Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Life Has Changed...

For a little over a year now, my son has been eligible to obtain his learner's permit. I took him down to the local office of the license bureau and he picked up a manual, and I decided to let him make the next move.

Two months to the day after his 16th birthday he requested that I drive him to take his written examination. He passed, and he obtained his permit. He was surprised that it only cost $3.50. I reminded him that once he gets his driver's license there are insurance implications simply because he will be a male driver under the age of 26.

We have six months minimum until he can take the driving test, so he have time to reflect on the financial impact of his becoming a driver. Of course he wants a 2009 Ford F-150 4x4 pickup. I suggested a used Dodge Neon. He said he wouldn't be seen driving one of those. I said he wouldn't be seen driving at all. Life's tough when you lack your own wheels and a bank balance to support that habit.

I think we'll need to start looking for another vehicle, though. We have a 2002 Ford Escape, and a 2006 F-150 and both of them have standard transmissions. One thing that we need to think about is our own physical limitations. I am just emerging from a period of time when I underwent foot surgery and was hampered in my abilities to use the clutch pedal on the Escape (but not the F-150). Since I am closer to 60 than to 50, I may go with an automatic transmission the next time we buy a new car.

Oh well. Pray for patience -- We'll need it!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Whooping crane count in Texas up to record 270 | Top stories | - Houston Chronicle

Whooping crane count in Texas up to record 270 | Top stories | - Houston Chronicle:
"LAMAR, Texas — The whooping crane population has set another record with 270 of the endangered birds wintering on the Texas Coastal Bend.

The birds in the world's only wild flock spend each winter in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas before returning to Canada and the Wood Buffalo National Park.

Tom Stehn, whooping crane coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the flock size is up four from last year. The worldwide population, which includes both wild and captive birds, stood at more than 500 in September. The low for the species was 15 in 1941. ..."
My earliest memories of the whooping crane were that the count was hovering around thirty. During the same time frame, the brown pelican was on the verge of extinction because DDT applications had weakened the shells of their eggs to the point where almost no young were being born.

The whooping crane and the brown pelican recoveries are two good examples of why environmental protection and mitigation are important.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Where is the Cyber Hymnal?

[UPDATE - 12/27/2008]
MB noted in the comments that the Cyber Hymnal is back. It's certainly good to see this important resource available again.

I ordinarily go to to look up the words to hymns, but that domain name seems to have been taken over by a company that offers vacations, insurance, online dating, and so on. I wonder if someone forgot to pay the registration for the name?

That would be too bad, since they have been around since the mid 1990s providing an excellent reference for those interested in hymns and their history.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas 2008

From time to time I offer up a hymn for reflection, and today I present O Little Town of Bethlehem, written in 1868 by the Reverend Phillips Brooks, an Episcopal priest from Philadelphia. He was inspired by a trip he took in 1865 to Bethlehem. The words below are from Wikipedia, and the fourth verse is one I have never seen:
O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth!
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.
For Christ is born of Mary,
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, oh how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Where children pure and happy
Pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to thee,
Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching
And faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks,
And Christmas comes once more.

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Year that could be turning point on disease - Times Online

Year that could be turning point on disease - Times Online:
"A tissue reprogramming technique that promises an almost limitless source of stem cells without the need to destroy embryos has been named as the breakthrough of the year by the prestigious journal Science.

The method for turning back the clock on adult tissue, so it acquires the versatile properties of embryonic stem cells, heads a list of ten achievements that also includes the direct observation of planets orbiting distant stars, and cheaper and faster technologies for mapping the genetic code.

The stem-cell advance, made by separate teams in Japan and the United States, has excited scientists because it could lead to tissue therapies for diseases such as Parkinson’s and diabetes grown from a patient’s own skin. ..."
With all the recent buzz that the new administration will roll back stem cell restrictions, it seems that new discoveries will reduce or even eliminate the need to resort to harvesting embryos for stem cells. No less a respected scientific journal than Science has named this the breakthrough of the year, and the advantages lie not only in eliminating one of the significant bioethical barriers to using stem cells, but also the fact that by using a patient's own cells, the problem of tissue rejection is greatly reduced.

Searching for the Star of Bethlehem | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Searching for the Star of Bethlehem | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Using powerful computer software, an Australian astronomer says that he has re-created the night sky over Bethlehem in the year 2 B.C. and discovered a planetary conjunction that may have been the Star of Bethlehem that drew the Magi to worship the baby Jesus.

Astronomer Dave Reneke said the close proximity of Venus and Jupiter created a spectacle in the night sky just before the summer solstice that year. Britain's Telegraph newspaper reported that Reneke went so far as to suggest that perhaps Christmas should be celebrated on June 17 rather than December 25. An interesting idea, since the December Christmas celebration probably doesn't mark the true birth day of Jesus either. The December observance has its roots in a Roman celebration of the winter solstice."
Here is an interesting summary of various theories on what constituted the Star of Bethlehem. Since this was a physical phenomenon, it is certainly within the realm of science to propose possible explanations. Adding in historical references in the Gospels that constrain the actual year of the birth of Jesus to sometime before Herod the Great died in 4 B.C., there are a limited number of theories that actually fit the known facts. Read the full article for further information.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Majel Roddenberry, widow of 'Trek' creator, dies - Yahoo! News

Majel Roddenberry, widow of 'Trek' creator, dies - Yahoo! News:
"LOS ANGELES – Majel Barrett Roddenberry, 'Star Trek' creator Gene Roddenberry's widow who nurtured the legacy of the seminal science fiction TV series after his death, has died. She was 76. Roddenberry died of leukemia Thursday morning at her home in Bel-Air, said Sean Rossall, a family spokesman.

At Roddenberry's side were family friends and her son, Eugene Roddenberry Jr.

Roddenberry was involved in the 'Star Trek' universe for more than four decades. She played the dark-haired Number One in the original pilot but metamorphosed into the blond, miniskirted Nurse Christine Chapel in the original 1966-69 show. She had smaller roles in all five of its television successors and many of the 'Star Trek' movie incarnations, although she had little involvement in the productions. ..."
Majel Barrett (Roddenberry), while not a major actor in the Star Trek universe, was certainly a ubiquitous one. She was also the voice of the Enterprise's computer in most, if not all, the movies and television episodes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Zimbabwe: The Nightmare Must End - TCS Daily

Zimbabwe: The Nightmare Must End - TCS Daily:
"It must end. Zimbabwe is a land devastated by disease, deprivation and despair. Once southern Africa's breadbasket, today it is a basket case. Robert Mugabe led the freedom movement against white minority rule. After coming to power in (1981) he was hailed by his people and neighbors as a liberator. But Mugabe's affection for privilege, position and power has driven him to cling to his presidency through brutal repression. ..."
Ambassador Richard Williamson, who is currently serving as a special envoy to Sudan gives us a sobering reminder that, even though Zimbabwe is off the front pages, the problems continue to mount in that country.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Politically correct Christmas carols censor 'king', 'son' and 'virgin' - Telegraph

Politically correct Christmas carols censor 'king', 'son' and 'virgin' - Telegraph:
"Enduring favourites such as Hark the Herald Angels Sing and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen are being altered by clergy to make them more 'modern and inclusive'.

But churchgoers say there is no need to change the popular carols and complain that the result is a 'festive car crash' if not everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. ..."
I appreciate the imagery in "festive car crash". In church Sunday we sang a lot of carols as part of the children's Christmas Pageant. Many, if not most of those singing had their hymnals open, but did not look at the words. At least not until they hit one of the "corrected" lines when they momentarily appeared disoriented as they sang the words they knew while some around them were singing unfamiliar words.

I think it needs to be emphasized again: Leave the existing hymns alone. If you don't like them, write new ones.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Shift Happens

As in "paradigm shift"...

Here is a YouTube presentation that puts a lot of things related to the information explosion into perspective:

Monday, December 08, 2008

Deep and wide: Growing via evangelism?

