Saturday, June 30, 2007
Friday, June 29, 2007
Thursday, June 28, 2007
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
How many executions did the U.S.A. perform in 2006 (to the nearest 100)?
Got your answers in mind?
Would it surprise you to know that China performed 7,500-8,000 executions, Iran 170, but the U.S.A. only 50? From all the attention that the death penalty gets in this country, from the protestations of Amnesty International and the condemnations of "civilized" countries like the U.K. (which doesn't practice capital punishment), you'd think there was a judicial bloodbath going on here. (These statistics come from Amnesty International, by the way - via The Economist's issue of 4/28/07.) In a country of 300,000,000, with about 16,000 murders per year - around 600 of them in NY City, alone - wouldn't you expect the rate of capital punishment to be higher?
And for another point of interesting perspective: worldwide, there are approximately 46 million abortions per year, representing 1 in 4 pregnancies (3 of 4 in Romania and Shanghai, 2 of 3 in Russia). In the U.S., the number is around 1.3 million (3 of 4 pregnancies in New York City).
There is in fact a bloodbath going on, but it's not through capital punishment.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
It's great to be here. I've been speaking to a lot of churches recently, so it's nice to be speaking to one that's so familiar. Clearly, the past 50 years have not weakened your resolve as faithful witnesses of the gospel. And I'm glad to see that.
It's been several months now since I announced I was running for president. In that time, I've had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country. And I've found that no matter where I am, or who I'm talking to, there's a common theme that emerges. It's that folks are hungry for change - they're hungry for something new.
But I also get the sense that there's a hunger that's deeper than that - a hunger that goes beyond any single cause or issue. It seems to me that each day, thousands of Americans are going about their lives - dropping the kids off at school, driving to work, shopping at the mall, trying to stay on their diets, trying to kick a cigarette habit - and they're coming to the realization that something is missing. They're deciding that their work, their possessions, their diversions, their sheer busyness, is not enough.
They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives. They're looking to relieve a chronic loneliness. And so they need an assurance that somebody out there cares about them, is listening to them - that they are not just destined to travel down that long road toward nothingness.
And this restlessness - this search for meaning - is familiar to me. I was not raised in a particularly religious household. It wasn't until after college that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. I wanted to be part of something larger. I learned that everyone's got a sacred story when you take the time to listen. [The people at church] saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held and that propelled me in my work were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached - that I was an observer in their midst.
And slowly, I came to realize that something was missing as well - that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.
So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity Church. And I heard Reverend Wright deliver a sermon. And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.
But my journey is part of a larger journey - one shared by all who've ever sought to apply the values of their faith to our society. It's a journey that takes us back to our nation's founding. So doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning. And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life.
Question 1: Democrat, Republican, or Independent?
Question 2: Who is it?
You can find the answer here, and read the entire speech without edits, if you like.
And none of this should be taken as my endorsement of the candidate. In fact, I'm almost certain I wouldn't vote for this person. But it's nice to hear this kind of talk in the public square.
Monday, June 25, 2007
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Saturday, June 23, 2007
Since beginning this blog in February, 590 different people have visited this site - some of them by accident, I'm sure. They've come from 43 countries. And 2/3 of the visits to my blog have been made by people coming back for more.
It all works out to about 15 visitors per day. Not quite enough to rival the New York Times, but they probably started small, too.
I hope I've been able to bring you some valuable items of interest, irritation, and humor. I appreciate the comments you've made along the way.
And now, as a reward for your loyalty, I'm happy to announce that the next 100 entries will be offered free of charge! Enjoy.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Published 25 July 1994 - The New Yorker
It had been a rough day, so when I walked into the party I was very chalant, despite my efforts to appear gruntled and consolate.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
- Be a hypocrite.
- Harp on hell.
- Harp on sins.
- Focus on denominational distinctives.
- Use terminology that no one ever uses in normal conversation.
- Pretend to be interested in the other person, but do so only as long as he's interested in talking about Christian stuff.
- Argue or pretend to listen, but don't actually discuss.
