Thursday, January 31, 2008

Purge Pagan Presbyterianism

A link to this YouTube video was sent out over the Presbyterian's More Light listserve today. I just had to laugh because I just joined my local food co-op today and it struck home. I wonder when the BRF consider the "Golden Years" of the COB? Anyone want to make a similar video with COB references. Enjoy--this is hilarious!

Outing Gay Choir Members

The Washington Blade reports:
One of Washington’s largest black Baptist churches was rocked by a female member of its choir who sent separate e-mail messages to the pastor in December and January outing more than 100 church members as gay, mostly male choir members.

The outings added to the inner turmoil experienced by a large number of gays who attend services at the 7,000-member Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, located on Rhode Island Ave., N.E., according to a gay former member who provided copies of the e-mails to the Blade.

“I will be leaving the choir at the top of the year because 80 percent of the tenors are homosexuals and act more like a female in choir rehearsal than I do,” the church choir member said in one of her e-mails to Bishop Alfred Owens Jr., the church pastor.

The e-mail, sent in December, identifies about 45 fellow church members as gay. She sent a second e-mail to Owens on Jan. 2 identifying another 62 church members as gay.

“The following people I am asking you to monitor very closely and my prayer is that you will sit them down from their ministries,” she told Owens in the December e-mail. “Because they are ushering in the presence of sin, lies, a spirit of homosexuality and sexual spirits.”

She sent a copy of her e-mails to a Yahoo list group that goes to more than 300 church members, the gay former church member said.
Via Andrew Sullivan.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Department of Peace

In her column today, conservative Christian Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten chides US Representative Keith Ellison for his support of a Department of Peace:
Now, we all want a more peaceful world. But at a time when bullies and violent fanatics are increasingly armed with devastating weapons, a “new consciousness” based on “compassion and love” doesn’t seem like an altogether tough-minded approach.
By my reckoning this new consciousness based on compassion and love is about 2000 years old. WWJD or WWJB? There is a bomb the hell out of them argument to be made from a "realist" point of view, I suppose. But you can't find it in the gospels.

And I can't wait to see the letters to the editor from the Norwegians.

Red Wine and Cancer Prevention

Red wine is now my "alcholoic beverage of choice"--for health reasons. By now, most of us have read or heard that red wine has high value as a wellness beverage if imbibed in reasonable quantities on a regular basis. But what I have been pondering is whether one variety of red wine has a higher amount of the antioxident and anti-inflammatory properties (a phytoestrogen called resveratrol) than other varieties. In other words when I drink a toast to health with my friends, should we be sipping merlot, cabernet, or pinot noir?

The Prevent Cancer Foundation's spring edition of Cancer Prevention Works reports the answer to my question! A Cornell University study found that pinot noir has more potent levels of resveratrol than cabernet or merlot.

Another study conducted by researchers at the U of Alabama Birmingham and recently published in the journal of Carcinogenesis, has also found that resveratrol is quite powerful particularly in the prevention of the most aggressive type of prostate cancer.

Sante' mon ami!

Isn't Corn Just another Grass?

Well, of course it is. And aren't the stomachs of cattle evolved to eat grass? Yes they are. So what is wrong with feeding corn to cattle? Nothing, according to an anonymous responder to this post. But here is what Michael Pollan, author of An Omnivore's Dilemma, had to say about corn-fed cattle in an interview a few years ago with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air:

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Michael Pollan. He's the author of the book "The Botany of Desire: A Plants-Eye View of the World." But his new piece in this past Sunday's New York Times isn't about plants; it's about livestock and how the industrial steak is made in the United States.

Now you say that the livestock, after about six months, aren't fed grass. They're not fed hay. They're fed corn. Why are they fed corn instead of grass?

Mr. POLLAN: Basically because corn is the cheapest and most portable thing you can feed a cow. You know, we grow vast quantities of corn in this country, about 10 billion bushels a year. And it's very cheap because it's subsidized by the government. It costs the feedlot about $2.25 a bushel, which is over 50 pounds of corn, to buy it. And it would cost the farmer more than that to grow it, if not for subsidies. So you have this feed that is very, very cheap. It's the cheapest source of calories you can give the animal. And also it's very portable compared to hay. If you were feeding an equivalent amount of hay, the sheer bulk of it would overwhelm you.

