Monday, December 31, 2007

Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use - washingtonpost.com

Download Uproar: Record Industry Goes After Personal Use - washingtonpost.com:
"Despite more than 20,000 lawsuits filed against music fans in the years since they started finding free tunes online rather than buying CDs from record companies, the recording industry has utterly failed to halt the decline of the record album or the rise of digital music sharing.

Still, hardly a month goes by without a news release from the industry's lobby, the Recording Industry Association of America, touting a new wave of letters to college students and others demanding a settlement payment and threatening a legal battle.

Now, in an unusual case in which an Arizona recipient of an RIAA letter has fought back in court rather than write a check to avoid hefty legal fees, the industry is taking its argument against music sharing one step further: In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer."
Oh, for crying out loud!

Making a copy for personal use has been legal since the LP days, when it was routine for people to make a cassette tape and play it in lieu of playing the vinyl record. As things have moved into the digital age, the same understanding has continued. The iPod and other digital players have permitted people to carry around whole shelves worth of music wherever they go.

This technology is a great convenience for those who buy their music and make a copy for portable use. It is also a great convenience for those who steal music, but thus far, the courts seem to have been reluctant to hobble an entire industry simply because some (or even a majority) of its users are dishonest.

This article suggests that the RIAA has failed in every attempt thus far to reverse its declining revenues, and is now going after law-abiding citizens, when what it really needs to do is to radically change its business model. The idea of extracting a fee for every possible use of a recording just isn't going to cut it in the digital age.

Full Disclosure: Every bit of music that may or may not be on my iPod is backed up by a CD that I purchased and is sitting on my shelves. Stealing is wrong whether it takes place at gunpoint or at the click of a mouse.

A Promise Kept

Since my son -- now 15 -- was about 9, he has been asking to go hunting, and I told him to check back when he had taken the Missouri Hunter Safety Course. You have to be 11 to be certified, so this put off the day of reckoning for a couple years.

I last hunted when I lived in Kansas between 1977 and 1979. It was enjoyable, but I gravitated over the years to fishing, and specifically fly fishing. Hunting never lost its allure for me, but I just never got out to hunt. By the time my wife and I started raising a son, the time constraints just weren't conducive to getting out.

Well, when my son was 11, he took the hunter safety course, and we started shooting at target and trap ranges together. I started purchasing the annual hunting and fishing combination license, and even added the migratory waterfowl option a time or two. I still couldn't find the time, and I suspect that I was just a little daunted by passing on a tradition that I had never fully embraced. Over the past few years he dropped hints that some of his school buddies would let him come along when they went hunting with their dads, but I felt that I needed to be a part of this rite of passage.

As luck and timing would have it, a friend of many years who works for the Missouri Department of Conservation, and is a skilled sportsman offered to take my son and me out for some duck hunting. Saturday the 29th of December was the day we chose. Ordinarily it takes a crowbar to pry my son out of bed on a Saturday morning, but when he was awakened at 4:15, he got dressed and was ready to go. We met my friend at the headquarters of Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area near Columbia for the 5:00AM drawing for hunting locations. We we didn't draw a low enough number, so we went out to the Missouri River near the conservation area and tried to lure in some ducks. The river itself had a strong current, but wing dams had created a pretty quiet backwater, and we set up the decoys, and sat on overturned plastic buckets and waited for the sun to come up.

We saw plenty of ducks and geese, but most of them were flying high. Occasionally a solitary mallard or a pair of mallards came in close enough to take a quick look, but they moved on. We saw large numbers of seagulls, and couple herons working the river, and we heard crows. The closest we came to shooting was when a small flock of geese came overheard from behind, but shooting a goose in the butt is not a high percentage shot. Now if we had been facing away from the river....

Essentially, this was "catch and release" hunting. We saw plenty, but few came within range, and we chose to not take any marginal shots.

We did have a special treat about halfway through the morning. My son suddenly said "those are otters!" and we looked where he was pointing, and sure enough, there were a couple otters cavorting in the slow water. They came in and checked out the decoys, and we counted 4 of these beautiful creatures. One of them looked our way, and started snorting like a small pig. Soon they were all looking at us, and hissing and snorting, and after a few moments they swam off downstream.

Duck season ends New Years Day, and I told my boy if he wanted to get up a 4:00am again, we could try to draw a location within the conservation area. We'll see... The overnight low is forecast to be about 10 degrees with a high of 21.

This was an enjoyable morning. My son and I learned a bit about waterfowl hunting from an expert, and we had a great time. My promise of several years ago was kept, and if my son wants to continue, then this is something we can do together.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No Room in the What? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

No Room in the What? | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"I am here to tamper with a masterpiece, or better said, to share with you a rather different reading of Luke 2:1-7, one solidly grounded in the facts, but nowhere represented in Christmas carols and pageants. I must tell you that I have heard endless sermons on how there was 'no room in the inn' and how it was typical of a cold, fallen world to cast the holy family and Jesus out into the cold, and so on, often preached with great fervor but producing no ferment at all.

We've heard it countless times before. We've all been inoculated with a slight case of Christmas, preventing us from getting the real thing, or in this case, from reading these texts in a more historical way. The problem with the Christmas-pageant version is, this is not at all likely to be what Luke intends to tell us in this much beloved and belabored Christmas tale."
Ben Witherington provides a really interesting interpretation of on of the staples of the Christmas story. When one remembers all the sermons preached on how there was no room at the inn, and that the baby Jesus was born in a barn with all the animals and so forth, it is really difficult to even consider an alternative interpretation. You just don't mess with tradition. Or hymns. Or anything else that people have gotten used to.

But Ben Witherington makes a good case for Jesus being born not in a stranger's barn, but in the home of a kinsman (after all, Joseph had relatives in Bethlehem). Considering the architecture of the day, it would not be unexpected that the family's livestock would be located at the back of a house built onto a cave opening. If Joseph and Mary were late getting into town, then the guest rooms might have been taken already.

Why not? Certainly much of the "theology" that is portrayed by Christmas carols is a little suspect from the nature of the tree travelers who brought the gifts, to the timing of the event. This more modern discussion of the events does nothing to minimize the Incarnation. It really doesn't change on central fact of the birth of Jesus and that was it was to an ordinary woman who was chosen to be the human mother of the Son of God. And considering another interpretation of Scripture than what we all grew up with does not erase the wonder we feel at Christmas that God, in His love for us, would become flesh and live with us as a human.

We're here and safe

We left on Saturday to visit my parents in Houston, and what should have been an uneventful drive turned rather eventful.

We left Columbia expecting to get south of Oklahoma City before the expected bad weather hit southern Kansas and Oklahoma. That was not to be the case. Rain started in Kansas City, and by the time we got to Paola, it had turned to sleet. By Emporia, things were slow, but passable. As we moved southwest on the Kansas Turnpike, things went scary in a hurry. We were in the position of not being able to turn back, but at the same time not daring to stop. So we continued to Wichita, and got off due to stop-and-go traffic caused by a semi jackknifed about five miles down the turnpike.

Our intention was to find a motel, but Wichita had no vacancies at every place we looked. We decided to travel on a highway parallel to I-35 for a while and check out the towns just south of Wichita. Still no dice. I looked over toward the Turnpike and noticed that the traffic was moving again, and it was not closed as we had been led to believe, so we got on and headed into Oklahoma. We stopped at every interchange where we could see motels, and they were all full. Finally, we founf a room at Guthrie, OK, and settled into a much needed sleep. I had 12 hours behind the wheel, and that was quite enough. The road problems in Oklahoma were not blizzard conditions; they were black ice. I'm just VERY thankful we did not have to spend the night in the car at a truck stop.

Sunday morning (when we had hoped to be in northern Texas), we resumed our trip. The roads rapidly improved, and by the time we were south of Norman, OK things looked pretty good. We finally arrived in Houston around 6:00pm and are still here enjoying family.