Deep and wide: Growing via evangelism?:
"STONY POINT, N.Y. — Mainline Protestant denominations have been shrinking for the past 40 years because they’ve scaled back what they did so well for decades before: birthing babies. Growth surged during the baby boom of the 1950s, but when that faded so did membership.

In order to reverse that trend the other historic way — growing the church through evangelization — about 75 Presbyterians gathered 30 miles northwest of New York City Nov. 10-12 for the “Grow the Church Deep and Wide: Evangelism Consultation” at Stony Point Center. ..."
"The proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind" may be the first of the six Great Ends of the Church, but it has been one that has caused discomfort in more than a couple of the Presbyterian churches I have joined over the years. Many years ago the church where I currently hold membership dropped the traditional 'Evangelism Committee' and replaced it with the 'Outreach Committee' for reasons that are somewhat unclear to me, although the consensus is that the 'E' word carried too much baggage.

Jack Haberer's article in The Outlook gives a bit of the history of the problem and how it is being met today.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Bad back may stop cane toad invasion | Science | Reuters

Bad back may stop cane toad invasion | Science | Reuters:
"SYDNEY (Reuters) - It seems a bad back might be the only thing that can stop the relentless spread of Australia's poisonous cane toads, which are killing native animals as they hop across the nation, researchers say.

Australia's army couldn't stop the cane toads, which number around 200 million. Residents swinging golf clubs failed and so did a campaign to freeze them to death in refrigerators. ..."
Golf clubs, eh? Would you employ a wood or a wedge for this? The possibilities do not make for pleasant contemplation.

It seems that Australia has had more than its share of environmental disasters resulting from inadvertent (in this case) or deliberate introductions of exotic species to a continent with its own unique catalogue of flora and fauna.

What good news there may be is that they seem to be suffering skeletal problems due to inbreeding. They may eventually die out, but not before inflicting a lot more damage.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ottawa university boots cystic fibrosis from charity drive

Ottawa university boots cystic fibrosis from charity drive:
"OTTAWA -- The Carleton University Students' Association has voted to drop a cystic fibrosis charity as the beneficiary of its annual Shinearama fundraiser, supporting a motion that argued the disease is not 'inclusive' enough.

Cystic fibrosis 'has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men' said the motion read Monday night to student councillors, who voted almost unanimously in favour of it. ..."
There are some very useful links on the right sidebar of this article which demonstrate that the assumptions in the student council motion are false.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

City wants her cent - The Sun Chronicle Online - News

City wants her cent - The Sun Chronicle Online - News:
"ATTLEBORO - A 74-year-old blind woman has been told a lien will be put on her South Attleboro home if she doesn't come up with a penny she owes on an outstanding utility bill. ...

The city sent Wilbur a letter dated Nov. 10 stating that if the 1 cent balance is not paid by Dec. 10, the city will assess a lien of up to $48 on Wilbur's next property tax bill. ..."
Only in Massachusetts...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Survey: Megachurches more intimate, believers less gullible

Survey: Megachurches more intimate, believers less gullible:
" ... “We all know that megachurches have all sorts of flaws. They’re big; they have a wonderful Sunday service because they can afford a symphony orchestra. But they’re kind of cold, they have … like, theater audiences,” said Baylor sociology professor Rodney Stark, the study’s lead researcher, noting common perceptions of megachurches. “All wrong.”

The survey found that members of such churches tended to have more friends within their congregations, hold more conservative Christian beliefs, share their faith with friends and strangers more often, and be involved in volunteer work more frequently than their counterparts in churches with less than 100 in average attendance. ..."
These conclusions, which seem counter-intuitive, make a little more sense if one notes that the things that draw people in to church -- doctrine, friendliness, sharing faith, volunteerism -- are likely to continue to characterize the congregation as it grows.

The Baylor University website has a more extended article on this study entitled Baylor Survey Finds New Perspectives On U.S. Religious Landscape.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veteran's Day 2008

This short piece was written early this morning, but with the feature of delayed posting, it appears at the time of the official observance of Veteran's Day.

At 11:00am on November 11, 1918 the guns stopped firing in France as the armistice between the Allied forces and Germany took effect. This day was originally celebrated in the US as Armistice Day, but has been since designated as Veteran's Day. This day has also been historically known as Remembrance Day.

We remember with gratitude all those who served in our country's military. These men and women have kept secure what previous generations worked so hard to provide us. Their job has not always been appreciated, but the fact that we have the freedom to choose our President every four years without violence, stands as mute testimony to the job that our veterans have done over the last two hundred and thirty two years (counting from 1776).

If you have the opportunity today, thank a veteran.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolates mark 500 years of Calvin in a taste of “paradise”

Chocolates mark 500 years of Calvin in a taste of “paradise”:
"(ENI) Swiss chocolatier Blaise Poyet believes he has captured the essence of the Protestant reformer Jean Calvin in special chocolate pralines he created to mark the 500th anniversary of the religious figure who made his mark on European history.

'It's not easy to represent theological ideas by using the taste buds,' acknowledges Poyet, a master chocolatier from Maison Poyet in Vevey, 50 miles from Geneva, where the French-born reformer lived and worked. 'But the key thing for Calvin is the glory of God, his excellence, his perfection. So we chose a chocolate that we chocolatiers find exceptional, rare, and flawless.'

The chocolates were unveiled in Geneva on November 2 after a ceremony to launch a year called 'calvin09' to mark the 500th anniversary in 2009 of Calvin's birth, along with other products and events intended to capture the life and spirit of Calvin."
OK. This is a bit much. Surely a better way to honor this historical personage could be found.

John Calvin is considered to the the "father" of Presbyterianism and the principles he proposed in his Institutes of the Christian Religion are still studied today. It isn't what I would call a "page turner", but for looking up particular topics it is great.

Maybe a better way to honor Calvin might be to learn more about him and what he taught. My opinions certainly mellowed once I stopped relying on "conventional wisdom" and actually started looking into what he actually said and did.

And if you feel the need to honor John Calvin with chocolate, at least choose plain dark chocolate -- it's cheaper and serves as an antioxidant.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Billy Graham Turns 90 | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Billy Graham Turns 90 | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Billy Graham may be celebrating his 90th birthday today, but he's not done learning yet. The world-famous evangelist will use the Internet for the first time this week when he sends an e-mail reply to a supporter.

'We're helping him write it, but he's going to push the button,' said Graham's son Franklin, who has received more than 100,000 letters through the Internet to give to his father for his birthday. 'He was asking me the other day, 'How does it work?' And I said, 'I don't know, but I know it does.' '

Graham preached in person in more than 185 countries to over 215 million people during his more than 70 years of ministry. He prayed with every American President from Harry Truman to George W. Bush. ..."
Billy Graham's birthday was the November 7,so this is a little late. The full article has a lot of interesting information about his career and how he has interacted with many of the most powerful people in the world. Hopefully this giant in the evangelical world has a few more years left to serve on earth.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Saints Day 2008

One of my favorite hymns for this season (and all seasons) is the rousing For All the Saints. In the Presbyterian tradition, six verses have been employed -- 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, and 11 of the ones shown below -- not even The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990) could not bring itself to totally "correct" its martial metaphors, instead tucking the offending verses out of the way. I have expressed the opinion before, and I do so again: Tinkering with hymns rarely improves the product, and this is no exception. Verses 9 and 10 are particularly meaningful, and do much to enhance the story being told. I have not seen verses 3, 4, or 5 in any hymnal.

William Walsham How wrote the words in 1864 and Ralph Vaughan Williams published the most familiar hymn tune in The English Hymnal (1906).
For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to Thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be Thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!
We remember those who have gone before.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hubble scores a perfect ten

Hubble scores a perfect ten:
"The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope is back in business. Just a couple of days after the orbiting observatory was brought back online, Hubble aimed its prime working camera, the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC2), at a particularly intriguing target, a pair of gravitationally interacting galaxies called Arp 147."
Good to see the Hubble Space Telescope back in business. Its contribution to not only our knowledge but our enjoyment has been immense.

