Saturday, July 28, 2007

Queen guitarist wraps studies for doctorate - Yahoo! News

Queen guitarist wraps studies for doctorate - Yahoo! News:
"NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brian May, the lead guitarist from rock band Queen, is close to earning his doctorate in astrophysics -- more than 35 years after quitting his studies to become a rock star.

May arrived on the island of La Palma in Spain's Canary Islands several days ago to conduct astronomical observations in support of his thesis, according to a statement by the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands.

His thesis, 'Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud,' is the last component of his PhD studies, and May expected to complete his work on Wednesday."
I first became acquainted with Brian May when Queen released A Night at the Opera, in which the song Bohemian Rhapsody appeared. As is so often the case, once you buy an album for a particular hit, you tend to find other cuts on the album that are just as good, and arguably better.

Brian May wrote '39 and it became one of my favorites of that era. It is not hard to see where a lot of his inspiration came from:
In the year of thirty-nine
Assembled here the volunteers
In the days when lands were few
Here the ship sailed out into the blue and sunny morn
The sweetest sight ever seen
And the night followed day
And the story tellers say
That the score brave souls inside
For many a lonely day
Sailed across the milky seas
Ne'er looked back never feared never cried

Don't you hear my call
Though you're many years away
Don't you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand
For the day I'll take your hand
In the land that our grand-children knew

In the year of thirty-nine
Came a ship in from the blue
The volunteers came home that day
And they bring good news
Of a world so newly born
Though their hearts so heavily weigh
For the earth is old and grey
little darlin' we'll away
But my love this cannot be
Oh so many years have gone
Though i'm older but a year
Your mother's eyes from your eyes cry to me

Don't you hear my call
Though you're many years away
Don't you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand
For the day I'll take your hand
In the land that our grand-children knew

Don't you hear my call
Though you're many years away
Don't you hear me calling you
All your letters in the sand
Cannot heal me like your hand
For my life, still ahead, pity me.
An interesting career trajectory....

Faith+Values: Outdoors ministry literally makes fishers of men

Faith+Values: Outdoors ministry literally makes fishers of men:
"Ed Trainer has a unique ministry. The 51-year-old Christian serves his Lord by taking men and boys out fishing on the waters of British Columbia, where he lives, as well as Alaska and beyond.

Trainer said his ministry, International Fishing Ministries, grew out of his passion for fishing, his frustration with traditional worship and statistics suggesting most church pews are populated by women.

'Church is too boring for men,' says Trainer. 'For men, I think the great outdoors can be a cathedral. Men open up when they're out on the water. It's a place they can share their fears, problems and vulnerability.'..."
One could do a lot worse than emulate the fishermen who followed Jesus (but never quite gave up their former lives).

The "feminization" of the Church is a phenomenon that has been observed of many years, and has been the subject of much discussion and debate. The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity by Leon Podles as well as Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow are available on Amazon.com and are among many books that respond to this situation.

A couple things that come to my mind after reading this article: This may be the bait (heh) that draws men closer, but is there a strategy for changing the environment in the congregations that have failed to reach men? And is this going to lead to yet more fragmentation of the Church?

The article mentions at least one congregation for men only (not associated with this fishing ministry), and that seems a little out of line with what the Church should be.

The fellowship in a congregation can be one of its greatest strengths, thus it is important that such things as this fishing ministry be followed up but strong encouragement to find a community of believers with which to worship, fellowship, and serve God.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Well, it was a wild ride, and I had to go back and review at several points, but I got through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with far more understanding of what was going on in the previous books. Rowling has outdone herself, and skillfully tied it all together for the readers.

This book was full of death, and many familiar characters died, but the outcome, overall, was satisfying.

In a way this series mirrors life in the muggle world -- in times of conflict people will die and people will live. In our own Civil War families lost fathers and sons, and sometimes they died serving in opposing armies. Today, Christians in the Sudan and Middle East are persecuted for their faith, and there is no guarantee that the good will survive and the evil will die. Yesterday, one of the 23 Korean Christian aid workers taken hostage in Afghanistan was murdered and his body left on the road. There is no sense in any of this, but our hope is in the presence of God through it all.

In the Harry Potter series, it was Love that sustained the characters; something Voldemort could neither understand nor counter.

The previous two posts on this blog were on two thoughtful reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and neither gave the book unqualified praise (or condemnation). On can find strong condemnation in other reviews, but as one who has read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I have to say that fantasy literature is not the real world; it may reflect the real world, but as with Paul's mirror, it is a dim a reflection. And eventually we all have to stop looking in the mirror and see things "face to face".

