Thursday, November 19, 2009

A "Few Appropriate Remarks"

On this day in 1863 people gathered at a location near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to dedicate a cemetery to hold the remains of soldiers who had died in this decisive battle. Abraham Lincoln was invited to make a "...few appropriate remarks..." following the oration which was to be delivered by Edward Everett.

The oration lasted some two hours and was, by contemporary accounts, every bit as impressive as Everett's reputation as a speaker would have predicted. Then Lincoln spoke for about two minutes, saying the following:
"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
This version of the Gettysburg Address is known as the "Bliss copy" and of all the versions and drafts of this speech was the only one signed by Abraham Lincoln.

The world did not "long remember" Edward Everett's words, worthy though they were, but Lincoln's brief remarks are recognized to this day.

The photograph that accompanies this posting is from the Wikipedia article on Abraham Lincoln, and is in the public domain.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Ill. Prosecutors Seek Journalism Students' Grades - ABC News

Ill. Prosecutors Seek Journalism Students' Grades - ABC News:
"A Northwestern University professor and journalism students who spent three years investigating the case of a man convicted in the 1978 killing of a security guard believe they have evidence that shows prosecutors put the wrong man behind bars. But in the quest to prove his innocence, they may have to defend themselves, too.

Cook County prosecutors have outraged the university and the journalism community by issuing subpoenas to professor David Protess seeking his students' grades, his syllabus and their private e-mails. ..."
This story has been out for a few days, yet it still boggles the mind. I suppose I could get snarky and note that this is, after all, Cook County, but I suspect that prosecutors all over simply don't like to have their convictions scrutinized.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reformation Day | First Things

Reformation Day | First Things:
"It was around two o’clock in the afternoon on the eve of the Day of All Saints, October 31, 1517, when Martin Luther, hammer in hand, approached the main north door of the Schlosskirche (Castle Church) in Wittenberg and nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses protesting the abuse of indulgences in the teaching and practice of the church of his day. In remembrance of this event, millions of Christians still celebrate this day as the symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation. At Beeson Divinity School, for example, we do not celebrate Halloween on October 31. Instead we have a Reformation party. ..."
Here is an interesting article about Martin Luther written from a Catholic viewpoint. Tim George, the author of this piece suggests that the Reformation exerted its effects on not only the Lutherans and the various Protestant groups that began to arise at about the same time, but has had a profound effect on the Roman Catholic Church as well.

On a more personal note, today my son is a commissioner to Presbytery, thus has begun to take his place in the next generation of reformed church leaders. Watching him grow not only in height, but naturity has been a wild ride at times, but worth it.

Conservapedia's Bible Removes Passages | Politics | Christianity Today

Conservapedia's Bible Removes Passages | Politics | Christianity Today:

This blog entry by Sarah Pulliam Bailey describes the "Conservative Bible Project", which is attempting to combat "liberal bias" in nearly all the current translations. To this end two notable deletions have occurred.
"...One is the long ending of Mark's Gospel, which includes verses about snake handling and the story of the woman caught in adultery. Neither is found in most of the oldest Greek manuscripts used to translate the Bible. Schlafly says that adultery story, in which Jesus says, 'He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her,' should be cut because it portrays Jesus as being soft on sin. ..."
"Schlafly" is Andy Schlafly, the son of Phyllis Schlafly, abd is the founder of the Conservapedia wiki.
He goes on to say this regarding the John passage of the woman taken in adultery:
"...'It's a liberal addition, put in by people who wanted to undermine the reality of hell and judgment,' he said."
Well he should have stuck with the fact that neither passage is found in the oldest texts and seem to have originated with Jerome (340-420 A.D.) . Jesus was forgiving of a lot of people, men and women, while at the same time calling sin what it was. As for hell and judgment, even a casual reading of Scripture reveals that Jesus minced no words regarding the consequences of sin and the reality of hell.

Personally, I don't mind the way nearly all modern translations handle these two and a handful of other textual problems -- The words are set off from the main text with a note as to the reason for questioning the provenance of the text.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Gore Vidal: Thirteen-year-old Roman Polanski rape victim was a ‘hooker’ « Entertainment

Gore Vidal: Thirteen-year-old Roman Polanski rape victim was a ‘hooker’ « Entertainment:
"Author Gore Vidal says he refuses to feel any sympathy for Roman Polanski’s rape victim, whom he dubs a “hooker.”

In an interview with The Atlantic, the controversial 83-year-old author of such books as “Myra Breckinridge” and “1876” says of the director’s sex scandal, “I really don’t give a [expletive]. Look am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s being taken advantage of?” ..."
This is just completely outside the pale. It's bad enough that Polanski drugged a 13-year-old girl with half a Quaalude and champagne and then raped her, but to hear the entertainment elite come to his defense simply draws a sharp line between their values and the values that I and hopefully most people have grown up with.

Gore Vidal has gone far beyond the standard "everybody does it" defense and feels the need to attack the victim herself. This is beneath contempt.

Polanski drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old and got off rather lightly for his offenses. Even though 33 years have gone by following his flight to avoid the consequences of his crime, it is time for Polanski to "man up" and return and face justice.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

It's that time again! Arrrrrr!

Today is International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLPD) where we're all encouraged to talk like a pirate to whatever degree one's surroundings permit. I will be participating at our county's Heritage Days pretending to be a Lewis and Clark expedition member, so my opportunities will be limited.

The ITLPD website has a page on how to talk like a pirate in German, so I leave you with this:
"Eine steife Brise in den Segeln und immer eine Handbreit Wasser unter dem Kiel"
Most of the words are direct cognates of their English equivalent, so I won't bother translating.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug dies at 95 -

Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug dies at 95 -
"(CNN) -- Nobel laureate Norman E. Borlaug, an agricultural scientist who helped develop disease-resistant wheat used to fight famine in poor countries, died Saturday. He was 95.

Borlaug died from cancer complications in Dallas, Texas, a spokeswoman for Texas A&M University said."
The world has lost a giant in the field of agriculture and humanitarianism. Norman Borlaug spent his life not only doing research in increasing crop production, but spending his time living in the areas which stood most to gain by higher yields in crop production.

A little over two years ago I posted an article on the occasion of his being awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for his work. I repeat a quote from that posting:
Norman Borlaug has not been without his critics, especially for his emphasis on fertilizer and large-scale mechanized agriculture. His answer is a real zinger: "some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."
Much of Borlaugs work can be summarized in what has become known as the "Borlaug Hypothesis" -- By increasing the efficiency of crop production, the need for deforestation for agricultural purposes is reduced. His work had and will continue to have far-reaching effects.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Reformed Angler Anniversary

Four years ago to the day I made my first posting on the Reformed Angler. I started off with the intention of giving it a whirl and seeing how I liked it. It wasn't long before I got into it and tried for a daily posting. That did not last long, and I settled into a respectable number each month, but definitely not a frequency that would make the blog a journal.

Now I am breaking a silence that has lasted over 30 days which, no doubt, has made any loyal readers who remain wonder if the Reformed Angler is going out with a whimper.