Anyway, Merry Christmas to all of you!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Anatomy of a cosmic bird

Anatomy of a cosmic bird:
"Using ESO's Very Large Telescope, an international team of astronomers [1] has discovered a stunning rare case of a triple merger of galaxies. This system, which astronomers have dubbed 'The Bird' - albeit it also bears resemblance with a cosmic Tinker Bell - is composed of two massive spiral galaxies and a third irregular galaxy."
Tinker Bell works as a nickname. Who says astrophysicists have lost their child-like imaginations?

The original ESO press release has links to additional images and explanatory information.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Jesus ad angers church groups | The Daily Telegraph

Jesus ad angers church groups | The Daily Telegraph:
"CHRISTIAN leaders have branded a television commercial depicting the baby Jesus tossing gifts back at the three wise men as tacky and offensive.

The ad for electronic goods retailers Betta Electrical recreates the Christian nativity scene, showing three wise men offering gifts to baby Jesus as he lies in the manger.

The commercial, which has angered Anglican and Catholic leaders, shows Jesus throwing gifts out of the manger as the words 'Give a better gift' flash on the TV screen."
What can I say? This speaks for itself.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Austin Seminary, Mission Presbytery ask: What must we believe?

Presbyterian Outlook: Austin Seminary, Mission Presbytery ask: What must we believe?:
"A new issue has popped up in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Mission Presbytery recently: should a person have to confess to the belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to become a member of a church?

The issue arose when Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin, joined St. Andrew’s Church in Austin, Texas, in 2005, and later declared in a published article that he does not believe in Jesus, or God, at all. When Mission Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry researched whether or not there are questions in the Book of Order on joining the membership of a church, they found such questions — at least as required in an explicit formula — are not there."
I will grant that a specific list of questions to be asked is not present, but the Book of Order IS explicit about what it takes to be a member of a Presbyterian Church:
"The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church."

Book of Order G-5.0101a
I don't see how this statement can be parsed in any way that permits an avowed atheist to gain membership to a Presbyterian church.

The last I heard of this particular embarrassment was that a higher judicatory directed the session of St. Andrews to drop Jensen from the active roll and leave him on the baptized member roll, since he was baptized as a child. I have not heard whether this order has been implemented or not.

People I know rather well had attended St. Andrews in Austin and figured out quickly that this was not where they were at, so they sought another congregation. In their years in Austin they learned that this particular church and minister had a reputation for such behavior.

Mission Presbytery (where this all transpired) has proposed an amendment to the Book of Order that would add questions to be asked of members:
Who is your Lord and Savior?
Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior.

Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
I do, by God’s grace.

Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you be a faithful member of this congregation, share in its worship and ministry through your prayers and gifts, your study and service, and so fulfill your calling to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?
I will, with God’s help.
Many congregations, including my own, already ask similar questions. They seem to be reasonable implementations of the requirements for membership as specified in G-5.0101a, and serve to underscore the the fact that membership is for the entire Church, much as ordination is for the whole Church.

In the my congregation, the first question (Who is your Lord and Savior?) is also asked of parents presenting their children for baptism, and it may be the only question asked of Presbyterians where a complete sentence is called for. The constitutional questions for ordination require a simple "I do" or "I will" as a response.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole

The Big Chill: Ch-Ch-Chatting with the IT manager at the South Pole:
"From the start, Henry Malmgren was determined to get to the South Pole. After graduating from Texas Tech University in 1998 with a degree in MIS he applied for a job in the Antarctic every year before NSF contractor Raytheon finally hired him as a network engineer in 2001. Since then he has alternated between the Denver headquarters and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, spending two summers and two winters there before finally working his way up to IT manager. Staying over is a commitment: Once the winter starts, there's no way to get in and out of the base until summer begins eight to nine months later. 'I thought I would just do this for a single season, but somehow it always seemed too easy to keep coming back,' he says."
A great interview here.... You'll also get a kick out of the accompanying slide show on what it is like at the South Pole.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

'Conspiracy' Resists Holiday Greed, Urges Giving | Liveblog | Christianity Today

'Conspiracy' Resists Holiday Greed, Urges Giving | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"Pastors’ attempts to ward off the Christmas spirits of consumerism and busyness are so predictable, they’re easy to ignore. So many churches are looking for creative ways to reinvigorate members to take the energy they usually put into holiday-season spending and convert it into compassionate giving.

Such is the Advent Conspiracy, a self-described “emerging international movement” began in 2006 by Rick McKinley, senior pastor of Imago Dei Community, a 1,500-member emergent church in Portland, Ore. Sick of the de-emphasis on Christ during the weeks leading up to Christmas, McKinley challenged his congregation to give like God does."
I have, at times, been accused of developing a scaly green skin this time of year as I think of ways to suck the joy out of Christmas. A lot of it is the pressure to conform to the consumerism of the season, but I have to admit that all the pageantry, choir activities, holiday lunches and dinners take their toll as well. It's almost as if I dread the season -- not as much as I dread election years, but still I dread it.

Maybe the Imago Dei Community is on to something here. To give like God gives carries a lot of weight. It would mean giving without any expectation of a quid pro quo. It might mean anonymously giving a meal to a hungry man or giving a coat to a shivering woman. It might mean giving up everything to follow Jesus, even to the point of offering up one's very life.

On the same web page I found this story linked, there was another link to an article published in 1993 called Let the Pagans Have the Holiday. The author of this article suggested that, rather than trying to "take back" Christmas, we take back Easter before we turn our attention to the Nativity:
"...So let the pagans have Christmas as their most significant holiday. Easter is the central Christian holiday. And when we are known for our Easter, then we will have our Christmas back."
This too is thought-provoking, but I have to admit that my heart is with restoring Christmas to its proper place while trying at the same time to live as an "Easter Christian". And I really do enjoy the music of the season.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Colorado police seek links in shootings - CNN.com

Colorado police seek links in shootings - CNN.com:
"COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (CNN) -- Police were searching a home near Englewood, Colorado, early Monday as they looked for clues in deadly attacks at religious institutions during the weekend.

The two shootings, the first at a Christian missionary center in Arvada and the second at a Colorado Springs megachurch, left a gunman and four victims dead and six wounded, authorities said.

Arvada Police Chief Don Wick said there is reason to believe the shootings are related."
News like this is horrifying at any time, let alone in a season where we eagerly anticipate the Prince of Peace.

An armed security guard ended the shooter's rampage, potentially saving many lives Sunday. Personally I am very conflicted about this. Armed guards at churches just don't quite seem right, yet the death toll could have been much higher if one were not present yesterday. The only thing we can do is leave it where it is -- in God's hands.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Researchers use new stem cell method to treat mice | Reuters

Researchers use new stem cell method to treat mice | Reuters:
"CHICAGO, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Using a new type of stem cells made from ordinary skin cells, U.S. researchers said on Thursday they treated mice with sickle cell anemia, proving in principle that such cells could be used as a therapy.

U.S. and Japanese researchers last month reported they had reprogrammed human skin cells into behaving like embryonic stem cells, the body's master cells. They call the cells induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells for short.

The Japanese team had previously done the reprogramming work in mouse skin cells.

A team at the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has now used the new cells to treat mice engineered to have sickle cell anemia, a disease of the blood caused by a defect in a single gene."
There is a lot of exciting news in the stem cell arena. To see some real progress in applying the newer, non-destructive stem cell research to a real medical problem is encouraging.

One thing that characterizes this debate more than any other debate I've seen is the discernment that goes into it. People see the medical problems and know that stem cell research can address such problems, but they are uncomfortable with the destruction of developing embryos in order to harvest pluripotent stem cells. The question is not "can we do it?" but "should we do it?" The newer research in "reprogramming" adult cells seems to be alleviating the bioethical concerns of many in and out of the scientific community.

It is encouraging that even while the debate was raging in the scientific and political realms, there were researchers who were willing and able to quietly continue their studies, even in the face of skepticism at the idea of reprogramming adult cells.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today is Saint Nicholas Day for those who recognize a differences between St. Nick and Santa Claus. This third century bishop had a reputation for anonymously giving gifts to the needy, as well as evangelizing in what is now Turkey.