So corn, you know at this feedlot, at the mill, I saw every single hour another tractor-trailer would pull up and disgorge 25 more tons of corn. You know, without corn, without this--and soybeans, too, to a lesser extent--this incredibly compact and portable feed, you could never have this urbanization of livestock. It is what allows you to gather together up to 100,000 cattle or millions of chickens, and now fish and pigs, in these small animal cities and feed them efficiently. You could not do it on their natural food.

GROSS: What fattens a steer quicker, corn or grass?

Mr. POLLAN: Corn by far. It's simply a richer food. It has more food energy in it. It's full of starch. And that is the other reason we give them corn. You know, it's all about speed. I asked the ranchers that I was working with, the Blairs, and they said, well, they were four generations in the cattle business, and their grandfather would bring beef cows to slaughter at four or five years, and then their fathers at two to three years. And they're doing it at 14 to 16 months. And what allows you to go from 80 pounds calf to 1,250 pounds steer is vast quantities of corn and antibiotics and growth hormones. So the combination of the corn and the pharmaceuticals allows you to speed up this process. Also, to some extent, the genetics. They've improved the genetics. We're gradually creating an animal that can digest corn efficiently.

GROSS: OK. Before we get to the pharmaceuticals, let's talk a little bit about corn some more. How does the corn affect the cow's digestive system, a digestive system that was really made for grass?

Mr. POLLAN: Yeah. You know, this was a bit of a revelation to me because this phrase corn-fed beef has been around so long that we just take it for granted that this is some kind of old-fashioned virtue. But it's neither that old or that virtuous, as it turns out. These animals, in nature or, you know, when grazing, encounter very, very little grain. I mean, grain is essentially the seed of grasses. So when the bluestem that they're eating and the Western wheat grass they're eating flowers and puts on seed, they get a little bit of grain, but very, very little. And now suddenly they're given this incredibly rich diet. As one of the feedlot managers put it to me, it's like feeding them Snickers bars all day long. It's a very rich food, although they don't appear to like it quite as much as Snickers bars. But it wreaks havoc on a digestive system that has evolved to do something quite miraculous, which is digest grass.

You know, that, for me, is the underlying insanity of this system. We have this animal, a ruminant--there's a class of animals; it includes cows, but also sheep and deer and several others--that has this unique ability to digest grass. We can't do it. If you consume grass you will not be able to digest it. So they can take this sort of substandard land that can only grow grass because it's too dry or too hilly or the soil is too thin, and because they have this digestive organ, this rumen, which is essentially a 45-gallon fermentation tank in which a resident population of bacteria goes to work on the grass and turns it into protein, they can make good use of this incredibly common solar-generated food source. So we've taken the solar system--you know, 'cause the grass is fed on sunlight and water. It's this miracle of photosynthesis, which is, when you think about it, the only free lunch in nature. And so they take this free lunch and can make very high-quality food out of it. But rather than use that system, we move to another kind of system, which is feeding them corn.

Now corn, you might argue, well, that's a solar system to because, you know, the corn grows, is a kind of grass, and it grows out in the sun. But, in fact, to get the kind of harvest of corn we get and the surpluses, you have to apply vast quantities of fertilizer, which is a fossil fuel. It's ammonium nitrate. And we began doing this after World War II. It made corn grow incredibly well. We get 130 bushels of corn off an acre where a hundred years ago we got 20. And all of that fertilizer is made from oil. And, in fact, it takes 1.2 gallons of oil to grow a bushel of corn. So I realized I was looking at a different kind of system. We had gone from a solar system to a fossil fuel system. And this strikes me as a kind of crazy thing.

GROSS: Let's get back to the cow's stomach.

Mr. POLLAN: Yeah.

GROSS: So the cow now is eating corn instead of eating grass. Its stomach is made for digesting grass and turning it into protein. How does the cow's digestive system handle corn?

Mr. POLLAN: Well, very poorly. It'll go kablooey if it's not done very gradually. And I talked to people who said that most cows, most beef cattle getting a heavy diet of corn--and again, they can tolerate some of it, but when you crank it up to 70, 80, 90 percent grain, their stomachs go haywire. They suffer from a range of different phenomenon, one of which is bloat.

You know, the rumen, this organ, is always producing copious amounts of gas, and these are expelled during rumination, you know, when the animal kind of chews its cud. It regurgitates this bolus of grass and in the process releases all this greenhouse gas, essentially methane and things because when you're digesting grass much gas is produced. But when they're eating corn, this layer of slime forms over the mass in the rumen, and it doesn't allow the gas to escape. So what happens is the rumen begins to expand like a balloon until it's pressing up against the lungs of the animal. And if nothing is done to release the pressure of that gas, the animal suffocates. It can't breathe anymore. So what do they do? Well, if it gets to that point, they force a hose down the esophagus of the animal, and that releases the gas, and they very quickly put them back on hay for a little while.