Well, not quite. There have been a number of factors that have interfered with regular posting -- not feeling I had much to say; some persistent health issues; discovering Facebook; working a day job -- and I'm sure I could come up with other excuses.

Summer 2009 has been one of ups and downs -- Susan and I celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary; Liam did well at summer camp, earning 7 merit badges, which is unusual for a sixth year camper; Liam also was inducted into the Oorder of the Arrow, the Boy Scout honor camping society; work has been satisfying and enjoyable for both Susan and me.

Our son deserves a paragraph of his own. Following summer camp, we picked him up and instead of driving home, we headed west towards Dodge City, Kansas, where he worked for a month on his cousin's farm. Portions of their land have been in the family since the 1880's, when Liam's great-great-grandfather homesteaded in Ford County. He learned a great deal and had a great time. The last week of his stay he helped out behind the scenes at the Dodge City Roundup (one of the premier rodeos) as well as getting to see the rodeo over five nights. He participated in the local church youth group and made many new friends. This was a maturing experience and one that he hopes can be repeated.

On July 17th, though, my mother died at the age of 78 and after a marriage that lasted 58 years. While this was not unexpected, it was still a big shock. She had been in declining health for years with breathing issues. The funeral was held July 28th and Mom's three sons and three grandsons served as the pall bearers. We were asked just prior to the beginning of the funeral but we were all honored to be able to perform this act of service. My Dad is doing OK, and is adapting to the change in his life. He had been a caregiver for several years, and my sister reports that he has gotten out of the apartment a few times for walks and just doing normal things. I'm sure he will found something fulfilling to occupy his time.

Susan was in the midst of the busiest time of the corn season, so I drove out to Dodge City, rested a day, and then left with Liam for Houston. We stayed for the funeral and drove back to Dodge so he could finish out his month with his cousin and help out at the rodeo. It was a grueling drive, but necessary. Fortunately, I was able to take a few vacation days and relax before we drove back to Columbia.

So that's pretty much how the summer has been going, and it has a couple weeks yet to come. And they will be busy....

I hope to post a little more regularly and look forward to hearing from all of you.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Getting a preview of the "Empty Nest"

Susan and I took our son to Scout Camp in southwest Missouri on June 25 and picked him up on July 4. Instead of returning home we went out to Ford County, Kansas where Susan's great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1870s. The land is still in the same family, so Liam is getting an opportunity to work with his cousins for a month and learn a lot about the life that molded his mother's side of the family.

Both of us took Monday and Tuesday off for visiting and travel, so our son had worked a full day digging post holes and helping repair fences. Yesterday he made the rounds of the irrigation pumps in the morning and got to drive a tractor in the afternoon and evening, ripping out weeds in a hail-damaged field. This tractor was GPS-enabled, so all he really had to do was turn the corners at the ends of the rows.

So, in his first two days of employment, he got not only a taste of the "glamorous" side of farming, but some of the not so nice work that goes into managing a successful farm. He'll have to adjust to the realities of rural life, not the least of which is that the closest town is Dodge City, about 10 miles to the northwest. We made sure he had pocket money, but forgot to mention that he'll have a hard time spending it.

We're looking forward to his return after a month.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Declaration of Independence

It was my intention to post this on July 4th, the 233rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, but I was nowhere near internet access for a few days. Accordingly, I am taking the unusual step of predating this to July 4th, 2009 so it sorts properly on my blog.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."
It has been a few years since I read this key document in our Nation's history. I remember it was shown to people in the late 1960s or early 1970s and many thought it to be subversive. This was ironic because our country was in the process of preparing for its Bicentennial.

Among its signatories was the Reverend John Witherspoon, a Scottish clergyman, who had emigrated to the American Colonies to accept the presidency of the Presbyterian College of New Jersey, later renamed Princeton University.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado -

It’s Now Legal to Catch a Raindrop in Colorado -
"DURANGO, Colo. — For the first time since territorial days, rain will be free for the catching here, as more and more thirsty states part ways with one of the most entrenched codes of the West.

Precipitation, every last drop or flake, was assigned ownership from the moment it fell in many Western states, making scofflaws of people who scooped rainfall from their own gutters. In some instances, the rights to that water were assigned a century or more ago. ..."
Anglers have been familiar with the morass of water laws in the western states for some time, as they deal with streams that run dry during the best months for fishing because upstream impoundments refuse to release even a minimal flow. Politics and economics clash with human and environmental needs to the point where silly laws, like the ones that were superseded by Colorado's recent action, made technical criminals of many landowners.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Robert Bruce Addresses The Scots

On this date in 1314 the forces of Scotland defeated the English near Bannock Burn, a stream near Stirling. Among the legends that grew out of the decisive event in the wars for Scottish Independence was a motivational speech Robert the Bruce, Robert I of Scotland, gave to his soldiers. Centuries later Robert Burns would put his imagining of Bruce's speech into verse:
Scots, wha hae wi’ Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led;
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to victorie!

Now’s the day, and now’s the hour;
See the front o’ battle lour:
See approach proud Edward’s pow’r—
Chains and slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor-knave?
Wha can fill a coward’s grave?
Wha sae base as be a slave!
Let him turn and flee!

Wha for Scotland’s king and law
Freedom’s sword will strongly draw,
Freeman stand, or freeman fa’,
Let him follow me!

By oppression’s woes and pains!
By our sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty’s in every blow!—
Let us do or die!

-Robert Burns, September 1793
This is generally sung to a traditional Scottish tune which was used by Max Bruch in the last section of his Scottish Fantasy. Hector Berlioz also used it in his Rob Roy Overture.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kodak winds last rolls of Kodachrome | Crave - CNET

Kodak winds last rolls of Kodachrome | Crave - CNET:
"First we said good-bye to Polaroid, now it's Kodachrome. What's a film sentimentalist to do? After 74 years of making the color film used by many of photography's greats, Kodak announced Monday that it's ending Kodachrome's production.

Kodachrome makes up less than 1 percent of Kodak's total sales for still film, according to the company. Digital cameras are obviously the main culprit contributing to Kodachrome's demise, but photographers are also using newer kinds of color film that are easier to process. Only one photofinishing lab in the world still processes Kodachrome--Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kan. ..."
This is, of course, not unexpected since most other roll films for amateur photographers have been phased out. It seems a shame, nevertheless, to see Kodachrome disappear.

One of my favorite stories is that of William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) whose iconic photographs of the Yellowstone area in Wyoming were instrumental in its designation as Yellowstone National Park. For these photographs he lugged heavy equipment to make wet plates for exposure in large cameras. In the last several years of his life, he dabbled in a new film called Kodachrome.

On a personal note Kodachrome was the first 35mm color film I used, after having begun with 120 roll film in black and white. I still have many of those slides from the 1960s. My last camera system was a Nikon 8008 and when I made the switch to digital over between 2001 and 2005 I chose a Nikon D-70 SLR, since it would take all my older lenses. I still kept a Nikkormat and a Yashica 120 camera for those times when I wanted a little more nostalgia as I took photos. And besides, both would work with or without batteries.

