Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Voodoo Doughnut

My time in Portland ended better than it began. The snow finally melted (off the roads, anyway), and that enabled me to get out and visit friends, do a little shopping, and patronize the world-famous Voodoo Doughnut & Wedding Chapel, where I enjoyed a Bacon Maple Bar. It was my first time to Voodoo Donut, but it won't be the last. Two and a half minutes:



Want more? Here's a 6-minute video that profiles several of the classics, including the late, lamented Nyquil and Pepto-Bismol Donuts:



http://voodoodoughnut.com/

Friday, December 26, 2008

Plants Have Rights, Too (?)



When I was a kid, we were told that houseplants would grow better if we would talk to them nicely, but this is getting ridiculous. Back in October, the Wall Street Journal ran a feature that aptly illustrates how far environmentalist nonsense can go. If anyone wonders why I've railed so often against global warming pseudo-science, it's because, left unchecked, we'll end up degrading the primacy of mankind by emphasizing the "rights" of rivers, plants, and for all I know, toenail fungus.

Judge for yourself. Here's an abridged version of the article, which you should be able to read in its entirety here.




OCTOBER 10, 2008
Switzerland's Green Power Revolution: Ethicists Ponder Plants' Rights
Who Is to Say Flora Don't Have Feelings? Figuring Out What Wheat Would Want
By GAUTAM NAIK

ZURICH -- For years, Swiss scientists have blithely created genetically modified rice, corn and apples. But did they ever stop to consider just how humiliating such experiments may be to plants?

That's a question they must now ask. Last spring, this small Alpine nation began mandating that geneticists conduct their research without trampling on a plant's dignity.

"Unfortunately, we have to take it seriously," Beat Keller, a molecular biologist at the University of Zurich. "It's one more constraint on doing genetic research."

Dr. Keller recently sought government permission to do a field trial of genetically modified wheat that has been bred to resist a fungus. He first had to debate the finer points of plant dignity with university ethicists. Then, in a written application to the government, he tried to explain why the planned trial wouldn't "disturb the vital functions or lifestyle" of the plants. He eventually got the green light.

The rule, based on a constitutional amendment, came into being after the Swiss Parliament asked a panel of philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians to establish the meaning of flora's dignity.

"We couldn't start laughing and tell the government we're not going to do anything about it," says Markus Schefer, a member of the ethics panel and a professor of law at the University of Basel. "The constitution requires it."

In April, the team published a 22-page treatise on "the moral consideration of plants for their own sake." It stated that vegetation has an inherent value and that it is immoral to arbitrarily harm plants by, say, "decapitation of wildflowers at the roadside without rational reason."

On the question of genetic modification, most of the panel argued that the dignity of plants could be safeguarded "as long as their independence, i.e., reproductive ability and adaptive ability, are ensured." In other words: It's wrong to genetically alter a plant and render it sterile.

Many scientists interpret the dignity rule as applying mainly to field trials like Dr. Keller's, but some worry it may one day apply to lab studies as well. Another gripe: While Switzerland's stern laws defend lab animals and now plants from genetic tweaking, similar protections haven't been granted to snails and drosophila flies, which are commonly used in genetic experiments.

It also begs an obvious, if unrelated question: For a carrot, is there a more mortifying fate than being peeled, chopped and dropped into boiling water?

"Where does it stop?" asks Yves Poirier, a molecular biologist at the laboratory of plant biotechnology at the University of Lausanne. "Should we now defend the dignity of microbes and viruses?"

...

Several years ago, when Christof Sautter, a botanist at Switzerland's Federal Institute of Technology, failed to get permission to do a local field trial on transgenic wheat, he moved the experiment to the U.S. He's too embarrassed to mention the new dignity rule to his American colleagues. "They'll think Swiss people are crazy," he says.

Defenders of the law argue that it reflects a broader, progressive effort to protect the sanctity of living things. Last month, Switzerland granted new rights to all "social animals." Prospective dog owners must take a four-hour course on pet care before they can buy a canine companion, while anglers must learn to catch fish humanely. Fish can't be kept in aquariums that are transparent on all sides. The fish need some shelter. Nor can goldfish be flushed down a toilet to an inglorious end; they must first be anesthetized with special chemicals, and then killed.

...

Dr. Keller in Zurich has more mundane concerns. He wants to breed wheat that can resist powdery mildew. In lab experiments, Dr. Keller found that by transferring certain genes from barley to wheat, he could make the wheat resistant to disease.

When applying for a larger field trial, he ran into the thorny question of plant dignity. Plants don't have a nervous system and probably can't feel pain, but no one knows for sure. So Dr. Keller argued that by protecting wheat from fungus he was actually helping the plant, not violating its dignity -- and helping society in the process.

One morning recently, he stood by a field near Zurich where the three-year trial with transgenic wheat is under way. His observations suggest that the transgenic wheat does well in the wild. Yet Dr. Keller's troubles aren't over.

In June, about 35 members of a group opposed to the genetic modification of crops, invaded the test field. Clad in white overalls and masks, they scythed and trampled the plants, causing plenty of damage.

"They just cut them," says Dr. Keller, gesturing to wheat stumps left in the field. "Where's the dignity in that?"


Want more? Here's an official document from the (Swiss) Federal Ethics Committee on Non-Human Biotechnology, with the subtitle, "Moral Consideration of Plants for their Own Sake." If you can read it without incredulity, then you are the kind of person who scares me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Best Christmas Art Ever?




(I have no idea as to the original source of this. If you know, please clue me in.)

I am Not an Imposition, Part 5



I’m still in Portland, and still snowbound until probably tomorrow. Now that Portland has officially recorded the snowiest December on record - 16 inches, so far (and a drift of 21 inches outside my mom’s front door) - it seems like a good time to continue my series on environmentalism, a series that obviously has relevance to global warming and how we talk about it.

I’ve been offering excerpts from the book, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. The previous installment can be found here.

Here’s the conclusion of the Jewish point of view:


If…there is a God, then everything changes. If there is a God who has created us, then each and every human person has infinite value, and none can be sacrificed for the sake of nature or some abstract cause. (p. 31)
The chapter on the Catholic view offers this:


Nowhere does revelation suggest (as do some contemporary religious and secular environmentalists) that creation, undisturbed by human intervention, is the final order God intended…. The human person and the natural world are never ascribed the same dignity.