So that's one of the things that can go wrong. Well, perhaps the most dramatic. But a whole other range of problems are created because the corn acidifies the rumen. The rumen has basically a neutral pH when it's healthy and getting grass, and that's very significant for a lot of reasons. But you feed it corn and it gets a lot more acidic. And the rumen can't deal with acids, and what happens is the acids gradually eat away at the wall of the rumen, creating little lesions or ulcers through which bacteria can pass. And the bacteria get into the bloodstream and travel down to the liver, which collects all such impurities, and infects the liver. And that is why more than 13 percent of the animals slaughtered in this country are found to have abscessed livers that have to be thrown away and is a sign of disease.

But this low-level sickness, acidosis or even subacute acidosis, as they call it, afflicts many, many--probably the majority--of feedlot calves, and it leaves them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases. Their immune systems are compromised. So they get this, you know, horrifying list of feedlot diseases. You know, we have these diseases of civilization, you know, heart disease and such things. Well, they have their own diseases of civilization: feedlot polio, abscessed livers, rumenitis, all these kinds of things that cows in nature simply don't get.

GROSS: Is this where the antibiotics come in?

Mr. POLLAN: Yeah. The only way you can keep a cow alive getting this much corn would be with antibiotics. And they get large quantities of antibiotics with their feed every day. They get rumensin, which is technically an ionophore. It's a kind of antibiotic that helps with the bloat and the acidosis. And then they get tylosin, which is in the erythromycin family. And that antibiotic cuts down on the incidence of liver disease, and without that, they would all have liver disease probably.

So, you know, when people debate antibiotics in livestock, which is a very, you know, important issue, and it's before the Congress right now, they make this easy distinction between feeding animals antibiotics to promote growth, which is done in the chicken industry and the pig industry, and then feeding them when they're sick, which even the public health advocates against using antibiotics in livestock say, 'Of course it's fine. You must treat sick animals.' But where do you put the beef calf who is clearly getting these antibiotics to cure him? On the other hand, he wouldn't be sick if we weren't feeding him what we feed him? So it kind of confounds the usual distinction. If you took away these antibiotics, everything would have to change.

This isn't "new" news. It has been widely reported in the media for at least a decade.

Evolution in Action

A fascinating article in the Times by evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson about the evolution of the three-spine sticklebacks, a small ocean fish that got stuck in various northern-hemisphere lakes when the last glaciers receded 10-20 thousand years ago. It's a perfectly designed experiment in evolution as the lake fish took on an evolutionary trajectory different than their oceanic counterparts, and yet in the different lakes they evolved in similar but distinct ways:
Marine sticklebacks, for example, boast body armor: from head to tail, they are covered in rows of bony plates. Many freshwater sticklebacks have lost these. In marine sticklebacks, the pelvis is a complicated affair that comes complete with a pair of long spines. In some freshwater populations, individuals have a much reduced, lopsided pelvic structure. In others, they have just a remnant, a small, lopsided bone: the ghost of pelvis past...

What seems to have happened is that when sticklebacks invaded each lake, some of the invaders carried this rare version with them. In the ocean, being without body armor is deadly: it makes you vulnerable to predators. But lakes don’t have the same dangers as the ocean — and armor is heavy and makes you less agile. Thus, in these new environments, being without body armor conferred a significant advantage, and so in lake after lake, the rare variant of the gene swept through the population.

Let’s turn now to the ghostly pelvis. Pelvic loss is much less common than armor loss. But if you find sticklebacks that lack a pelvis, you can bet that they came from large, shallow lakes where the water is soft, there are no large fish that might act as predators, and the vegetation is dense. Soft water has little calcium, and you need calcium to make the pelvic spines. Shallow lakes that are thick with weeds are home to predators like dragonflies, which enjoy having a stickleback for breakfast. And whereas the spines are a defense against being eaten by other fish — trout, say, or pike — and can actually induce the predator to spit out the stickleback instead of trying to swallow it, insect predators catch sticklebacks by grabbing the spines...

I think I will be an evolutionary biologist in my next life. But maybe I'll end up a stickleback.