- Talk a lot, because time is too short to spend it listening.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Friday, June 15, 2007
An excerpt from the beginning:
Why do people want to come here? Same reasons as a hundred years ago. For a job. For opportunity. To rise. To be in a place where one generation you can be a bathroom attendant at a Brooklyn store and the next your boy can be the star of "Ted Mack's Amateur Hour," with everyone in the neighborhood listening on the radio, or, today, "American Idol," with everyone watching and a million-dollar contract in the wings. To be in a place of weird magic where the lightning strikes. Boom: You got the job in the restaurant. Crack: Now you're the manager.
Boom: You've got a mortgage, you have a home.
"Never confuse movement with action," said Ernest Hemingway. But America gives you both. What an awake place. And what a tortured and self-torturing one. Your own family will be embarrassed by you if you don't rise, if you fall, if you fail. And the country itself is never perfect enough for its countrymen; we're on a constant Puritan self-healing mission, a constant search-and destroy-mission for our nation's blemishes--racism, sexism, ethnocentrism, out damn spots.
I asked myself a question this week and realized the answer is "Only one." The question is: Have I ever known an immigrant to America who's lazy? I have lived on the East Coast all my life, mostly in New York, and immigrants both legal and illegal have been and are part of my daily life, from my childhood when they surrounded me to an adulthood in which they, well, surround me. And the only lazy one I knew was a young woman, 20, European, not mature enough to be fully herself, who actually wanted to be a good worker but found nightlife too alluring and hangovers too debilitating.
But she was the only one. And I think she went home.
Please read the rest of Noonan's article here, in which she suggests how we should approach the issue of illegal immigration.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Evans prepared two syringes, swabbed Emma with antiseptic, put the square-holed napkin on her stomach. Then he plunged one of the needles into Emma’s belly and began to work his way into position. He injected the potassium chloride, and B, the first fetus to go, went still.
“There’s no activity there,” he said, scrutinizing the screen. B was lying lengthwise in its little honeycomb chamber, no longer there and yet still there. It was impossible not to find the sight affecting. Here was a life that one minute was going to happen and now, because of its location, wasn’t. One minute, B was a fetus with a future stretching out before it: childhood, college, children, grandchildren, maybe. The next minute, that future had been deleted.
Evans plunged the second needle into Emma’s belly. “See the tip?” he said, showing the women where the tip of the needle was visible on the ultrasound screen. Even I could see it: a white spot hovering near the heart. D was moving. Evans started injecting. He went very slowly. “If you inject too fast, you blow the kid off your needle,” he explained.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Sent: Mon, 26 Feb 2007 4:18 PM
Subject: the impact of one Navigator
Dear NavStaff Friends,
I want to share with you the importance that your ministries make. You might want to share this with your young leaders.
This past weekend I was at the Men's retreat and talked with our speaker Colin Saxton. We were comparing notes on our history as I learned, like me, Colin is a 45 year old male, who's been walking with Christ for the last 25 years. And like me he came to Christ while in college without any Christian family support. It turns out he was at the University of Oregon and living in one of the coed dorms. Just after a party (maybe even during it) he had just come off of a heavy overdose of drugs when a student walked in named John Seid. John proceeded to share the gospel with him. Colin said it best, "John treated me like a treasure, rather than like someone who was lost."
John was associated with a group of students on campus called the Navigators. It was because of John's faithfulness and obedience to be compassionate to one desperate college student, who hated the life that he lived, but didn't know there was another way, that today, we find Colin, ministering throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho and literally around the world as the Superintendent of the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Evangelical Friends, touching 10s, 100s, 1000s and millions (think India) of lives with the grace of God.
John Seid, wherever you are – Thanks!
Keep seeking God's treasures – you might find one at a party this weekend.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Sibling rivalry can be ugly, but in this case it's kind of fun.
Monday, June 11, 2007
"Instead of fearing, as I ought, to be held back by all that encumbered me, I was frightened to be free of it."
Story of my life. I bet it's the story of yours, too.
I read a similar thought in a more contemporary book a few years ago, and the insight was helpful. As much as we hate our sins, shortcomings, addictions, and quirks, those are the things that we use to define ourselves to ourselves. "This is who I am, this is what I am like." If the alcoholic stopped being an alcoholic, who would he be? If the brainy guy stopped being so intellectual about everything, who would he be? If the emotionally inhibited man stopped repressing everything, who would he be? If the hypercritical woman stopped being so negative about everyone and everything, who would she be? If YOU stopped ______________, who would you be?