While the Chronicles of Narnia are more overtly Christian, there are large differences between Scripture and how things transpired in Narnia. But that is the point, isn't it? Lewis said that in his world where the animals talked, the Saviour would necessarily be one of them -- a Talking Beast.

As for Tolkien, well, I just have to say that finding Christian themes in Harry Potter is about as easy as finding Christian themes in The Lord of the Rings. It's there if you look for it, but there is very little that is explicit.

I'm not saying that J.K. Rowling will take a place on the same level as Tolkien or Lewis, but it has become obvious over the past several years that she didn't just slap all this together. In fact, there are indications that she will take her notes on characters, places, and events and compile them into an encyclopedia. I look forward to seeing this.

Will J.K. Rowling be able to really sit back and enjoy life without deadlines? Hard to say. It's not as if she has slammed the door shut on sequels, but she has earned a rest. Maybe after the final movie adaptation comes out...

What Would Jonathan Edwards Say About Harry Potter? | Christianity Today

What Would Jonathan Edwards Say About Harry Potter? | Christianity Today:
"So there we have it. The most engrossing imaginative world created at the start of the 21st century is essentially pagan. Don't get me wrong—I like the Harry Potter series. I've read all of the books. And I'm sure Jonathan Edwards would have done so, too.

Edwards was acutely aware of the cultural movements of his time. He said in 'Some Thoughts Concerning the Revival' that he made it his practice to take light from wherever it came. ..."
This is the second of two Harry Potter reviews -- one that sees the Harry Potter books as pagan at their core, but with elements of truth that can be gleaned through critical reading. Both these reviews are well worth the time to read them.

I especially appreciate the comment that Josh Moody makes here about how Jonathan Edwards engaged the Enlightenment by recognizing that truth could be found and that what was not true could be engaged with Christian principles.

As I mentioned in the previous posting on Bob Smietana's review, there are "spoilers" in both reviews. I will go ahead now and make a few comments of my own in the next posting.

The Gospel According to J.K. Rowling | Christianity Today

The Gospel According to J.K. Rowling | Christianity Today:
"I first met Harry Potter when my grandmother was dying.

On New Years Day 1999, she had a massive stroke from which she would never recover. Not wanting her to die alone, we took turns sitting by her bedside, round the clock. The night I spent with her, I brought along my Bible, the biggest cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee I could find, and a new novel, picked up from the bookstore on the way to the hospital: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

Both the Bible and the 'Boy Who Lived' proved good company during the watches of the night. Both pointed the way to hope in the face of death."
The is the first of two excellent reviews of the new Harry Potter book (as well as the six previous volumes). Neither review is goes to the extremes, and some ways I think the two authors are actually arguing the same points. Note that both reviews contain what might be considered "spoilers".

In this review Bob Smietana sees a number of echoes of Christianity in the imagery and specific references. The one that completely blew by me from The Prisoner of Azkaban forward was the fact that Sirius Black was Harry's godfather -- Harry was baptized -- which J.K. Rowling acknowledges as being part of the background. (Apparently there is quite a body of notes that may find their way into print as an encyclopedia of Harry Potter and Hogwarts).

Other Christian references are a little more difficult to pick out, but once you see them, you nod your head in agreement.

Read the second review, and then I will do a quick review of my own.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Taliban: South Korean hostage dead - CNN.com

Taliban: South Korean hostage dead - CNN.com:
"GHAZNI, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- Afghanistan's Taliban killed one of the 23 South Korean hostages on Wednesday after Kabul failed to free Taliban prisoners, a spokesman for the group said, adding insurgents would kill more if their demands were not met.

'Since Kabul's administration did not listen to our demand and did not free our prisoners, the Taliban shot dead a male Korean hostage,' Qari Mohammad Yousuf told Reuters by phone from an unknown location. CNN was unable to confirm the report."
I hope that this is a bluff.

We all need to pray for the Korean Presbyterian humanitarian workers and that this crisis can be ended without loss of life.

TCS Daily - Children of the Corn

TCS Daily - Children of the Corn:
"The historical significance of corn in the Americas is comparable to that of rice in China or wheat in the Middle East. Corn is more than a staple, it is part of the region's DNA -- which explains the hysteria in many Latin American countries over rising prices.
In just four years, leaders and organizations that style themselves as progressive have gone from denouncing the precipitous fall in the price of corn to denouncing its sharp climb -- with many of the same arguments!