And speaking of Meat Consumption--PETA ads also "speak"

Just this morning across the top of my e-mail inbox was an add for the commercials from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). The title was new PETA Commercials too hot to air on the Superbowl.

Well, naturally, I couldn't resist checking them out. Check them for yourself. I particularly like the one titled sexy veggies!

The Meat We Eat

I bookmarked this article a couple of days ago in the New York Times. Our meat consumption takes a huge toll on the environment, not to mention the animals who are being grown for our tables:

Growing meat (it’s hard to use the word “raising” when applied to animals in factory farms) uses so many resources that it’s a challenge to enumerate them all. But consider: an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.

To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.

This will be inconvenient for citizens of wealthier nations, but it could have tragic consequences for those of poorer ones, especially if higher prices for feed divert production away from food crops. The demand for ethanol is already pushing up prices, and explains, in part, the 40 percent rise last year in the food price index calculated by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization.

Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens. This despite the inherent inefficiencies: about two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption, according to Rosamond Naylor, an associate professor of economics at Stanford University. It is as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States.

The environmental impact of growing so much grain for animal feed is profound. Agriculture in the United States — much of which now serves the demand for meat — contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people...

Ready to Use Food

According to Susan Shepherd of Doctors Without Borders, this is what malnutritioned children need:

For years, it has been difficult to deliver the nutrient value of milk in communities in Africa and Asia that do not produce or have the resources to buy milk. Without refrigeration and clean water, powdered milk and baby formula are prone to bacterial contamination and cause more harm than good.

Ten years ago, André Briend, a French scientist, devised a paste of powdered milk, ground peanuts, oil, sugar, vitamins and minerals that solves the problems of preparation, storage and contamination because it is prepared without water. The paste, known as ready-to-use food, can be made locally; children can eat it directly from individual foil packets. More important, most children can be treated at home, rather than being hospitalized. This vastly increases the number of children who can be reached. In Niger, I saw how ready-to-use food enabled thousands to recover from malnutrition.

In 2006, my colleagues at Doctors Without Borders and I treated more than 150,000 malnourished children worldwide — in Niger, more than 9 out of 10 recovered. But these numbers are a small fraction of those in need. Under United Nations and United States guidelines, only 3 percent of the world’s 20 million malnourished children — those with the severest forms of malnutrition and the highest risk of death — have access to ready-to-use food.

It makes me wonder how this compares to what we are preparing at Feed My Starving Children, where we occasionally volunteer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

President Bush Talks About Drinking Problem

At a faith-based event:
President George W. Bush reflected on his battle with alcohol abuse on Tuesday, acknowledging that he once drank too much, as he sought to showcase the religious-based programs that have been one of the controversial initiatives of his presidency.

Bush, who gave up alcohol at age 40, made the comment during a visit to the Jericho program, run by the Episcopal Community Services of Maryland, which helps recently released prisoners re-enter the workforce.

The visit was part of an effort to highlight one of his domestic priorities -- providing government funding for religious-based organizations to help their communities.

"Addiction is hard to overcome. As you might remember, I drank too much at one time in my life," said Bush, who has often stated that religion became a greater part of his life after he gave up alcohol.

"I understand faith-based programs. I understand that sometimes you can find the inspiration from a higher power to solve an addiction problem," he said.

Greek Orthodox Leader Dies

Another religious leader passes:
Greece's Orthodox Church leader, Archbishop Christodoulos, who eased centuries of tension with the Vatican but angered liberal critics who viewed him as an attention-seeking reactionary, died Monday at his home of cancer. He was 69.
The Great Schism between the eastern (Orthodox) and western (Roman) churches is pegged at 1054. They split over the issue of the primacy of Rome and the Pope, Orthodox leaders arguing that eastern and western leaders were coequal. They also differed on the issue of veneration of idols: the west allowed them and the east didn't and doesn't. And they had a difference of opinion on the Nicene Creed over whether the Holy Spirit proceeded just from the Father (east) or from the Father and Son (west). And then in 1204 when the Roman crusades passed through Constantinople on their way east to battle the Muslims, they decided it would also be fun to sack the eastern capitol and damage and defile the holiest church in the east, the Hagia Sophia. It sealed the split.

Prayers for the family of the Archbishop.

Kellman on Obama and Bush

In the early 1980's Jerry Kellman interviewed and hired a young Barack Obama for a $10,000 a year job with Chicago’s Developing Communities Project. Kellman, a Jew who converted to Roman Catholicism, is now the Director of Spiritual Formation for several parishes in the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago. He was interviewed by an online spiritual magazine A sample:

BH: What were the biggest lessons and biggest surprises you learned in divinity school? Did you have any assumptions that were proven wrong?

