Tuesday, February 27, 2007

'Lost Tomb of Jesus' Claim Called a Stunt - washingtonpost.com

'Lost Tomb of Jesus' Claim Called a Stunt - washingtonpost.com:
"Leading archaeologists in Israel and the United States yesterday denounced the purported discovery of the tomb of Jesus as a publicity stunt.

Scorn for the Discovery Channel's claim to have found the burial place of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and -- most explosively -- their possible son came not just from Christian scholars but also from Jewish and secular experts who said their judgments were unaffected by any desire to uphold Christian orthodoxy. ..."

Here is a pretty interesting take on the recent "bombshell" which seems more like a squib these days.

Alan Cooperman, Washington Post staff writer, interviews people from the archaeology community as well as the Israeli director of the film, the the preponderance of scientific opinion is that this is more about money than it is about science.

One archaeologist, William G. Dever, points out that not only are the some of the inscriptions unclear, but the purported names are common names. Dever also stated that this find has been known for many years, and he and other colleagues have been of the opinion that this was not a particularly important find.

A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill archaeologist, Jodi Magness noted that these claims have not been peer-reviewed in a research article, but rather have been publicized as if it were a matter of academic debate.

Magness suggested that the practice of placing the dead in hand-cut stone tombs and later transferring the bones to ossuaries, was a practice of the wealthy. According to Scripture, Jesus was placed in such a tomb, but it belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. It was not the tomb of a poor family from Nazareth.

There have been other blog entries on this subject, but Russell Smith's entry stands out. Take a look at "The Talpiot Tomb Controversey -- What to make of the latest eastertime criticism of the resurrection" -- He has done a good job of aggregating information from many sources.

Update (2/28/2007) -- Quotidian Grace mentioned in a comment that Ben Witherington also had a good posting on the subject: "THE JESUS TOMB? ‘TITANIC’ TALPIOT TOMB THEORY SUNK FROM THE START". I like the alliteration in the title, but the whole article is well worth reading.

Dr. Witherington also posted some additional information today in a posting called "PROBLEMS MULTIPLY FOR JESUS TOMB THEORY". (Thanks to Brett for pointing this out)

It's great that so many good bloggers are out there passing on their knowledge and experience. I tend to agree with Russell Smith and QG that this is getting to be an annual irritation, and that the timing is no accident. The antidote is to shine a bright light on the claims have been and continue to be made -- and in this case it comes not only from the faith community, but the archaeology community as well, many of whom are non-Christian or agnostic, thus have no vested interested in propping up Christianity.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Megachurches desegregate worship - Yahoo! News

Megachurches desegregate worship - Yahoo! News:
"LEXINGTON, Mass. - Sundays at the evangelical Grace Chapel megachurch look like the American ideal of race relations: African-American, Haitian, white, Chinese and Korean families sing along with a white, guitar-playing pastor.

U.S. churches rarely have this kind of ethnic mix. But that's changing. Researchers who study race and religion say Grace Chapel is among a vanguard of megachurches that are breaking down racial barriers in American Christianity, altering the long-segregated landscape of Sunday worship. ..."

I have expressed my skepticism in the past about megachurches. My problems are not with their theology, but with their size. It seems, though, that they are further along in at least one area with which traditional denominations are struggling.

The church service is often called the most segregated time and place one can find in the United States, and much discussion in the "mainline" denominations has revolved around the question of how to change that. My observations over the years lead me to believe that this segregation is largely an artifact of people choosing congregations where they are comfortable, rather than resulting from overt racism. This must not preclude our asking "why?", though. Nor should it preclude out making efforts to welcome everyone around the Lord's Table.

This issue of segregation is one where the megachurches seem more effective than the mainline congregations. This Associated Press article suggests that many of the traditional denominations have a lot of baggage when it comes to racial issues, and that minorities may view such denominations with suspicion. Megachurches, many of which are non-denominational, may not have as much of a history of racial issues to overcome. On the other hand, when I searched for the original report (from 2005) on which much of this article is based, it appeared that megachurches are not particularly non-denominational by nature.

Scott Thumma, the lead author on this report, is also working on a book to be published in July of 2007, and thus may have supplied additional information to the author of the AP report. I'd like to learn more about this. It seems we might have something to learn from the megachurches.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Showers of Blessings

I had my first full shower in two weeks this morning, and I feel gooooood! I was actually cleared to get my foot wet on Wednesday, but I had to file an environmental impact statement before I could step in the shower.