Hardly a week goes by in which Cuba's Fidel Castro or Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is not accusing rich imperialists of deliberately pumping up the price of corn in order to impoverish Latin Americans. But in 2003, when corn prices were dropping dramatically, Phil Twyford of Oxfam, a left-oriented humanitarian organization, pontificated, 'The Mexican corn crisis is another example of world trade rules that are rigged to help the rich and powerful, while destroying the livelihoods of millions of poor people.'

The rise in corn prices since 2006 has much to do with the synthetic fuel ethanol, which is made from a corn base or from sugar cane and is heavily subsidized by the U.S. and Europe. But there are other elements in play. Protectionism, such as Guatemala's 20 percent tariff on corn imports, is one other reason Latin Americans find it harder to buy tortillas. In Mexico, in
direct price controls have caused shortages of white corn."
This article by Alvaro Vargas Llosa gives a perspective on maize (as corn is properly designated) and its intersection with the world of hunger, justice, tariffs, subsidies, and politics. Nothings is quite as simple as people want to make it, and in this case, it probably isn't the subsidies that are to blame.

Note -- "corn" is a term that refers to a region's predominant food grain. In Great Britain it refers to wheat. In the US most people would associate corn with maize, but using the proper name eliminates ambiguity.

Vargas does an interesting comparison between Guatemala and Mexico in how they approach maize and how they react to alternative fuels that have been implicated in the higher prices for maize.

Interestingly enough, maize may not be the main crop that goes into ethanol production; sugar cane may be as important. In addition, it takes a fair amount of fossil fuel to get a crop in the ground, irrigated, harvested, and processed for ethanol production. It is not a completely "green" energy source, although it does tend to oxidize more completely than octane.

The world is not quite as simple as the sound bites would make it...

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Military forces surround Taliban holding South Korean hostages | Guardian Unlimited

Military forces surround Taliban holding South Korean hostages | Guardian Unlimited:
"American and Afghan soldiers surrounded a district in central Afghanistan where 23 South Korean Christian aid workers were being held hostage last night as their Taliban captors extended a deadline for their demands by 24 hours.

The insurgents, who snatched the South Koreans from a bus at gunpoint on Thursday, have threatened to start executing the group unless an equal number of imprisoned fighters are freed.

Intensive negotiations involving President Hamid Karzai, Korean hostage negotiators and local tribal elders were under way last night as tearful relatives held a candlelight vigil outside the aid workers' church in Seoul."
With the happy news of the release of the Bulgarian medics from their death sentence in Libya, another hostage crisis is coming to a head in Afghanistan.

One thing that is not mentioned very frequently is that these 23 hostages, mostly women, are Presbyterian. The Presbyterian Church in Korea is perhaps 125 years old, but they are heavily involved in service around the world. This particular case involves a group that was traveling to a medical facility in the southern part of Afghanistan. It sounds like a short-term mission work trip, but so few of the stories seem to cover the motivations of these workers.

We can only hope and pray that the hostages are released without the need for force, which would in all likelihood result the deaths of many of the hostages.

Medics freed after Libya-EU deal - CNN.com

Medics freed after Libya-EU deal - CNN.com:
"(CNN) -- Five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor were pardoned by President Georgi Parvanov upon their arrival in Sofia on Tuesday after spending eight-and-a-half years in prison in Libya.

The medics, who were sentenced to life in prison for contaminating children with the AIDS virus but now maintain their innocence, arrived on board a French presidential plane after the EU agreed a deal with Libya on medical aid and political ties.

The round of negotiations that freed the medics began over the weekend and involved European Union commissioner for foreign affairs, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, chief French presidential aide Claude Gueant and French first lady Cecilia Sarkozy."
This is a happy ending to a situation than never should have happened. It still smacks of extortion, considering the amount of money paid out incidental to the release, but at least the medical personnel are home and safe.

I certainly don't want to minimize the horror that the AIDS-infected children are enduring, but it seems pretty clear to most neutral observers that the conditions leading to the infections were in place well before the Bulgarian medics came to work, and that they had nothing to do with causing the infections. They spent over eight years under sentence of death, though. With this situation, and other hostages being taken in other places, it is chilling to consider how this has become "business as usual".

