and say, “Come, let’s all move forward together. Step in the river and let’s go to the promised land of mission.”

The promised land of mission is a place where Chinese, Koreans, Brazilians, Costa Ricans, Nigerians, and Kenyans are already there to greet us and welcome us. Our future in mission is led by our past faithfulness in mission. Mission today is messy, unorganized, and powerful. It is like the Holy Spirit of the living God: unpredictable, but powerful and transformative. In the words of New York Times reporter and commentator, Thomas Friedman, the missional world is “flat.” All people now have access to participation and innovation in mission. It is not just the number of adherents who are now heavily weighted to the South—thank you, Mr. Philip Jenkins—it is Christian mission that is basically a non-western enterprise with greater participation and access by second- and third-world Christians. ..."

Our future in mission is led by our past faithfulness in mission. God certainly works in amazing ways, and sometimes, to our way of seeing things, ironic ways.

The Great Ends of the Church were first proclaimed by the Presbyterian Church of North America nearly 100 years ago, at a time when the mission field was quite active in the Presbyterian Church. The first of these set the tone for what the Presbyterian Church saw as its reason for being: The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind.

These Great Ends were adopted by the successor denominations, the United Presbyterian Church in the USA and our current denomination, The Presbyterian Church (USA). The General Assembly Council has adopted the six Great Ends as its mission statement.

Am I concerned that the earthly leadership in mission has moved out of the United States and Europe? Not at all! God, who is, after all, in charge, has called leaders in every time and place to carry on the work of the Church. It seems that we may now be called to follow the lead of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

I am looking forward to reading Scott Sundquist's other articles in this series.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

New York Times: In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt

New York Times: In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt:

"ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Valentina Sivryukova knew her public service messages were hitting the mark when she heard how one Kazakh schoolboy called another stupid. “What are you,” he sneered, “iodine-deficient or something?”

Ms. Sivryukova, president of the national confederation of Kazakh charities, was delighted. It meant that the years spent trying to raise public awareness that iodized salt prevents brain damage in infants were working. If the campaign bore fruit, Kazakhstan’s national I.Q. would be safeguarded.

In fact, Kazakhstan has become an example of how even a vast and still-developing nation like this Central Asian country can achieve a remarkable public health success. In 1999, only 29 percent of its households were using iodized salt. Now, 94 percent are. Next year, the United Nations is expected to certify it officially free of iodine deficiency disorders. ..."

Columbia Misssouri has been a sister city with Kutaisi, Republic of Georgia for many years, and one of the things that has been done to strengthen those ties is holding salt drives, since they, too, have low natural iodine levels. It is such a simple thing, but it has such far-reaching consequences. Wouldn't it be great if all problems had so simple a solution?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

CNN: Harvard drops religion course requirement

CNN: Harvard drops religion course requirement:
BOSTON, Massachusetts (Reuters) -- Harvard University has dropped a controversial proposal that would have required all undergraduates to study religion as part of the biggest overhaul of its curriculum in three decades, the university said on Wednesday.

Efforts to revamp Harvard's curriculum, which has been criticized for focusing too narrowly on academic topics instead of real-life issues, have been in the works for three years.

A proposal for a "reason and faith" course requirement, which would have set Harvard apart from many other secular universities and made it unique among its peers in the elite Ivy League, was made public in a preliminary report in October.

Harvard University began 370 years ago as an institution devoted to the training of ministers so as not "to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches." In addition, its charter of 1650 defined its mission as "the education of the English and Indian youth of this Country in knowledge and godliness." See the History section of the Wikipedia article for further information.

With Harvard's rich history of rigorous academic pursuit that placed religion on a par with other fields, it is disappointing to see the apparent failure of this particular initiative.