My visit to the podiatrist went fine. It started off on a sour note as he unwrapped the ace bandage and removed the gauze. The first words out of his mouth were "Oh [expletive deleted]". It turns out that a pocket of fluid had accumulated under some dry, flaky skin and as soon as he confirmed that it did not come from deeper in the foot, he told me that it was a false alarm.

I am cleared for sit-down showers but still need to keep the weight off the foot. The stitches will come out next Thursday, and then I can start putting some weight on the foot. It will be good to resume a normal outdoor lifestyle to balance my daily routine sitting in front of a computer. Which reminds me -- I am going back to work Monday.

On the weather front, there are still patches of snow around, but we have had warming temperatures that have cleared the roads and parking lots. I can't remember a time in Missouri when we have had snow on the ground for 5 weeks. I'm ready for Spring -- and I suspect by the time it gets here, I'll be ready for bicycling.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Outlook -- Living the Hosea life: An open letter to my Presbyterian friends

Outlook -- Living the Hosea life: An open letter to my Presbyterian friends
by Faith Jongewaard
"All his friends would have understood if he had left her. She was unfaithful, wandering, adulterous--plain and simple, she was a whore. The children, who all bore his name, didn’t all look very much like him. He was always having to go after her, always having to hunt her down in bars and strip joints and other men’s houses. He was always having to bail her out of some mess or another—and, that wasn’t cheap or easy. So, everyone would have understood if he had left her. Some would have even applauded. Some would have said, “Well, it’s about time! She’s been playing him for a fool for way too long!”

But, he didn’t leave her. He couldn’t leave her. It wasn’t that he didn’t get frustrated with her—angry, furious, raging mad. But, he couldn’t leave her. He had made a promise—not just to her, but also to God. And, truth be told, it was often only the promise to God that kept him going. He was, he said, being faithful to God, not to her. And that mattered to him more than anything—more than her unfaithfulness, more than the shame he felt about her lifestyle, more than the fantasies (and the advice of well-meaning friends) that he might really have a much better life without her or with another. ..."

I saw this linked today in Presbyweb, and I was impressed with its strong advocacy for remaining together as as denomination. I can understand the frustration many feel with the apparent disconnect between the powers in Louisville and the people in the pews, but my heart is with this denomination, as imperfect as it is. And I am very thankful for those who choose to stay and provide a faithful witness as spiritual leaders.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Home Sharks: Christianity Today

Home Sharks: Christianity Today:
"Spikes in property values have made Habitat for Humanity homeowners prime targets for predatory lenders. Some lenders have enticed clients of the Christian housing ministry to borrow against their homes, as the owners build equity quickly due to Habitat's no-interest loans. But the deals almost never pay off for the borrower.

"First-time homeowners don't have a lot of credit," said Cheryl Peterson, mortgage foreclosure prevention counselor at Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity in Minnesota. Some see refinancing as a means of paying off consumer debt. But "it's never as affordable as a Habitat loan," Peterson said. ..."

I try not to be judgmental, but it is difficult, especially when I read something like this.

I have worked on a number of habitat houses and I have a deep respect not only for the Habitat for Humanity organization, but also for the people who are served by Habitat. I just read an article (hat/tip to Presbyweb) about attempts to build Habitat houses in affluent Marin County, California, and the hostility of the well-to-do homeowners who are afraid that their property values will plummet. Even here in Columbia, Missouri there is a "not in my neighborhood" attitude -- and this in areas that, judging from the yard signs during election campaign, tend to see themselves as "progressive".

In this article, the "sharks" use phone calls, home visits, and brochures resembling Habitat literature to entice first-time homeowners into taking on new, high-interest debt.

According to Peterson, the mortgage counselor for the Minneapolis Habitat organization, only about 2% of Habitat mortgages are foreclosed after refinancing, and that Habitat homeowners may, in fact, be more aware of pitfalls due to required classes in personal.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sociologist says Islam questions privatization of religion thesis

Sociologist says Islam questions privatization of religion thesis:
"The growth of Islam in Europe is challenging deeply-held notions that faith is a private matter which should be banished from public life, a prominent sociologist of religion has told a gathering of European Christian leaders - writes Stephen Brown for Ecumenical News International (ENI).