Now I have two 35mm and 120 film cameras, an Omega B-22 enlarger and associated darkroom equipment -- all rapidly becoming relics of another era. Sounds like I'm getting to officially be an old codger.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


A 21-year-old man died Monday evening in a motorcycle accident. Ryan was the eldest of a family of three children who, with their parents, were active for several years in our local congregation. They moved to another congregation, but maintained ties with Trinity. Their daughter is in the same class as our son, but we have not seen the family much in the past couple years. It often takes a tragedy to bring people back together.

We watched this young man go through adolescence during the time they were active in our congregation and that makes it doubly hard to accept this tragedy. It just isn't supposed to happen this way. It was obvious at the visitation last night that they have the support of two communities of faith as well as a large number of the young man's friends from high school and college, and I hope this helps the family through this tragic death. They are going to be on a lot of people's prayer lists.

Over the past few months I joined Facebook, mainly at first to see what it was that was occupying my son's time. Within a week I had become "friends" with people whose paths had crossed with mine when I was a teacher at Sterling College. Even an old friend from the 1960s emerged. Facebook can be a useful tool in keeping up with people from the past and present. I am saddened that a few of my former students and friends have died in the past 30 years, but I am quite happy to hear from all the people who have sought me out, or who have answered my "friend requests".

Forty years ago a group of over 400 Juniors from J.E.B Stuart High School began the summer recess before their Senior year. Many of these I first became acquainted with at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School when I transferred in during my 6th grade year. We went mostly to Ellen Glasgow Intermediate School where I stayed until the US Army stationed my dad in Heidelberg, Germany. I spent the last couple months of 8th grade through about the same point in my 11th grade year. We then returned to Northern Virginia, and I resumed my friendships with the people I had known three years before. While Heidelberg American High School was an important factor in my life, I feel more of an affinity for my former community in Northern Virginia.

Anyway, the past few weeks have brought a flurry of emails involving a list of about 100 people who have been able to be located. Along with the re-emergence of familiar names, there has been a steadily growing list of those who have died from the Class of 1970. This list stands at about 20, and has been a bit of a shock to me, but remember that we are in our late 50s. Still, this number is about 20% of those accounted for (which is only about 25% of our graduation class).

Three reunions arising from different reasons -- and all three present an opportunity to experience and show God's love. Ryan's' death makes no human sense, but God was there to receive him and God is there to strengthen and comfort his family and friends. And we, in turn, can provide each other with comfort, support, and fellowship during this difficult time.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I'm Still Around...

Just a quick update -- My surgery incision had been slow to close in one pesky spot where the toe meets the main part of the foot, but it is now closed. The problem of my 2nd metatarsal pushing down on a persistent blister seems to have been solved to where that lesion has all but closed over with normal skin.

Other than that, I have been pretty busy at work and rather tired when I get home, so I have had trouble motivating myself to update my blog on a regular basis.

I'll try to be a little more attentive to blogging....

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

You can buy this house for nothing -- if you pay to move it - Kansas City Star

You can buy this house for nothing -- if you pay to move it - Kansas City Star:
"A house in Manhattan, Kan., is being given away for free — as long as the new homeowner moves it.

First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan owns the large home built in 1890 and now wants to use the area for green space. ..."
Hmmmm. As a former member of First Presbyterian in Manhattan KS (1983-1986), I remember the old house on the church property. It would be a shame to see it leveled, but I would imagine it costing more to move it than to raze it. Maybe the Session could strike a deal with a prospective owner and offer the cost of razing the house if the new owner pays the balance to move it....

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art

John Calvin, born nearly 500 years ago on July 10, 1509, wrote this hymn in 1545. It is sung to the melody Toulon, which appeared in the Genevan Psalter in 1551.
I greet Thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place;
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
Sustain us by Thy faith and by Thy power,
And give us strength in every trying hour.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness;
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee,
That we may dwell in perfect unity.

Our hope is in no other save in Thee;
Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure,
That in Thy strength we evermore endure.
(words from The Cyber Hymnal)
The Presbyterian Hymnal (1990) has this as hymn 457, and employs all verses unaltered.

Paul enjoined the Ephesians to "5:19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Among the uses to which hymns are put is instruction in faith and theology. I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art is not only a hymn of praise, but a hymn that provides us with instruction that is squarely rooted in the Reformation.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Explorer-Scouts Train in Post-9/11 Law Enforcement Methods -

Explorer-Scouts Train in Post-9/11 Law Enforcement Methods -
"...The responding officers — eight teenage boys and girls, the youngest 14 — face tripwire, a thin cloud of poisonous gas and loud shots — BAM! BAM! — fired from behind a flimsy wall. They move quickly, pellet guns drawn and masks affixed.

“United States Border Patrol! Put your hands up!” screams one in a voice cracking with adolescent determination as the suspect is subdued.

It is all quite a step up from the square knot. ..."
This was a little jarring to read, especially written as it was in a sensational style. A couple things need to be noted, though.

The Explorer division of the Boy Scouts of America are NOT Boy Scouts. They are Explorers. They are a coeducational group of young men and women from 14 through 20 who typically explore such career paths as medicine, law enforcement, firefighting, and other emergency services -- as well as government, communications, and other career paths. Even so, they do not enforce laws, practice medicine, fight fires, or perform any other activities that are not appropriate for teenagers. They do learn about such career paths and may perform duties that are appropriate for their age and training.

In the late 1960s I was a part of the Exploring program in a unit (referred to as a "Post") that specialized generally in emergency preparedness. In 1969 Hurricane Camille devastated parts of
Virginia and our post was asked to be a part of the cleanup and support team that was deployed to Nelson County. I spent a week there with a few of my fellow Explorers doing such things as cleaning buildings, moving debris from roads and fence lines, and performing other tasks as needed. We saw first-hand the devastation of the land and in people's lives. It was emotionally draining, but fostered in me a sense of service that has stayed with me, and that I have the privilege of passing on to my own son as well as other youth.

The Explorers of today are a part of the Learning For Life program, which is not a "traditional" Scouting program. Since much of the LFL program is conducted in the public schools in age-appropriate programs for K-12, some of the requirements of the Boys Scouts of America are not appropriate, including the requirement to perform one's religious duties.

The Learning for Life websites has a short response to the New York Times article.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Calvin's Institutes

I mentioned on my Facebook page that I was going to be bored during the enforced leisure of my convalescence from foot surgery earlier this week. Beau Weston (The Gruntled Center) advised me to read Calvin. I decided to give it a try, since the full text of the Institutes of the Christian Religion is on my laptop. And besides, "Calvin" is my middle name....

It wasn't long (like the second paragraph) before I read this:
"... For, since we are all naturally prone to hypocrisy, any empty semblance of righteousness is quite enough to satisfy us instead of righteousness itself. And since nothing appears within us or around us that is not tainted with very great impurity, so long as we keep our mind within the confines of human pollution, anything which is in some small degree less defiled delights us as if it were most pure just as an eye, to which nothing but black had been previously presented, deems an object of a whitish, or even of a brownish hue, to be perfectly white. ..."
Very thought provoking and a mirror that I would rather not look into. But, I'm afraid I'm going to have to.