Some would argue that if man refrains from exercising dominion over nature, nature would be better off. Yet the issue bearing the greatest importance is whether man would be better off. When man does not exercise dominion over nature, nature will exercise dominion over man and cause tremendous suffering for the human family….We alone, of all God’s earthly creatures, have the power, intelligence, and responsibility to help order the world in accord with divine providence and thus minimize the effects of natural evil. (pp. 39-40)
And this comes from the Protestant/Evangelical view:


Some environmentalists, especially those in the “Deep Ecology” movement, divinize the earth and insist on “biological egalitarianism,” the equal value and rights of all life forms, in the mistaken notion that this will raise human respect for the earth. Instead, this philosophy negates the biblical affirmation of the human person’s unique role as steward and eliminates the very rationale for human care for creation. The quest for the humane treatment of beasts by lowering people to the level of nimals leads only to the beastly treatment of humans. (p. 69)

In the three months since my previous installment from this book, it seems that the clamor about global warming has subsided. The current economic crisis has shown that the environmental “emergency” has become less of one in the face of joblessness and recession. But I have little doubt that the subject will heat up again once the economy does, too. Here are some of the key points I wish we’d keep in mind as the discussion continues:

  • Man(kind) is the pinnacle of God’s creation.
  • As such, we are superior to all plants and all animals. We have value, dignity, and eternal consequence that nothing else in creation has.
  • We have been given earth to manage for the benefit of mankind; we do not manage the earth for the benefit of the earth, per se.
  • All environmental discussions should consider the cost to humans of recommended policies.
  • Some costs are in fact too much to pay.

    I’m sure that’s not all, but it’s a good start.

And since this is Christmas, let's consider: Does not the incarnation of Christ itself say something about the exalted status of mankind in creation?


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Worse Before Better


It's still snowing in Portland. Amazing. Already it's a record (over a foot), with another 3 inches or so today. This evening or tomorrow, it's supposed to turn to rain. Who knows how long it'll take until all the roads are passable again?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So Much for Global Warming


I arrived in Portland, Oregon, earlier today (Saturday). I was supposed to arrive yesterday, but Delta cancelled my flight. They were nice enough to add a nonstop makeup flight this morning - and put me in first class - so I have nothing to complain about...except the weather.

It's snowing. And when it's not snowing, there's freezing rain. The temperature is 20 degrees and may not go above freezing until Wednesday. In my mom's neighborhood, the snow/ice on the roads is several inches deep, with drifts knee-high. The DOT requires chains on all state routes, but even chains aren't enough to guarantee traction.

So we're homebound for at least the next couple days.
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(In case you didn't know, the typical highs this time of year are about 40 degrees. A little global warming right now would be nice.)

Photo: Found online on http://www.katu.com/ , taken in my part of town earlier this evening.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Crime Mashup


Sorry I haven't been posting much, lately. Things have been crazy busy. But here's something to keep you entertained for a while: a website that mashes up police reports with Google maps.

Just go to http://www.crimereports.com/, enter your address, and if your police department is participating, you'll see a graphic representation of what crimes have appeared where. You can manipulate the display to change time periods or types of crimes displayed. Very cool. And free.

So far, I've figured out that my part of Sandy Springs (GA) is pretty safe, but my mother in Portland (OR) seems to be living in mortal danger. Maybe I should get her a gun for Christmas...but considering she refuses to use a cellphone and doesn't know how to adjust her thermostat, that's not gonna happen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Things You Don't Hear in Every Discipleship Group (But You Will Hear in Mine)


We have some great discussions in the discipleship group I'm co-leading this year. I appreciate the honesty and the engagement level of each one of the guys. But we're all a bit quirky (who isn't, once you get to know them?), so some unusual things can get said during the course of the evening. Here's a gem from last night:

I almost feel like, "If none of this is true, how come I'm not eating people?"
Indeed.

Photo: Jeffrey Dahmer, murderer, necrophiliac, cannibal. A prison video of him professing a newfound faith in Christ can be found here (5 minutes).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

More from Africa

Here's a two-minute video about the celebrations in Kenya after Obama's election. Although I didn't vote for him, I nevertheless love seeing the hope and inspiration these people are feeling. I suppose my own travels to Africa and friends from there (including a former roommate from Kisumu, where this video was filmed) add to my own emotional response as I watch this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

News You May Have Missed: Already, Obama Brings Electricity to Rural Africa


Barack Obama's African relatives come from the Western region of Kenya. Here's a fun article from the Kenyan press about how they are responding to their kinsman's election. Although Obama hasn't even been inaugurated yet, he's already getting things done in his relatives' village. As they say, it helps to have "connections." (pun intended)

The family of the US President-elect Barack Obama was elated at his victory.

Mama Sarah Anyango Obama described [her] grandson’s victory as a "defining moment for the world".

"Nyocha amor to sani karo amor moloyo," (I am excited more than ever before) she told a battery of journalists in reaction to the US historic elections outcome.

She added: "We thank God for answering our prayers. Barack has won and we wish him well in the more demanding and challenging office."

She disclosed that the family would attend the swearing-in, in January next year, and that they were expecting a call from the President-elect anytime.

"We will plan how to attend the vital celebrations in the US," Sarah said at her home in Nyangoma, Kogelo village.

A carnival mood engulfed the home as residents broke into song and dance to join Americans in celebrations.

Obama’s sister Auma Obama told the media that though their kin had been elected the President of US, Kenyans should not expect too much.

"Remember, he is a US citizen. The only advantage that will come with his leadership is business, improved tourism circuit, trade and bilateral relations," she said.

Kenyans, she said, would benefit from the knock-on effect of the Obama presidency through association.

Auma, who accompanied the grandmother during the Press briefings, was frenzied as they handled questions from the Press.

Asked how they intended to celebrate his win, Mama Sarah replied, "We will eat all kinds of edible food in the world."

She spoke as the stepbrother to Obama, Malik Hussein, who spoke to the Press earlier, announced they had slaughtered a bull and several chicken for the party.

Sarah said she would travel to America with a tripartite message to her grandson — devote your leadership to deliver your promise to Americans, improve bilateral trade and help Africans realise faster development.

As they addressed the Press a team of Kenya Power and Lighting Company streamed into the compound to install electricity at the home.

The family has been relying on solar panel. But yesterday, the expeditious manner KPLC engineers were pulling power from the main line along the Ngiya Road to the home was an indication Nyangoma village would light up soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I Was Wrong


Six months ago, I predicted that McCain would win the election in a landslide. I was wrong on only two aspects of my prediction:
  • McCain
  • (McCain) In a landslide

Every now and then, I call a trend accurately. As for the other times, I'm glad we don't live under Old Testament law. False prophets were stoned.


The Outcome is in God's Hands . . . But the Coffee Can Be in Yours


No one from the east or the west
or from the desert can exalt a man.
But it is God who judges:
He brings one down, he exalts another.
- Psalm 75.6,7


Here's another sure thing on Election Day: show up at any Starbucks today (Tuesday) and tell them you voted. You'll get a free drip coffee.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Baptists Should Have a Shorter Life Expectancy (I wonder if they do?)