"We ignore the presence of Islam at our peril," Professor Grace Davie of the University of Exeter told leaders from Europe's main Christian traditions at a 15-18 February meeting in Wittenberg in Germany. "This is a catalyst for a much more profound change in the religious landscape of Europe." ..."

This conference in Wittenberg, Germany addressed an issue that many in Europe thought was closed. It has long been assumed that religion has no place whatsoever in public life. Laws, such as the banning of head scarves in French schools, have attempted to enforce this attitude.

But with increasing open expressions of Islam in public life and in politics, the thrust of this conference was to explore ways in which Christian denominations can make a positive contribution.

It should be interesting to see how this unfolds.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

U.S. senator: It's time to ban Wikipedia in schools, libraries - Computerworld Blogs

U.S. senator: It's time to ban Wikipedia in schools, libraries - Computerworld Blogs

by Preston Gralla

"Here's the newest from Sen. Ted Stevens, the man who described the Internet as a series of tubes: It's time for the federal government to ban access to Wikipedia, MySpace, and social networking sites from schools and libraries.

Early in January, Stevens introduced Senate bill 49, which among other things, would require that any school or library that gets federal Internet subsidies would have to block access to interactive Web sites, including social networking sites, and possibly blogs as well. It appears that the definition of those sites is so vague that it could include sites such as Wikipedia, according to commentators. It would certainly ban MySpace. ..."


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It Is Well With My Sole

I visited the podiatrist today, and after 7 days of healing, the incision on my sole is closed and looking good. The doctor says he tends to leave stitches on the sole in place for at least three weeks, and he expects that will be the case for me. In the meantime, I am to keep weight off the foot and he will see me again next Wednesday.

Still no pain, and thus no reason to fill my vicodin prescription. That suits me just fine. Life is too short to spend it in a drug-induced haze (when you don't have to).

I took advantage of my ephemeral freedom, and Susan and I stopped by my favorite Mexican restaurant for some therapeutic tacos de carne asada. It's right on the way home -- if one first drives two miles south from the hospital...

I'm being good. I'm even using the crutches for the 4 or 5 steps from the bed to the bathroom. I pretty much have been spending my days inside a circle 30 feet in diameter, but I think I will be allowed to get out on a limited basis as long as I use the crutches. Maybe Saturday... A green tea latte at the Barnes & Noble café sounds really good!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Photo: Skeletons locked in eternal embrace | CNET News.com

Photo: Skeletons locked in eternal embrace | CNET News.com

"It could be humanity's oldest story of doomed love. Archaeologists have unearthed two skeletons from the Neolithic period locked in an eternal embrace and buried outside Mantua, Italy, just 25 miles south of Verona, the city where Shakespeare set the star-crossed tale of Romeo and Juliet. ..."

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Problem with Mere Christianity | Christianity Today

The Problem with Mere Christianity | Christianity Today:
J. Todd Billings

"In a recent ecumenical meeting of Christian leaders discussing theology and worship, two evangelical representatives expressed a shared dilemma: How should they integrate concerns for justice and care for the poor into worship? One complained that modern praise songs do not speak about these issues. Given their nondenominational backgrounds, they were not sure where to turn for help.

These evangelicals hit one roadblock that arises when "mere Christianity" severs our ties to theological traditions. At its best, mere Christianity can be summed up by Augustine's proverb: "In essentials, unity. In nonessentials, liberty. In all things, charity." Mere Christianity should also remind us to celebrate the oneness of all believers, united through our one head, Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:15). However, mere Christianity will disappoint when it becomes a substitute for the Christian faith. At its worst, mere Christianity shifts with the trends of praise music or the latest evangelical celebrity. Despite our best intentions, our theology and practice can become "conformed … to the pattern of this world" (Rom. 12:2). ..."

I've been sitting on this posting for a few days, mulling it over. When I first saw the title I thought of C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity, a book that has affected many people, me included.

So what is "mere Christianity"? As with Lewis, Billings sees it as peeling away the human traditions and trappings of religion that tend to obscure the core of our faith. Lewis wanted to speak of the common characteristics of the various Christian traditions, without making his picture of Christianity look like the Church of England (or Presbyterian, Methodists, Lutherans or Roman Catholics). Billings recognizes the various traditions, and is not so concerned about stripping those away.

We Presbyterians have this enshrined in our Book of Order where it states that "God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his word, or beside it, in matters of faith and worship." -- G-1.0301(a) This powerful statement at once establishes limits not only on the "doctrines and commandments of men", but also, by specifying the standard for our beliefs, provides us with the boundaries of our beliefs. This statement, however, becomes meaningless when it is stripped down to the first seven words.