Image from Wikipedia published under the Creative Commons License.

My family observed St. Nicholas Day a few times while we we living in Germany during the 1960s. We put our shoes outside our bedroom doors and the contents the next morning were generally eaten -- unless you were on the "naughty" list, in which case you got a lump of coal.

As you can see, the traditions are similar to the stockings hung on the mantel, and of course most people meld St Nicholas and Santa Claus into the same person.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Green Light for IFI - Prison Fellowship

A Green Light for IFI - Prison Fellowship:
"Just yesterday, we received some good news concerning the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, or IFI.

As you may know, IFI is an intensive and effective faith-based program for prisoners launched by Prison Fellowship 10 years ago. Several years ago, Barry Lynn and Americans United for Separation of Church and State sued IFI in Iowa, claiming it was unconstitutional. In June 2006, a federal judge agreed and ordered the program shut down—and for Prison Fellowship, which launched IFI, to repay the state of Iowa $1.5 million. Mind you, that is the money the state happily paid to IFI for running an effective program that reduces recidivism among prisoners.

Naturally, Prison Fellowship and IFI appealed. And the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has finally spoken. The three-judge panel, including former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, overturned major portions of Judge Pratt’s ruling."
This was mentioned on Presbyweb yesterday, and it caught my interest as it was a topic I had blogged about in the past.

The Washington Post had an article, Court: Prison Program Unconstitutional, that gave more details, but the headline was, shall we say, misleading.

THe Americans United for the Separation of Church and State's article, Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Public Funding Of Evangelical Prison Program In Iowa, at least had a more accurate headline, although its spin was that this was going to bring such programs to a "screeching halt". Not quite...

These things seem to be true, according to the order of the 8th Circuit:
  • Direct aid to such programs is in violation of the Establishment Clause.
  • The program itself is NOT in violation of the Establishment Clause. It also seems from reading the ruling that the inmate's participation was entirely appropriate under the Free Exercise Clause.
  • Because clear value to the inmates and to society was demonstrated, the order for InnerChange Freedon Initiative (IFI) to repay 1.5 million dollars was vacated. Any amounts paid to IFI after June 2, 2006 (the date of the original ruling) are to be repaid (an amount the Washington Post said was $160,000).
In reading the order of the 8th Circuit, it seems to me that some aspects of the program were unduly harsh, but the court placed more emphasis on the fact that inmates volunteered to take part in the program.

Contrary to Americans United's opinion, this and similar programs are not at a screeching halt. In fact they continue under private funding.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals took note of the fact that this program has demonstrated that it works in reducing recidivism -- a claim that the various penal systems nationwide cannot make -- and perhaps this tipped the scales in their favor. Certainly repaying 1.5 million dollars for effective work performed under contract would have been a major cramp in their ministry.

This will clarify how such programs can operate, and hopefully more inmates can receive its benefit.

Monday, December 03, 2007

STLtoday - No charges in MySpace suicide case

STLtoday - No charges in MySpace suicide case:
"ST. CHARLES -- The St. Charles County prosecutor said this morning there will be no criminal charges filed in the case of the teenage girl who committed suicide after being bullied on the Internet.

County Prosecutor Jack Banas announced his decision at a news conference called to discuss the Megan Meier case. . Megan, 13, of Dardenne Prairie, hanged herself last year. Her parents said her suicide was the result of harassment via her My Space web page.

Her parents said an adult neighbor created a teenage boy who pretended to be interested in Megan before he began bullying her. The neighbors admitted to police that they created the account. ..."
I ordinarily don't weigh in on local or state controversies, but this is just over the top. For an adult to be involved in the cruelty just underscores the fact that there IS a dark side to the Internet, and we have seen it here in Missouri.

A new law in the Dardenne Prairie jurisdiction makes it a misdemeanor to engage in internet harassment. It may be a start, but it seems inadequate in this case. I suppose there will ultimately be an accounting for this, but it will be in a different jurisdiction....

Friday, November 30, 2007

Global cellphone penetration reaches 50 pct | Technology, Media & Telecommunications | Reuters.co.uk

Global cellphone penetration reaches 50 pct | Technology, Media & Telecommunications | Reuters.co.uk:
"HELSINKI, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Worldwide mobile telephone subscriptions reached 3.3 billion -- equivalent to half the global population -- on Thursday, 26 years after the first cellular network was launched, research firm Informa said.

Since the first Nordic Mobile Telephony (NMT) networks were switched on in 1981 in Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Norway, mobile phones have become the consumer electronics sector with the largest volume of sales in the world."
Hmmm. Good news? Bad news?

Of course, this does not mean that 50% of the population of the Earth has a cell phone. Some have more than one, or use a personal phone and a work phone. In fact, 59 countries have a penetration of over 100%, which means the average number of cellphones/user is greater than one.

Life has certainly changed on the past 25 years....

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Holiday wishes from the Hubble Space Telescope

Holiday wishes from the Hubble Space Telescope:
"Messier 74, also called NGC 628, is a stunning example of a 'grand-design' spiral galaxy that is viewed by Earth observers nearly face-on. Its perfectly symmetrical spiral arms emanate from the central nucleus and are dotted with clusters of young blue stars. ..."
32 million years ago the light from this galaxy began its journey to Earth. I am in awe of its beauty and its Creator.


Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage (STScI/AURA)-ESA/Hubble Collaboration

Click the photo for more information. If you are on a broadband connection, give this link to a higher resolution image a try.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Don’t condemn Tony Blair for his Christian beliefs | Michael Gove - Times Online

Don’t condemn Tony Blair for his Christian beliefs | Michael Gove - Times Online:
"... It says something about the intellectual impoverishment of Christianity’s critics that they think a prime minister who believes in the Church’s teachings is one who “takes his orders from God”. Far from imbuing its believers with certainty about the wisdom, or morality, of their actions, Christianity invites its followers to scrutinise their consciences, recognise all the time that their motives may be mixed, their unaided reason faulty, their enterprises fallible. By guarding mankind against the temptations of a totally utilitarian world view, Christianity ensures that an alternative ethical tradition survives, which guarantees real pluralism in any major moral debate of our times.

The real nuttiness in our society is that an open commitment from a public figure to organised Christian religion is now seen as shameful, while every sort of faulty moral reasoning from other sources is accorded grave respect. It doesn’t need a prodigious level of sanity to see we’d be mad to make Christianity even more marginal than it is today. ..."
Michael Gove is a Member of Parliament from Surrey Heath and is reacting to the recent disclosure by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, that he was and is a Christian and that it permeated his public and private life. Blair did not make his faith an issue, however, and there has been some controversy as to whether he was a "stealth" candidate who deceived his party and his constituents by not practicing his faith openly.

I appreciate Blair for acknowledging his faith and respect him for his decision to avoid making it a political issue. Evidently it is quite unacceptable to wear one's faith on one's sleeve in Great Britain, especially for a politician. Michael Gove has quite a way with words, and provides a good counterpoint in this debate.

I wish that our politicians had as clear an idea of what Christianity means in the public realm.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Columbia Missourian - Christian groups bring the Bible to thousands of countries through unconventional means

Columbia Missourian - Christian groups bring the Bible to thousands of countries through unconventional means:
"RONG DOMRIEX, Cambodia — Tel Im, a barefoot 13-year-old, sat cross-legged on a bamboo bench, eager for her reading lesson.

“Please turn to Lesson 33,” said a woman’s voice rising from a Sony cassette player powered by two wires clipped to a car battery. The tape was the closest thing to a school in this village shaded by banana trees, where water buffaloes meander in from the lime-green rice paddies.

Im and her classmates flipped to Page 134 for a passage from the New Testament.

“The title of this story is: ‘Jesus Was Crucified,’“ said the teacher on the tape, slowly pronouncing the words in Khmer, the local language, as the children followed along with their fingertips.