JK: The biggest lesson was learning the nature of who Jesus was historically, not as God and being resurrected, but as the person he was and living as a Jew in a Jewish world. I also learned how much he resisted any other forms of religion, dogma and hierarchy. If we want to understand God, we can not question who do you believe in, but what kind of relationship you have with God.

I also have a stronger sense of sacramental tradition. Jesus’ purpose in public ministry was to express the Kingdom of God by acting it out in front of people. We can not talk about things, we need to act and take ritual actions that engage our body. I did not come to divinity school with that insight.

BH: How do you feel Obama has used religion in his campaign so far? Do you feel he may change his strategy as the primaries roll on?

JK: With his strong bond in the African-American community in Chicago, he has been able to express his beliefs in a community drenched in religion. We find God together as a people and Barack brings that faith perspective in finding God in the community. His church, Trinity United Church of Christ, has a strong sense of community as a whole.

Barack has articulated this better than any candidate in recent history, especially coming from an administration that has demonized their opponents and has divided people. I think that is so fundamentally anti-Christian I don’t even know where to start. This is the most profoundly anti-Christian administration of our lifetime.

Amen. Via Andrew Sullivan.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Talpiot Tomb Update

Last week the Jerusalem Post ran an interesting interview with James Charlesworth, who chaired the Jerusalem symposium on the tomb. Charlesworth is professor of New Testament Language and Literature at Princeton Theological Seminary and director of its Dead Sea Scrolls Project. Here is part of the interview:

You consider that constellation of names [inscribed on the ossuaries in the tomb] to be extraordinary?

Yes, I'd use the word extraordinary. If I'd found a 'Jesus son of Joseph,' a 'Mary' and a 'Jose,' I certainly wouldn't have tried to suppress the possibility it related to a human figure. I also wouldn't have jumped to the conclusion that we have a match.

It should have elicited a 'Wow! What have we found?'
And that's where we are now. I want to get an honest inquiry going, in which you are open to every possible conclusion.

In your concluding remarks at the symposium, you rejected the idea that Jesus's bones were buried at the tomb with objections that seemed more subjective than rigorously scientific. [Charlesworth described the 'Yeshua son of Yehosef' ossuary inscription as 'graffiti, just scratching,' and the ossuary as 'lousy,' adding that he found it unthinkable that the followers of Jesus would have put 'the remains of "the messiah" in such a horrible ossuary.']

I don't rule it out. It's my explanation for why it is difficult to accept it.

If Jesus's bones were found, would that undermine Christian doctrine?

There are some who say, 'if his bones are not in heaven... then I can't be a Christian.' My response is that Christian faith is emotional, but it's based upon reflection of some very brilliant Jews who were making extraordinary claims about a man who is human and who brought God's presence into their midst.

I'm taking people back to the sources. What does it mean to accept that Jesus was fully human and fully divine? Too often the confession is reduced to one statement: Jesus is God. That is heresy.

And the legitimate formulation?

Jesus is fully human and fully divine. That's the anchor of the faith. That's what distinguishes Christianity from Greek myth...

To claim that God raised Jesus from the dead does not mean it was the transmigration of the soul or a bodiless resurrection. The confession from the beginning was that somehow, incomprehensibly, the resurrected Jesus had a body, but it wasn't a body that would decay again.

Speaking for myself, I can't imagine any archeological discovery that would hinder Jewish or Christian faith. If we found the bones of Jesus, I can still confess that I experience a resurrected Lord.

All of us are on one side of the grave, and we don't know what's on the other side of that eternal divide.

Charlesworth is in Israel until April and he is working with the authorities to obtain the permits necessary to take a team of experts into the tombs and do some further exploring. Part of the controversy around the tomb has risen because of the poor job done by the team that made the discovery. Among other mistakes they contaminated the DNA samples. So stay tuned.

Clinton and Obama Voting No on Cloture

This is good news. The Senate Democratic leadership is in danger of caving into White House pressure to pass a FISA bill that gives telecoms immunity for aiding the government in illegal wiretapping. The bill was stalled last year thanks to Sen. Chris Dodd, who threatened his own party with a filibuster. Sen Harry Reid is planning to bring it back and Dodd is again threatening to filibuster. Up to this point the Democratic frontrunners in the Presidential race have been saying the right thing but very carefully. But Firedoglake is reporting that Obama and Clinton are heading back to Washington to vote:
According to the Clinton campaign, Hillary Clinton will be in the Senate tomorrow to vote "no" on cloture on the Intel version of the FISA bill. The vote is scheduled to take place at 4:30 pm tomorrow.