As an undergraduate at Colorado State University in 1973, my advisor told me that, with the exception of the required Senior Seminar in Zoology, I should get out and take some courses in the LIberal Arts. I did so, and took 12 hours over the next year from the Philosophy Department, including Eastern and Western religions and Contemporary Western Religious Thought. The latter course introduced me to such people as Martin Buber, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and Karl Barth. OK. They were all dead by the time I took the course, but at least I was alive during the latter years of their lives...

In any event, this was perhaps the most useful year of my education. I already had the number of credits I needed in the sciences, and I already had the required liberal arts credits. The question was how to allocate my electives. In retrospect, my advisor did me a great service by suggesting that I broaden my education, and I am grateful for his nudging me out of where I was comfortable to an area where I was required to think in a different way than I was used to.

Harvard (and other institutions of higher education) would do well to return to their liberal arts roots, at least at the undergraduate level, and graduate well-rounded students.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Gruntled Center: A Picky Point About the Presbyterian Panel Report

The Gruntled Center: A Picky Point About the Presbyterian Panel Report:
"...The Stated Clerk, Cliff Kirkpatrick, is a friend and someone I respect. He wrote a generous forward to Leading from the Center. I disagree with his decision not to report the Panel results before the Assembly. But I respect that he made a principled decision. ..."

Beau Weston clarifies an impression many people had about the failure to release the May 2006 report of the Presbyterian Panel prior to the 217th General Assembly. While he disagrees with the decision, he is not as quick as many to assume sinister motives.

I have to admit that when I read Jack Marcum's memo late last spring regarding the withholding of the report, I was a bit put off. I realize the commissioners to GA had a lot on their plate, but having read the report, it seems that it could have provided much useful information.

I hope that the debate can be ratcheted down a notch or two with more people like Beau Weston adding their informed opinions. The Task Force Report on Peace, Purity, and Unity cannot, by itself, create peace, purity, and unity -- but most of what it says is not under debate. What IS under debate -- the limits of "scrupling" -- is being addressed at the Presbytery level (which is where it SHOULD be addressed).

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Christianity Today: God's Word in an Old Light

Christianity Today: God's Word in an Old Light

Philip Jenkins wrote a book in 2002 called The Next Christendom: The Rise of Global Christianity in which he described the changes in world-wide Christianity that were resulting in a shift of the Christian population from the North to the "Global South" -- Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Jenkins has written a sequel to this earlier work called The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South and Stan Guthrie, a Senior Editor at Christianity Today has interviewed Philip Jenkins. One question and answer is quoted below:
"...Global South Christians are closer to the economic and social world of the Bible than many Western Christians. How does this affect their religious life?

Things in the Bible make more intuitive sense. For a long time in Europe, for example, it's been a very plausible defense to say, "These rules in the Bible are laid down for a totally different, alien society. We have to change with the times." But for many modern Africans, the Bible describes a world they can see around them. And that gives more credibility to the moral or theological content of the Bible. Also, food is a very strong element in the Bible, and we tend not to see that in a society where the main food-related story is an alleged obesity epidemic. ..."

This goes a long way to provide an explanation for the apparent orthodoxy of Christians in developing countries. My own impression has been that the cost of professing faith in many developing countries is high enough that there are few, if any, "cultural Christians". Jenkins' suggestion that people in the "global south" read in Scripture about lives and conditions that are very familiar to them makes a lot of sense. It also explains why the center of the Christian population is shifting into Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Reuters: NASA plans permanent base on moon

Reuters: NASA plans permanent base on moon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) - NASA said on Monday it plans to build a permanently occupied base on the moon, most likely at the lunar south pole.

The habitat will serve as a science outpost as well as a testbed for technologies needed for future travel to Mars, and construction will follow a series of flights to the moon scheduled to begin by 2020.

"We're going for a base on the moon," Scott "Doc" Horowitz, NASA's associate administrator for exploration, told reporters in a teleconference from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Plans for what the base will look like and what astronauts would do there have yet to be determined. Similarly, NASA has not projected a date when the base would go into operation.