I've been sitting on this important news since it was reported in the July 5 issue of The Economist. But given the indigestion that the economy and politics are causing all of us, now is a good time to fill you in.
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You've already heard that red wine can be good for you. Even in Holy Scripture, the Apostle Paul encouraged his protege Timothy to, "Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" (1 Timothy 5.23). This is one part of Scripture I'm happy to obey.
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Various studies have supported the conclusion that wine can aid heart health. The significance of the Economist article is that we now know more about why - and we know more about when and how to take this important medicine. Read on (I've bolded some parts for those with attention spans less than 2 minutes):

Of Sommeliers and Stomachs

FINE food sings on the palate, but pairing it with the right wine creates a chorus. Among those in the know, the plum, chocolate and spice flavours of Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Pinot Noirs and Sangioveses best accentuate the rich flavours of red meats. Now, however, a group of researchers led by Joseph Kanner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has discovered that pairing red wines like these with red meat appears to be more than just a matter of taste. If the two mix in the stomach, compounds in the wine thwart the formation of harmful chemicals that are released when meat is digested.

The idea that red wine is actually good for your health is irresistible to the average tippler. But it appears to be true. In particular, red wines are rich in polyphenols, a group of powerful antioxidants that are thought to protect against cancer and heart disease by destroying molecules that would otherwise damage cells. How the polyphenols in wine exercise their beneficial effects, though, has been mysterious. That is because they do not seem to travel in any quantity from the stomach into the bloodstream.

The answer, Dr Kanner has found, lies in the stomach itself. The digestion of high-fat foods such as red meat releases oxidising toxins. One in particular, called malondialdehyde, is implicated in arteriosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and a host of other serious diseases. Dr Kanner suspected that the key to wine’s protective effect is when, precisely, it is consumed. He hypothesised that if the polyphenols arrive in the stomach at the moment when the fats are releasing malondialdehyde and its kin, then this might stop these toxic materials from getting any farther into the body.

To test this idea, he and his colleagues fed a group of rats one of two meals—either red meat from a turkey (a foodstuff shown by previous research to raise malondialdehyde levels in humans) or such meat mixed with red-wine concentrate. An hour and a half after the rats had eaten, they were killed. Dr Kanner then removed their stomachs and analysed the contents. As he reports in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, the wine concentrate did indeed reduce the formation of malondialdehyde. It also cut the level of hydroperoxides, another group of oxidising agents that cause cell damage.

Based on these results, Dr Kanner and his colleagues argue that looking for antioxidants from wine in the bloodstream was a mistake; they do not need to be there to be useful. Their research also suggests that the habit of eating fruit at the end of a meal is a healthy one. Many fruits, too, are rich in polyphenols (wine is, after all, just fermented fruit juice). By treating them as dessert, these fruits arrive in the stomach at the point when meat-digestion is poised to do its worst—nipping the problem in the bud, as it were.


Pity the Baptists.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How to Know When to Get Married


Well, I went to a wedding yesterday, and nothing happened that was as interesting as what I offered you last week. Nevertheless, I saw an old friend there whom I haven't seen for perhaps a decade, and we had a great time catching up at Starbuck's afterwards.

Earlier in the week, I was having dinner with a different friend, and the topic of marriage came up. I was reminded of an article I read 15 years ago in Details magazine. It may be the most profound article on marriage I've ever read - surprising, perhaps, considering the marginally sleazy magazine it appeared in and the fact that it was penned by Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes.

Gano's entire essay was brilliant, but I'll limit myself here to what he says about readiness for marriage. How do you know when you're ready? It's simple, really: You should only get married when you're depressed. Read on:

[I]n terms of my opinion and mine only, I will state that it's best to marry when one is depressed. How will one know what one wants - if one wants to marry, if one is ready to commit - if one is buoyed up by a false sense of hope and happiness? To paraphrase a science journal that has since left my grasp: Depression's great benefit is that the depressed subject tends to withdraw attention from wasted enterprises. What a great time to marry!

Which leads to my next question/answer: When does one know that it's time to marry? When one has no hope. When one has given up all hope of ever being able to be happy with someone other than that one special someone, and (now watch this closely) when one also realizes that that happiness isn't even possible with that one special man or woman. Then it's time.

Marriage must be entered into with the proper sense of hopelessness, so that when its own hopelessness arrives it can be welcomed with open arms. Marriage may be a crucifixion of sorts, but after comes the resurrection. Marriage is believing that, despite the cross, there is coming an Easter; the tomb will open.

...

For my part, I married my best friend. I was motivated by a lot of fear and hopelessness, and I was, of course, depressed. And because I was depressed - not despite it - I don't doubt my decision. I'm glad to take part in continuing to create the mystery of matrimony. It intensifies life. It raises the stakes. It is saying yes to life, to change, challenge, suffering, death. And yes, yes, yes to the open tomb.

- "Balls and Chains," Details, July 1993, p. 62

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Keeping Up Appearances?

I cross paths a couple times each day with a guy in the office who invariably has a cell phone to his ear as he walks the halls.

It occurred to me today that I never seem to hear him actually talking while on the phone.

I wonder if he just walks around like that in order to look important.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Not Sure How to Vote? The Bible Has the Answer.


The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

- Ecclesiastes 10.2

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wedding Ennui

I'm going to a wedding Saturday. Not mine.

Weddings are generally boring. The same thing every time that no one listens to. If they were more like this wedding, however, I would look forward to them (45 seconds):



And think of the great story they will have for the kids.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What Would You Do?


NPR's Morning Edition had a sobering story today about the persecution of Christians in Iraq. You can listen to it here, or you can read a CNN article about the same subject here.

It's not just Iraq where Christians are having a hard time, of course. Most incidents never reach the press and we never hear about them.

Nevertheless, the NY Times, that bastion of liberalism, ran a story yesterday about the persecution of Christians in India. (Last November, I blogged about the hard time Dalits have in India; the NYT story isn't about Dalits, though.) As I read the stories, I found myself wondering what I would do if faced with these situations. What would you do? It's easy to show up at church in America and sing about our loyalty to Jesus and how wonderful it is to be a Christian. The worst opposition we face is usually our own sin and self-preoccupied narcissism. But what if we faced what these Indians face? What would we do? Check these excerpted vignettes, or read the entire story here:

The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

...

Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.

...

[A] Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.

The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage.

...

A few steps from where the nun had been attacked in Nuagaon, five men, their heads freshly shorn, emerged from a soggy tent in a relief camp for Christians fleeing their homes.

The men had also been summoned to a village meeting in late August, where hundreds of their neighbors stood with machetes in hand and issued a firm order: Get your heads shaved and bow down before our gods, or leave this place.