Follow the link back to the article for a higher-resolution image of this astronomical feature.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global Update - Polio Spreads to New Countries and Increases Where It’s Endemic -

Global Update - Polio Spreads to New Countries and Increases Where It’s Endemic -
"Polio infections are increasing and spreading to new countries, according to case counts recently released by the World Health Organization.

Since April, outbreaks have been found in 10 countries beyond the 4 in which polio is considered endemic — Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan. And in those four countries, the number of cases is more than double the number found by this time in 2007. ..."
This is a reminder that our complacency in the Western world regarding such diseases is a bit misplaced. I grew up having had both the Salk and the Sabin vaccines, and remember the relief I felt when all you needed to do was take a sugar cube with a drop of vaccine to gain immunity from polio. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world childhood diarrhea makes oral vaccines ineffective, thus making the injections necessary.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Youth Duck Hunt

My son and I got up at 4:00am on Saturday and drove down to Eagle Bluffs along the Missouri River in Boone County for the first day of the two day Youth Duck Hunt in our area of Missouri. My son turns 16 on October 30, so this was his last chance to do the youth hunt.

We had with us a friend of my son's and his father as well as another friend of mine who is a trout biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, not to mention a waterfowl hunter of long experience.

My son was one of the last to draw for the choice hunting sites, but I think we ended up with the pick of the day. It was a little tough to walk into, and the slough we crossed had a mucky bottom, but we got set up and waited for 6:59am to roll around. We took the sound of shotguns all around as our cue, and the two boys went to work while the adults coached.

The teal were still in abundance, and the boys both took their limit (6). My son had 5 before the sun came over the horizon, and was in danger of getting his limit in the first half hour. The other boy was a little slower, but he caught up after sunrise. Both filled out their limit before 8:30am and we were off to breakfast (and the job of cleaning the catch once they got home).

The two young men were pumped, and if truth be told, their fathers were just as proud. The MDC biologist's son did his youth hunt a few years earlier and he welcomed the chance to help initiate more youth into the sport.

I have really appreciated the way hunting and shooting have worked in my boy's life, and the way we have been able to move our relationship into a different phase. In both hunting and trap competitions our kids, for the moment, are out there on an equal basis with the adults and are held to adult standards, and that has to be good for their development into adulthood. It certainly helps foster a sense of responsibility. And now he is an "adult" as far as the Missouri Department of Conservation is concerned because come this weekend he will have to buy a hunting license along with various options and Federal Duck Stamp.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Schooled by the Psalms | Christianity Today

Schooled by the Psalms | Christianity Today:
"...I came to pour out my heart to God and discovered there wasn't much to pour out. It would be years before I understood why I saw prayer in the same way I saw the Psalms at that time—only as a tool to help me ask God for what I wanted. The problem was that I wanted so little! What I didn't understand was that learning to pray was learning to desire the things God wants to give, and then asking him for them. ...
"Here is a good (and somewhat lengthy) piece by Ben Patterson, a campus pastor.

It is certainly appropriate for this Reformation Sunday, celebrating the 491st anniversary of Martin Luther's issuance of his Ninety-Five Theses. A listing of these debate points challenging the prevailing teachings of the Church can be found on Wikisource.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More Thoughts on "The Shack"

I have read a number of reviews of The Shack, and while most have been favorable (or at least tolerant), some have condemned this treatment of how God might reveal himself to a struggling person in this day. I want to address three of the criticisms I have read:

God is never described in the Bible using feminine imagery -- Not true. The Psalms in several places use the illustration of the Lord sheltering someone beneath his wings. This is a behavior usually associated with the female bird. See Psalms 17:8-9; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4. I'll admit that these are ambiguous, and the astute reader will note that I used the male possessive pronoun in relation to the Lord. That's just how I relate to God. But one only needs to go the the New Testament to see a clear and unambiguous reference to Jesus using feminine imagery to describe what he longed to do:
Mt 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."
God never appears to humans except in the form of the Son and no one can see the face of God and live -- Here Scripture can get pretty ambiguous. With whom did Abraham converse at his encampment near the trees of Mamre? (Genesis 18:1-33) The references go back and forth between three men and the Lord. The word translated as "Lord" is God's proper name, YHWH. In any event, the Lord spoke to Abraham, and Sarah overhead at least a part of the conversation (and found it amusing). In another part of Genesis, Jacob spends the night on the bank of the Jabbok river wrestling with "a man", who is identified in this story as being God. Jacob makes it clear what he saw:
Ge 32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."
God no longer reveals himself except through Scripture -- This is a tough one. Of course God reveals himself though Scripture. This is a key and essential tenet of the reformed faith, and the most important source of my knowledge of who God is and what he requires of me. But I am personally convinced that the Lord works directly with individuals when it suits God to do so. But opening the door to ongoing revelation and epiphany also provides a lot of opportunity for mischief or even downright heresy. One one hand, a person who feels they have had a direct revelation from the Lord might decide that he or she has no need of Scripture or the instruction of spiritual leaders or the fellowship of other Christians. But on the other hand, to claim that God no longer interacts with people except through Scripture and the teachings of the Church denies the reality that many have experienced in their lives. Does God physically manifest himself to people today? I don't know for certain, but would not bother me if there were "road to Damascus" experiences today.

When I wrote my earlier comments about The Shack, I believed that it was a bit heterodox, but not heretical. I still hold that opinion. If I had a criticism of the book, it would be its harshness toward organized religion. I know first-hand how the "organized church" can be a support in trying times, and it is hard for me to imagine a world with no religion.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Only Hope for Monsters | Christianity Today

The Only Hope for Monsters | Christianity Today:
"... Imagine my horror five years ago when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I realized that a real live thing had taken residence in my body—an 'alien' that was trying to kill me. Thankfully, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation brought a halt to the monster's plans. But as dreadful as that experience was, I've since come to believe that an even more malevolent creature grows unabated in my soul. ..."
Kay Warren writes a thoughtful account of her trip to Rwanda, where she expected to see and recognize those who were complicit in the genocide of 1994. She found instead people much like herself, facing the same day-to-day problems she faced in the US. They loved their families, worshipped the Lord -- and some, no doubt, were caught up in the wave of evil that took over Rwanda nearly 15 years ago.

She realized that she had to deal with the evil within before she could presume to judge the evil in another place. Only through seeking God's forgiveness and realizing that without Him we are without hope can we help provide hope to others who, like ourselves, are imprisoned by evil.

C.S. Lewis called it "the illusion of self-sufficiency" in The Problem of Pain. It is called "the sin of independence" in The Shack, which I recently read. These ideas both have to do with the danger of going it alone. When the pain within is unacknowledged and unaddressed, there is little that we can do about the pain around us, except perhaps to add to it.

But in allowing God to shepherd us though our pain, we can overcome its effects and become free to love each other as ourselves.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Shack -- Initial Impressions

I had heard of The Shack a few months ago, but did not feel impelled to go out and buy it. A week ago a friend recommended it and I put it on my mental "to do" list. Friday I was at Barnes and Noble doing my regular browse-the-shelves thing, and I found myself walking past the religion books and saw the book. I pulled it from the shelf and added it to Susan's choice and began reading it at around 7:30pm Saturday evening. About 1:30am Sunday morning I read the last few lines, closed the book, and went to sleep.

The Shack proved to be a moving story and one I could not easily put off, once I reached a certain point. If you are looking for traditional theology explaining how a just God can allow evil, then this book will disappoint. If you are willing to let yourself view God in some non-traditional ways then give it a try.

In many ways, this is the Book of Job written for the 21st century. I saw a smattering of C.S. Lewis scattered here and there, but mostly this was an account of what might happen if a grief-paralyzed man had an opportunity to question God. There are twists and turns even up to the last page, but it was, for me, a moving account of how God might interact with even me.