Even in our new lives as Christians, we become comfortable with our inadequacies, and even though we don't like them, holding on to them is preferable to giving them up and losing our identity.
Eventually, push comes to shove. It may happen at a crisis point, but it will more likely be a long series of little decisions. We either grow in Christlikeness by accepting the significance, security, and transformative power that Jesus offers us, or we continue to hold back the ugly but comfortable parts of our personality and identity.
In VIII.7, Augustine says to God, "You brought me face to face with myself..., forcing me upon my own sight so that I should see my wickedness and loathe it. I had known it all along, but I had always pretended that it was something different." Why call it wickedness if we can call it preferences, or weaknesses, or personality, or "Just the way I am"?
Ultimately, Augustine came around. Ultimately, he says to God (VIII.12), "You converted me to yourself." No other conversion, no other vision, will be strong enough to convince us to deny ourselves and follow Him.
"Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily
entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." (Hebrews 12.2,3)
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Friday, June 8, 2007
Thursday, June 7, 2007
The original NY Times op-ed is here, or you can read it below in its entirety.
What I Think About Evolution
By SAM BROWNBACK
Published: May 31, 2007 Washington
IN our sound-bite political culture, it is unrealistic to expect that every complicated issue will be addressed with the nuance or subtlety it deserves. So I suppose I should not have been surprised earlier this month when, during the first Republican presidential debate, the candidates on stage were asked to raise their hands if they did not “believe” in evolution. As one of those who raised his hand, I think it would be helpful to discuss the issue in a bit more detail and with the seriousness it demands.
The premise behind the question seems to be that if one does not unhesitatingly assert belief in evolution, then one must necessarily believe that God created the world and everything in it in six 24-hour days. But limiting this question to a stark choice between evolution and creationism does a disservice to the complexity of the interaction between science, faith and reason.
The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.
People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.
The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.
There is no one single theory of evolution, as proponents of punctuated equilibrium and classical Darwinism continue to feud today. Many questions raised by evolutionary theory — like whether man has a unique place in the world or is merely the chance product of random mutations — go beyond empirical science and are better addressed in the realm of philosophy or theology.
The most passionate advocates of evolutionary theory offer a vision of man as a kind of historical accident. That being the case, many believers — myself included — reject arguments for evolution that dismiss the possibility of divine causality.
Ultimately, on the question of the origins of the universe, I am happy to let the facts speak for themselves. There are aspects of evolutionary biology that reveal a great deal about the nature of the world, like the small changes that take place within a species. Yet I believe, as do many biologists and people of faith, that the process of creation — and indeed life today — is sustained by the hand of God in a manner known fully only to him. It does not strike me as anti-science or anti-reason to question the philosophical presuppositions behind theories offered by scientists who, in excluding the possibility of design or purpose, venture far beyond their realm of empirical science.
Biologists will have their debates about man’s origins, but people of faith can also bring a great deal to the table. For this reason, I oppose the exclusion of either faith or reason from the discussion. An attempt by either to seek a monopoly on these questions would be wrong-headed. As science continues to explore the details of man’s origin, faith can do its part as well. The fundamental question for me is how these theories affect our understanding of the human person.
The unique and special place of each and every person in creation is a fundamental truth that must be safeguarded. I am wary of any theory that seeks to undermine man’s essential dignity and unique and intended place in the cosmos. I firmly believe that each human person, regardless of circumstance, was willed into being and made for a purpose.
While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.
Without hesitation, I am happy to raise my hand to that.
Sam Brownback is a Republican senator from Kansas.
Wednesday, June 6, 2007
Question: What is distinctly spiritual about the kind of leadership you do?
Answer: There's nothing distinctly spiritual. I think a big problem in the church has been the dichotomy between spirituality and leadership. One of the criticisms I get is "Your church is so corporate." I read blogs all the time. Bloggers complain, "The pastor's like a CEO." And I say, "OK, you're right. Now, why is that a bad model?" A principle is a principle, and God created all the principles.