The moon's polar sites are preferred to equatorial regions because of more moderate temperatures and longer periods of sunlight, which is critical for the solar-powered electrical systems NASA plans to develop. Eventually, nuclear power may be used to augment or replace the solar energy systems.

Scientists also suspect the poles have resources such as hydrogen, ice and other materials that could be used for life support.

Recently we were watching some mindless television show and there were visual and dialog references to Stanley Kubrick's late 1960s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. I made the comment to my wife that Kubrick's reach extended far beyond his death, and my son mentioned that he had seen those visual images a lot in the shows he likes to watch, but who was Stanley Kubrick?

Well, Saturday afternoon we took over the television (a rare occurrence in our house) and put 2001 - A Space Odyssey into the DVD player and showed our son one of the seminal cinematographic milestones of the past century. He sat through most of it without complaint, but was pretty wierded out by the last segment. We then put 2010: The Year We Make Contact into the DVD player and watched that. This one had more action, dialog, and answered a few of his questions as to just what was going on in the earlier film. This was not a Kubrick film, and that was quite obvious, but it was enjoyable enough.

Two days later (Monday, December 4, 2006) NASA held a press conference to announce that plans for a permanent Lunar base would go forward, with work to begin by 2020. I was reminded of the scene in 2001 of the lunar base, Clavius, where the second monolith was found.

I can barely remember Sputnik, but I remember the subsequent space flights, and I am excited about this new development and look forward to seeing it unfold. I hope my son, who has never experienced anything other than the space age, can enjoy this as much as I.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Nativity Story

My family and I went out to see The Nativity Story yesterday afternoon (yes, the snowplows finally hit our street Sunday afternoon, and the cinder trucks laid down some grit for traction).

This film was well done and gave a sensitive portrayal of what Mary must have endured as a young woman who was found to be pregnant when customs did not permit sexual activity, as well as her submission to the Lord and her trust in God's providence.

Joseph is portrayed as a youngish man who feels hurt and betrayed by what (to his understanding) can only be unfaithfulness on his wife's part. He comes across, as Scripture relates, as a righteous man.

The dialog is a mixture of Scripture and educated guesses as to what else might have passed between Joseph, Mary, her parents, and the townspeople of Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem. Where Scripture provides dialog, it is used pretty much as it appears in the Bible and where Scripture is silent, the film provides dialog that is well-delivered and makes perfect sense. Even the small amount of comic relief does not diminish the message being portrayed.

Much research seems to have gone into the making of this film, and ordinary details of life of 2,000 years ago are depicted with skill.

The last I saw on the Yahoo! Movies site, the critics gave it a C+ and the viewers gave it a B+. It may not be Oscar material, but I enjoyed it, and was moved by its portrayal of the familiar characters surrounding the birth of Jesus. It is definitely worth seeing.

Presbyterians Today: Taking back Christmas

Joan Gray, Moderator of the 217th General Assembly writes in the "Inside the PCUSA" column of Presbyterians Today an article titled Taking Back Christmas:

"Instead of a holiday season during which much is forgotten, Christians should remember why Jesus was born.

Christmas as it is generally practiced in our culture is an exercise in forgetting. From the week after Halloween until the stores close on December 24, the atmosphere around us is one of forgetting the unpleasant realities of life. We forget that credit card bills will have to be paid. We forget that everything that we eat will show up on the scales. We forget that most people we know have many things, but we buy them more because it’s Christmas.

In order to induce this state of forgetfulness we eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, party too much. Christmas—as it is generally celebrated by our culture and by the overwhelming majority of Christians—must make the angels weep.

Christmas is about the transformation of our world into the world God wants it to be. It is about our transformation into the beloved community. It is about God’s selfless love poured out on a world desperately in need of a savior. Somebody please tell me what this has to do with parents fighting to purchase the latest toy fad? ..."