Six months ago, Im couldn’t read a word and had never heard of Jesus. Now, through a literacy program run by the local chapter of an international Bible group, she has a book — the Bible — that she can read, and she says she wants to become a Christian."
This story first appeared in the Washington Post, but I was unable to locate the original article.

The Bible has historically been a force for literacy in the world, and one of the first things that must happen is that the Scriptures need to be translated into the indigenous language. According to this article, there have been 600 new translations since the year 2000, resulting in potentially tens of millions more people being reached. An additional 1600 projects are underway.

Another aspect of this and similar initiatives is the diversity of ways in which the Scriptures are presented -- cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players ("Bible Stick"), as well as downloading to the current generation of cell phones. The electronic media make it possible to get the Scriptures into countries where shipping crates of printed Bibles would be inconvenient, if not illegal.

With regard to Cambodia, where the predominant religion is Buddhism, the director of the National Buddhist Institute had this to say:
“For centuries and centuries we have been Buddhists.”

But, he added, people have a right to choose their religion, and the government is grateful for the medicine, food and manpower that Christian groups are bringing. As for the Christian literacy program, he said, “If Buddhists worry about it, they should teach children to read, too.”

Working with people and meeting their needs sends a powerful message, and it seems that many have become Christians through those who come to serve.

Friday, November 23, 2007

A review of the Beowulf Movie

We went to see Beowulf at one of our local theaters, and I can take a certain amount of pride in knowing that all three of us had already read the Beowulf epic in the Seamus Heaney translation. That having been noted, it really didn't help us much in viewing the movie, which used the familiar names but departed at many points from the original. Other than that is was a nice bit of escapism and the effects were awesome.

This was not a live-action film, but it would be inaccurate to refer to it simply as a cartoon. The animation and effects were of a quality that made one forget that this really wasn't actors on a sound stage. In addition, the digital rendering of the scenes made it possible to show angles and points of view that would be difficult, if not impossible for conventional cinematography. Imagine a spear being thrust toward you until all you see is the spearhead, and then the "camera" changes its point of view so you see the guard holding the spear, and the point just about touching Beowulf's eyes.

The film is violent and has a lot of gory images, and for this reason alone, you might want to get a babysitter for the youngsters. The sexuality is mostly innuendo, and involves anatomically correct outlines (for a Barbie doll), and about as much detail as a Barbie doll. Beowulf fights Grendel in the nude, and there always seems to be a strategically-placed plant or other object that keeps the visual effects in the PG-13 range. This is definitely not a family flick, but neither is it pornography.

On to the substance of the film. We all know that Grendel is Beowulf's first opponent. Grendel has a face only a mother could love, and oddly enough, that is a plot point in both the Old English epic and the 2007 film. How the two are connected are very different in the epic and the film. In the film the fight with the dragon is connected with the first two fights with Grendel and his mother -- a connection that is NOT made in the epic.

The film portrays Beowulf as a flawed character who ultimately redeems himself in the end. The Old English epic isn't much for character development. Beowulf is the hero, and that's all we need to know. In the film, Beowulf, having bested Grendel in a fair fight, felt the need to embellish the tale of his encounter with Grendel's mother. The lie he tells is actually closer to the original epic, than the "reality" of the film's depiction.

The ending is fairly satisfying, once you rid yourself of the expectation of conformity with the original epic, and overall, the film does a good job with internal consistency.

The Beowulf epic has many Christian elements interspersed with the Norse pantheon and the idea that a lone hero acting solely from internal motivations can save himself and his comrades. Personally, I would not call Beowulf a "Christian Epic", but I would recognize that it takes place in a milieu that is rapidly becoming Christian, and there are allusions to Christianity and Scripture in the original epic.

The film seemed to me to present a caricature of Christianity that, when juxtaposed with the heroic Danes and Geats, leaves the impression that things would be been far better without the Christians. Since the film writers chose to add specific events that were not a part of the original, I have to suspect that this was just a bit gratuitous.

I recommend this film highly for the effects and not so highly for the adaptation of the original source.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007

What shall I render to my God
For all His mercy’s store?
I’ll take the gifts He hath bestowed,
And humbly ask for more.

The sacred cup of saving grace
I will with thanks receive,
And all His promises embrace,
And to His glory live.

My vows I will to His great Name
Before His people pay,
And all I have, and all I am,
Upon His altar lay.

Thy lawful servant, Lord, I owe
To Thee whate’er is mine,
Born in Thy family below,
And by redemption thine.

Thy hands created me, Thy hands
From sin have set me free,
The mercy that hath loosed my bands
Hath bound me fast to Thee.

The God of all redeeming grace
My God I will proclaim,
Offer the sacrifice of praise,
And call upon His Name.

Praise Him, ye saints, the God of love,
Who hath my sins forgiven,
Till, gathered to the church above,
We sing the songs of Heaven.

-- Charles Wesley

Words from The Cyber Hymnal

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Readability Level

I saw that Mike Kruse's blog was at a High School reading level, so I tried mine, using the same site.

This surprises me, as Mike's writing is quite rich in content.

cash advance


I suppose the take-home lesson is that reading level and content are two different things.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning - Telegraph

Dolly creator Prof Ian Wilmut shuns cloning - Telegraph:
"The scientist who created Dolly the sheep, a breakthrough that provoked headlines around the world a decade ago, is to abandon the cloning technique he pioneered to create her.

Prof Ian Wilmut's decision to turn his back on 'therapeutic cloning', just days after US researchers announced a breakthrough in the cloning of primates, will send shockwaves through the scientific establishment.

He and his team made headlines around the world in 1997 when they unveiled Dolly, born July of the year before.

But now he has decided not to pursue a licence to clone human embryos, which he was awarded just two years ago, as part of a drive to find new treatments for the devastating degenerative condition, Motor Neuron disease.

Prof Wilmut, who works at Edinburgh University, believes a rival method pioneered in Japan has better potential for making human embryonic cells which can be used to grow a patient's own cells and tissues for a vast range of treatments, from treating strokes to heart attacks and Parkinson's, and will be less controversial than the Dolly method, known as "nuclear transfer."

His announcement could mark the beginning of the end for therapeutic cloning, on which tens of millions of pounds have been spent worldwide over the past decade. "
This is a fairly long article and goes into a lot of the science, ethics, and politics of stem cell research.

Wilmut's decision is based primarily on the value he sees in the Japanese research, which is achieving impressive results without the extra baggage of bioethics concerns that are being raised over techniques that require the creation and subsequent destruction of embryos.

The recent success in the cloning of primate embryos noted in the quotation above is characterized later in this article as requiring 304 eggs to get to a point where two stem cell lines were created -- and one of them had too many chromosomal abnormalities to be of any use. This is complicated by the fact that there is a great demand for human eggs to be used for fertility treatments, and this argues against such an inefficient process in view of such demand.

The Japanese successes in creating pluripotent stem cell lines from adult body cells seems to be a bit of a paradigm shift. For many years scientists had considered development and differentiation to be largely a one-way street. In other words a skin cell could not be expected to de-differentiate to the point where it could turn into other types of cells. We are now learning that this is, indeed, possible and this realization may result in lives being saved.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Postcard from San Diego: Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Postcard from San Diego: Fighting 'Bibliolatry' at the Evangelical Theological Society | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"While the ballroom sessions of the first day of the Evangelical Theological Society meeting had more attendees, no session was as packed as J.P. Moreland’s “How Evangelicals Became Over-Committed to the Bible and What Can Be Done About It.” While the average breakout session seems to be attended by fewer than 50 people, easily more than 200 packed the room to hear Moreland’s talk, with dozens standing and more listening outside the door.

It’s little wonder why so many people attended. ETS membership has only two doctrinal requirements: you must affirm the Trinity and the inerrancy of Scripture. The first part has not been controversial of late, but the second was the focus of the society’s recent fight over open theism and was named as a reason why Francis Beckwith could not remain as ETS president after his conversion to Roman Catholicism.