'Moore's Law under fire again,' again and again | Tech news blog - CNET News.com

'Moore's Law under fire again,' again and again | Tech news blog - CNET News.com:
"Posted by Peter Glaskowsky

My friend Jerry Pournelle calls Unix the full-employment act for computer wizards (presumably a reference to the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978).

Similarly, I regard Moore's Law as the full-employment act for computer pundits. I've written about it several times myself (e.g. here and here); the phrase gets 930,000 hits on Google today.

One of the duties of any publication in the computer industry is to cast periodic doubt on the future reliability of Moore's Law, thus keeping the phrase prominent in the public perception. EDN Magazine discharged its duty for this year with great aplomb by publishing this piece last week.

You'll note this article says that this is 'the first time' there's been such doubt. Never mind; they always say that.

The first time I heard that the sky was falling--excuse me, that Moore's Law was being threatened--was as the industry began to consider how to make chips with line widths below one micron (a millionth of a meter). That milestone was passed easily, and a while later we sailed past the quarter-micron mark, and now we're making chips with line widths a quarter of that--65 nm (nanometers, a billionth of a meter).

So now, right on schedule, doubt is being cast on our ability to reach the 15nm generation, which represents another four-fold linear reduction."
Moore's Law is familiar to most people who work with computing systems. It basically states that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years. Most people understand this as involving not only keeping the chip size constant, but the cost level as well. Keeping the cost level, though, was not part of the original law. To be sure, as transistor count goes up, cost does seem to go down, though. Using the Intel family of processors, the graphic below shows how remarkably close Moore's Law has been as predicting chip evolution. (click the image to enlarge it)

This image is from the Wikipedia article on Moore' Law, and has been released into the public domain.

Gordon Moore is one of the co-founders of Intel (and not suprisingly, Intel has its own page on Moore's Law).

Here is where the rub is: Current processor chips are already doing things at a 65 nanometer scale, and for Moore's law to hold, lines etched in the silicon will eventually have to reach 15 nanometers in width (about 30 atoms wide). We are approaching some theoretical limits here...

On a slight change of subject, the story of Admiral Grace Hopper is fascinating. She used a short length of wire to illustrate the problems to be solved as the need for faster computers became more acute. She called her piece of string "a nanosecond". It was the distance light traveled during a nanosecond (1 billionth of a second). I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to compute the length of that wire -- it's easier using the metric system -- and no fair reading the Wikipedia article for the answer. The speed of light in a vacuum is 299,792,458 meters/second.

As with Moore's Law, Hopper's illustration is instructive. You might say Moore's Law made it possible to not only have more powerful computers in the same amount of space, but it also made it possible for that space to become smaller, and the distance between components to shorten. To perhaps oversimplify, this made faster computers a reality.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Bush signals a veto on the farm subsidy bill - International Herald Tribune

Bush signals a veto on the farm subsidy bill - International Herald Tribune:
"WASHINGTON: President George W. Bush's newfound opposition to the kind of spending on agriculture he once embraced may not be enough to stop it - or to prevent new global trade conflicts as a result.

The Bush administration is signaling that it is prepared to veto the $300 billion farm bill that will probably come before the House of Representatives this week. Bush signed similar legislation in 2002, when his Republicans controlled the House, and he will face pressure to do so again with elections approaching next year.

U.S. crop subsidies, which date back to the Great Depression, are among the most popular programs among rural lawmakers. The legislation is backed by a coalition of Midwestern and Southern Republicans, Democrats and farm interests that has beaten back past efforts to limit such aid, including one by Bush just last month.

Despite the president's threats, a veto 'is very, very unlikely to happen,' said Dan Glickman, a former Democratic congressman who was agriculture secretary under President Bill Clinton. 'There are a lot of potentially vulnerable Republican members in the House right now. The numbers don't look great for their party anyway, and this is part of their base.'

While most farm-bill spending goes toward food-aid programs for the needy, the crop subsidies are by far the most contentious part. The administration says the legislation will leave the United States vulnerable to challenges at the World Trade Organization by India, Brazil and other countries that say the subsidies give American farmers an unfair advantage."
Bread for the World makes a pretty compelling case for the elimination of farm subsidies. These are no longer providing subsistence support for family farmers, but rather are concentrating government payments in the hands of large-scale operators who can do right well without the handouts.

Just as the support for farm subsidies cuts across political lines, the opposition also cuts across traditional political and social lines.

For me it was the realization that when we can ship our surplus food overseas and sell it at a price below what local farmers need for their families' subsistence, then we need to rethink how we do business.

