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.