Friday, May 08, 2009

BBC NEWS | Eco-sailors rescued by oil tanker

Eco-sailors rescued by oil tanker:
"An expedition team which set sail from Plymouth on a 5,000-mile carbon emission-free trip to Greenland have been rescued by an oil tanker. ..."
How ironic....

And they have been gracious in expressing their gratitude.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

This is a test of blogging from my cell phone.

Home phones go off the hook, cell-only use on the rise - Columbia Missourian

Home phones go off the hook, cell-only use on the rise - Columbia Missourian:
"WASHINGTON — In a high-tech shift accelerated by the recession, the number of U.S. households opting for only cell phones has for the first time surpassed those that just have traditional landlines.

Twenty percent of households had only cells during the last half of 2008, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Wednesday. That was an increase of nearly 3 percentage points over the first half of the year, the largest six-month increase since the government started gathering such data in 2003.

The 20 percent of homes with only cell phones compared to 17 percent with landlines but no cells. ..."
Hmmm. Why is the CDC collecting these data? Is modern technology a disease? Maybe I'd better withdraw the question....

We got our first cell phone in the Fall of 1992 while Susan was approaching full-term with our son. I was doing a fair amount of evening trips, so it seemed a good idea to have a means of communication. At least that was my excuse. A few years later parental health problems prompted us to add a line, and before long it became obvious that what started as a convenient luxury had now become such an ingrained part of our lives that we couldn't imagine live without cell phones.

Every so often we wonder what it would be like if we just ditched the wired line and went solely with the cell service. And we have thus far resisted that impulse. If a massive emergency situation arises, I have more confidence in the land lines than I do in the cellular network.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Judge Rules Against Teacher in Creationism Case | NBC Bay Area

Judge Rules Against Teacher in Creationism Case | NBC Bay Area:
"A federal judge has ruled that a history teacher at a Southern California public high school violated the First Amendment when he called creationism 'superstitious nonsense' during a classroom lecture. ..."
Without going into the merits of the creationism issue, this ruling is significant because it recognizes that there are actually two religion clauses incorporated into the First Amendment to the US Constitution:
"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."
(emphasis added)

The establishment clause (which most people associate with the separation of Church and State) is followed immediately by the free exercise clause, which was the issue in this ruling.

It has never made sense to me that ridiculing religion could be a form of protected speech if promoting it were not protected. Perhaps this is a trend toward even-handed treatment of religion in the public sector.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Surgery Today

I report to Same Day Surgery late this morning for a 1:03pm session with my podiatrist. It should go well, and I will have some enforced leisure the remainder of the week and maybe into next week.

I think I will let them put me into la-la-land for this one. The nerve block will prevent any pain during the procedure, but I think I will pass on the sound effects this time around.

I may actually get a chance to do a little blogging this coming week.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Great Typo!

I was perusing our church worship bulletin Sunday, and I noted that the music for the early service included some variations on "The Strife is On" and made reference to hymn 119 in the Presbyterian Hymnal.

I suppressed my urge to snicker and tried mightily to restore a worshipful attitude for the remainder of the service.

Was someone thinking of the various controversies in the PC(USA)?

In any event, it is one of the great hymns of the Church, and I think the words are appropriate for the season:
The strife is o’er, the battle done;
The victory of life is won;
The song of triumph has begun: Alleluia!

The powers of death have done their worst;
But Christ their legions hath dispersed;
Let shouts of holy joy outburst: Alleluia!

The three sad days are quickly sped;
He rises glorious from the dead;
All glory to our risen Head! Alleluia!

He closed the yawning gates of hell;
The bars from heaven’s high portals fell;
Let hymns of praise His triumphs tell! Alleluia!

Lord, by the stripes which wounded Thee,
From death’s dread sting Thy servants free,
That we may live, and sing to Thee: Alleluia!
The Presbyterian Hymnal uses stanzas 1, 2, 3, and 5 of those shown above, with minor changes in the 5th stanza. The music is by Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina and the words are from a Latin text of the late 17th Century.

Monday, April 27, 2009

GAC outlines new budget cuts; 14 additional jobs eliminated

GAC outlines new budget cuts; 14 additional jobs eliminated:
"LOUISVILLE – The latest round of budget cuts for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) means that 14 more employees from the denomination’s national staff have lost their jobs. ...

...The changes are partly the result of poor economic conditions — basic mission support from congregations and presbyteries is down $1.7 million from what had been expected for 2009; designated giving from congregations and presbyteries dropped by $700,000 from projections and church-wide special offerings by $1.41 million. ..."
Considering that the General Assembly Council is the Mission arm of the denomination, news such as this is chilling. It seems to be a common response around the denomination. Even the congregation in which I worship -- which has made a point over the years of emphasizing mission -- has felt the need to freeze mission-related expenses until confidence in our financial picture rises.

One of the things cited in this article is the philosophy that since mission is carried out at the local level, the local level is best equipped to administer it. I agree in most instances with that. There are some cases, though, in which the GAC can do a much better job, such as coordinating world mission. Our missionary support as a denomination has dropped over the past several years, yet that is something that few congregations and presbyteries are financially capable of doing effectively. In addition, I feel that missionaries represent the whole denomination, and not just a local congregation or presbytery. The visits by missionaries on furlough as they speak to congregations all over America are important to giving local Presbyterians a sense of "ownership" of world-wide mission.

Granted, far more is being cut at Louisville than world-wide mission, but when the economic crisis improves to a point where spending can be restored, I hope that the mission field is an early beneficiary.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fighting a cold and other things....

Well, I was summoned by my physician a couple days ago to the clinic for a chest x-ray and an appointment a couple hours later. This x-ray was at 4:30pm, my appointment was at 6:30pm on Tuesday. I got there at 4:30, picked up the order and walked down the hall. While I was awaiting the X-ray guy I read the form. In the box marked "reason" there were two words: "Cough" and "SOB". I have been called SOB a time or two in my 56 years, but never by my doctor. After brief reflection I realized that it meant "shortness of breath".

The good news is that it is not pneumonia. I am on a 5 day course of azithromycin and a different kind of cough suppressant.

How did I get into this situation? Well, I was was over at the hospital that morning for a pre-op physical for surgery to reduce and straighten out a hammer-toe that is pressing down on the ball of my left foot and continuing to aggravate a blister that has never healed properly in a year and a half. The hope (no guarantee) is that this will relieve the pressure from on top and allow my foot to heal. The anaesthesiologist noted my cough and mentioned that if I were still coughing like that on May 5, they would reschedule.

Not only would most any other available day in the next two months be a problem, I really want to get fixed sooner rather than later. So I called my doctor's office and requested an appointment ASAP. The front desk said there were no openings for a week and a half, and I mentioned why time was of the essence. The front desk person sounded doubtful, but said she would talk to the nurse. About 3 hours later I got the call directly from the doctor.

Well that's probably too much information for some, and as soon as I hit "Publish" I'd better call my mother who is one of my two or three loyal readers.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sinfully proud

Sinfully proud:
"At the risk of sounding unstylish and out of step, I’m sinfully proud to be a Presbyterian.