One piece of theology expressed in this book (paraphrased) is in the protagonist's asking if all roads led to God. The answer was no, most roads lead nowhere -- but there are no roads that God would not take to reach those whom he loves. And that casts far wider a net than most of us can imagine.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - Cyberspace bloggers get 10 commandments

PC(USA) - Presbyterian News Service - Cyberspace bloggers get 10 commandments:
"LONDON — Christian Internet bloggers have received 10 commandments to help them avoid the danger of writing in haste what they might later regret at leisure.

Unlike the Ten Commandments of the Bible, the cyberspace injunctions have not been written on tablets of stone but on the Web site of Britain’s Evangelical Alliance.

Bloggers — writers of Internet diary and comment pages — are told not to murder someone else’s reputation, or steal their content. Nor should they give false testimony against another, commit adultery in their mind, or make an idol of their blog. ..."
Something to keep in mind, especially considering how easy it is to publish information these days. For better or for worse, we have an effect on the debates going on around us, and as Christians we have an even greater responsibility to, as we Presbyterians put it, "exhibit the Kingdom of Heaven to the world."

Ten Blogging Commandments is the name of the original article, and can be found by following the link. There is much more in the original article, and it worth considering.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

White Sox take the AL Central

Well, thanks to the two games the Royals won in their final series with the Twins, the AL Central had to be decided in a playoff game last night between the White Sox and the Twins. I watched the first few innings before I turned my attention to other things. By that point it was obvious that it was a pitchers and defense game.

The Royals ended up being a key factor in the AL West with their excellent performance during September -- almost good enough to forget the rather poor showing in May, June, July, and August.

And they weren't at the bottom of the heap....

Monday, September 29, 2008

It's Primetime in Iran | Christianity Today

It's Primetime in Iran | Christianity Today:
"The TV studio hums just a few feet from his church office in northern California, but pastor Hormoz Shariat is still a last-minute arrival to his own show. Behind the scenes are teams of phone counselors and hip young producers.

Waiting behind an Islamic veil 7,000 miles away is an exploding house-church movement in Iran, whose compatriots eavesdrop on the illegal satellite programs produced daily by Pastor Shariat's Iranian Christian Church (ICC).

If there is a budding missional community of Muslim-background believers in America, it is the Iranians. These believers' passion is to reach Muslims worldwide, and they are being energized not by the now-grown children of the Islamic Revolution, but by their bicultural kids longing to discover their Persian roots. ..."
I hadn't really thought about what happened to the Iranians that found it necessary to become expatriates following the bloody revolution of the late 1970s.

This article is about a subset of those expatriates -- Christians -- and how they cope with maintaining their identity in a culture that is quite different than that in which they grew up. Along with that, this community is dealing with their children who are drawn to churches other than the ones their parents attend.

The Iranian Christians are also using video technology to help maintain ties with the congregations they left behind in Iran, which often need to operate clandestinely.

There is much in this story to ponder.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Royals End the Season With Dignity

Well, the 2008 baseball season is over for the Royals. They won their last series 2-1 and ended the season with a respectable .680 percentage for the month of September. They spoiled the division-leading Minnesota Twins' plans for a celebration, forcing them to await the White Sox make-up game that now holds the key to the AL Central.

The Royals' percentage for the season was .463, which is nothing to crow about, but considering the September record, demonstrates the rather poor performance over the summer. I sure hope we see some better playing in 2009. It has been a long time since the 1980s when the Royals were easy to cheer for.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Missionary Myths | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Missionary Myths | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"A team from two churches and one parachurch ministry has caught a vision for missions. Members travel regularly to Bangladesh to train pastors, minister to orphaned girls, and plant churches. The needs and opportunities in the South Asian nation of 153 million people, 99 percent of whom are Muslim or Hindu, are seemingly endless. According to the Operation World prayer guide, Christians there face discrimination from extremist Muslim groups. Compounding their difficulties is that despite the country's rapid economic growth, per-capita GDP stands at an anemic $1,300—or $3.56 a day.

When team members share their passion for Bangladesh with American Christians, they hear an all-too-typical response: 'We have enough poor people in our nation to take care of without you going to some other country.' In fact, many Westerners wonder whether we still need to send missionaries at all. ..."
Stan Guthrie does a good job of countering the various myths and misconceptions of carrying out mission in the world today. He makes the case that the Great Commission remains as compelling in the 21st century as it was to the original missionaries of the first century.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 First Congregational Church calls 20th minister in 295 years First Congregational Church calls 20th minister in 295 years:
"The First Congregational Church of Ridgefield has called the Rev. Dr. Charles Hambrick-Stowe as its new senior minister. Dr. Hambrick-Stowe will serve as only the 20th senior minister of Ridgefield’s oldest church.

The First Congregational Church was established in 1713, meeting in a small public house on the Green at the head of Branchville Road. ..."
It's interesting to contemplate all the history that this congregation passed through on its way to the 21st century.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's a Little Late, Royals

I've noted with mixed feelings the fact that the Kansas City Royals have been doing much better than they did, in say, August when they were 7 for 27 or .259.

Thus far, in September, they are 13 for 20 or .650. Their last 10 games show 8 wins.

If they had played in May, June, July and August the way they're playing now, they'd be heading for the playoffs. (yes, I know the season began on March 31, but they actually did reasonably well leading off this season -- .444 for March and April)

Come on Royals -- we know you can do it!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Arrrrrrr -- I almost missed it!

Today is "Talk Like Pirate Day" and I nearly missed it...

It seems that the Cap'n told us we had to move from the promenade deck to the bilge for reasons that hardly make sense, but since when has that been a constraining factor at my place of employment? Actually the Cap'n was told by people above that the move had to take place today. We have been expecting it for a while, but as we looked at the progress of the renovations in the bilge -- errr -- basement, we didn't see it coming this week.

So given the choice between moving and walking the plank, I lost my cubicle with a real window (which I enjoyed for the last four years) and am now in a windowless basement room with a cubicle, no cell service, and my favorite classical radio station can't break through the concrete foundation. I am thankful for streaming audio and gigabit ethernet.

Well, I did a lot today, but not much in the way of fulfilling my job description....

Well, enough bellyaching. Time to belay the talk of mutiny and settle into the new crew quarters.

This is "bilge rat" signing off.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Congress's copyright fight puts open access science in peril: Page 1

Congress's copyright fight puts open access science in peril: Page 1:
"In recent years, scientific publishing has changed profoundly as the Internet simplified access to the scientific journals that once required a trip to a university library. That ease of access has caused many to question why commercial publishers are able to dictate the terms by which publicly funded research is made available to the public that paid for it.

Open access proponents won a big victory when Congress voted to compel the National Institutes of Health to set a policy of hosting copies of the text of all publications produced by research it funds, a policy that has taken effect this year. Now, it appears that the publishing industry may be trying to get Congress to introduce legislation that will reverse its earlier decision under the guise of strengthening copyright protections. ..."
As this article points out, the taxpayer pays not only for the research, but the publication costs -- yet is charged once again for reprints.

A researcher who publish the results of his or her research is often required to sign over the copyright to the publisher, thus losing the right to make copies of the paper for a class without paying a fee for offprints. The cost to a library for a journal subscription is pretty high as well. No wonder the publishers are fighting this new law (about a year old), and are trying to get it overturned or modified heavily in their financial favor.

The existing law was meant to make the results of research more available to the public and this would be a major step backward.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Weather Stuff

My sister texted me last evening and told me that my parents in Houston had their power back following the storm surge from Hurricane Ike. I had been able to talk with them the day before on their cell phone, but they were pretty much in the dark and without air conditioning.

Someone needs to remind me -- how did we live before cell phones came on the scene?

We have not been without our hurricane-related issues in Columbia. This past week we dealt with a Pacific storm system working its way east, and then the remnants of Ike curled their way up through Missouri. Saturday we had (depending on who's counting) up to 8 inches of rain, and over the past two days, we have soaked up the average yearly rainfall for our area.