Surely we can do better.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Congress honors "Green Revolution" scientist | Tech&Sci | Science | Reuters.com

Congress honors "Green Revolution" scientist | Tech&Sci | Science | Reuters.com:
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A 93-year-old agricultural scientist and Nobel laureate regarded as the father of the 'Green Revolution' in farming received the Congressional Gold Medal on Tuesday for a life-long battle against world hunger.

President George W. Bush was on hand at the U.S. Capitol for the presentation of the highest civilian honor to Norman Borlaug, whose advances helped nearly double the food supply in countries including Mexico, India and Pakistan.

Borlaug's efforts date back to the mid-20th century, when he developed disease-resistant, high-yield wheat varieties and worked with developing countries to grow these crops using modern farming techniques.

He has more recently focused on increasing food production in Africa and other parts of Asia.

'Without question, Dr. Borlaug, your life and your life's work ... saving more than 1 billion people from famine and starvation, are an inspiration,' said Steny Hoyer, Democratic leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.

'Hunger continues to cast its measurable shadow across much of the developing world,' Bush added. 'The most fitting tribute to this man is to continue his life's work.' ..."
Norman Borlaug is a giant among agronomists, and it is good to see him honored yet again. His comments following his 1970 Nobel Peace Prize still resonate today: "When the Nobel Peace Prize Committee designated me the recipient of the 1970 award for my contribution to the 'green revolution', they were in effect, I believe, selecting an individual to symbolize the vital role of agriculture and food production in a world that is hungry, both for bread and for peace."

Bread for the World, the ONE Campaign, and other organizations that seek to alleviate hunger through the public policy realm owe a great deal to Borlaug's pioneering work.

One of Borlaug's emphases is that by increasing food production, countries can avoid much deforestation (or at least the deforestation that occurs to increase acreage for farms). To be sure, deforestation occurs for a variety of reasons, and simply increasing agricultural productivity won't, for example, stop deforestation to build cities, malls, or housing subdivisions.

Norman Borlaug has not been without his critics, especially for his emphasis on fertilizer and large-scale mechanized agriculture. His answer is a real zinger: "some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

At 93, Borlaug might be excused if he took it easy, but he remains active in research and consulting.

-- Quotations are taken from Wikipedia, which links to their primary sources

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Old-Fashioned Creation Care | Christianity Today

Old-Fashioned Creation Care | Christianity Today:
"I am becoming my grandfather, and that is a good thing. Let me explain.

The more I have gotten involved in the evangelical creation-care movement, the more I have found myself drawn toward practices that my grandparents did—or would have done if they were available. Each time I 'reduce-reuse-recycle,' I become more like Grandpa Gushee from Milton, Massachusetts.

I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call 'stewardship' are basically the same thing. This discovery is slowly changing my family's lifestyle. The more that lifestyle changes, the more I skip back about 60 years to the values of an earlier generation.

These are values such as hard work, modesty in consumption, consistent giving, frugality in spending, saving for the future, and squeezing every last drop of value out of our possessions. You work hard and earn an honest living, spend your money judiciously after setting aside a generous portion for giving and saving, buy only what you need, and make it last as long as you can."
David P. Gushee makes some good points here. As parents who are constantly trying to explain the difference between "need" and "want", we can relate to Gushee's experiences. And we can relate to our parents, who tried to instill in us the same values, which may have taken years beyond age 21 to sink in, but they are sinking in. Slowly.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Religious Groups Work to Translate Sex-Education Message - washingtonpost.com

Religious Groups Work to Translate Sex-Education Message - washingtonpost.com:
"When the Rev. Evelyn Perez describes the strong feelings sex generates to the Latino teens in her church sex-education classes, she uses the metaphors of their cultures.

Sex, she tells those whose families come from Mexico, 'is like eating a jalapeƱo -- it is hot!' For her Puerto Rican students, she relates it to the weather in their families' homeland: 'You know how hot it gets.'

The students, ages 13 to 17, understand instantly, she said.

The conversations are part of the transformation of a faith-based sex-education curriculum designed for black youths. 'Keeping It Real,' written a decade ago, uses biblical wisdom to help teens sort through sexuality with trained facilitators.

The Latino version, '¡ManteniĆ©ndolo Real!' was presented last week at the annual National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality."