Yes, Marj Carpenter goes around spouting that refrain, and folks in her presbytery wear shirts that quote her, but so many of us treat that just as “Marj’s thing” and go about our business of running the denomination’s name into the ground.

I need not recount the many reasons why so many of us feel so disappointed with one aspect or another of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The reasons are legion. Many of those things bug me, too. But I’m still sinfully proud to be a Presbyterian. ..."
Interesting article. Jack Haberer points out the perception that people have when they hear members of the PC(USA) trash-mouth their own denomination (and admits to doing it himself from time to time). As a leader, though, he sees himself as someone who promotes what is right about the denomination.

This does not require that one gloss over the very real problems we have at all levels, but that we give credit where credit is due -- and much of that credit goes to the people in the pews who do what the Lord requires quietly and effectively.

And I suppose he can use Marj Carpenter's signature line -- as long as he is as strong an advocate for mission as she is.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Religion News Service: In Pilate’s wife, some see an unlikely saint

In Pilate’s wife, some see an unlikely saint:
"(UNDATED) For all of Pontius Pilate’s faults, one was distinctly damning: he didn’t listen to his wife.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, the Roman governor of Judea received a note from his spouse during the trial of Jesus. “Have nothing to do with that just man,” she writes, “for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of him.”

Pilate, of course, failed to heed his wife’s warnings, and sentenced Jesus to die. Though he famously tried to wash his hands of the act, the result was centuries of infamy, and perhaps a few nights sleeping on the couch. ..."
Daniel Burke has written an interesting piece on Pilate's wife who is unnamed in Scripture, but played a role in the events of Jesus' life. As Scripture is silent on what motivated her to speak to her husband as she did, most of the tradition surrounding her is speculation. It is, nonetheless, interesting to contemplate the possibilities.

Note -- the date of this article on the Religion News Service web site was April 2, 2009, and it was reprinted by Presbyterian News Service on April 6, 2009. The RNS posting was, as far as I can determine, the original source for the article.

Moses is Departing Egypt: A Facebook Haggadah

Moses is Departing Egypt: A Facebook Haggadah:
"The Passover Seder, the oldest continuously observed religious ceremony in the world, tells the story of the Jews' Exodus from Egypt. Jewish tradition says that people of each generation must imagine that they personally had departed from Egypt, and the sages say that each generation must tell the story in its own terms.

The sages probably did not intend this. ..."

A friend of mine who is also on Facebook pointed me to this link.

How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You

How to Tell if Your Cat is Plotting to Kill You

These are hilarious! Follow the link above for a checklist that will leave you wondering. Follow the linked image to go directly to the questionnaire.

Is your cat plotting to kill you?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Fox Forum: God Is Back

Fox Forum: God Is Back:
"Do you regard the Easter weekend as a religious festival rather than just an opportunity to pick up bargains at the mall and stuff yourself with chocolate? Do you attend church on a Sunday rather than just lounging in bed? Do you sometimes pray or read the Bible? And do you believe in God or life after death?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes”, then, according to some of the greatest minds that Europe has produced, you really ought not to exist. From the 18th century onwards a succession of European sages predicted that modernization would produce the end of religion. ..."
Here is an interesting blog article by John Mickelthwait and Adrian Wooldridge tracing the history of the "God is Dead" movement over the past few centuries and how its basic assumptions have thus far proved wrong.

What accounts for the staying power of religion in general and Christianity in particular? One factor alluded to in this article is the separation of Church and State that characterizes religion in the US. Many European countries pay a salary to ministers. What then is the incentive to increase numbers of worshipers? As much as I dislike the use of a marketplace metaphor for the Church, I have to recognize that whether there is a choice or not, people will not stay long where their needs are not being met.

Another factor is the innovations in communication we have seen over the past 30 years. The use of email and the World Wide Web have revolutionized how we get our information, and even some of our fellowship. And now Web 2.0 is being employed to even more effect in many areas. This phenomenon is not just limited to the mega churches; any congregation can employ the Web, blogs, social networking and so forth to serve its members.

Religion in the United States of America may have been an anomaly in the larger world, operating as it has separately from the government, but it seems to the authors of this Fox Forum article that the American model is spreading throughout the world, thus belying the predictions of many of the world's greatest intellectuals of the past.

Mickelthwait and Wooldridge conclude that "God has not only survived the acids of modernity. He has learned how to use the tools of modernity to spread His message."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Nefertiti's 3,300-year-old royal makeover - Science-

Nefertiti's 3,300-year-old royal makeover - Science-
"BERLIN - Researchers in Germany have used a modern medical procedure to uncover a secret within one of ancient Egypt's most treasured artworks — the bust of Nefertiti has two faces.

A team led by Dr. Alexander Huppertz, director of the Imaging Science Institute at Berlin's Charite hospital and medical school, discovered a detailed stone carving that differs from the external stucco face when they performed a computed tomography, or CT, scan on the bust. ..."

In Fall of 1968 I traveled to West Berlin with my Explorer unit (BSA) and among the places we visited was a museum in which I came face to face with the bust of Nefertiti. This was somewhat exciting to me as it was pictured in my world history textbook from Heidelberg American High School, thus providing me a real world link with ancient history. Did I see the real Nefertiti or a copy? I can't remember the building in which I saw it, but its current location is the Altes Museum.

The bust is a thin layer of stucco over a stone core, and what is intriguing archaeologists is that the stone core is a detailed bust of Nefertiti as well -- with some differences. Computer Tomography (CT scan) was used to show the detailed sculpture below. Previously, the stone core was thought to be merely a support for the stucco.

The image shown here is part of the Wikimedia Commons and contains the following permission: Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bell's Appeal -- Ministry to Young Adults

The Christian Century:
"When Rob Bell walks on stage at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, the 38-year-old sports chic black glasses and black jeans with a wide, white 1970s belt. His geeky, affable presence and energized speaking style warm up the room quickly and signal a seasoned performer. After you hear Bell speak, it's not surprising to learn that his childhood hero was David Letterman or that when he was a student at Wheaton College in the 1980s, he was lead singer in a band called '__Ton Bundle' (the blank space allowed band members to change the band's name by adding various adjectives). ..."
A small intergenerational group at my congregation is watching a series of short videos produced by Rob Bell. These 10-15 minute segments provide much in the way of discussion starters. The series is published under the NOOMA name, a phonetic spelling of the Greek work pneuma (πνεύμα), which means spirit or breath.

This article goes on to describe Bell's background and theology as it relates to his ministry in Grand Rapids Michigan as well as his ministry on the road.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

To execute or not: A question of cost? - Columbia Missourian

To execute or not: A question of cost? - Columbia Missourian:
"After decades of moral arguments reaching biblical proportions, after long, twisted journeys to the nation's highest court and back, the death penalty may be abandoned by several states for a reason having nothing to do with right or wrong: Money.