We ended up with water in the basement, and when we went to get the portable sump pump, we found that squirrels had gnawed through the wire about two feet from the plug. So with a Walmart replacement plug we picked up late in the evening, we got it going on the sunken patio where several inches of water had accumulated. A couple hours later (early Sunday), the Ike remnants veered to the east and left Columbia dealing with the aftermath. And we are dealing with the odor from the the downstairs carpets. All-in-all, a trivial annoyance compared with what people in the direct path of the hurricanes have to deal with.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Barring Yahweh | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Barring Yahweh | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Observant Jews have traditionally not used the name Yahweh, refusing to pronounce the so-called proper name of God out of respect, or to be sure they do not misuse it. Now neither will Roman Catholics, at least in their worship services.

'In recent years the practice has crept in of pronouncing the God of Israel's proper name,' said a June letter from the Vatican. 'As an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable and hence was replaced during the reading of sacred Scripture by means of the use of an alternate name: Adonai, which means 'Lord.'' In August, U.S. bishops were directed to remove Yahweh from songs and prayers.

Protestants should be following their lead, said Carol Bechtel, professor of Old Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. 'It's always left me baffled and perplexed and embarrassed that we sprinkle our hymns with that name,' she said. 'Whether or not there are Jewish brothers and sisters in earshot, the most obvious reason to avoid using the proper and more personal name of God in the Old Testament is simply respect for God.' ..."
An interesting theological dilemma...

Do we go with the familiarity that goes along with knowing God in the flesh, or do we keep our distance?

I have to admit that I have never been comfortable using "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" in conversation or prayer. But I haven't gone so far as some who abbreviate God as "G-d". I tend to use "Lord" (which is how the NIV generally denotes the Hebrew consonants YHWH), and I tend to use "Jesus" instead of "Christ."

Why -- Jesus became one of us, and it somehow somehow seems right to call him by his given name rather than his title. I am conflicted about how to refer to the Lord, though. Jesus called him "Abba" or "Daddy", but it is hard to imagine being on a first-name basis with the Creator. I admit it isn't quite rational, but it is the way I feel.

In any case, the reasons given by Carol Bechtel regarding causing offense to our Jewish brothers and sisters is reason ehough to exercise a little sensitivity to others.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11, 2001

In my capacity as lead roundtable commissioner for our Boy Scout district I wrote this as an opening for today's monthly meeting of adult leaders:

Good evening, and welcome to Roundtable.

It has been seven years to the day since the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and The Pentagon. Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was our regularly scheduled Roundtable at St. Andrews Lutheran Church, and the anniversary of those horrifying events falls once again on the day of Roundtable.

I think we were all in a state of shock, sadness, and anger that day and in the following days, but those of us who were Scout leaders soon remembered the importance of what we were called to do. We redoubled our efforts to be effective leaders as we provided a program that helped boys make the transition to manhood. This Scouting program has aims in three areas: character development, citizenship training, and physical and mental fitness.

The boys who were 11-17 years old in 2001 are now men ranging from 18-24. They are in college or beginning a career, or they may be starting a family. And some have taken the lessons they learned as Scouts and enlisted in the military.

Why would a young man choose such a path? We do not have a draft. They could stay in school, work at their jobs, or remain with their families – all valid choices – and the lessons they learned in Scouting would still serve them well.

But there are other lessons they learn as Scouts, and among them is that their freedom was purchased at a price paid by their forebears, and that to remain free also has its cost. Accordingly, some chose a path that is neither easy nor safe. They have helped provide humanitarian relief in natural disasters. They have provided logistical support for such scouting events as jamborees. They have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And some have paid the ultimate price in service to freedom and their country.

Regardless of how we may feel as individuals about our country’s war on terrorism, we can all be united in our gratitude, respect, and admiration for the boys we saw grow into men over the past decade. And we can feel confident that whatever the circumstances that life dishes out to us, the boys who were in Boy Scouts are well-prepared to meet those challenges.

Scouting makes a difference!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Scientists start world's biggest physics experiment | Science | Reuters

Scientists start world's biggest physics experiment | Science | Reuters:
"GENEVA (Reuters) - International scientists celebrated the successful start of a huge particle-smashing machine on Wednesday aiming to recreate the conditions of the 'Big Bang' that created the universe.

Experiments using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the biggest and most complex machine ever made, could revamp modern physics and unlock secrets about the universe and its origins. ..."
Well, we're still around. Unless the view from inside a black hole is the same as the real world...

Of course, this was just a one-way acceleration of protons. The fun stuff will take place in the weeks and months to come when they will actually "cross the beams."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Caesar's Sectarians | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Caesar's Sectarians | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"The state of Colorado wants to encourage religious people to get an education and participate fully in democracy. For example, it provides scholarships even to residents who want to attend a private religious college in the state. You can use them at the Jesuits' Regis University or the Methodists' University of Denver.

Then again, you can't use them at the Buddhists' Naropa University or at Colorado Christian University (CCU), a nondenominational evangelical school."
"In short, as Judge Michael McConnell wrote for the unanimous three-judge panel, "the Colorado exclusion expressly discriminates among religions, allowing aid to 'sectarian' but not 'pervasively sectarian' institutions, and it does so on the basis of criteria that entail intrusive governmental judgments regarding matters of religious belief and practice." ..."
Hmmm. It sounds like the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals is looking at not only the First Amendment Establishment Clause, but the Free Exercise Clause as well:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The Colorado Legislature, reacting to a Supreme Court ruling, and set up six tests from distinguishing "sectarian" from "pervasively sectarian", and it was these tests that seemed to encroach on belief and practice.

I can think of at least one Presbyterian College in central Kansas that would have been denied scholarship money on the basis of this overturned law, and another Presbyterian College in central Missouri that would have been OK.
According to this Christianity Today editorial, the state of Colorado is not going to appeal.

Microsoft patents 'Page Up' and 'Page Down' -

Microsoft patents 'Page Up' and 'Page Down' -
"Microsoft has been granted a patent on 'Page Up' and 'Page Down' keystrokes.

The software giant applied for the patent in 2005, and was granted it on 19 August. US patent number 7,415,666 describes 'a method and system in a document viewer for scrolling a substantially exact increment in a document, such as one page, regardless of whether the zoom is such that some, all or one page is currently being viewed'. ..."
This can be placed in the "you've gotta be kidding" file. ZDNET thoughtfully provided a link in their article to the actual patent (see above).

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Fun Weekend...

Every year the Boy Scout troop at my church goes on a campout called "Aqua Bumming". We stay for two days in cabins down at the Lake of the Ozarks, and run 50-60 boys through a variety of waterfront skills, including canoeing, sailing, rowing, swimming, fishing, and fly fishing.

A fellow scout leader and I taught seven boys who learned knots, how to tie flies, casting, and a variety of other skills that go into fishing with artificial flies. Then we went down to the lake shore and turned the boys loose with rods and reels graciously supplied by the Mid-Missouri Chapter of Trout Unlimited (both of us are also members of these organizations).

Starting off with the flies they tied themselves, the boys cast off the shore and some of them waded up to their waists. It was a good day for novice casters -- no wind to speak of and no one got into major difficulties with snags or knotted leaders. The major problems were the wakes from the powerboats that went by on regular intervals as well as the fact that we really weren't fishing in good habitat.

In spite of all that, four of the boys caught bluegill on the flies they tied themselves. Most of the boys had caught fish before on bait and spincast rods, but catching a fish with a fly rod was definitely a thrill for them, and doubly so because it was on a fly they tied themselves.

We'll be taking the boys to a farm pond near Columbia to finish the merit badge. The fish there don't get a lot of angling pressure, so they should get a chance to catch both bluegill and bass on a fly rod.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Busted! By My Own Mother....

Mea culpa.

I got a call on my cell phone today from my mother in Houston wanting to know if I was OK. It seems like she noticed a drop-off in blogging over the past week and she was concerned that I was feeling under the weather.