In short, to accuse evangelicals of over-commitment to the Bible at ETS would be like accusing environmentalists of talking too much about climate change at a Sierra Club meeting. But Moreland, who has gained some prominence as a philosopher and apologist, wasn’t pulling any punches. ..."
The title of this interesting blog posting by Ted Olsen from Christianity Today caught my eye. As a member of a denomination that has its roots in the Reformation, I know that Scripture is a key revelation of God. As an elder I have already publicly affirmed that I believe that "... the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments [are], by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God's Word to [me]."

So, having heard from a variety of sources in and out of the PC(USA) that the Scriptures are inherently the words of humans, and thus not to be taken as "gospel", I had to wonder if we were going to see a debate within evangelical circles as to whether or not the Scriptures are the standard that has brought the Church intact through nearly 2000 years of pressure and persecution. (I should note unequivocally that the PC(USA) in its confessions stands clearly with the Reformation, and thus I consider my denomination to be squarely within the Evangelical tradition.)

So what was Moreland driving at in his presentation? Well, he holds that there is truth to be learned outside Scripture (to indulge in, perhaps, an oversimplification. He makes a good case, using archaeology as a vehicle for showing how the Bible can point us in a particular direction, but the observations on the ground can add much to the accounts in Scripture. The point here is that one cannot limit oneself to searching for truth only in scripture, and I have to agree.

I also concede that there are difficult passages such as First Samuel 6:19, where different translations, using different textual sources come up with a different numbers. Did the Lord strike down 70 men or 50,070 men? Does it really make a difference theologically?

Olsen quotes Moreland as suggesting that, when faced with trying to engage secularism, evangelicals retreated into "private language games and increasingly detailed minutiae" instead of coming to grips with the world outside Scripture. This, in many ways, echoes Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, in which Noll details the rise and fall of intellectual evangelicism.

All in all, I don't see anything here that threatens a good reformed understanding of Scripture. The search for truth can take us down many roads, but the Scriptures remain the standard by which all truth is measured. I will still be suspicious of any purported truth that requires me to reject any portion of Scripture, but I will always be willing to engage in discussion about how to interpret Scripture.

And that is what sola scriptura means to me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Answering the Atheists | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Answering the Atheists | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Let's face it: Atheism is in. Not since Nietzsche have disbelievers enjoyed such a ready public reception to their godless message—and such near-miraculous royalties. But even that hasn't put them in a good mood. Snaps Christopher Hitchens, who wrote God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (although not, presumably, the pronouncements of atheists), 'Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral.' A feuding Richard Dawkins suggests that believers 'just shut up.' Apparently, they didn't get the tolerance memo. ..."
Stan Guthrie has written an engaging "Readers Digest Condensed" version of why he is a believer, drawing in many areas of his life and experience. The points Guthrie makes provide many useful tools for the apologetics toolbox. At the same time he demonstrates the fundamental untruth of the often-repeated assertion that believers are, at their core, irrational.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The church is flat

The church is flat:
"The world has changed. The old rules are out.

It was bad enough when the World Wide Web made it possible for the voices of peoples long silenced to broadcast their ideas – crazy and eccentric as many of them are – without having to raise thousands of dollars to self-publish or to convince an editor-publisher to invest the capital to do so. Standards of grammar and communication ethics went out the window.

Now it’s worse. Web 2.0, the second generation of Web development, has turned every computer into a publishing house, an editorial department, a photography studio, and a movement rabble-rouser.

The world really is flat, as Thomas Friedman proclaimed in his book by that title."
It's not that bad, Mr. Haberer -- There will always be a place for good editors, and you are among the best.

We have a diversity of voices in our denomination, but it hasn't been that long since most voices were effectively silenced; not through a concerted effort to stifle such voices, but simply because there was no way to get the word out effectively. Word trickled out slowly from General Assembly, and when the mainstream press reported it, it was often misleading. It was not unusual to hear what actually went on at a given GA weeks after the fact.

In the early 1990's email lists and web sites began to provide information as it happened. Still, though, the average person could only read email or navigate to a web site for information provided by others.

The 21st century has seen an explosion of technology that has empowered just about anyone with a laptop and an internet connection to publish views and reactions to what is going on in their local churches, and all the way up the hierarchy to Louisville.

Not all voices are equally useful. I read blogs and web sites on the right and the left of the PC(USA)that leave me wondering just what people are thinking of, when they use ridicule and hate speech against their fellow Christians. Thankfully there are only a very small number of such sites.

Most of the "ordinary" people provide useful perspectives and I value them. Check the sidebar for links to blogs that I try to read on a regular basis, both Presbyterian and other Christian offerings.

One thing that Jack Haberer did not touch on in his article today is the amazing access that people all over the country are able to get during the General Assembly. With streaming video and Les (the business tracking software) people all over the world can see what happens in real time. The PC(USA) deserves a great deal of praise for its providing the means for people in their communities to see how bills and overtures become church policy. It may be a little like watching sausage being made, but shining a light on the process really helps.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Associated Press: Leonardo Painting Has Coded 'Soundtrack'

The Associated Press: Leonardo Painting Has Coded 'Soundtrack':
"ROME (AP) — It's a new Da Vinci code, but this time it could be for real. An Italian musician and computer technician claims to have uncovered musical notes encoded in Leonardo Da Vinci's 'Last Supper,' raising the possibility that the Renaissance genius might have left behind a somber composition to accompany the scene depicted in the 15th-century wall painting."
I heard a snippet of the music on the news this evening. It certainly is musical, and it stretches my credulity to think it could nothing more than a coincidence. With what we know of Leonardo da Vinci, he certainly could have done this with the full realization that few people would even suspect it was there.

There is another story on the Discovery Channel website along with a video clip that has some more fascinating aspects of this unusual story.

Finally, for those who are into art, what is billed as the highest resolution digital image available anywhere depicts The Last Supper by da Vinci, courtesy of Haltadefinizione in Italy

Thursday, November 08, 2007

TCS Daily - The Free Clinic Movement

TCS Daily - The Free Clinic Movement:
"Warren County, Virginia, at the confluence of the North and South Forks of the Shenandoah River has neither the rolling hills of horse country nor the fertile plains of the Shenandoah Valley.

Of its 36,000 citizens, an estimated 6,000 are uninsured. Typically, when they get sick, the uninsured go to the emergency room, which is about the most inefficient and costly way of delivering primary medical care.

But, thanks to the initiative of some local Christians, the uninsured of Warren County can instead go to the St. Luke Community Clinic for free medical care. In FY 2006, 2,633 uninsured people did just that."
The Front Royal Presbyterian Church spearheaded the establishment of this particular clinic in 1996. Due to the scale of the job, the other churches in Front Royal were invited to join in the endeavor, and this clinic continues to serve the uninsured and underinsured of this community.

What struck me about this story is that the cost is not only minimal or free to the beneficiaries, but the St. Luke Community Clinic does not submit vouchers to the Federal Government, thus making it free to the taxpayer as well. Volunteer physicians, nurses, and other persons provide the services and various local agencies and organizations provide additional support.

What a ministry!

Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Thanks and Praise

Michael Yon : Online Magazine » Blog Archive » Thanks and Praise:
"Thanks and Praise: I photographed men and women, both Christians and Muslims, placing a cross atop the St. John’s Church in Baghdad. They had taken the cross from storage and a man washed it before carrying it up to the dome."
This really needs no comment -- except to express the hope that this spirit of mutual forbearance and cooperation continues to thrive.

[posting was delayed pending confirmation of permission to use the photograph.]

Monday, November 05, 2007

Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net - New York Times

Publishers See a Way to Track Their Content Across the Net - New York Times:
"Copyrighted work like a news article or a picture can hop between Web sites as easily as a cut-and-paste command. But more than ever, as that material finds new audiences, the original sources might not get the direct financial benefit — in fact, they might have little idea where their work has spread.

A young company called Attributor says it has an answer, and a number of big publishers of copyrighted material say Attributor just might be right.