Turns out, it is cheaper to imprison killers for life than to execute them, according to a series of recent surveys. Tens of millions of dollars cheaper, politicians are learning, during a tumbling recession when nearly every state faces job cuts and massive deficits. ..."
When you do the right thing for the wrong reasons, it still boils down to doing the right thing. What concerns me is what happens when the economy improves? Revenge or retribution, if you will, is not only a powerful driving force for many people, it seems to play all too well in the voting booth.

Nearly 2000 years ago a weak-willed political appointee bowed to the will of the masses and had a man crucified whom he knew was innocent of the charges laid against him. ...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Man accused of bilking union for prison workers

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune:
"EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) -- An official with a union representing federal prison guards is accused of defrauding the group."
Hmmm. If this suspect is found guilty and sentenced to prison, he will do his time in the federal prison system guarded by his alleged victims. I wonder if he appreciates the irony of his situation....

Monday, March 16, 2009

French physicist d'Espagnat wins prestigious Templeton Prize | Science | Reuters

French physicist d'Espagnat wins prestigious Templeton Prize | Science | Reuters:
"PARIS (Reuters) - French physicist and philosopher Bernard d'Espagnat has won the 2009 Templeton Prize, billed as the world's largest annual award to an individual, for his work affirming the spiritual dimension of life. ..."
d'Espagnat, A quantum physicist, holds that ultimate reality cannot be described using traditional Newtonian physics. He is quoted as saying "Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated, on the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

USB prosthetic finger gives new meaning to thumbdrives | Crave - CNET

USB prosthetic finger gives new meaning to thumbdrives | Crave - CNET:
"This is a story about Jerry Jalava, a Finnish software developer who lost part of his finger in a motorcycle accident last July. According to his friend, Henri Bergius, when the surgeon assigned to work on Jalava's prosthetic finger discovered his hacking history, he made a clever suggestion: incorporate a USB key into the new digit. ..."
This is just a little creepy. And I am a professional geek.

I can just see it:
Hey -- can I get a copy of your PowerPoint?

Sure, you got a thumbdrive?

Yep, right here....

[various and sundry expletives deleted here]

Uh -- where can I get one of those?

A Little Spelling Test

I saw this on the Kruse Kronicle and thought I would give it a try:

The 25 Most Commonly Misspelled Words

My score was 21/25 (leaving off the preferred British spellings at the end of the quiz). I am considered a good speller, even to the point of obnoxiousness, but this quiz was definitely a challenge. At least I beat Mike....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune:
"ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Megachurches with large audiences that frequently attract unstable people have long had a heightenend sense of security, experts say, but smaller churches like the one in Maryville, Ill., where a pastor was shot to death often have no security plan.

First Baptist Church, where the Rev. Fred Winters was shot and killed Sunday, initiated a security and emergency plan six months ago but would not say what it entailed. Three people, including the gunman, were stabbed before he was subdued. ..."
This is a pretty sobering thought, but one that might be good to consider. How do you reconcile the safety of the congregation with welcoming all who come to worship?

Some congregations have resorted to discreetly-armed persons with at least one instance in Colorado Springs where a greater tragedy might have been averted because an armed parishioner was able to confront a gunman.

Yet most people, me included, have a gut feeling that having armed guards in a worship service is not an atmosphere in which we want to worship.

Still, it is prudent to have some sort of a prayerfully-considered contingency plan for dealing with emergencies of any type.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Researchers find safer way to make stem cells | Science | Reuters

Researchers find safer way to make stem cells | Science | Reuters:
"LONDON (Reuters) - Researchers said on Sunday they had found a safer way to transform ordinary skin cells into powerful stem cells in a move that could eventually remove the need to use human embryos.

It is the first time that scientists have turned skin cells into induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells -- which look and act like embryonic stem cells -- without having to use viruses in the process. ..."
This is a significant advance over previous news of adult stem cell research. Embryo farming just does not seem to be a good solution on more than one level. If pluripotent stem cells can be induced from an adult with health issues, then you not only avoid some of the ethical issues, but you might also avoid the issues with tissue matching that plague transplantation.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Why American churchgoers like to shop around. - By Andrew Santella - Slate Magazine

Why American churchgoers like to shop around. - By Andrew Santella - Slate Magazine:
"Since before Election Day, Washington pastors have been lining up to invite the first family into their flock, and outlets from PBS to the Wall Street Journal have taken their turn handicapping the many contending congregations. Despite all of this cajoling, the White House announced that the Obama family is still shopping for a church in Washington.

Except for the special invitations and the presidential-scale press coverage, the Obamas' church search puts them in a situation a lot of American believers are well-acquainted with. One in seven adults changes churches each year, and another one in six attends a handful of churches on a rotating basis, according to the Barna Group, a marketing research firm that serves churches. Church shopping isn't a matter of merely changing congregations: A survey by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life last year indicated that 44 percent of American adults have left their first religious affiliation for another. 'Constant movement characterizes the American religious marketplace,' a survey summary said. ..."
Very interesting...

I tend to get a little nervous when I hear the language of marketing used to describe the preaching of the Gospel, but on the other hand why should people attend church where their needs aren't being met?

Andrew Santella points out that when the church was disestablished, it fell to the preachers to recruit and retain parishioners (and to get them to give generously). This may be part of the equation, but my feeling is that a healthy congregation equips all its members to perform such functions, not just the minister or elders or deacons. In fact, a congregation that is held together by the personality and preaching of one pastor is in danger of collapsing when the pastor moves on.

Much of what defines a church happens at times other than the worship hour. Sunday school, fellowship groups, Bible studies, prayer groups, potluck dinners, retreats, visiting the sick, and so on are not, nor should they be, the sole job of the minister.

A large congregation does not necessarily mean a healthy congregation, nor does a small congregation necessarily mean one that is slowly dying. The pitfall in thinking of the Church as a consumer product is that we easily forget why we are called together in the first place -- to worship, fellowship, and serve others. Or in the words of the PC(USA) Book of Order (G-1.0200): "The great ends of the church are the proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world".

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Presbyterian Outlook: Younger elders

Younger elders:
"... Why not ask every presbytery to elect one commissioner under the age of 27? Such a commissioner would have been nominated and elected by his/her own congregation and entrusted with leadership in that particular church. He would have been examined by the Session and been ordained into office. She would have voted on church school curriculum, on receiving members, and sorting through the costs of building maintenance. After serving at the GA, this young adult commissioner would give an account to that same local body of leaders. ..."
The Book of Order (G-14.0221) provides that: "... Every congregation shall elect men and women from among its active members, giving fair representation to persons of all ages and of all racial ethnic backgrounds and to persons with disabilities who are members of that congregation, to the office of elder and to the office of deacon (if used in the congregation). ..."

Many congregations, including the one where I worship, elect a high school student for a one year term on Session. This allows them an opportunity to be a part of church leadership without burdening them with a three-year commitment. The idea of ordaining youth and young adults has been around for some time. I was ordained an elder at the age of 21 in the United Presbyterian Church in the USA, and there was at least one congregation that had ordained a high school student in my presbytery. My son, who is a sophomore in high school, began a one year term on Session in early January, so he too is getting a taste of Church leadership.