Trembling with fear, Daud Nayak, 56, submitted to a shaving, a Hindu sign of sacrifice. He drank, as instructed, a tumbler of diluted cow dung, considered to be purifying.

In the eyes of his neighbors, he reckoned, he became a Hindu.

In his heart, he said, he could not bear it.

All five men said they fled the next day with their families. They refuse to return.


What would you do?



Thursday, October 9, 2008

I Have an Evil Twin Brother

A lot of guys joke about having an evil twin brother, whom they blame for any number of things. It turns out I really do have one.
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Yesterday, I made a business trip from Atlanta to Vancouver, BC, by way of Los Angeles. During my layover at LAX, I went to the Alaska Airlines "Board Room" club to check e-mails, eat snacks, and drink coffee. I put my blue blazer on the chair opposite mine while I worked at a little table.
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Then the time came to board my flight. What a delight to have an exit row entirely to myself! Only after the door to the plane had closed did I realize I had left my blazer on the chair in the club. It was too late to do anything at that point, but as soon as I landed in Vancouver, I called the Board Room. The conversation started well, then veered toward the surreal.
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"Oh yes," the lady said. "You were sitting in the chair over by the windows and the TV, right? Aren't you the one who called earlier? Someone called and said he left his blazer, so we ran it down to him. He looked at it and said it was his. Are you sure it wasn't you? What was the brand . . . Daks? Yes, that sounds right . . . "
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So somebody has my blazer. My evil twin has it.
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I called the Board Room again this evening. Also spoke with the baggage room and the person who keeps the "Left on Board" box. No blue blazers to be found anywhere.
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I don't know my evil twin's name, but I know his size, and I know he has good taste. I wonder if he knows, however, how old that blazer really is. It might get $5 at the Salvation Army. But it'll cost me more than that to replace it.
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(One final note: Everyone I have spoken with at Alaska Airlines has been unusually pleasant. After this incident, I'm not sure I'd trust them to deliver a checked bag to the right destination, but their friendliness stands out. Give them a call just to hear a cheery voice: 1-800-AlaskaAir. Mention Governor Sarah and they might even give you a 10% discount.)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Our Financial Crisis Look Bush League (no pun intended)


In our preoccupation with the U.S. financial crisis - now democratically spreading to Asia and Europe - we may have forgotten about the goings-on in Zimbabwe.

A bit over a year ago, I reported that their inflation rate was set to hit 100,000% for the year. Now it looks like the economists got it wrong. In fact, the annual inflation rate has now hit 11,268,758.90%. That's the number reported by the governmental Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Check out their website, which will inform you as to the vision and mission of this feckless institution:

Our Vision
To become the financial cornerstone around which Zimbabwe's economic fortunes and developmental aspirations are anchored.

Our Mission
The pursuit of the Bank's vision will express itself through leadership in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies and action plans for fighting inflation, stabilisation of the internal and external value of Zimbabwe's currency ...
A few other tidbits from their website:
  • Inflation in the last month has been 839.80%
  • The overnight interest rate is 8500.00%
  • "The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has, as its primary goal, the maintenance of the internal and external value of the Zimbabwean currency. In this regard, the Bank is responsible for the formulation and implementation of monetary policy, directed at ensuring low and stable inflation levels and maintains a stable banking system through its supervisory and lender of last resort functions."
I would have explored their website further, but the pages load so slowly that the price of bread doubled three times while I was waiting.
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The people of Zimbabwe are waiting, too. Over 5 million face starvation by the end of the year. My guess is that the great statesman, the near-divine President Mugabe, has food to eat that his people know not of.
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Meanwhile, the world does nothing. Why intervene? It's just a bunch of black people who have nothing to offer us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Tough Monday? Things are Looking Up.

This short 20-second video is guaranteed to brighten your day. Watch it several times, and you just may be chuckling all week:


Courtesy of FailBlog.org

Friday, October 3, 2008

It is Finished


21 months ago, I purchased the complete works of Bach. 155 CDs. Yesterday I finished Disk #155.

I'm a little depressed.

Listening through Bach was like reading the entire Bible for the first time, with new discoveries on every page (or track, as the case may be). Bach repeatedly astounded me with his mastery, his variety, his profundity, his energy, his joy. The world was not worthy of him, but we are the richer because he lived.

Toward the end of this collection, I became acutely aware that the joy of discovery was soon to be over. Often, I found myself hitting the "Replay" button, wanting to get every last bit out of the last few disks.As Dingeman van Wijnen put it in the liner notes for one of the CDs, speaking of one cantata's amazing closing chorale:

It is one of those moments in Bach where the first hearing brings us the sad certainty that we will never again be able to hear it for the first time.

Never again for the first time. But a lifetime's worth of depths to plumb.

So what's next? Start over? Move on to the complete works of Mozart (whom I mostly hate, 170 CDs) or Beethoven (85 CDs)? While I mull this over, I think I'll revisit some of my older CDs that got neglected during the Bachfest. Perhaps I'll start with Jacques Loussier, who does cool jazz versions of, ahem, Bach compositions. . .



Saturday, September 27, 2008

Planning to Vote for Jesus? Think Again.

As this sendup demonstrates, the state of political advertising in America has sunk to such a low that even Jesus could be made to look bad without too much difficulty. Two minutes.



Thanks to Friendly Atheist.

Friday, September 26, 2008

À la recherche du benzine perdu


Our moronic governor, Sonny "Head in the Sand" Perdue assures us there is no gas shortage in Atlanta.
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Unfortunately, 18 of the 20 gas stations I've passed in the last day didn't listen to the news.
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Somebody needs to tell them, so they will start selling gas again.
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[P.S. In the French language, "perdu" means lost. A good name for our gov.]

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I Am Not an Imposition, Part 4 (The Jewish View, Part 3)



Are cities “bad”? Is Nature “good”? Should we curtail our actions in order to protect endangered species? The Jewish view of the creation mandate provides an interesting perspective on these questions, as shown in this excerpt from Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition:

The general hostility toward industrial development that is often evidenced by environmental activists is frequently rooted in a pantheistic opposition to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and is as old as the Tower of Babel. Judaism takes note of how industrial development tends toward the spiritual and away from the merely material. In our own times, this is quite clear as we see development lead societies past the manufacture of steel and large machinery to the creation of data and knowledge. . . . Judaism views this as a movement toward human recognition of the primacy of the spiritual over the material. It is no coincidence that this tendency for society to move toward the spiritual also brings along with it less disruption of nature. Instead of imposing barriers to industrialization upon the developing world, we could be better served to assist developing nations in moving through this early phase of growth. In this fashion, each part of the world can make its own decisions and judgments about how it will balance its own needs . . . . Those of us in the developed world may not want a rubber-tire factory next door. However, if we lived near Cairo and presently were neighbors to the world’s biggest garbage dump, which is populated by ghostly skeletons rummaging through the filth to find food for another day’s existence, we may welcome the arrival of a tire plant to displace the garbage dump. Judaism has great faith in the ability of ordinary human beings to make their own decisions and to find ways to overcome tragic circumstances.