Billings provides many examples and illustrations of how Christianity can be stripped down so far as to make it all-inclusive (albeit bland), as well as examples of how the "essentials" can be drawn so rigidly as to be unnecessarily exclusive.

Early in his article he asks rhetorically "If you take Presbyterian out of the church name and avoid teaching about predestination and the sacraments, more people will come, right?" He then goes on with an illustration of a man who belonged to a Reformed denomination speaking with his daughter-in-law who was a member of a non-denominational church. He showed her the Heidelberg Catechism to help her understand where his denomination was coming from. She replied that her church used the Heidelberg Catechism all the time and it was an important part of what they taught. In Billings words, "Consider the irony: While many Reformed churches push their own catechism to the side, this large nondenominational church discovers the same catechism to be a profound tool for teaching the Christian faith."

Neither denomination was, in Billings' view, a particularly good example of "mere Christianity": "One church claims to be nondenominational instead of naming its tradition. The other fails to uphold its explicitly named tradition."

Traditional Christianity is not a pejorative to Billings -- rather he holds that it can act as a defense against "succumbing to the 'spirit of the age'." He notes that the Holy Spirit has been working actively in the Church for 2000 years, and that the wisdom of our predecessors in faith can be an important resource in our own spiritual development.

What I understand him to be saying is that what defines us as Presbyterians (or Baptists, or Methodists, etc.) can provide a far better platform for moving into a complex and uncertain future than jettisoning our distinctives and traditions in favor of trying to be more attractive.

Definitely food for thought...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

WiFi Turns Internet Into Hideout for Criminals - washingtonpost.com

WiFi Turns Internet Into Hideout for Criminals - washingtonpost.com:
"Detectives arrived last summer at a high-rise apartment building in Arlington County, warrant in hand, to nab a suspected pedophile who had traded child pornography online. It was to be a routine, mostly effortless arrest.

But when they pounded on the door, detectives found an elderly woman who, they quickly concluded, had nothing to do with the crime. The real problem was her computer's wireless router, a device sending a signal through her 10-story building and allowing savvy neighbors a free path to the Internet from the privacy of their homes. ..."

This is a cautionary tale for all who use wireless technology in their homes. There are several things you can do to cut down on illicit use of your home network.

First is to filter based on hardware address of your network interface. By allowing only certain addresses to attach to your network you reduce greatly the chances that someone parked out front or living next door can tap into your service.

Second is to not advertise your network name (and make it obscure). When you scan for available wireless networks only those wireless access points that advertise their name are visible. Note that there are default names provided by the manufacturers and these are well-known to the signal thieves.

Third (and in my opinion the least effective) is to use WEP key. These are strings that serve to perform weak encryption on your wireless packets. The major problem is that at some point during the wireless connection negotiation that key is broadcast in the clear, and someone with a wireless packet sniffer can get all the information needed to attach to your network.

And a fourth suggestion is to change the default password on your web interface (which are also well-known). Make the password a good one.

Read the manual that came with your wireless access point/router and take the time to protect yourself.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

laughing pastor: From the Top Down

laughing pastor: From the Top Down:
"... The room I sat in is typical of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).....old. Her words were not the typical words we hear from the top down. She challenged us to do the following in the midst of a denomination that is not functioning:

1. We've tried to fix the church ourselves. Presbyterians are smart people. It is time for smart people to realize we can't fix this church on our own. If we could we would have already done it. We must turn to God who is sovereign. Turn to God with hope and trust that God will mold us into the church we will become.

2. We do not spend enough time in prayer. We say we pray daily....but a very small percentage of our people say they pray one hour or more a week. We need to spend time in prayer. It is time for us to listen to God's words rather than our own! ..."

Presbyweb linked to this posting by a Texas pastor and I found it to be a breath of fresh air. Too often we hear things from the top that suggest that the only thing standing in the way of Peace, Unity, and Purity is our lack of respect for connectionalism.

Joan Gray, the moderator of the 217th General Assembly was in Texas recently and had something different to say, and I find this to be a refreshing change from the rhetoric that has characterized the debates following the last General Assembly.

Instead of the knee-jerk reactions -- from BOTH sides -- threatening legal action and bringing actual lawsuits, Joan Gray suggests that there is a way we should have been employing all along.