One of my minor peeves is the way people tend to label them as "youth elders". There is no such office in the PC(USA). These young adults when elected, ordained, and installed to active service on a Session are elders on the same level as any who serve in a like capacity. And, like any other elder, they are elders for life.

There is not complete agreement as to whether this is a good idea or not. One substantive difficulty some have is whether a young person is ready to take on the role of spiritual leader. I have to admit that when I was ordained an elder at age 21, I was not ready to be a spiritual leader. But I had to come to grips with the concept and thus I began a process of self-examination, prayer, study, and service. Now I am of an age where I am an "elder" in the chronological sense, I have presbyopia. and my hair and beard are grey -- I am truly a presbyter. And I still know that even though I am better equipped spiritually than I was 35 years ago, I still am striving to be worthy of the calling of elder. My son is now finding his own way, and I wish him the best.

Jack Haberer's suggestion for each presbytery to send an elder under 27 to General Assembly seems to me to be a solution looking for a problem. There is currently no bar to younger elders serving as GA commissioners, and while I have no idea how many such there are, I suspect there are some commissioners each year who would also qualify as a Youth Advisory Delegate.

I can understand the issues with YADs, but they do have voice and vote in the committees, and often hold the balance of power when the issues are closely divided. Many observers have felt that as a group they are vulnerable to manipulation by special interest groups. There is no question that they are a heavily-lobbied group at General Assembly. But I am not convinced that eliminating the YADs and requiring that each presbytery send one commissioner from that age group is a viable solution. I assume that this would entail significantly increasing the number of commissioners -- otherwise smaller presbyteries would be locked into sending one minister and one youth to represent the presbytery.

One factor that complicates things was our move to biennial General Assemblies. While it was, in general, a good idea, it made it even less likely that any given Presbyterian elder would have the opportunity to serve as a GA commissioner. Short of doubling the number of commissioners, it is hard to see that situation improving. Increasing the number of commissioners could also have the effect of erasing the savings resulting from the move to biennial assemblies.

I see no reason why a younger elder should not serve as a commissioner to General Assembly, but making it a mandate would create problems of its own.

For a thought-provoking essay on how the PC(USA) might go about rebuilding itself, including dealing with the issue of youth representation, check out Beau Weston's Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment, which is made available through the Office of Theology and Worship of the PC(USA). Beau and I see things in a similar way, though I differ with him in some details of youth involvement.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

You've Got Jail | Christianity Today

You've Got Jail | Christianity Today:
"Longtime missionaries David and Fiona Fulton were sentenced by a Gambian court to a year of hard labor last December after pleading guilty — in hopes of a lenient sentence — to sedition charges stemming from a wry comment e-mailed to a prayer list. ..."
When you read further in this article, you find that Mr Fulton did say something questionable, but in its full context it is obvious that he was not advocating violence -- quite the contrary. But this does raise an important issue when it comes to emails and newsletters from the mission field. First of all, circumspection is called for, especially when dealing with the frustrations of seeing mindless sectarian violence all around you. And secondly, one of the recipients for reasons that are not particularly obvious decided to forward to message to Gambian authorities. I try to assume positive motives, but is it difficult in this case.

Messages from missionaries, especially in sensitive parts of the world, need to be kept confidential and not posted on websites, forwarded outside the original distribution list, and certainly not sent to a government not known for due process or humane prison conditions.

Prayers are needed for the Fultons and for those who have imprisoned them

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Universal cellphone charger will ring the changes, say makers -

Universal cellphone charger will ring the changes, say makers -
"BARCELONA, Spain (CNN) -- Cell phone makers Tuesday pledged to end one of modern life's chief frustrations --- and introduce a universal charger for handsets by 2012."
This is something that has been a pet peeve of mine, and I'm glad to see the industry take steps to mitigate it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

A Valentine

John Anderson, My Jo
Robert Burns, 1789

John Anderson, my jo, John,
When we were first acquaint,
Your locks were like the raven,
Your bonnie brow was brent;
But now your brow is beld, John,
Your locks are like the snaw;
But blessings on your frosty pow,
John Anderson, my jo.

John Anderson, my jo, John,
We clamb the hill thegither,
And mony a canty day, John,
We've had wi' ane anither;
Now we maun totter down, John,
But hand in hand we'll go.
And we'll sleep thegither at the foot,
John Anderson, my jo.
I enjoy reading Robert Burns from time to time, and this is one of the poems that has a whole new meaning as I get older. Did I mention that in four days my wife will have one of those "milestone" birthdays? She and I "clamb the hill thegither" for close to 28 years already, but we're not quite ready to "totter down". And we still enjoy "mony a canty day".

There are at least two versions of John Anderson, My Jo, a longer version (not written by Burns) from about 1744 and this shorter (and more suitable for a family blog) version from 1789. The 1789 version was written by Robert Burns. You can see both versions by following the link in the previous sentence.

Anyway, happy Valentine's Day, Susan!

And Happy Valentine's Day to all of you who love and are loved.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune

AP News | The Columbia Daily Tribune:
"WILKES-BARRE, Pa. (AP) -- For years, the juvenile court system in Wilkes-Barre operated like a conveyor belt: Youngsters were brought before judges without a lawyer, given hearings that lasted only a minute or two, and then sent off to juvenile prison for months for minor offenses.

The explanation, prosecutors say, was corruption on the bench.

In one of the most shocking cases of courtroom graft on record, two Pennsylvania judges have been charged with taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send teenagers to two privately run youth detention centers. ..."
This was not a case of judges meting out harsh justice. It was nothing more than greed and kickbacks from two privately-run juvenile detention facilities, which received fees based on the numbers of incarcerated juveniles. One victim of this corruption was sentenced to three months for lampooning an assistant principal on her MySpace account.

According to this article, the two former judges made a plea bargain that calls for more than seven years behind bars. That seems a little lenient considering the nature of the crime.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Scout Sunday 2009

Yesterday was Scout Sunday, generally observed on the Sunday closest to February 8th, which is the anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts of America. This year Scout Sunday fell on the day of the actual 99th anniversary of the BSA.

Three of our troop members, who are also members of the congregation, acted as the worship leaders. They did a great job, reading clearly and with feeling. Having the boys help out with the service is a long-standing tradition in our congregation and troop, and is even more meaningful when the boys are also active participants in the work and worship of our congregation. Just a bit of historical perspective -- when Troop 4 was chartered in 1963, the core leadership and boys came from the congregation itself, since this was a young congregation with many youth. Over the years as the congregation aged, the proportion of congregation members in the troop fell and occasionally stood at zero boys and only a few adults. This trend seems to be reversing with an influx of young families, and we hope that there will always be Trinity youth involved with the troop.

This 99th anniversary of Scouting in the USA was also special for the Reformed Angler family. Sunday morning my son was recognized for his completion of the requirements for the God and Life award (part of the God and Country series). This represented several months of delving deeply into Scripture, discussions with the pastor, and putting what he learned into action. Susan and I were definitely proud parents. The image to the left is Liam and his pastor.

The evening before was the annual District Dinner, honoring volunteers for their service. It culminates in the awarding of the District Awards of Merit (based on the size of the district). This year I was recognized for my service to Scouting and the district. I had no inkling that this was coming, but is is sure nice to be recognized.