I assured her that I was feeling just fine, and that I really didn't have much to say.

Her response: "That doesn't seem to stop other bloggers from blogging..."

Actually, I started a posting a few days ago and deleted it before I hit the "publish" button. It concerned a 17 year old girl who was, in turn, accused of having a child 4 months ago and having her mother claim it as her own. When that was shown to be demonstrably false, it then turned out that she was, indeed, 5 months pregnant, and the press had a field day. A 17 year old girl who had been facing the consequences of her choices in the context of a loving family and small community was now a nationwide object of scorn and ridicule. This speaks most eloquently regarding the character of those in the media and political realm who feel a young girl is expendable when there is an election to be won. And people wonder why I dread years evenly divisible by 4....

OK. I got that off my chest.

And I hope this is the last time I stick my nose into the stench of politics.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Dead Sea Scrolls go from parchment to the Internet -

Dead Sea Scrolls go from parchment to the Internet -
"JERUSALEM (CNN) -- More than 2,000 years after they were written, the Dead Sea Scrolls are going digital as part of an effort to better preserve the ancient texts and let more people see them than ever before.

The high-tech initiative, announced Wednesday, will also reveal text that was previously not visible to the naked eye.

Over the next two years, the Israel Antiquities Authority will digitally photograph and scan every bit of crumbling parchment and papyrus that makes up the scrolls, which include the oldest written record of the Bible's Old Testament.

The images eventually will be posted on the Internet for anyone to see. ..."
This may not be of use to people who can't read the ancient languages, except in that the originals will be available more widely than before. This should be good for historians, Biblical scholars, and theologians.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Audiophiliac - A high-end audio blog from Steve Guttenberg - CNET

The Audiophiliac - A high-end audio blog from Steve Guttenberg - CNET
"Back in 1957 Time magazine reported on 'audiophilia,' a disease that afflicted the 'middleaged, male and intelligent' and found them to be compulsive and fascinated with bizarre sounds. Hey, that describes me! ..."
This Steve Guttenberg is not to be confused with the Police Academy actor of the same name. This one writes on topics related to high-end audio. Go ahead and follow the link to the 1957 Time article -- it's hilarious.

I can remember the "hi-fi" we had during the era. Fifty some years later I have passed through vinyl, cassettes, CDs and now CDs converted to MP3 and loaded on a pocket-sized player that holds the equivalent of several hundred pounds of 12" vinyl recordings, not to mention voice recordings, digital images, and even full-length movies.

The End of the PCUSA? Revisited

The End of the PCUSA? Revisited:
"I just became aware of a couple of major changes in exegesis exams of the Presbyterian Church (USA). I want to offer some comments on these changes. This may seem like a detour from my series on The End of the PCUSA? Revisited, but, in fact, it is not. The changes in the grading of the exegesis exam illustrate why the PC(USA) is struggling to stay alive."
This is part 15 of a lengthy series written by Mark Roberts, a Presbyterian minister currently serving in Texas. While he has many misgivings about the future of the PC(USA), he is certainly no rabble-rouser or demagogue. His opinions are expressed well and he documents his assertions.

In this piece, he notes a recent statement by the Presbyteries' Cooperative Committee on Examinations regarding a change in the way the exegesis exam will be evaluated. A pdf of these changes can be obtained here.

The upshot seems to be that (1) demonstrating a knowledge of Hebrew and Greek is not a requirement to pass the examination (although students are given the opportunity to demonstrate such knowledge) and (2) students will be asked to offer a "faithful interpretation" of the passage rather than the "principal meaning".

This seems a little odd to me, especially given the Presbyterian Church's long emphasis on an educated clergy. Is there no longer a "principal meaning" to be had? I cannot read Hebrew or Greek, but I have grown to expect that Presbyterian ministers can and do read the original languages of Scripture. At the very least, they should be able check translations and offer some the nuances of how the original words expressed things. I don't expect every sermon to cover all the possible shades of meaning or to go into an arcane discussion of why a particular word was used instead of another, more common word. But I do find it useful to know that some of Jesus' illustrations involved clever word plays, or that Psalm 119 is written in the form of an acrostic.

I guess the bottom line is that as Reformed Christians, we are firmly anchored in the Word of God, and we believe that "The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duties God requires of man" (Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 3). This presupposes that Scripture has meaning, which for the most part, can be objectively understood. If we do away with objective exegesis, then we risk losing our ability to call ourselves Reformed, or worse, reformable.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MLB, umpires approve instant replay | News

MLB, umpires approve instant replay | News:
"Major League Baseball has signed an agreement with the World Umpires Association, approving the implementation of instant replay for disputed home run calls sometime before the end of the season, one of MLB's top officials told on Wednesday. ..."
Thus far it seems that this will be limited to disputed home run calls (i.e. near the foul pole), but I wonder if this may lead to other disputes. Like did the runner touch first before the ball hit the first baseman's glove?

Help us all if the strike zone gets instant replay. Sometimes the home plate umpire is the only thing that gives a game any personality...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Calif. Court Puts Gays' Care Over Doctors' Faith -

Calif. Court Puts Gays' Care Over Doctors' Faith -
"LOS ANGELES, Aug. 18 -- Doctors may not refuse medical treatment to gay men or lesbians for religious reasons, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday.

The court ruled that physicians' constitutional right to the free exercise of religion does not exempt businesses that serve the public from following state law that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

That holds true, Justice Joyce L. Kennard wrote in the 18-page decision, 'even if compliance poses an incidental conflict with the defendants' religious beliefs.'

If a doctor wants to refuse a service because of religious beliefs, the court found, he or she must refuse all patients, or provide a doctor who can provide the service to everyone. ..."
[I sat on this overnight because I wasn't sure I wanted to open this can of worms, but it raises issues of faith and the workplace. This is certainly worth mulling over.]

Ordinarily I give great deference to how people go about responding to God's call on their lives.

If churches want to hire Christians as staff members then they should not be forced to give equal weight to job applicants who do not share the world view of the members of the congregation.

If parents feel that the public schools are inadequate, then if they are up to it they should be allowed to home-school their children. (Not all such decisions are based in religion, though many are.)

If Christians want to withhold taxes that go for governmental activities that are at odds with their God-given conscience, then that is a principled decision, albeit one with consequences. Caesar, after all, has decreed that taxes shall be remitted.

In this case reported by the Washington Post, Caesar also has a role; physicians are licensed by the state, and thus the state can and does regulate many aspects of their practice. Call me old-fashioned, but doctors should never turn away a patient based on their lifestyle, ability to pay or any other factor. If they are in need of medical attention they should receive it. Other issues can be deferred for another time.

The model of compassionate ministry that should emulate is no less a person than Jesus. He encountered a lot of people that were outside the boundaries of polite society. He attended to their needs first, and then called them to repentance.

The California Supreme Court was well within bounds on this ruling.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Redeeming Law | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Redeeming Law | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"Bob Cochran came to faith in the early 1970s as a first-year law student at the University of Virginia. His life transformed, the son of a Baptist preacher contemplated leaving law school to go to seminary. At that time, he could imagine no way to express his newfound faith as a lawyer.

Fortunately, Tom Shaffer, a Notre Dame professor who would later write On Being a Christian and a Lawyer, came to Virginia as a visiting professor. A seminar on law and religion met at his home, opening in prayer (Cochran imagined university founder Thomas Jefferson's distress), and ending with beer. Says Cochran: 'It was an eye opener.' Cochran began to understand how his legal career could be a Christian vocation—an understanding he has spent most of his career developing and passing on to others. ..."
Tim Stafford was written an informative article on how lawyers in general and one in particular have been able to heed the call of God as they navigate the intricacies of the law.

Stafford notes that of the 196 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, about 15 are Christian. Cochran, who is the subject of the first part of this article, points out that the legal profession in the US is largely an outgrowth of the Judeo-Christian tradition and thus Christianity is not as much in tension with the underpinnings of the law as it might be in other disciplines.