The Presbyterian Church might take a good look at what is going on here. This is a good time, especially since the 217th General Assembly, for what I think is the third time in 10 years, asked that the PC(USA) sexuality curriculum be revised to bring it more in line with Biblical teaching. The official GA217 record of this action (Item 12-11) can be found on Les, the GA business tracking web site. (BTW -- does anyone know how this GA directive is being implemented?)

From my perspective as a father and as a member of my congregation's CE committee, our children don't need another course in plumbing. They already know most of that from the curriculum pf public or private schools. The church can perform a critical pastoral function here by discussing what role sexuality plays in human relationships and how God's plan is worked through such relationships.

When one sees how such a beautiful gift can turn so ugly, as demonstrated by any number of stories that are told in our newspapers or viewed on video screens, a compelling case can be made for the Church to speak with an unambiguous, clear and compassionate voice to our young people.

The National Black Religious Summit of Sexuality is on to something here. I hope the PC(USA) follows their lead, and finds ways to speak to our own youth in faithfulness to God's Word, using words and imagery they can understand.

Friday, July 13, 2007

First YouTube video cited in court opinion | Tech news blog - CNET News.com

First YouTube video cited in court opinion | Tech news blog - CNET News.com:
"Terence Evans this week became the first judge in the United States to cite a YouTube video in a written opinion.

Evans, a President Clinton nominee who sits on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, was writing about a case involving a trademark dispute over 'Stealth' baseball bats.

The case deals with baseball Hall-of-Famer George Brett, who joined a baseball bat manufacturer after he left the Kansas City Royals. Now Brett Brothers Sports International is embroiled in a trademark dispute with Central Manufacturing, which is a hyper-litigious company owned by Leo Stoller that claims broad trademark rights in the world 'Stealth.'

As background, Evans included a description of what baseball fans remember as Brett's famous Pine Tar Incident in a 1983 game against the New York Yankees over whether the bat was legal to be used. Brett's home run was nullified by an umpire, the Yankees won, but on appeal to the American League his team got a second try and eventually beat the Yankees 5-4. ..."
Here is a blending of two of my favorite subjects -- the glory days of the Royals, and new uses of technology. Note that the video referenced in the judge's opinion has since been removed at the request of Major League Baseball.

This has brought back many fond memories of the 1980's Kansas City Royals and one of my favorite sports cartoons: George Brett is standing in the batters box, the umpire is bent over facing away from Brett brushing off home plate, and the catcher warns Brett "Remember George, only up to the label..."

Burned jogger shows lightning, headphones don't mix: Reuters.com

Burned jogger shows lightning, headphones don't mix: Reuters.com:
"BOSTON (Reuters) - Here's a handy tip for joggers: If you think you might get caught in a thunderstorm, leave your music player at home.

Doctors at Vancouver General Hospital in Canada said a 37-year-old jogger wearing an iPod was burned on his chest, neck and face after the man and a nearby tree were struck by lightning in 2005. The burns traced the path of the earphones, they said.

The patient's eardrums were ruptured and the tiny bones in his middle ears were dislocated, the doctors wrote in a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine."
Hmmmm.

Now the article took pains to emphasize that it is not a problem confined to iPod headphones; any head phones, presumably, would put someone at risk, if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - One church has lessons on a house (of God) divided

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - One church has lessons on a house (of God) divided:
"CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH — Two large evergreens stand on either side of the white columns leading into Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian.

A white bell tower and steeple sit atop the brick Georgian Colonial building across from a park. Inside, wooden pews with red seat covers face the Communion table, a large wooden cross suspended above the table.

Who could disturb such a peaceful spiritual setting? Try President Bush and Sen. Hillary Clinton, for starters.

As in many other congregations and denominations in America, the liberal-conservative divide on some of the most contested issues of our time — gay rights, abortion, Iraq — and the politicians each side loves to hate has challenged the unity of Forest Hill."
I can relate to this -- I am a member of a congregation that spans not only the political divide, but the theological divide as well. Over most of the past 18 years that I have been a member, peace was kept by the fact that neither side insisted on forcing their views to the front of the line. Lately, though, that peace has become a bit tenuous, and many of us are looking for ways to restore the peace.

The problems are great, but not insurmountable. What complicates this is the "winner take all" mentality that see only failure when one's opponents do not immediately see the plain good sense logic of one's arguments. Another complicating factor are profound differences in what sources of authority are employed, and how one uses such sources.

It's a tough job and one that we can only accomplish with God's help.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Polls on Blogger

Take a look at the the top of the sidebar, and you will see the newest feature of blogger. Instant Polling for your amusement.