Next year will be the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scout of America and there will be many different ways in which the BSA celebrates its heritage and service to the youth of America. It will also represent the 50th anniversary since the day in 1960 when I put on my first Cub Scout uniform and started my own involvement with the Boy Scouts of America.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Associated Press: Fuller, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity, dies

The Associated Press: Fuller, co-founder of Habitat for Humanity, dies:
"ATLANTA (AP) — Millard Fuller, the millionaire entrepreneur who gave it all away to help found the Christian house-building charity Habitat for Humanity, died Tuesday. He was 74. ..."
The loss of Millard Fuller will be keenly felt, not just by the Habitat for Humanity organization but by the countless people he touched in various ways -- families who experienced home ownership for the first time as well as volunteers who learned not only how to hammer nails but what it means to serve.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Austin road sign warns motorists of zombies | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News

Austin road sign warns motorists of zombies | News for Dallas, Texas | Dallas Morning News:
"An Austin road sign meant to warn motorists about road conditions instead read: 'The end is near! Caution! Zombies ahead!'"
Some people have too much time on their hands.

Of course, this is a caution to (1) secure the input; and (2) change the default password, which is apparently well-known.

Friday, January 30, 2009

You There -- Out of the Jury Pool!

This week was my term of service on the circuit jury for my county. The last time I was liable for service I ended up serving on a jury -- two days of a trial for sexual abuse of a minor.

This time when I called in on Monday, jurors 1-152 were told to appear the next morning for jury duty. This seemed like an pretty high number just to get 12 jurors qualified. I went in, and it was pretty much "hurry up and wait". Well after the time that things should have been underway there seemed to be a flurry of activity in one of the side rooms, and after a while the presiding judge came out and addressed the jury pool with "good news and bad news".

The good news was that we would be going home for the day since the prosecutor had dropped the charges and would be refiling them probably within the day. In any case, this would no longer involve us. The judge then left without delivering the bad news.

The bailiff was able to get everyone's attention as they were putting on their coats and chattering away, and it fell to him to inform us that we still needed to call in every evening for the remainder of the week. That turned out to be good news in disguise, since no other jury trials were scheduled for this week.

So what was this all about? I read the local afternoon paper later Tuesday and learned that this was to have been a first degree murder trial resulting from a shooting that occurred in the past couple years. The judge in this case had ruled that the defense could raise issues related to a Missouri law that allows deadly force when there is a danger to one's own life or the lives of others. (This is a fairly recent law that makes it a little easier for such people as battered spouses or other abuse victims to take action when they feel immediately threatened. My personal take on self defense or defense of others is that my threshold for acting is set significantly higher than what the law apparently permits. )

So I breathed a sigh of relief. It is doubtful I would have been selected for this particular jury for a few reasons. First, the defense would probably not have wanted me since I spent three years as a reserve police officer in Colorado. The prosecution would have probably dismissed me since I am one of those knuckle-dragging neanderthals who believe the Second Amendment to the US Constitution can be understood in plain English to guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms. I don't know whether this was to have been a death penalty case, but I am opposed on moral grounds to the death penalty, so that too would have disqualified me.

Having said all this, had the trial proceeded, and I were picked a a juror, I would have listened to both the prosecution and defence as they laid our their respective cases and I would have followed the instructions of the judge in my delberations and done my utmost to render a fair verdict. I'm just glad I didn't have to serve this time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

RNS Feature: "200 years later, Lincoln’s faith remains an enigma"

RNS Feature: "200 years later, Lincoln’s faith remains an enigma":
"WASHINGTON—Seven score and four years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and said North and South alike must suffer for the sin of slavery.

“If God wills that (the war) continue until ... every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, so it still must be said `the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,”’ Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, quoting the Psalms.

Called “Lincoln’s Sermon on the Mount,” his 1865 address has been deemed the most religiously sophisticated presidential speech in American history. It was delivered by a backwoods lawyer with just one year of formal schooling who never joined a church. ..."
This is not really new to people who have read history, although it is a fact that when Lincoln attended services, it was often in a Presbyterian congregation.

As far as Abraham Lincoln's theology was concerned, there is little to quibble as far as it went. His understanding about God's will and how it is distinct from human will remains a model for us today. The excerpt I quoted above does not do Lincoln justice, so I recommend you read his full Second Inaugural Address. It isn't long, and his exposition on Divine Will is in the third of the four paragraphs.

When Licoln delivered this speech on March 4, 1865, he had only about a month left to live, and the Civil War was winding down. The final thoughts in his address outlined his intention to see the nation's wounds bound up and start the healing process. His assassination left a void that was filled with people who were not as concerned with healing as much as with retribution. This is one of the great "what ifs" of history.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Robert Burns

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born 260 years ago today. The Bard, as he is known in Scotland, wrote much poetry in the Scots language or in the Scots dialect of English, as well as some essays in standard English. He is perhaps best known for such poems as Scots Wha Hae and Auld Lang Syne.

His birthday is celebrated in many places where Scots and descendants of Scots live and its accompanying ritual sounds intriguing. The Burns Night menu consists of many traditional dishes of Scotland, the centerpiece of which is haggis.

After opening remarks, the Selkirk Grace is said:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanket
.Following this, the haggis is brought in and the poem To A Haggis is recited:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
’Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit hums.

Is there that o’er his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,
Gie her a Haggis!
The beverage of choice seems to be whiskey, no doubt a single-malt scotch. There are toasts to the women by the men, to the men by the women, to the sovereign, to Robert Burns' memory and as many others as needed to deplete the store of beverage.

I've eaten haggis before at the Highland Games in Denver, Colorado. It is actually quite tasty. Now if I could only find a source for sheep stomachs and a few other pieces-parts...

The text of the poems quoted here are taken from The Complete Works of Robert Burns, courtesy of The Gutenberg Project.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Does This Seem A Little Odd?

Apparently a bill was introduced in Congress to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which limits the number of terms a president can serve:

House Joint Resolution 5 was introduced on January 6, 2009.

This speaks for itself; I have no further comments.

OK. I lied. Here is a comment: An anonymous commenter pointed out that Jose Serrano (D-NY) started proposing the repeal of the 22nd Amendment 12 years ago during the Clinton Administration, and continued it through the Bush Administration, and now has started off the Obama Administration with his biennial attempt to do away with term limitations on the presidency. I checked this out on a variety of independent sites and it all checks out.

Personally, I can't think of many presidents during my lifetime who were so indispensable to the Republic that they deserved a second term, let alone more than two terms. Fortunately the bar to amend the Constitution is quite high -- 2/3 majority in both houses and ratification by 3/4 of the states. (US Constitution, Article V)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Update on The Cyber Hymnal

The Cyber Hymnal, which has been having problems with the hijacking of its old domain name, is back up in a new location. If this is a resource that you have grown to love and depend on, then go ahead and change your bookmarks and links.

I'm guessing that the domain name registration expired and before the good folks at The Cyber Hymnal could get the name re-registered, someone snapped it up and it now seems to be an advertising vehicle.