I've also been trying to confirm whether Barack Obama will be there. His campaign people have not gotten back to me, but Obama does have a 4pm fundraiser scheduled in Washington DC.

Bravo, Senator Clinton. Well done.

UPDATE: The Obama campaign confirms that Senator Obama will be there too, and voting "no." Way to go, Senator.

This is doing the right thing and not the politically expedient thing. Good for them. Now we need to get our MN Senators to vote the right way.

In the Market for a Crown?

From the Washington Post:
A thief who broke into a Greek Orthodox bishop's car made off with quite a haul, but fencing one of the stolen items could prove difficult.

Among the items stolen Friday night from Bishop Metropolitan Isaiah's car was a jeweled crown of gold and silver, which Isaiah estimated to be worth $6,000 to $10,000.

Mormon President Dies

From the Washington Post:

Gordon B. Hinckley, 97, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and an energetic grandson of pioneers who led his denomination during a period of great expansion in membership and facilities, died last night at his home in Salt Lake City, a church spokeswoman said.

In 1995, after many years in leadership posts in what is often called the Mormon church, Hinckley became president. He was the 15th person to hold that post.

The president of the church is held in special regard by the members, who see him as a prophet of God "in the same way they revered the prophets of scripture," according to material posted on the church's Web site.

Hinckley underwent cancer surgery in 2006, but church spokeswoman Kim Farah said last night that "the cause [of his death] was incident to his age."

Despite his age, Farah said, Hinckley had remained active and was coming in to the office as recently as last week.

The church said it did not expect a successor to be formally chosen until after Hinckley's funeral "within the next few days."

During Hinckley's tenure in what is a lifetime post, the number of temples around the world grew rapidly; from 56 in 1999, the figure doubled in three years, a result of what the church said was his "personal drive and direction." Temples are special structures, reserved for certain sacraments and distinguished from the many places used for Sunday worship.

Hinckley's years at the head of the church also coincided with a growth in membership from a reported 9 million to what Farah said was more than 13 million.

Clean living apparently pays off. Prayers for his family.

Reporting on the Bush Economy

Sometimes I wonder what it takes to be a reporter for a newspaper. In this morning's New York Times, reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a front-page story about the Bush economy. She leads with this:
Will George W. Bush be remembered as the president who lost the economy while trying to win a war?

Mr. Bush has spent years presiding over an economic climate of growth that would be the envy of most presidents. Yet much to the consternation of his political advisers, he has had trouble getting credit for it, in large part because Americans were consumed by the war in Iraq.
Is this true? Not according to her own reporting later in the article:
Polls show that the public feels unsettled about the future. The percentage of Americans who believe the country is on the wrong track now stands at 75 percent, while just 19 percent believe it is on the right track, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll this month...

Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has been warning for months of a looming “Bush recession.” The day before the stimulus deal was reached, Mr. Emanuel released a chart titled “The Legacy of George W. Bush’s Presidency,” which contrasted a litany of economic indicators, like the price of gasoline and median household income, from 2001 to today. None favored Mr. Bush.

From a strictly economic perspective, it is difficult to blame Mr. Bush for the current crisis. Even some economists who have been critical of the president, like Bruce Bartlett, who worked in the Reagan and first Bush administrations, say he cannot be held liable for the burst of the housing bubble or problems in credit markets.

But from a political perspective, it is hard for Mr. Bush to escape. The economic expansion that came after his tax cuts has largely benefited the wealthy, which is why it is easy for Democrats like Mr. Emanuel to make the case that Mr. Bush’s stewardship of the economy has created “a middle-class squeeze.” And if the president ends his term in a recession, it will be difficult for him to point to any real economic progress on his watch.
It's interesting that she didn't link to her paper's poll, where a quick perusal will show that since January '04 poll respondents have said that the country is heading in the wrong direction, with numbers getting worse every year. And Times columnist Paul Krugman has been talking about Middle Class malaise over the economy endlessly during the Bush Presidency. Here he is in 2005:

But as The Times's series on class in America reminds us, that was another country. The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists.