This faith comes from another religious conviction not shared by many environmentalists. Again, if we are nothing but sophisticated animals, it is only right that important decisions should be made of us by an elite group of people playing the roles of zookeeper or farmer. In this view of reality, we are not capable of determining for ourselves just how much prosperity we are willing to sacrifice to halt development. Since nature is the ultimate good, our zookeepers will determine that no burden is too heavy for us to shoulder in service to our god of nature. . . .

The basic Jewish principle of balance and middle path also conflicts with the contemporary environmental doctrine that preserving each spotted owl and each kangaroo rat is more important than any costs borne by humans and any sacrifices made by people. Judaism would never countenance loggers suffering the indignity of joblessness in order not to disturb the nesting habitat of the owl. . . . People need not justify their needs or desires to nature. They are warned only against destroying things for no good purpose. . . .

Our task is, in essence, to subdue nature and redirect it for holy purposes. . . . Your labor is welcome, and its results are pleasing to me, says the Lord. For this reason, Judaism is prouder of man’s skyscrapers than of God’s swamps, and prouder of man’s factories than of God’s forests.

- pp. 24-26

See the previous post on this subject by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Am Not An Imposition, Part 3 (The Jewish View, Part 2)



Here are some more thoughts from the Judaism section of Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition (Part 1 of the Jewish view was posted Sunday). In this excerpt, we learn why eating meat is a sacred act and why a good Jew can't be a vegetarian:

The Hebrew for conquering, koveish, clearly distinguishes between annihilating and conquering. The former is a verb for utterly destroying one’s enemy. The latter refers to leaving one’s enemy’s resources and abilities intact, or even enhancing them, but redirecting them for one’s own end. That is what we are told to do with the resources of the natural world. We may not destroy, but we may use them in every possible beneficial manner. Animals are part of the natural world, and their purpose is strictly in the context of human life…

A religious Jew may choose to restrict his diet to vegetables during the week, but come Saturday and most holidays, he is to eat some meat as a religious obligation. The reason for this is that God created a world of hierarchy. Minerals are consumed by a higher life form, namely plants. Animals survive by consuming plants, while the highest life form of all, humans, eat animals. It is interesting to note that those animals permissible to Jews as food are animals that eat only plants. In other words, those animals that violate the hierarchical order, such as wolves and bears, may not be eaten by Jews. Now, for a Jew to attempt to improve on God’s definition of morality by refraining from eating any meat on moral grounds is another way of announcing that one is nothing more than an animal oneself. Animals are supposed to eat only plant life. Thus, a Jew who eats only vegetables is announcing himself to be a very good animal. Once each week, God demands of his people that they leave the moral refuge of vegetarianism. We are then forced to confront the reality that an animal died to provide our meal. That places an obligation upon us to be worthy of the sacrifice…

While always prohibiting cruelty or wanton destruction, Judaism abhors the entire notion of animal rights since it violates the very foundation of biblical belief in God’s sovereignty and God’s role as ultimate arbiter of moral right. Judaism and secularism are fundamentally incompatible, and the doctrine of animal rights is a doctrine of secularism.

-pp. 22-23

In upcoming installments, we'll move into the Jewish view of issues we more typically identify with environmentalism.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When Abortion Fails - Obama's Disingenuous Response

OK. Now I'm angry. Yesterday, I told you about Gianna Jessen, the aborted baby who didn't die and is now a grown woman. And I gave you a YouTube clip of her ad.

Now, rather than admit that he might actually have been wrong on this issue, Obama has fired back with this own ad in which he indignantly makes several false claims in only 30 seconds:

  1. The McCain attack ad is the sleaziest ad ever (interestingly, the voiceover says "the sleaziest," but the text on the screen says, "one of the sleaziest"). Actually, Gianna's ad wasn't paid for by the McCain campaign, but by her own organization.
  2. Even the bill's sponsor said the claims about Obama are untrue. Actually, you can read below the entire letter the sponsor wrote (not just the single quoted sentence) and see that Obama has intentionally quoted him out of context.
  3. "Obama has always supported medical care to protect infants." But he has not ever supported the medical protection of aborted babies born alive. The voting record on this is clear, and the facts clearly contradict his contention that he would have voted for wording that matched the Federal statute. It did, and he didn't.

Watch Obama's 30-second ad below, and then read the rejoinder from Real Clear Politics, which is a Time/CNN blog and not a partisan site:




Now, here's what Real Clear Politics had to say. I've bolded the sentence Obama uses in his ad, just so you can see how he misrepresented the writer:

The Obama ad cites a September 5 letter to the Chicago Tribune written by the Republican co-sponsor of the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, Rick Winkel, in declaring, "even the bill's Republican co-sponsor said it wasn't true." To put this in context, here is Winkel's letter reprinted in full:

A storm of controversy has risen in the presidential race concerning Barack Obama and legislation I sponsored in 2003 ("Obama's '03 abortion vote on forefront," Eric Zorn, Metro, Aug. 21). I introduced Senate Bill 1082 because of a nurse's claims that abortions at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn resulted in living infants whom hospital personnel then allowed to die without medical or comfort care.

SB-1082 defined born-alive infants and required that courts recognize them fully as persons and accord them immediate protection under the law—including statutes outlawing infanticide. Opponents of the bill believed it was an attack on Roe vs. Wade, so I added neutrality language identical to the 2001 federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act that the United States Senate approved 98 to 0.

On March 12, 2003, I presented the neutrality amendment before the state Health and Human Services Committee chaired by then state Sen. Obama. All 10 committee members voted to add the amendment. Nevertheless, during the same hearing, the committee rejected the bill as amended on a vote of 4-6-0. Obama voted no.

I was stunned because the neutrality amendment addressed the concerns of opponents. It was the same neutrality language approved by U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry in the federal bill.

None of those who voted against SB-1082 favored infanticide. Rather their zeal for pro-choice dogma was clearly the overriding force behind their negative votes rather than concern that my bill would protect babies who are born alive.

In 2005, I joined 116 state representatives and 54 senators in voting for HB-984, which contained the same born-alive definition and neutrality language as Senate Bill 1082, plus some extra language to satisfy the most zealous pro-choice legislators, yet harmless to the bill's purpose. No one voted against it. We had finally accomplished what we had set out to do - protect a newborn baby's life.