This is the Lord's Church, not ours, yet we are unwilling to surrender our wills. We need to serve the Lord in more than just an advisory capacity. As Joan Gray has said in the past, we need to lead from our knees.

Whatever else the 217th General Assembly may have done or failed to do, their choice of moderator for the next two years is one for which I am thankful.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Update On My Foot

I've been a little preoccupied lately with a flare-up in my left foot infection.

For the second time in the last three months I've reached the end of my antibiotics and within two days, the infection was back. I was referred to a podiatrist who had new X-rays taken and concluded that a sesamoid bone was still infected. This pea-sized bone in a tendon does not get much of a blood supply, so the antibiotic failed to clear it out. The result was a self-regenerating infection.

Today I went in for same-day surgery and the infection was cleared out and the offending bone removed. This should make it possible for the foot to heal properly. Since the incision was on the sole of the foot, I will be essentially confined to my house for at least a week, leaving only for the follow up appointment with the podiatrist in a week. I'll miss CE this evening, Presbytery on Saturday, church on Sunday, and Mission Committee on Tuesday. I'll be reading a lot, keeping my foot elevated, and perhaps have some time to do a little more blogging than I have over the past few weeks.

I feel fine for now, and have a prescription for vicodin in case I need to dull my senses. The worst part is that I can't just get up and do things. It's going to be a major adjustment, but I'll cope. In the meantime, please pray for me, especially for patience.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Shedding Light on The Dark Tower -- Christianity Today

Shedding Light on The Dark Tower -- Christianity Today:
"Alastair Fowler, Regius Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, may have inadvertently settled the biggest Christian literary scandal of the last 50 years.

In 1988, Kathryn Lindskoog accused Walter Hooper, who was briefly C. S. Lewis's secretary and later a trustee of his literary estate, of forging a number of manuscripts that he attributed to Lewis, in particular The Dark Tower, an unfinished science-fiction novel.

"If Lindskoog is wrong," said Don King, author of C. S. Lewis, Poet, "[then] Lewis wrote some pieces that were stillborn at best or just plain bad at worst. If she is right, then someone is a forger." Indeed, Lindskoog's allegations raised doubts about anything ascribed to Lewis but not published in his lifetime. ..."

Those who have read The Dark Tower have, no doubt, been as perplexed as I was (and perhaps a little frustrated at the abrupt ending of the text). It struck me as just plain weird, but I really wanted to know where it was headed and how it would end.

Harry Lee Poe, the author of the article quoted above, summarizes the controversy that involved questionable statistical analysis, bitter acrimony between two of the people concerned, and finally a resolution to the controversy. It turns out that a living former student of Lewis remembers conversations with his mentor in which Lewis discussed The Dark Tower and the reasons why it was shelved in favor of other writing.

It's a pity that so much vitriol has been expended in Christian and academic circles -- and over things that were only speculation. As Poe points out:
"...Perhaps we too easily idolize an important thinker like Lewis, thinking he never had a bad day, never struggled to write, and never committed a flawed plotline to paper. Fowler's revelation of Lewis's struggles to write and his shifting priorities should help us be more realistic in our appreciation of this modern saint."
Lewis' reputation certainly hasn't been damaged by the 1977 publication of The Dark Tower, and now we, perhaps, can gain some more insight as to how this fragmentary work fit into his science fiction writing.

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Reaching Out With the Word -- and Technology - washingtonpost.com

Reaching Out With the Word -- and Technology - washingtonpost.com:
"With 13,000 worshipers, a $93 million campus and multimillion-dollar budget, can McLean Bible Church -- the Christian colossus in Tysons Corner -- possibly get any bigger?

Yes, it can.

The evangelical megachurch, one of the country's largest and fastest growing, is launching an ambitious expansion. It plans to build a "spiritual beltway" around the D.C. region by opening nine satellite locations to bring tens of thousands more into its fold. Through televised broadcasts, congregants at each location would see and hear portions of the same service at the same time. ..."

As much as I respect technology as a tool in communication, I am just a little skeptical about the need for this. A pastor I knew in the early 1970s went from a large Florida church to a small congregation in Colorado, saying that he wanted to get out of the ranching business and back to being a shepherd. Extending that metaphor, this seems a lot like corporate mega-ranching.

I find that fellowship in a congregation small enough that I know almost everybody is far more conducive to worship and spiritual growth -- and that the members are better equipped for the ministry to which every member of the Body is called.