Working families have seen little if any progress over the past 30 years. Adjusted for inflation, the income of the median family doubled between 1947 and 1973. But it rose only 22 percent from 1973 to 2003, and much of that gain was the result of wives' entering the paid labor force or working longer hours, not rising wages.

Meanwhile, economic security is a thing of the past: year-to-year fluctuations in the incomes of working families are far larger than they were a generation ago. All it takes is a bit of bad luck in employment or health to plunge a family that seems solidly middle-class into poverty.

As Stolberg notes, the Bush tax increases have "largely" benefited the wealthy. The rest of us are falling behind, and Bush has done nothing to make us feel better about our situation. While it is true that Presidents can't control the economic cycle, they can avoid promoting tax cuts that favor a tiny sliver of the American people; they can also avoid launching unprovoked wars that cost lives, plunge us into deep debt, and make the whole world a more dangerous place.

Bush deserves all the credit he is getting for our economic insecurity.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Friday with Sampson and Sadie

Up close and personal, taken by spouse earlier this week. She took the camera with her to PA.

Romney "Admits" to Focus on the Family that Mormonism isn't Christian

Time's Swampland blog has the Focus on the Family take on the political candidates:

Christian right leaders are abuzz today because a new online candidate guide that has been posted by Focus on the Family Action, the political arm of Jim Dobson's conservative Christian empire. The webpage offers edited excerpts of recent webcasts with the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, explaining where the candidates stand on "pro-family issues."

The video about Rudy Giuliani suggests that the former New York mayor would appoint a judge who would uphold Roe v. Wade, and knocks him for dressing in drag on Saturday Night Live. The video on John McCain hits the Arizona senator for campaign finance reform, his opposition to the federal marriage amendment and his 2000 comments about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. "You want someone to depend on when you are in a fight, and you never really know where he is going to be," says Perkins about McCain in the video.

This is all to be expected. But then it gets controversial. The video on Mike Huckabee, who is the overwhelming favorite among the nation's evangelical voters, is surprisingly harsh. After praising Huckabee's social views, both Perkins and Tom Minnery, a policy expert at Focus on the Family, hammer the former Arkansas governor for his foreign policy views. Minnery suggests that Huckabee does not understand the cause for which American troops are dying in Iraq. Then Perkins suggests that Huckabee lacks the fiscal and national security credentials needed for a conservative presidential candidate. "The conservatives have been successful in electing candidates, and presidents in particular, when they have had a candidate that can address not only the social issues, [but] the fiscal issues and the defense issues," says Perkins. "[Huckabee] has got to reach out to the fiscal conservatives and the security conservatives." Ouch.

So what about Romney? He comes up roses. "He has staked out positions on all three of the areas that we have discussed," says Perkins. "I think he continues to be solidly conservative." Then Minnery defends Romney from criticism that he is too polished and smooth. "Mitt Romney has acknowledged that Mormonism is not a Christian faith," Minnery adds. "But on the social issues we are so similar."

I can't imagine that Romney actually said that Mormonism is not a Christian faith. That surely would not go over to well in Mormon circles. I also find it interesting that Huckabee, who is the closest thing to an unvarnished, unpackaged evangelical Christian the Republican Party has ever seen, doesn't make the grade because he isn't a no-tax purist or a Rambo Republican.

Mad as Hell

Someone just forwarded this to me. It is still a great clip, especially after the last seven years.

Huckabee Learned Politics in Church

A truer headline there never was.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Obama on Abortion and his Faith

Obama speaks to Christianity Today about abortion and about this faith:

For many evangelicals, abortion is a key, if not the key factor in their vote. You voted against banning partial birth abortion and voted against notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions. What role do you think the President should play in creating national abortion policies?

I don't know anybody who is pro-abortion. I think it's very important to start with that premise. I think people recognize what a wrenching, difficult issue it is. I do think that those who diminish the moral elements of the decision aren't expressing the full reality of it. But what I believe is that women do not make these decisions casually, and that they struggle with it fervently with their pastors, with their spouses, with their doctors.

Our goal should be to make abortion less common, that we should be discouraging unwanted pregnancies, that we should encourage adoption wherever possible. There is a range of ways that we can educate our young people about the sacredness of sex and we should not be promoting the sort of casual activities that end up resulting in so many unwanted pregnancies.

Ultimately, women are in the best position to make a decision at the end of the day about these issues. With significant constraints. For example, I think we can legitimately say — the state can legitimately say — that we are prohibiting late-term abortions as long as there's an exception for the mother's health. Those provisions that I voted against typically didn't have those exceptions, which raises profound questions where you might have a mother at great risk. Those are issues that I don't think the government can unilaterally make a decision about. I think they need to be made in consultation with doctors, they have to be prayed upon, or people have to be consulting their conscience on it. I think we have to keep that decision-making with the person themselves.