- Rick Winkel, Former state senator, Urbana


I used to think Obama was a person of integrity, but I'm over that now. I would like to start calling him all manner of contemptuous names, but I'll save that for another time.

Monday, September 22, 2008

When Abortion Fails

My friend David put this on his blog recently. It's an appearance on Hannity & Colmes by a woman who was aborted at 7-1/2 months. Gianna Jessen lived, obviously, and her story is engrossing. (Yes, there's an obvious political aspect in this election year.) Take 5 minutes:



There's a longer video on YouTube of her speaking at an annual Right to Life rally, in which she shares more of her story and more of her heart. If the lousy introduction annoys you, skip the first minute.

Jessen's website is bornalivetruth.org.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Am Not An Imposition, Part 2 (The Jewish View, Part 1)



Continuing the series which I began September 17 . . .
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In the book, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition, I found the Jewish discussion the most provocative. In this first excerpt, the authors differentiate between rights and responsibilities, between Creator and created, between ownership and stewardship, and between humans and everything else:

The Torah unhesitatingly prohibits cruelty to animals. This is not because animals also have rights; it is because only human beings have obligations. In the Torah’s depiction of moral reality, nobody has rights – only obligations. Naturally, if everybody discharges their obligations, we all end up enjoying those things we vainly attempted to obtain by claiming them as our rights.

The animal rights movement can best be understood by viewing it as an attempt to undo the opening chapters of the biblical Book of Genesis. The Torah and its accompanying oral transmissions insist that Genesis describes more the beliefs underlying Creation than its facts. This is to say that the Bible’s central premise is that humans and animals are qualitatively different, a contention violently opposed by the animal rights movement. . . .

The Bible teaches that the human person is the apex of God’s creation and that all creation is there for the human person to develop and use as a responsible steward. The principle at work here is, of course, precisely the same biblical principle that prohibits self-maiming, destroying a rented apartment, or even having an abortion. This is to say that tenants do not have the same rights as owners. We, as humans, do not own the world, our bodies, or the habitations we rent. Thus, we may improve them but not destroy them. According to the Torah, not only do women not have the right to do with their bodies as they wish, but neither do men. Our bodies are given to us by a gracious and generous God so that we may occupy them for a certain period of time. During that time they are to be treated with the same deference that a tenant should employ in caring for his rented premises. Similarly, we humans are granted use of the world and all it contains. We may hunt animals for food or clothing, build homes out of the wood we cut from trees, and mine the earth to extract the minerals it holds. However, we may not wantonly destroy anything at all.
- pp. 20-21

More from the Jewish tradition in an upcoming post.



Saturday, September 20, 2008

Exquisite

I found a video clip of our new worship team that will be leading us tomorrow morning at church. It's only 3 minutes long, but it will change your life. Be sure to stick around for the semi-Calvinistic "Zap" moment at about the 1'50" mark:

Friday, September 19, 2008

Speechless


I sounded strange yesterday, but at least I could talk.
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Today I have no voice.
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Eventually, this cold or whatever it is will pass, and I'll start speaking again. Meanwhile, I'm thankful that I'm an introvert and that I know how to use e-mail.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

“Do you want to win, or are you more interested in your principles?”


Tony Jones is a leader in the emergent church movement. He supports Obama for President. In a blog post of a couple days ago, he tells of a teleconference that he and seven other unnamed "Christian leaders" (his term) had with members of Obama's religious outreach staff.

Of course, the issue of abortion came up, and there was some disagreement among the eight "Christian leaders" as to whether Obama should tackle this head-on or try to do an end run. Some felt that if Obama jumps in, he's letting the religious right set the agenda. Jones writes:

The Five continued to protest, saying that abortion is not an issue that O should deal with much. To which I replied, “Do you want to win, or are you more interested in your principles?”
Does anybody have a problem with that question?

We all know that politicians find ways to "shift" their positions in order to gain more votes. They could even be accused of changing their principles in order to win. But "Christian leaders"? Should they employ a similar approach to life?

The principles by which we live our lives define who we are. The principles by which Christians live their lives determine whether they are truly followers of the Jesus whom they claim. Fidelity to Christ and His kingdom must trump all other principles, wouldn't you think?

So when Bell asks, "Do you want to win, or are you more interested in your principles?", he is, in effect offering a conflicting principle: that winning is more important than integrity and fidelity.

Somehow, I see a tie-in with the emergent church movement. Doctrine, creeds, history, and dogma all fall to the wayside in the search for conversation, not conversion. I'm not sure what is won in the process, except a "good time had by all." Becoming all things to all men is a Biblical principle, but the driving force underlying it is that men and women would be won to Christ - not to conversation, coolness, relevance, or anything else.
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Are we willing to stick with our principles, even if that makes us "losers"?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I Am Not an Imposition


Global warming concerns have temporarily taken a back seat to hurricanes, financial crises, and the question of which shade of lipstick looks best on a pit bull. But the subject is far from dead.

A couple weeks ago, some European guy was in the news for suggesting that the best way to attack global warming was to stop having children. I didn't pay too much attention to the story, but I do find that it plays into an underlying assumption, often unspoken, sometimes almost subconscious, that accompanies the arguments of anti-global warming advocates.

The assumption seems to be that people are an imposition on the planet. That we should do as little as possible to change it (or as much as possible not to change it). That the earth is in some sense sacred and that we have no right to use or exploit its flora and fauna for our purposes.

And that all leads up to a small book I read recently. It showed up in the mail one day for reasons unknown to me, though I suspect it was sent to all people who subscribe to First Things. The book is published by the Acton Institute and is entitled Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. This book has separate chapters from Jews, Catholics, and Evangelical Protestants, with each sharing the perspective on environmental stewardship that their faith tradition offers. Reading this helped to put thoughts to my sense of unease regarding the philosophy behind much global warming advocacy. And it supports my main contention when it comes to environmental issues:

I AM NOT AN IMPOSITION

(Nor Are You)

In upcoming blog posts, I'll explain what I mean by the above statement, as I share some of the thoughts from this book.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Nouwen On: Silence and Entertainment


Being silent seems like doing nothing, but it is precisely in silence that we confront our true selves. The sorrows of our lives often overwhelm us to such a degree that we will do everything not to face them. Radio, television, newspapers, books, films, but also hard work and a busy social life all can be ways to run away from ourselves and turn life into a long entertainment.

The word
entertainment is important here. It means literally “to keep (tain from the Latin tenere) someone in between (enter).” Entertainment is everything that gets and keeps our mind away from things that are hard to face. Entertainment keeps us distracted, excited, or in suspense. Entertainment is often good for us. It gives us an evening or a day off from our worries and fears. But when we start living life as entertainment, we lose touch with our souls and become little more than spectators in a lifelong show. Even very useful and relevant work can become a way of forgetting who we really are. It is no surprise that for many people retirement is a fearful prospect. Who are we when there is nothing to keep us busy?