The articles ends with a Lincoln quote, and as tempting as it is for me to quote it here, I'll let you all read the full article. Besides which, I don't have time to run down the source of the quote, and I do try to at least get close to the primary source....

Friday, August 15, 2008

Annual Observances

Three years ago (on August 12, 2005) I started this blog. This will be the 757th post over those three years. So much for trying to do one posting a day....

It has been fun, and I have made many new friends in a virtual sort of way as well as reforged connections with people I knew 25-30 years ago, who are also blogging. To me that has been the most rewarding aspect of blogging.

Today is also my birthday. Since I an a computer system administrator, I do a lot of work using base 16, so my age in that system is 38. Determining my age in base 10 is left as an exercise for the reader....

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Don't click that headline, security researchers warn | News - Security - CNET

Don't click that headline, security researchers warn | News - Security - CNET
"A flood of e-mails pretending to be from MSNBC contain links to malicious software, security companies warned Wednesday. ..."
These are similar to the "CNN Top Ten" emails that started last month and are still trickling in. One thing you can do to protect yourself is to do a mouseover on the linked URL and compare what the text says to what the URL really is. In Firefox and Inernet Explorer, the actual URL will appear on the bottom of the browser window.

These spammers are getting sneakier. They include actual links to such CNN or MSNBC pages as the privacy policy or the unsubscribe page, but redirect the story links to other locations.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Holy Spirit and the Third Commandment

A week ago I read some comments by a former official of the PC(USA) concerning her belief that the Holy Spirit moved through the 218th General Assembly guiding the commissioners into taking the actions they did. Such pronouncements are quite common from all sides of the Presbyterian Church. At the risk of appearing cynical, it seems that the Holy Spirit is invariably on the side of the prevailing faction.

This point of view has bothered me for many years, and it seems to bother me more and more by the year. Perhaps it is because it has become more common? Or perhaps my sense of who God is (and isn't) has been refined over the years.

In any event, for a General Assembly that adopted Micah 6:8 as its theme, it seems that claiming the Holy Spirit's endorsement of one's agenda is not by any stretch "walking humbly with your God."

Jim Wallis, in the introduction to God's Politics, has this to say:
"...Abraham Lincoln had it right. Our task should not be to invoke religion and the name of God by claiming God's blessing and endorsement for all our national policies and practices--saying, in effect, that God is on our side. Rather, as Lincoln put it, we should worry earnestly whether we are on God's side. ..."
Wallis, who can irritate me as well as occasionally inspire me, has it correct here. This attitude, though, must not be limited to the political realm. It needs to characterize our interactions and deliberations in the PC(USA). Lincoln, who did not quite fall into a neat religious category, nonetheless knew and understood Scripture in a way that is not often seen today. His Second Inaugural Address seems to me to be a model of "walking humbly with God", and one of its apparent sources was a handwritten note by Lincoln dating from 1862. This excerpt from that note is particularly revealing:
"The will of God prevails — In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be wrong. God cannot be for, and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is somewhat different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect this. ..."
And this brings me to what seems to give me the most trouble with claiming God's imprimatur on our decisions: If we believe that the Scriptures are "the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church Universal and God's word to [us]" (and every elder, deacon and minister has affirmed this), then can it be possible that the Holy Spirit would lead us to reject Scripture? That would certainly be a "house divided against itself", to use another Scriptural reference commonly associated with Lincoln (Matthew 12:25).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

TSA to Allow Laptops in Approved Bags - TIME

TSA to Allow Laptops in Approved Bags - TIME:
"(WASHINGTON) — There's a new option for people annoyed at having to take their laptops out of their bags at airport security. The Transportation Security Administration will now allow travelers to leave their computers inside 'checkpoint friendly' cases."
Well, this would be convenient for me. Unfortunately neither of my laptop cases would qualify, thus forcing me to buy yet another case.

Now if they could do something about the shoes....

Monday, August 04, 2008

Dave: Quite Interesting Facts: World's ten oldest jokes

Dave: Quite Interesting Facts: World's ten oldest jokes:
"8. Augustus was touring his Empire and noticed a man in the crowd who bore a striking resemblance to himself. Intrigued he asked: 'Was your mother at one time in service at the Palace?' 'No your Highness,' he replied, 'but my father was.' (Credited to the Emporer Augustus 63 BC – 29 AD)"
This has appeared on several blogs, and while I didn't find all the jokes as hilarious as they must have been to the original hearers, they seem to mirror what we find funny today. This one is my personal favorite of the ten jokes listed.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune: Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune: Author Alexander Solzhenitsyn dies at 89:
"MOSCOW (AP) -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize-winning author whose books chronicled the horrors of the Soviet gulag system, has died of heart failure, his son said Monday. He was 89.

Stepan Solzhenitsyn told The Associated Press his father died late Sunday, but declined further comment.

Solzhenitsyn's unflinching accounts of torment and survival in the Soviet Union's slave labor camps riveted his countrymen, whose secret history he exposed. They earned him 20 years of bitter exile, but international renown. ..."
Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a courageous man, and the world is diminished with his departure.

Friday, August 01, 2008

What's wrong with science as religion | Salon

What's wrong with science as religion | Salon:
"July 31, 2008 | PZ Myers is a true believer, a science crusader with the singled-minded enthusiasm of a televangelist. A biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris and a columnist for Seed magazine, Myers has earned notoriety with his blog, Pharyngula, in which he reports on new developments in biology and indiscriminately excoriates those he views as hostile to science, a pantheon of straw men and women that includes theologians, journalists and churchgoers. He is Richard Dawkins without the fame or felicitous prose style. ..."
Karl Giberson, who holds a doctorate in physics, has written a response to those scientists who have replaced faith in God with faith that science is capable of explaining everything. Dr. Giberson, who has defended Darwin and science in his book Saving Darwin, does not mince words over the way that some scientists have taken on a religious fervor in not only promoting the scientific method, but at the same time ridiculing people whose faith is in a Creator or worse, labeling them as dangerous.

If you are interested in part of the background of Giberson's article, follow the link to Pharyngula, Dr. Myers' blog. It makes for interesting reading, and I have to say that Dr. Giberson does not misrepresent what can be found there.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Workings of Ancient ‘Computer’ Deciphered -

Workings of Ancient ‘Computer’ Deciphered -
"After a closer examination of the Antikythera Mechanism, a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.

The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth, possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with the great Archimedes. ..."
This device is quite sophisticated for its time, which suggests that earlier versions must have been made, yet thus far this is the only one found.

Earlier blog entries on this:

IOC agrees to Internet blocking at the Games - International Herald Tribune

IOC agrees to Internet blocking at the Games - International Herald Tribune:
"BEIJING: The Chinese government confirmed Wednesday what journalists arriving at the lavishly outfitted media center here had suspected: Contrary to previous assurances by Olympic and government officials, the Internet would be censored during the upcoming games.

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages - politically sensitive ones that discuss Tibetan succession, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown of the protests in Tiananmen Square and the sites of Amnesty International, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse.

On Wednesday - two weeks after its most recent proclamation of an uncensored Internet during the Summer Games - the International Olympic Committee quietly agreed to some of the limitations, according to Kevan Gosper, chairman of the IOC press commission, Reuters reported. ..."
This is a shocking development. Why couldn't the IOC simply have refused to acquiesce in this? The Chinese government will do what it will, but there is absolutely no reason to "agree" to what will be imposed in any case.

The internet has been for most people a source of freedom. Information, ideas, discussions, blogging have all "flattened" the world (as Thomas Friedman would put it) -- but there is a large part of the world where such concepts are repressed. This is ironic to see in a nation which has embraced state-of-the-art networking technology and has a network infrastructure that is significantly ahead of the US and Europe.

Google has cooperated in filtering content into China. Yahoo has provided identifying information that has resulted in at least one internet user going to jail. This is not that the Internet is about.