The company has developed software that identifies an electronic “fingerprint” for a particular piece of material — an article, a picture, a video. Then it hunts down any place across the Web where a significant chunk of that work has been copied, with or without permission.

When the use is unauthorized, Attributor’s software can automatically send a message to the site’s operators, demanding a link back to the original publisher’s site, a share of revenue from any ads on the page, or a halt to the copying."
This was in today's online version of the New York Times and raises some interesting questions about how bloggers employ material on their sites.

First of all, the Fair Use Doctrine protects bloggers, journalists, teachers, and a variety of other users when they quote portions on another's work, which can consist of writing, sound recordings, or images. The relevant portion of Title 17 of the US Code, as provided by Cornell University Law School's web site reads as follows:

§ 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. In determining whether the use made of a work in any particular case is a fair use the factors to be considered shall include—
  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors.

[web links were preserved, and go back to Cornell Law School's web site. In addition, I reformatted the bullet points, which had been trashed on copying and pasting]
According to the Wikipedia article on Fair Use, a general rule is that a quotation of 400 words or less is "fair use". But all this is subject to legal interpretation. Obviously quoting 400 words from a 400 word essay would be wholesale copying. Beyond that obvious case, it depends on which 400 words you extract.

We bloggers tend do a lot of quoting, and most of us ensure that sources are properly acknowledged and that links are provided to the original source. Personally, I strive to have more of my own commentary than quotations, but occasionally I will link to an article without comment. After all, my blog is primarily about my feelings, perspectives, and opinions. If you want a news aggregator, there are plenty of those around.

We'll see if this portends a crackdown on pesky bloggers, but I rather doubt it. Many newspapers, including the Washington Post and my hometown newspaper, the Columbia Tribune, link to bloggers who have commented on particular articles.

What kind of Muppet am I?

Hmmmmmmm.

You Are Fozzie Bear

"Wocka! Wocka!"
You're the life of the party, and you love making people crack up.
If only your routine didn't always bomb!
You may find more groans than laughs, but always keep the jokes coming.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Images: Comet bursts into view | CNET News.com

Images: Comet bursts into view | CNET News.com:
"Last week Comet Holmes was just another fuzzball you could only see with a telescope--until it suddenly brightened a million times in a few hours. Now, you can easily see it with the naked eye, it's still expanding, and it has even changed color. ..."

When Comet 17P/Holmes was first discovered in 1892, it showed a magnitude change much like its 2007 visit to our neighborhood. Its orbital period is roughly 6.9 years, so it evidently does not traverse a major part of our galaxy.


If you can find the Big Dipper, you should be able to find
Comet Holmes over the next week or so.


All-in-all, this has been a pretty good season for interesting astronomical observations.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hubble sees the graceful dance of two interacting galaxies

Hubble sees the graceful dance of two interacting galaxies:
"A pair of galaxies, known collectively as Arp 87, is one of hundreds of interacting and merging galaxies known in our nearby Universe. Arp 87 was catalogued by astronomer Halton Arp in the 1960's. Arp’s Atlas of Peculiar Galaxies is a compilation of astronomical photographs using the Palomar 200-inch Hale and the 48-inch Samuel Oschin telescopes."
This is awesome. Go to the article for more images and explanation.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation 2007

A hymn that is always meaningful to me is even more appropriate at this time of year when we observe the 490th anniversary of Martin Luther's publication of the 95 Theses. See how many Reformation themes you can spot in this hymn:
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!

What more can he say than to you he hath said,

You who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?


In every condition, in sickness, in health;

In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,

As thy days may demand, so your succor shall be.


Fear not -- I am with you; O be not dismayed,

I, I am your God and will still give you aid;

I’ll strengthen you, help you, and cause you to stand
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.


When through the deep waters I cause you to go,

The rivers of sorrow shall not you o'erflow;

For I will be with you your troubles to bless,

And sanctify to you your deepest distress.


When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie,

My grace, all-sufficient, shall be your supply;

The flame shall not hurt you: I only design

Your dross to consume, and your gold to refine.


Even down to old age all my people shall prove

My sov'reign, eternal, unchangeable love;

And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,

Like lambs they shall still in my bosom be borne.


The soul that on Jesus has lean'd for repose,

I will not, I can not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,

I’ll never -- no never -- no never forsake!


-- Words from The Christian Hymn Book: A Compilation of Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs, Original and Selected by A. Campbell and Others. Cincinnati 1866
Foundation, in the Presbyterian Hymnal, is the tune that I prefer over all others. Like many of the hymn tunes arising from the American shape note tradition, it is in a pentatonic scale. The melody can be played using only the black keys of the piano.

With a meter of 11.11.11.11, there are a limited number of hymn tunes that can be used here -- St. Denio (Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise); Mueller (Away in a Manger) -- to name a couple.

You could even sing it to "The Streets of Laredo", but let's not go there...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I am unworthy...

When I was a college freshman in 1970 I decided to grow a beard. It was sparse, confined mainly to the chin, but it was was mine. I took pride in it, while at the same time looking wistfully at my peers, wishing I had their whisker density. You know the kind. Shave at 7am; look like they forgot to shave at noon, and they start looking pretty hirsute by 5pm.

I got tired of it after a few months, and was more or less clean-shaven until 1974 when I decided to have another go at it. This time it looked better, although directly under the chin was a bald spot, and there was a thin line of whiskers extending from the middle of the chin to my lower lip.

I had this beard on and off for the next 20 years, and I think there was facial hair of one kind or another during all that time. The beard filled in nicely, began to gray, and my wife liked it. I shaved it completely about 1994, my wife said "hmmmph", and after a few months I started growing it back, and it has been with me ever since -- sometimes shaped, sometimes growing natural, usually short, but occasionally as long as 3-4 inches.

So here I am in the present with a beard that I enjoy. Note that a side effect of digital imaging is to make one appear MUCH grayer than one really is....

The Reformed Angler, ca. 2005

But then I saw this, and my feelings of inadequacy returned:

Some guy in Great Britain.

I have never seen a double handlebar mustache before.

On further reflection, one of the reasons I keep my facial and head hair short is that it is much lower maintenance. How much time does this guy spend in grooming? Or is this just on special occasions.

Click on the photo of the one with more hair, and you can read the article from which it came.

Monday, October 29, 2007

All truth: God’s truth

All truth: God’s truth:
"Speakers at scholar lecture events on many college campuses often are greeted by a sea of empty seats. Not so at Roberts Wesleyan College in 1976. Chapel attendance was mandatory four days each week, so guest scholar Arthur Holmes got to play to a packed house each day.

Then again, packed doesn’t necessarily equal enthusiastic. Holmes was introduced as a philosophy professor from a rival college. Two strikes against him.

The dean introducing him also mentioned that he was a Presbyterian. Third strike. This bastion of hearts-strangely-warmed Wesleyans had honed their anti-Calvinism argumentation skills. We religion-and-philosophy majors specialized in crafting such debates. We listened with polite skepticism, at least at the beginning.

Soon we were captivated. His delivery was engaging. His scholarship was impressive. His message was stunning in a C.S. Lewis sort of way.

The theme for the series of lectures would be translated into a book published a year later (Eerdmans, 1977). The title: All Truth is God’s Truth. For me, a soon-to-graduate senior, it crystallized and summarized my whole college experience. My courses in science, fine arts, literature, human behavior, and the like all came together around a unifying, integrating, Christian worldview. ..."
This brings me back to the same era when I was teaching for a couple years at Sterling College, a Presbyterian school in Sterling Kansas. Chapel was not mandatory, but was well-attended. It helped that the time slot for the weekly chapel had no courses scheduled.

One year the theme was "Integration of Faith and Education" (or similar words). We also heard the "All Truth is God's Truth" characterization, and the students hopefully were challenged in similar ways to Jack Haberer's experience.

I find Haberer's description of a Church college education pretty similar to what I observed at Sterling. I actually went to large universities for my education, but if I had to do it all over, I would consider seriously learning at a church-related college.

