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, 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

Calling tech support for help with stolen printer | Tech news blog - CNET
"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 -

Presbyterians Splintering Over Scripture -
"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.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

TCS Daily - A Lesson for Our Time

TCS Daily - A Lesson for Our Time:
"In August 1864, less than three months before the election, Republican leaders visited President Lincoln at the White House and told him that he had no hope of re-election. Their canvassing indicated that the country was so weary of the war that the Democratic candidate would triumph easily. Some Republicans were urging the President, for the sake of the party, to give up the party's nomination—which had been conferred only two months earlier—so a stronger candidate could be nominated. 'Mr. Lincoln is already beaten,' wrote Horace Greeley, the famous Republican editor of the New York Tribune. 'He cannot be elected. And we must have another ticket to save us from utter overthrow. If we had a ticket as could be made by naming Grant, Butler, or Sherman for President, we could make a fight yet.'..."
For those tempted to draw parallels between 1864 and 2007 (and beyond), keep in mind that the events of the Civil War are a matter of historical fact, and current events are unfolding even as I type this brief comment.

Read the article, and if you feel moved to do so, comment on it. Keep it civil.

Monday, October 08, 2007

An argument for intelligent belief - International Herald Tribune

An argument for intelligent belief - International Herald Tribune:
"An increasingly common argument against religion is to point out how irrational it is. Authors like Richard Dawkins ('The God Delusion'), Sam Harris ('The End of Faith') and Christopher Hitchens ('God is Not Great') all make the point that the essential irrationality of religion leads people to do stupid, dangerous, and even violent things.

Let's admit it: They're at least partially correct. Many ostensibly religious people have done appalling things in the name of religion and, more importantly, because of their religious beliefs. In that long list of abuses you could include the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials, and the bombing of abortion clinics.

To listen to these critics of religion, however, you would think that this is all that religion does, and that believing in God necessarily means being stupid, ignorant and narrow-minded. But ignoring the simple fact that religion is one of the foundations of modern learning is itself, well, stupid, ignorant and narrow-minded."
Well, this article is off to an interesting start.... James Martin cuts quickly to the chase here and makes his case that faith is NOT inherently irrational.

I can remember a conversation I had maybe 30 years ago -- I made a comment that faith was, at its core, irrational. The person with whom I was speaking said "no, faith is reasonable". By this he did not dismiss lightly the idea of a "leap of faith", but rather he suggested that because he could reason his way through faith, the leap was a reasonable outcome. After 30 years of head-scratching on my part, I am still learning things that make my faith not only reasonable to me, but also that make it easier to articulate my faith to others.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

In the World's Rural Outposts, A Shortwave Channel to God -

In the World's Rural Outposts, A Shortwave Channel to God -
"HOMOINE, Mozambique -- As dusk fell deep in a forest of mango and palm trees, Jaime Jeremias Matsimbe sat on the rose-colored dirt and hand-cranked a shortwave radio, looking for the word of God.

He wound the little plastic handle round and round, charging the radio like winding a watch, and soon a preacher's voice boomed across a courtyard filled with goats and turkeys. Twenty miles from the nearest paved road, Matsimbe smiled as he listened to a Texas preacher's sermons about Jesus and Saint Paul, translated into a local language spoken only in the southern African backcountry."
This is a fairly long article about a style of ministry that may not seem critical here, where we have our choice of radio, television, podcasts, or even going to church on nearly any given day. For many or most of those being served, a crank-up radio is their only link to the wider world.

One area in which the radio is providing not only spiritual sustenance, but much-needed information, is in the fight against HIV-AIDS. For some, this is the first time they have heard factual information in their own language.

This article deals some with Islamic and Hindu radio networks, but most of the article deals with Christian ministries over the airways.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bureau of Prisons Re-shelves Religion Books | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Bureau of Prisons Re-shelves Religion Books | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"The federal Bureau of Prisons will return religious materials that were removed from prison chapel libraries to prevent religious extremism, according to the Associated Press.

The purged books that were removed included Christian discipleship materials (see CT’s first story).

The material removed since June will be returned to prison chapel libraries unless it is found to be radicalizing or inciting violence. By June 2008, 'what comes off the shelves will be a very, very small number, because the vast majority of material will be on the 'that's OK list,'' bureau spokeswoman Judi Simon Garrett told the AP."
When this story first broke a few weeks ago, it sure seemed as if all religions were being tagged with the excesses of a very small minority. While it is entirely understandable that materials that advocate hate and violence are not appropriate in (or out) of the prison system, there can be little argument that religion can be a positive force in prison.

The restoration of religious books to the libraries is a positive development, especially in an environment where people have issues with anger and dealing with others.

An important caveat, though, is that materials will be scrutinized and decisions will be made as to the appropriateness of the materials. This raises the specter of censorship. If the Bureau of Prisons is going to limit the materials that advocate violence, that is one thing, but if the Bureau branches out into limiting materials based on whether they agree with the theology, than that is quite another.

There and Back Again

... To Norman, Oklahoma, that is.

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday at the Oklahoma Supercomputing Symposium learning a lot. What is a "supercomputer"? According to one expert in the field, it is a computer that will execute an infinite loop in four seconds. [cue rim shot]. They excel at running parallel jobs -- jobs that can be broken up into smaller chunks and apportioned to different nodes in a cluster or different CPUs in a single machine. Or, if you have a user community that is willing to donate spare CPU time on their personal computers, you can have computers all over the world working on a particular problem. Seti@Home is one of the more successful attempts at harnessing an extremely large community together working on a common problem.

Parallel computing is conceptually very simple. A good analogy from my days as a database administrator is Girl Scout Cookies. You can send one Girl Scout out to sell to a community. It might take her a few days. Or you could send the whole troop out, each taking one block. The job is completed faster. The programming aspect on the other hand is pretty tedious.

It is a rapidly changing field, and we are approaching the theoretical limits of Moore's Law which has implications for just how fast supercomputers can get. Check out my earlier posting on Moore's Law which has some more information and links.

On a different note -- watch out for airport wireless connections. Both airports I encountered this trip advertised WiFi with secure SSID. No mention was made of cost, but anyone who has traveled knows that airports really sock it to you at every opportunity. In spite of the word "secure" there is nothing secure about this offering. The SSID is advertised, so when you fire up your laptop, its name will appear in the list of available networks. There was no WEP key (which wouldn't really make it secure, but it is better than nothing). Well, I gave it a try, and I actually got an ip address, so I launched my browser. Yup. The first screen asked me to provide a credit card number so I could be charged at the rate of $7.95/day. Riiiiiiiiiight. They mean $7.95 for the (hopefully short) time until you board your flight.

There has been a trend in the hotel industry, as well as some coffeeshops, to provide free wireless internet where before they charged and hourly or monthly rate. In my city there are a number of free access points, ranging from City Hall to the public library, and even to a few burger joints. It is a trend that I like to see, but don't kid yourself -- it is NOT as secure as being behind your home firewall. Just be careful where you click your mouse.