I have mixed feelings about the Olympics this year. I remember the tit-for-tat boycotts of the Olympics by the USA and USSR in 1980 and 1984 and thinking that it did nothing but use the athletes as proxies in the Cold War. It's a little late to do anything for the 2008 Olympics, but there really need to be clear understandings about what is required when a nation undertakes to host the Olympic Games -- and clear repercussions for failure to deliver.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Habakkuk in Zimbabwe | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

Habakkuk in Zimbabwe | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction:
"How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (Hab. 1:2-4)

Over the last five years, I have preached often from Habakkuk. I stress the fallenness of our world and the need to be realistic about human wickedness. But Habakkuk also stresses that history demands a judgment. If God is just, there must be a judgment one day — maybe not in this life but certainly in the life to come. God's answer to our struggles with evil and evil men and women in this world is, 'The righteous will live by faith — our loyalty to God in spite of the godlessness of others.' We're getting lots of practice.

Daily life in Zimbabwe is the painful reality of starvation, AIDS, and violence. Most families are fortunate if they can have one solid meal a day. There is no food on the shelves, there are no medicines in hospitals, and no one can afford to buy from the drugstores. ..."
This article by an anonymous Zimbabwean minister reminds all of us that what has been happening in Zimbabwe is more than just political and factional violence; there are real people affected and some of them are our fellow Christians.

Monday, July 28, 2008

China’s Internet Population Growing At A Fast Pace Despite Restrictions

China’s Internet Population Growing At A Fast Pace Despite Restrictions:
"China’s Internet population is visibly growing every month, and despite all restrictions imposed by the government, it became the world’s largest Internet population, counting 253 million users, according to the latest government report.

By the end of June, the proportion of online users was of 19.1 percent in China, which still accounts for less than a quarter of the country’s population. The percentage is small compared to that of the United States, where almost three quarters of the population uses Internet, but the Chinese online population seems to be growing every month.

The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) informed that while the U.S. Internet population reached 223.1 million users in June, the Chinese population added over 40 million users from the beginning of the year. Overall, China’s online population had a 56 percent increase compared to the same period last year. ..."
With a penetration of 19.1%, China looks like it will dominate the Internet for the foreseeable future. To be sure, the freedoms that internet users enjoy in the rest of the world are not much in evidence, but hopefully that will change.

One thing is evident, and that is that China and the Far East will be a significant player in the development and deployment of new internet technologies. Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6) has been under development since the mid 1990s when it became obvious that the number of IPv4 addresses would eventually be insufficient for all the devices that require internet addresses.

Ironically, latecomers to the internet had the opportunity to create an infrastructure that supports IPv6, thus they are far ahead of the US and Europe in that regard.

IPv6 is the "official protocol" of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The IPv6 web site is and from where I sit, one laptop can reach it because it is attached to an IPv6 network. Another, which is operating only on an IPv4 network cannot access that website, but will get you there on IPv4.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Show-Me State Games 2008

The Show-Me State Games are underway in Missouri. This three week event began last weekend and covers pretty nearly the full spectrum of sports from cycling to shooting to archery to triathlon.

This year my son, who has enjoyed trap shooting for a couple years now, was encouraged by the owner of one of the local rod and gun clubs to enter the games this year. I was more than happy to help make it happen, and he shot in the Youth Male division (16 and under).

The trap and skeet events use the "Lewis Classes" in which all the contestants shoot, and when the final results are in, they are separated into classes by score. Each class has its own set of medals. The upside of this is that the top shooters don't take all the medals, allowing the less experienced contestants a reasonable hope of placing in their class. Ironically, though, this often leads to a situation where if a contestant broke one less target, then he or she would have taken the gold in the next lower class instead of not getting a medal in the higher class.

Well, Liam broke 35/50 targets which resulted in a bronze medal in the "C" class (there were four classes today) -- not bad for his first time in a structured competition. He was in a squad with four adults and they welcomed him and treated him as a equal. It's nice to see how all the shooters -- male, female, youth, adult -- competed together. The importance of adult role models cannot be overrated here or in any other aspect of life.

Liam has one more year in the youth division, and at age 17 he will be considered an adult for competition. We watched some of the other squads shoot and were impressed with the level of skill shown by the men and women. The "A" class for adult males had a 5-way tie for first, all having broken 49/50 clay targets. The tie-breaker is the longest string of broken targets, and the gold medalist had broken 35 in a row. If you do the math on this, the range of tie-breaking strings is 25-49, so the difference here is very slight.

The squad on the firing line.

He shattered the target, but out of the image frame...

A tired young man

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

On 25th anniversary, Brett recalls pine tar homer

On 25th anniversary, Brett recalls pine tar homer:
"KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- George Brett says he's surprised that people still make a big deal out of his 1983 'pine tar' home run at Yankee Stadium.

The Kansas City Royals Hall of Famer's ninth-inning blast was taken away after umpires ruled the pine tar on Brett's bat extended too far up the shaft. Brett erupted from the dugout in one of baseball's all-time tirades.

The Royals protested the call, it was later overturned, and the two teams finished the game weeks later. The Royals won 5-4."
It just doesn't seem that long ago...

What a game! And what an anti-climax when they had to get back together for the final three outs.

Monday, July 21, 2008

1,600-year-old version of Bible goes online - Internet-

1,600-year-old version of Bible goes online - Internet-
"BERLIN - More than 1,600 years after it was written in Greek, one of the oldest copies of the Bible will become globally accessible online for the first time this week.

From Thursday, sections of the Codex Sinaiticus, which contains the oldest complete New Testament, will be available on the Internet, said the University of Leipzig, one of the four curators of the ancient text worldwide. ..."
It helps if you can read ancient Greek, although some passages will be available in English and German.

The article did not list a URL, but I will try and add it Thursday when the website is expected to go online.

[UPDATE] Actually, the article did list a URL, but it was not linked, nor is it live at this time. You should be able to go to on Thursday, July 24, so I will link it now in anticipation of it going live in two days.

Eric Liddell's story to set Chinese hearts racing - Telegraph

Eric Liddell's story to set Chinese hearts racing - Telegraph:
"Who knows how the Chariots of Fire story is likely to go down in communist China, but we are about to find out. Eric Liddell, or Li Airui as he was known in the Far East, was considered a godly, heroic figure in non-communist China, and now the modern-day Chinese authorities have agreed to let his story of Christian humanity and sporting excellence be told."
This Telegraph article is a timely reminder of some of the history of the Olympics, and what one competitor did with the rest of his short life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects? - Los Angeles Times

How reliable is DNA in identifying suspects? - Los Angeles Times:
"State crime lab analyst Kathryn Troyer was running tests on Arizona's DNA database when she stumbled across two felons with remarkably similar genetic profiles.

The men matched at nine of the 13 locations on chromosomes, or loci, commonly used to distinguish people.

The FBI estimated the odds of unrelated people sharing those genetic markers to be as remote as 1 in 113 billion. But the mug shots of the two felons suggested that they were not related: One was black, the other white. ..."
Conventional wisdom has suggested for many years that DNA testing is as close to objective truth as you can get. Even when questions get raised they usually involve contamination or faulty procedures. It appears that a closer look needs to be taken at how these tests are employed as evidence.

It seems that nine genetic markers were considered sufficient in the past for establishing DNA matches, although many states are now using 13 markers. One of the cases in this article involved DNA from a crime committed 20 years ago, and such older samples may not have been tested for any more than nine markers.

Of particular concern are the allegations in this Los Angeles Times article that the FBI attempted to suppress these findings and made threats to states performing what came to be known as an "Arizona search" that their access FBI resources could be cut off. While such sanctions have not yet been taken, further searches have revealed a number of similar matches between unrelated people around the country.

This is a scientific issue, and must be dealt with using the open methods of science. It does much damage to the cause of justice if the custodians of DNA databases try to prevent the sorts of comparisons described in this article.