There are a number of articles in this week's Outlook relating to this topic, and I would recommend reading them. Registration is required to read the full articles, but it is free, thus is worth infinitely more than you paid for it.

Friday, October 26, 2007

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - All in the family

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - All in the family:
"LOS ANGELES — The Rev. Greg Hughes, pastor of Malibu Presbyterian Church in Pacific Presbytery, which burned to the ground Sunday — has been in the news, testifying to our faith.

He can be seen and heard in a video interview on the Fox News Web site. In the interview he responds: 'Well, you know, we’re an Easter Faith people, so you know on Friday, it looked like things were bleak for Jesus, but we saw that Jesus rose again. And our church is a resurrection church. We’ll gather again. We’re going to regroup again.'..."
This article has links to further information, including whom to contact for relief efforts and how to donate funds to assist in the recovery.

Calling tech support for help with stolen printer | Tech news blog - CNET News.com

Calling tech support for help with stolen printer | Tech news blog - CNET News.com:
"Sometimes calling tech support can be a real pain--like when you can't get a hard-to-obtain printer that was just reported stolen to work for you.

That's apparently the experience of Timothy Scott Short, who was arrested earlier this month after allegedly stealing a computer and printer used for producing driver's licenses and then calling Digimarc's tech support line a couple of times seeking software for the same model printer, according to a report from IDG. Short was charged with felony possession of 'document-making implements' in connection with the October 5 theft of a PC and Digimarc printer used to print driver's licenses for the Missouri Department of Revenue."
Now this just brings a smile to my face.

Do they give Darwin Awards for people whose stupidity places themselves behind bars for much of their reproductive years?

Instead of making fake licenses, this man will get the opportunity to make genuine license plates. Ironic, isn't it?

Gallery: When Geeky Goes Bad - Tackiest PC Mods

Gallery: When Geeky Goes Bad - Tackiest PC Mods:
"The bold, the brave and the beautiful get too much attention. It's time to celebrate what defines most exotic PC case designs: trashiness, tackiness and pure tastelessness."
Now this is just plain disturbing. I must lead a sheltered life, because one of the images assumes experiences which I evidently have not had.

These folks are most assuredly not constrained by a sense of taste.

Gallery: Classy PC Cases Please the Distinguished Nerd

Gallery: Classy PC Cases Please the Distinguished Nerd:
"Custom computer cases tend to err toward the extreme -- extremes of weirdness, cleverness and neon. Be it sci-fi-themed cases that are out of this world, horror-inspired designs that result only in further horror, or Swarovski-studded bastards of bling, enough is enough. It's time to showcase the simple and straightforward, the tasteful products of real talent, to remind us that even when it comes to this most obsessive of pursuits, there's always room for subtle craftsmanship."
For those who like to tinker with the PC enclosures, here is a gallery of images of the best of the lot. As for me, well, it seems a little much. At least people are having fun with this.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

NASA - California Wildfires Continue to Grow: NASA Images Show Fire's Immense Size

NASA - California Wildfires Continue to Grow: NASA Images Show Fire's Immense Size:
"Passing over Southern California at 3:10 p.m. on October 24, 2007, NASA's Terra satellite captured this image of the massive wildfires that have devastated the area."
This low-resolution image is one of several on the page linked above that show the daily changes in the extent of the wildfires. Go to the site for higher-resolution images as well as an animation that shows the effects of the the Santa Ana wind on the smoke plumes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When Red Is Blue | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

When Red Is Blue | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
Stan Guthrie: "Though I own several Bibles with the words of Christ printed in red, I've always found the concept a bit iffy. After all, we evangelicals believe in the plenary, or full, inspiration of Scripture, don't we? Setting off Jesus' sayings this way seems to imply that they are more holy than what is printed in ordinary black ink. Sure, Christians understand that Jesus the incarnate Word fulfills the written Word. But if all Scripture is God-breathed, then in principle Jesus' inscripturated statements are no more God's Word to us than are those from Peter, Paul, and Mary—or Ezekiel. ...."

Tony Campolo: "...While we, like you, have a very high view of the inspiration of Scripture and believe the Bible was divinely inspired, you are correct in accusing Red Letter Christians of giving the words of Jesus priority over all other passages of Scripture. What is more, we believe that you really cannot rightly interpret the rest of the Bible without first understanding who Jesus is, what he did, and what he said. ..."
Both Stan Guthrie's comments and Tony Campolo's response are found at the link above.

When I first saw this exchange I thought of Paul's admonition to the Corinthians:
1Co 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. 11 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. 12 What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas’”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Perhaps the comparison is a bit harsh, but this debate cuts right to the core of what it means for me to claim that I am part of the Reformed tradition. Well before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Schlosskirche door, the first Bibles were appearing in the vernacular. For the literate, at least, the Word of God could be read in their own language. For others, it could be heard. Many gave up their lives in an effort to make the Scriptures accessible to all.

For those of us in the Presbyterian tradition (specifically the PC(USA)), all deacons, elders, and ministers must answer nine questions in the affirmative in order to be ordained. The second of these is:
Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
-- Book of Order G-14.0207b
We make no distinction here between the Old and New Testaments, nor do we give special weight to the words spoken by Jesus.

Having said that, in all likelihood we all take Jesus' words with a little more gravity than we do, say, the genealogies in Chronicles.

What I see, much to my concern, is a tendency to use the lack of Jesus' words on particular topics to suggest that such things are of no concern to him. For example, what did Jesus have to say about urban sprawl and habitat destruction? Or about stewardship of the environment? The Old Testament says a lot both directly and indirectly. But do we assume that such things are of of little importance because Jesus did not emphasize them?

Jesus quoted the Scriptures as support for his words to the people, as illustrations of how legalism has distorted the meaning of God's Word, and in some cases he provided a radical reinterpretation. But in no instance that I am aware of, did he tell anyone that any part of the Scriptures were not important. Quite the contrary -- See Matthew 5:17-20 or Luke 16:16-17 for the words of Jesus regarding the Law and the Prophets.

The "red letters", along with the chapter and verse numbers, are an invention of later translations, and are to be used only as a convenient way to organize the Scriptures. As such they are simply tools to be used -- and tools that are capable of misuse.

As much as I appreciate Tony Campolo and his contributions to understanding Christian theology and practice, I have to partly disagree with him here. I agree with him that Jesus' words are important. But arguing that Jesus' apparent silence on some topics means that references on such topics in other parts of Scripture are not as important, is wrong, and is well outside my Reformed understanding of Scripture.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Denver Post - Rox ticket system crashes

The Denver Post - Rox ticket system crashes:
"The Colorado Rockies have suspended online sales for World Series tickets, spokesman Jay Alves said this afternoon.

Alves said that several hundred sales that went through today will be honored. 'We are as frustrated and disappointed as (fans) are,' Alves said.

He said the servers were overwhelmed this morning and that officials had no idea that so many people would try the website.

It was unclear when World Series sales would resume. ..."
They'd better get this fixed quickly, or there will be a lot of unhappy Coloradoans.

Someone needs to upgrade a few servers here, and maybe add load balancing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

J.K. Rowling Talks About Christian Imagery - News Story | Music, Celebrity, Artist News | MTV News

J.K. Rowling Talks About Christian Imagery - News Story | Music, Celebrity, Artist News | MTV News:
"HOLLYWOOD — It deals extensively with souls — about keeping them whole and the evil required to split them in two. After one hero falls beyond the veil of life, his whispers are still heard. It starts with the premise that love can save you from death and ends with a proclamation that a sacrifice in the name of love can bring you back from it.

Harry Potter is followed by house-elves and goblins — not disciples — but for the sharp-eyed reader, the biblical parallels are striking. Author J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' books have always, in fact, dealt explicitly with religious themes and questions, but until 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,' they had never quoted any specific religion.