- Henri Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup?, p. 94

Monday, September 15, 2008

Sarah and Hillary, Together For the First Time

Sorry to post two videos in a row . . . the lazy man's approach to blogging . . . but these 5 minutes from Saturday Night Live are pretty humorous, indeed:



If you don't see the video above, you can access it here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Oh, So THAT'S What They're Saying

I've never been a big fan of rap, in part because I've never really understood the syntax and vocabulary. But thanks to the following video (of 3-1/2 minutes' duration), I now have help in translating the "lyrics" into standard English.



I still don't like rap.

(I do, however, like my friend Roy, but I don't understand him, either. He's always using these words . . .in the original languages.)

Thanks to my roommate Eric for pointing out this valuable resource.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Spurgeon On: Predestination and Free Will

I recently came across these quotes from Spurgeon and think they represent a good balance regarding a paradoxical issue:

"That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place [in Scripture] that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover
that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring." (New Park Street Pulpit, 4:337)

"Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle, are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation. Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, ay, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them all." ("Faith," Sword and Trowel, 1872)
- C.H. Spurgeon, 1834-1892


Thanks to Derek at theoparadox.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Abe Lincoln, the Religious Wacko Fundamentalist (and what it may teach us about Sarah Palin)











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The ignorance of the press when it comes to religious matters is astounding. People of faith are too often treated as if they come from an alien planet and have habits normal mortals can never hope to understand. I've often referred to the GetReligion blog as an excellent site for cataloging much of this cluelessness - and pointing out the praiseworthy exceptions when they do occur.

Sarah Palin is being pilloried by some who see her as a Christian incarnation of a Muslim fundamentalist. And this is in the mainstream media. See, for example, Juan Cole's column on Slate.com.

One Palin comment raising eyebrows came in her address to graduating students at her former church, when she said, "Our national leaders are sending them out on a task that is from God. That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that plan is God's plan."

Now, every "normal" evangelical, especially those who listen to the message in context, will understand her to be saying that our leaders should ask for God's guidance as they make decisions about (the) war, and that every citizen should beseech God to guide those leaders. Praying for our leaders is, in fact, a Scriptural injunction (see, for example, 1 Timothy 2.1-3). But the rigid secularists see her as claiming divine mandate for every decision that she might make. Then they take it even further and warn that she may singlehandedly attempt to usher in the Apocalypse in order to hasten the return of Christ. I'm sure such religious wackos do exist, but there's no sane reason to believe that Sarah Palin is one of them.

Somehow, this leads to Abraham Lincoln. I was remembering how he said that we should "do right, as God gives us to see the right," and how that statement wasn't much different than Palin's. And that got me to looking at Lincoln's second inaugural address. It's only 700 words long - if only today's political speeches were so short! - and the most notable aspect is that almost 2/3 of it reads like a sermon. I'll reprint that portion below. There's more theology in this civic address than I've heard in a lot of sermons. What was Lincoln's view of God's will? Of divine Providence? Of prayer? Of the attributes and character of God? Is this the kind of relgious wacko who should be entrusted with leading a nation at crisis?


Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A New Community

My friend Garrett and I are starting a new discipleship group tomorrow evening. It will be smaller than the one pictured above, and I'm praying for a few other differences, as well . . . community and missionality for a start. Everybody staying awake would be good, too, though we'll let the dog sleep if she wants to.

I recently read Henri Nouwen's book, Can You Drink the Cup?, and found his description of community to represent one of the things I greatly desire for this new group:

Nothing is sweet or easy about community. Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope. In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs – but we do not have to live it alone. We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.”

[Community is] a fellowship of little people who together make God visible in the world.

So often we are inclined to keep our lives hidden. Shame and guilt prevent us from letting others know what we are living. We think: “If my family and friends knew the dark cravings of my heart and my strange mental wanderings, they would push me away and exclude me from their company.” But the opposite is true. When we dare to lift our cup and let our friends know what is in it, they will be encouraged to lift their cups and share with us their own anxiously hidden secrets. The greatest healing often takes place when we no longer feel isolated by our shame and guilt and discover that others often feel what we feel and think what we think and have the fears, apprehensions, and preoccupations we have.

The important question is, “Do we have a circle of trustworthy friends where we feel safe enough to be intimately known and called to an always greater maturity?

Vulnerability, growth, and mission. May they all be true of our new group as we seek to follow Jesus and be transformed into His image.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Nouwen On: Solitude


There is absolutely no reason for most people to be as busy as they are. You want to earn more money than you need. You want to see more television than you need. You want to read more books than you need to read. You want to see more people. You want to keep in touch with too many friends. You want to travel too much. You can even be busy with looking for the meaning of solitude! . . . . I shall have no time to pray whatsoever unless I radically say that prayer and solitude - being alone with God - is a priority. But my senses aren't saying that to me.
...
Solitude is a hard discipline, because we have the luxury of so many stimulations.
...
Solitude is listening to the voice who calls you the beloved. It is being alone with the one who says, "You are my beloved, I want to be with you. Don't go running around, don't start to prove to everybody that you're beloved. You are already beloved." That is what God says to us. Solitude is the place where we go in order to hear the truth about ourselves.


- Henry Nouwen, Beloved, pp. 11-13

Friday, September 5, 2008

Particle Acceleration For Dummies

CERN's Large Hadron Collider has been under construction for the last 10 years. It will be the world's largest and fastest particle accelerator when it comes on line next month, moving protons at 99.99% the speed of light.

Not up to speed on particle physics? Need a refresher? Take five minutes to watch this "Large Hadron Rap," and you'll know as much as I do:



Want to know more? Wikipedia has a nice summary.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Truth Your Doubts


Nietzsche’s [claim] was that our desire for truth above utility is just one of the many symptoms of human weakness and lack of self-reliance: we are incapable of carrying the burden of our solitude and asserting our will as the ultimate ground of everything we believe; we cannot bear the realization that we are self-grounded, unprotected by any universal order of things.

But on this point, as in most other areas of philosophizing, he was not consistent: he glorified the spirit of doubt, but failed to see that if there is no such thing as truth, there cannot be doubt either. My act of doubting implies that I believe
something to be true, but am unable to decide what that something is. If we get rid of truth, doubt becomes impossible.





Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Home State, Where Whales Explode

Tomorrow, I'm headed for Oregon to visit Mom and my sister. Somehow, that ties in to the following video, which dates from 1970. It's news coverage of the famous exploding whale incident, and if you can watch this without laughing, please ask your relatives to bury you, because you're already dead . . . and possibly as stinky as this whale:



This was big news (pun intended). Previously unbeknownst to me, Wikipedia has its own Exploding Whale page, there's a web site called theexplodingwhale.com, and a Google search for exploding whale oregon yields 28,000 results.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Elsewhere"


Our need to live in an ordered world, a world whose origin, destiny and rules we can understand, is not a temporary, historically relative whim; it is an enduring part of our constitution as human beings, and the entire history of religion – an eternal aspect of our culture – is there to demonstrate this. In claiming that this need arises from a feeling of weakness, Nietzsche was in perfect agreement with Christian tradition, and probably with religious tradition as a whole. The crucial conviction we find in religious experience, a conviction that recurs repeatedly in various sacred books, may be summed up in one word: alibi – ‘elsewhere’.

Throughout its history, religion has told us that we are ‘elsewhere’. This implies that we are in exile, and that we have a home where we belong. To be elsewhere is our permanent condition on earth.



Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants.

I don't normally read books about food, nutrition, or diets. After 50+ years of life, I feel like I've heard it all. Caffeine is good/bad for you. Margarine is better/worse than butter. Saccharine will/won't give you cancer. The Atkins diet will/won't make you thin, but at some/no cost to your heart. The grapefruit diet does/doesn't burn fat. And on it goes, endlessly. You could add to the list.

My basic approach to food over the last few years, as I've seen my metabolism slowing down, is to control portions and eat no more calories than what I expend, to go easy on saturated fats, and otherwise to eat a bit of everything but not too much of anything. That's been working reasonably well for me, though any doofus would know that adding regular exercise to all the above wouldn't be a bad idea.

My skepticism at dietary advice met an unexpected friend in Michael Pollan and his book, In Defense of Food. I first encountered Pollan in a lengthy interview on XM Radio's Bob Edwards Show. (You can download a podcast of an shortened version of the interview here.)

Pollan is a professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and shares my skeptical approach to much of life. In his book, he asks why a country so obsessed with nutrition and health food can simultaneously be the fattest nation on earth. What are we missing? His common-sensical analysis is eye-opening, and his writing is consistently engaging.

I had intended at one time to post excerpts from each chapter of his book on this blog, but there's just too much. I would have ended up retyping most of the book. His basic conclusion about nutrition is the title of this blog post, but there's a wealth of data and research (much of it historical rather than nutritional, surprisingly enough) that leads to this simple seven-word summary.

As a result of reading this book, I've changed some aspects of my diet to favor whole foods (fruits, vegetables) and items which only have ingredients whose names I can pronounce and which can be created somewhere other than in the chemistry lab. I'm still not a purist, but I've made a few changes. (Oh, and I drink wine a lot more often, but that may have more to do with Trader Joe's coming to town and making oceans of plonk abundantly available.)

You could buy the book - and there are certainly worse ways to drop $13 - but if you read this lengthy essay by Pollan that appeared on the NY Times website in January 2007, you'll get the gist. You can also read the first 26 pages of the book on Google Books here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Office Slaves

Recently at work, I've been developing a new product and having a lot of fun at it. This kind of work plays to my strengths and interests and gives me a feeling of satisfaction. If the product comes to fruition, millions of people will see it every day. (Yes, I'm being coy on purpose.)

But last week, I was effectively redirected to work on a different project. Project 1 will have to go into limbo for at least two months while I work on Project 2. My role in this new project is important - some might say essential - and if this project succeeds, you'll read about it in the newspapers. Or news web sites. Whatever.

The problem is that this second project does not really play to my strengths. I can do the job, and I believe I can do it well enough, but as of now I don't expect to find it enjoyable at all or anywhere near as satisfying as Project 1.

I spent most of last week feeling rather depressed about this change of job assignment, and my inability to change the situation to my liking. I felt a bit like a slave. But wouldn't you know it? God, always apropos, seems to have orchestrated my Scripture memory program so that these circumstances would coincide with my memory verse that came up for last week. This is what I aspire to live out, difficult though I'm finding it to be:

Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free. (Ephesians 6.7,8)



(P.S. My verse for this week is about the second coming of Christ. I hope your bags are packed.)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"At What Point is a Baby Entitled to Human Rights?"

If you didn't see the discussion Rick Warren had at Saddleback church last night with Barack Obama and John McCain, this 3-minute excerpt video does a good job of showing one significant difference between the two candidates. Helpful hints: Notice Obama's nonanswer to the question, "Have you ever voted to limit . . . " [the accurate answer would have been "No"], and notice McCain's answer to the question that is the title of this post.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Ahmadinejad felicitates Ivory Coast president on National Day



That delicious headline comes to us courtesy of the Islamic Republic News Agency. The first paragraph of the story reads as follows [sic]:



[Iranian] President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad felicitated President Laurent Gbagbo and the people of Ivory Cost's on the anniversary of Ivory Coast's National Day in a message on Wednesday.

That sounds rather illicit, doesn't it?

As repressive as Iran is, I'm surprised felicitation is still legal, especially between presidents.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Hide the Beer, the Pastor's Here!

The following article is stolen in its entirety from LarkNews.com. If you don't subscribe to their free monthly newsletter, you really should.

WATERVILLE, Maine — After stepping down from the pastorate last month after fifty years in ministry, Albert Finley did something no one expected: he had his first beer.

"I was curious what it actually tasted like, after all these years of preaching against it," he says. The results? "What a marvelous drink," he says. "It tastes much better than it smells." The Sierra Nevada Pale Ale he chose delivered "surprisingly complex and satisfying tastes." "I actually said ‘Praise God’ right in the middle of it," he says.

But people in his former congregation are not happy. "He’s tarnishing the reputation of himself and this church," says one woman. "I always pointed to the pastor and told my kids, ‘See? There’s a man who has chosen not to drink.’ This puts a big question mark after everything he has preached."

Another says Finley reminds her of Noah, "a righteous man who ended up a worthless drunk," she says.

But Finley says he no longer has to be an example. He is also upset that he has held misconceptions about beer for so long. "My dad always told me you could get drunk off of one sip, and I preached that for decades," he says. "I thought that’s why people on beer commercials were having such fun. But that’s completely untrue. I’ve had one, even two beers with no effect."

Finley says he relishes the flavor of hops and barley, and favors darker stouts and the more robust ales to the pale lagers.

He always thought post-ministry life would be "sort of puttering around the house, praying for the world and so forth." But beer has changed his mind. "I subscribe to a beer of the month club, so every week I have a new bottle in my fridge to try. Sometimes that’s my main reason for waking up," he says.

He has been emboldened to make other lifestyle changes as well. "This weekend I might just see a movie in an actual theater," he says. "I understand it’s quite an experience."


The title of this blog comes from the classic Daniel Amos/Swirling Eddies song by the same name. Lyrics here and video here.