The column, Inside the PCUSA, is a space for Presbyterian leaders to speak to the denomination on matters that they feel important. December's column is by the General Assembly Moderator, Joan Gray, and deals with an issue that has long plagued Christians -- the co-opting of the meaning of Christmas by external forces as well as the way Christians respond to this by acquiescing in how the world around them views Christmas.

It's hard. I personally complain every year about how the hoopla surrounding Christmas has become nothing more than additional stress in an already stressful life. I deal with this in my own ineffective way by refusing to play Christmas music until AFTER Thanksgiving (well, not exactly -- one of my favorite musical works is the Christmas Oratorio by J.S. Bach, and I play it just about any time I want to, but that's about it). But I have to admit I do little else to reclaim Christmas.

Joan Gray has some good suggestions for reclaiming Christmas in its full meaning -- ones that would be good to keep in mind this season.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Presbyterian Panel Survey Results Released

The Presbyterian Panel results that were originally to be released in late Spring, 2006 -- prior to the 217th General Assembly -- have now been released. Jack Marcum, of the Presbyterian Panel, wrote a memo on May 30, 2006 outlining the reasons for the failure to meet the original release date.

Two things seem particularly interesting to me:

1. More respondents in each of the 4 groups -- members (52%), elders (50%), clergy (49%), specialized clergy (46%) believe that Peace, Unity, and Purity differ in importance than feel they are the same in importance (30%, 32%, 42%, 38%). Of those who saw differences in importance, the elders ranked them with purity as the most important, followed by peace and unity. Specialized clergy had unity first, followed by peace and purity. In addition, majorities of members, elders, and clergy disagreed with the statement that it is worth giving up purity to get peace in the church.

2. On the statement "A Church that is not clear about what it believes is not worth belonging to", members (67%), elders (65%), and pastors (62%) agreed or strongly agreed -- sizable majorities. A plurality of specialized clergy (47%) were in agreement with that statement.

All in all, it seems that regardless of what particular stance is taken, a significant majority of all respondents agree that the PC(USA) needs to be clear about what it believes, and it appears that purity is not to be sacrificed even to bring about peace. The deep divisions on many of the questions indicate that unity is not a possibility at present.

My question is can we find ways to work together peaceably on the things that unite us, while holding the denomination together? Or will we hold our Mission hostage to our need to have our own way?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Snowbound in Mid-Missouri

Well, the temperature outside is 13 degrees and falling, there are 12-14 inches of snow on the ground, The University of Missouri cancelled classes (but remains "open"), Interstate 70 is closed from Marshall to Kingdom City (about 70 miles), and the Missouri Department of Transportation has suspended its plowing operations in Boone County.

But through the magic of broadband, I can do work from home as easily as I can do it from my office. A blessing? Or a curse? We'll see how things turn out today.

This weekend is a Boy Scout campout (which I wasn't planning on attending anyway), but the overnight low is expected to be 3 degrees. We'll see if it gets postponed....

I'm just glad this didn't come last week when we were heading back to Columbia from Houston.

Nature: Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism

Nature: Decoding the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism:
"The Antikythera Mechanism is a unique Greek geared device, constructed around the end of the second century bc. It is known that it calculated and displayed celestial information, particularly cycles such as the phases of the moon and a luni-solar calendar. Calendars were important to ancient societies for timing agricultural activity and fixing religious festivals. Eclipses and planetary motions were often interpreted as omens, while the calm regularity of the astronomical cycles must have been philosophically attractive in an uncertain and violent world. Named after its place of discovery in 1901 in a Roman shipwreck, the Antikythera Mechanism is technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards. ..."

Yesterday I pointed to a news release about this and as it happened, Nature had already published a letter from the research team about this. The above quote is part of the abstract of a 5 page letter on the subject of the Antikythera Mechanism. If you are at a university or your public library has a Nature subscription, you should be able to read the full text.

The bibliographic citation for this article is "Nature 444, 587-591 (30 November 2006)"