That was the plan from the start, Rowling told reporters during a press conference at the beginning of her Open Book Tour on Monday. It wasn't because she was afraid of inserting religion into a children's story. Rather, she was afraid that introducing religion (specifically Christianity) would give too much away to fans who might then see the parallels."
I found this linked on my Google News page, otherwise I probably wouldn't have seen it, not generally being a devotee of MTV.

Rowling felt that giving too much away, too early, would have shown where the series was heading. The emphasis on love and sacrifice should have been a clue, but by the first half of the final book things were starting to fall into place. But the clues were present early on for those who could see them.

I really don't plan to get my theology from Harry Potter, any more than I get my theology from Frodo and Aragorn or the Pevensee children -- but if I re-read the series (and I may) my enjoyment may be enhanced through spotting the foreshadowing in the first six books of the Harry Potter series.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Williams questions Dawkins' critical thinking about religion | Ekklesia

Williams questions Dawkins' critical thinking about religion | Ekklesia:
"Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said that Richard Dawkins and other apostles of anti-religious sentiment are oversimplifying complex issues and often missing the point. His comments came in a weekend lecture on ‘misunderstanding religion’ at the University of Swansea. ..."

"... Dr Williams stressed that his intention was not to defend religion but to uphold the principles of serious intellectual discussion. The archbishop said that proper thought about religion, as in any field of enquiry, was marked by self-criticism.

When asked by a member of the audience “whose fault is Dawkins?”, Dr Williams replied that religious believers themselves were partly to blame, adding that in the past the understanding of God had often been reduced “to the kind of target Dawkins and others too easily fire at”.

The lecture, entitled ‘How To Misunderstand Religion’, opened a series of theological addresses at Swansea organised by the university chaplain, the Rev Nigel John. It was Dr Williams’ first visit there since he became the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr Williams said that while Richard Dawkins was undoubtedly a “lively and attractive writer” his actual arguments in The God Delusion failed to engage with where a lot of religious people actually were and with the deepest intellectual accounts of the relationship between faith and reason. ..."

Rowan Williams makes some good points in this article, couched in incisive language. He correctly places part of the blame for the current proliferation of anti-religion books to the believers themselves for providing fodder for attacks.

The main issue for Williams is the failure of certain atheists to engage religion on an intellectual basis. The Archbishop of Canterbury points out that not all atheists follow the lead of Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, or Christopher Hitchens; some feel these outspoken individuals do far more damage to fellow atheists than to religious adherents. He quotes Michael Ruse as saying in a letter to Daniel Dennett that "[N]either of you are willing to study Christianity seriously and to engage with the ideas… it is just plain silly and grotesquely immoral to claim that Christianity is simply a force for evil, as Richard claims…"

Some of the people with whom I have come into contact over the years are atheists or agnostics. Civil discourse is possible as long as people listen and speak respectfully. I can't claim to have converted any atheists, but I can claim that the challenges I have received over the years have spurred me to look things up for myself, and as a result my faith has been strengthened.

What we are dealing with here is the "straw man fallacy" -- by misrepresenting or exaggerating religion, such atheists as Dawkins, Dennett, and Hitchens can only demolish their own image of religion. Yet religion remains a vital part of people's lives. The "straw man" should be a caution to religious apologists -- it does no good if we respond in kind to the attacks of a few (and there is ample Biblical support for that point). Characterizing all Christians by the excesses of a small number of people is no different than characterizing all atheists by the emotional excesses of a very few.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Presbyterians Splintering Over Scripture - washingtonpost.com

Presbyterians Splintering Over Scripture - washingtonpost.com:
"The Episcopal Church isn't the only mainline Protestant group shaken by open conflict between theological liberals and conservatives.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is facing similar trials, with traditionalist congregations planning to bolt and a conservative denomination preparing to take them in.

About 30 of the almost 11,000 Presbyterian congregations have voted to leave the national church since the denomination's national assembly session in 2006, according to the Layman, a conservative Presbyterian publication that has been tracking the breakaways. Denominational leaders say they could lose an additional 20 congregations as a result of the latest rupture."
Well, so far, so good, in terms of accuracy. But in my opinion there are some mis-characterizations of just what the 217th General Assembly did. For example:
"...But tensions erupted after a June 2006 meeting, when delegates granted new leeway in some cases for congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep a church requirement that clergy and lay officers limit sex to man-woman marriage. ..."
Not quite. The language may have been parsed by some to allow governing bodies to accept "scruples" about any belief, but I sincerely doubt the commissioners to the 217th General Assembly really believed they were permitting scruples over any part of the Book of Order or the Directory for Worship where the word "shall" is employed. Certainly the full report of the Task Force made it clear that they were not promoting a free-for-all when it came to "essentials". In addition, the actions of the 217th GA not only provided for review of the process, but added review of the outcome -- something that seems to be new.

The controversy over the language of the Trinity is also misrepresented. The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing unleashed a storm of controversy when the final report came out. Here is the article's take on this:
"..Delegates at the national assembly also voted to let church officials propose experimental liturgies with alternative phrasings for the divine Trinity -- 'Father, Son and Holy Spirit.' Among the possibilities: 'Mother, Child and Womb' or 'Rock, Redeemer, Friend.'..."
This particular proposal was amended significantly with the conclusion that the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" are the Trinity, and those words provide the standard by which we understand and experience God. In addition, the standard way of referring to the Trinity is the only way to be employed in the Sacrament of Baptism. You can read the details of the of the GA217 actions regarding The Trinity: God's Love Overflowing on Les, the GA business tracking web site. One issue with the alternate language that is highlighted on Les is the fact that such characterizations as "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier" or "Rock, Redeemer, and Friend" describe aspects of God that are not confined to any one of the Biblically-defined persons of the Trinity.

The rest of the article is fairly balanced and describes the decline in membership that the PC(USA) has experienced, and I agree with the assessment of some of the people interviewed that the center is holding together. I am not convinced that the number of congregations leaving will be about 50. I suspect that it will be significantly more.

I also suspect, from what I have been reading from both ends of the Presbyterian spectrum that the current exodus will involve more of the conservative end -- a group that tends to be more generous with their giving and more involved in the mission of the Church.

We really can't afford to lose such people.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ben Witherington: Love-- as Defined by Children

Ben Witherington: Love-- as Defined by Children:
"A group of professional people posed this question to a group of 4 to 8 year-olds, 'What does love mean?' The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone could have imagined. See what you think:
'When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn't bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That's love.'..."
Ben Witherington had a posting yesterday that is worth reading and reflecting over.

My observation of my own child and the children of others is that they have a built-in empathy -- almost an instinctive concern for those who are hurting.

Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said we should become like children.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church - New York Times

Thou Shalt Not Kill, Except in a Popular Video Game at Church - New York Times:
"First the percussive sounds of sniper fire and the thrill of the kill. Then the gospel of peace.

Across the country, hundreds of ministers and pastors desperate to reach young congregants have drawn concern and criticism through their use of an unusual recruiting tool: the immersive and violent video game Halo.

The latest iteration of the immensely popular space epic, Halo 3, was released nearly two weeks ago by Microsoft and has already passed $300 million in sales.

Those buying it must be 17 years old, given it is rated M for mature audiences. But that has not prevented leaders at churches and youth centers across Protestant denominations, including evangelical churches that have cautioned against violent entertainment, from holding heavily attended Halo nights and stocking their centers with multiple game consoles so dozens of teenagers can flock around big-screen televisions and shoot it out.

The alliance of popular culture and evangelism is challenging churches much as bingo games did in the 1960s. And the question fits into a rich debate about how far churches should go to reach young people."
Am I an old curmudgeon or is something wrong with this picture?

From the discussions I have had with my son, and overheard in passing, much of the "buzz" for this game is happening with boys who are significantly younger than 17.

I believe that much of the hand-wringing and such that goes on about violent games and our youth is overstated. But having said that, it is crystal-clear to me that much of our entertainment promotes values that are at odds with the Christian faith.

Churches should be a beacon of light, and not conform to the world's standards. We should be agents of transformation and hope in a world that has, in many ways, lost its way.