Is this a solution in search of a problem? Maybe I should poll the readers...

Whatever it turns out to be, it is evidence that Blogger is in active, ongoing development, and that is good for the users.

Now if they can implement delayed publication, so I can write my blog postings before I go on vacation and have them automatically appear on successive days, then I will be truly impressed.

Stumbling After Jesus -- Christianity Today

Stumbling After Jesus -- Christianity Today:

Stan Guthrie writes:
"Recently, my eight-year-old son left Sunday school frowning. It seems a couple of his classmates had been making fun of me. (I have moderate cerebral palsy, a birth condition that causes my erratic gait.) That afternoon, I sat down with him over clear plastic cups, each filled with two scoops of Reese's ice cream, and asked if he was embarrassed. No, he was angry. I took a deep breath. At me? At God? No, at them.

'What did you say to them?' I asked. ''If you do it again,'' he repeated, ''I'll tell your dads!''

The innate cruelty of children needs no documentation. And their loud questions, stares, and snickering are almost to be expected when they see me wobble across a room. Little materialists, they cannot grasp how God might be working in and through me. My son, however, probably taught his two fellow Sunday schoolers something of the fierce but unseen love of a boy for his father. ..."
I have seen my own son as well as the children of others growing in the context of their families, the congregation in which we worship, and the public schools, and I have to say that "innate cruelty" does not do justice to a very complex set of inborn and learned behaviors.

Children seem to have an instinctive concern for people who are hurting physically or spiritually. This becomes evident before many of them can talk. Of course I accept that we all (including children) share a "... sinful nature, prone to evil, and slothful in good ...", but it seems that many children are born with empathy for others only to have it suppressed by the time they finish elementary school.

The rest of this article is interesting, and Stan Guthrie reminds us that God never promised that life would be easy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

26 years ago

July 11, 1981
Tonganoxie Congregational Church

It must have been the resilience borne of 22 years of living through Missouri and Kansas summers, because I remember only one of the two people who stood before the assembled guests sweating. The woman who stood next to me seemed cool, collected, and did not have sweat dripping down her face.

Of course I was a bit of a wreck. Things seemed to be going great until my tuxedo turned out to be the wrong size. The tuxedo company rushed out a tuxedo of the correct size with their profuse apologies. It was close in color, but had black trim where the groomsmen tuxedos were not trimmed. Oh well. I finally got a grip (ask my wife and you might get a different answer) and the wedding started on time.

There have been times that made the tuxedo seem trivial, but 26 years later we are still married and still in love.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Pope Removes Restrictions On Use of Old Latin Mass - washingtonpost.com

Pope Removes Restrictions On Use of Old Latin Mass - washingtonpost.com:
"VATICAN CITY, July 7 -- Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday removed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, reviving a rite that was all but swept away by the liberalizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

The decision, a victory for traditional, conservative Roman Catholics, came over the objections of liberal-minded Catholics and angered Jews because the Tridentine Mass contains a prayer for their conversion.

Benedict, who stressed that he was not negating Vatican II, issued a document authorizing parish priests to celebrate the Tridentine rite if a "stable group of faithful" requests it. Under Vatican II rules, the local bishop must approve such requests -- an obstacle that supporters of the rite said had greatly limited its availability.

"What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us, too," Benedict wrote. ..."

Hmmm. We don't complain when some of the Anabaptist groups insist on using German in their worship. Why should we be concerned if some Catholics want to use the Latin mass? It does not seem likely that very many people will be really wanting the Tridentine Mass, in view of the fact that an entire generation (or more) of Catholics have grown since Vatican II. And I see by the entire article that no one will be forced into the Latin rites; this is strictly a choice of the individual or individuals who request it.

Does anybody know if Catholic seminaries even teach the Tridentine Mass?

As for the bit about converting Jews -- Perhaps we 21st century Preotestants wouldn't make it part of our "mission statement", but if we really believe the Good News, then why not tell it to the whole world? I don't recall any exceptions being established in either of the "Great Commission" passages....

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Back from Camp

I got back at about 1:30 PM today, and took a shower, hit the bed, and was off in the sandman's realm for a few hours.

Camp was, well, camp. The food met my expectations, the bugs were ubiquitous, it rained for the first three days and nights straight, but then the sun came out for the remainder of the 10 day session. It was hot, but at least it was a wet heat.

More later...