Question: So what's the principle behind the CEO model?
Answer: "Follow me." Follow we never works. Ever. It's "follow me." God gives a man or a woman the gift of leadership. And any organization that has a point leader with accountability and freedom to use their gift will do well. Unfortunately in the church world, we're afraid of that. Has it been abused? Of course. But to abandon the model is silly. Churches should quit saying, "Oh, that's what business does." That whole attitude is so wrong, and it hurts the church.
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." President and CEO Jesus. Matthew 20.25-28.
"[Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." Marketing Manager Paul of Tarsus. Ephesians 4.11-13.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
"It was my eyes that read these words but my soul that knew their meaning." Augustine, Confessions, IX.4
Monday, June 4, 2007
Sunday, June 3, 2007
Saturday, June 2, 2007
Friday, June 1, 2007
Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.
But partly the problem lies in the temptation-rich life of an average American teenager. The fate of the True Love Waits movement, which began with the Southern Baptist Convention in the '90s, is a perfect example. Teenagers who signed the abstinence pledge belong to a subgroup of highly motivated virgins.
But even they succumb. Follow-up surveys show that at best, pledges delayed premarital sex by 18 months—a success by statistical standards but a disaster for Southern Baptist pastors.
Evangelical teens today are much less sheltered than their parents were; they watch the same TV and listen to the same music as everyone else, which causes a "cultural collision," according to Regnerus. "Be in the world, but not of it," is the standard Christian formula for how to engage with mainstream culture. But in a world hypersaturated with information, this is difficult for tech-savvy teenagers to pull off.
There are no specific instructions in the Bible on how to avoid a Beyoncé video or Scarlett Johansson's lips calling to you from YouTube, not to mention the ubiquitous porn sites. For evangelicals, sex is a "symbolic boundary" marking a good Christian
from a bad one, but in reality, the kids are always "sneaking across enemy lines," Regnerus argues.
What really matters is not which religion teenagers identify with but how strongly they identify. After controlling for all factors (family satisfaction, popularity, income), religion matters much less than religiosity. Among the mass of typically promiscuous teenagers in the book, one group stands out: the 16 percent of American teens who describe religion as "extremely important" in their lives. When these guys pledge, they mean it. One study found that the pledge works better if not everyone in school takes it. The ideal conditions are a group of pledgers who form a self-conscious minority that perceives itself as special, even embattled.
I recently spent a year among some evangelical teenagers who belong to this elite minority, and I can attest to the inhuman discipline they exert over their hormones. They can spend all evening sitting on the couch holding hands and nothing more. They can date for a year, be alone numerous times in a car or at the movies, and still stick to what's known in the Christian youth literature as "side hugs," to avoid excessive touching. Muslims have it easy compared to them. At least in Saudi Arabia the women are all covered up, so there's nothing to be tempted by. But among this elite corps of evangelicals, the women are breezing around in what one girl I know called "shockingly slutty conservative outfits" while the men hold their tongues. (No, they don't hold anything else.)
- Evangelicals are in the world and exposed to the same cultural influences that nonevangelicals are.
- Evangelicals are being taught what's right and wrong, but their thinking is not being transformed. Typically, the church teaches the rules and the lists and the "steps to ___," but doesn't teach its people how to learn God's logic and be transformed by His Spirit.
- Unmarried teens and married adults both think that fulfillment and romantic love are higher values than commitment, obedience, and integrity. When presented with the opportunity for premarital sex or the challenges of a difficult marriage, the tendency (i.e., temptation) is to opt for the "self-actualizing" approach, rather than the one of chastity or fidelity.
- Plus, there is, no doubt, a spiritual warfare component to what's going on - which would give the evangelicals an adversary that the others might not have.
- It's not all bad news, though. Teens who are truly committed and not just mouthing words are avoiding sex before marriage at a rate better than nominal evangelicals. A different mind (or mindset) and the power of the Holy Spirit do make a difference.
- I suspect there's a similar pattern in marriage: although evangelicals as a group are divorcing at a rate similar to their non-evangelical neighbors, the rate among "true believers" is probably better than among those who simply talk the talk and act the walk.