You've talked about your experience walking down the aisle at Trinity United Church of Christ, and kneeling beneath the cross, having your sins redeemed, and submitting to God's will. Would you describe that as a conversion? Do you consider yourself born again?

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. But most importantly, I believe in the example that Jesus set by feeding the hungry and healing the sick and always prioritizing the least of these over the powerful. I didn't 'fall out in church' as they say, but there was a very strong awakening in me of the importance of these issues in my life. I didn't want to walk alone on this journey. Accepting Jesus Christ in my life has been a powerful guide for my conduct and my values and my ideals...

There is more at the link.

Conjugal Harmony

Via Andrew Sullivan I see there is a website where you can pick an inmate spouse. The benefits:

If you're anything like us, you're controlling. With Conjugal Harmony, we take out the guess work. You don't have to hire a private detective to know where your spouse is, who they're hanging out with, or ever wonder if you're being cheated on. By marrying a convict inside the prison system you can rest easy knowing that the state is looking out for you, and that you will be free of the nagging, shopping trips and extra-marital oversight so stifling to your relationship.

Obamas's a Black Man

Obama is campaigning in South Carolina. I don't get this sentiment voiced by Dana Milbank, covering him, at the Washington Post:

The scene -- a celebration of African American culture and achievement -- highlights the extraordinary revision of Obama's image here as he campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination. For two years, some African Americans asked: Is he black enough? Now the question for this son of a white mother and an African father has become: Is he too black to win?

For Obama, it's a conundrum. To win the nomination, he needs to win South Carolina's primary on Saturday. And to win here in South Carolina, he needs to win the black vote. And yet, if he appears to be primarily an African American phenomenon, he's unlikely to win the nomination, much less the general election.

I think it is perfectly understandable that Obama is drawing more and more support from African Americans. In the same way it is perfectly understandable that Hillary is drawing strong support from women. But when the dust is settled on this campaign, we are almost certainly going to have our first black President or our first woman President. Because the country is ready for change and they are the two candidates most qualified to bring us that change.

Heart Stolen

This gives new meaning to what it means to have your heart stolen:
The heart of a revered 19th century Argentine friar and patriot was stolen from an urn in the Franciscan monastery where it was kept for years as a religious relic, a church official said.

Whoever scooped up friar Mamerto Esquiu's heart on Tuesday left the urn it was stored in behind, said Jorge Martinez, head of the San Francisco monastery in the northwestern province of Catamarca.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Meaning of Resurrection

So I don't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Isn't that a heresy? Perhaps. Isn't the bodily resurrection of Jesus a cornerstone of the Christian faith? Doesn't the Apostle Paul say in 1 Corinthians 15:
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
Yes he does and perhaps you, like me, have heard this passage quoted by conservative Christians with great seriousness. If you don't believe in resurrection, you can't possibly be a Christian.

But Paul's passage about resurrection - all of it - is actually a great passage. Here is how he defines resurrection:
35But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. 42So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body. (NRSV found at Oremus Bible Browser)
Paul doesn't know anything about a bodily resurrection of Jesus. He assumes the physical Jesus died and God raised him up as a spiritual body. Paul saw Jesus in this way in his conversion vision. He assumes that in this same way - as a spiritual being - Jesus appeared to the other disciples. He says that Jesus is the "first-fruits" of the general resurrection that he believed was about to commence, a spiritual resurrection.

Remember that Paul is our earliest New Testament witness. His writings predate the gospel writings by at least 20 years. By the time the gospels are written accounts of a bodily resurrection of Jesus are being remembered. It is possible that there are bodily resurrection memories of Jesus as early as Paul's writings. It is also possible that they become important responses in the Christian community to doubts about the resurrection of Jesus and/or as a response to alternative stories about him.

The important point, though, is that within the New Testament itself there is a diversity of belief about the meaning of resurrection. It is perfectly possible, based on reading the New Testament, to not believe in a bodily resurrection of Jesus and still call oneself a Christian.

More on the Lost Tomb of Jesus

A couple of days ago I posted a link to the article in Time about the recent conference in Jerusalem on the Talpiot Tomb. Inscriptions on the Tomb include Jesus son of Joseph and Mariamne (the spelling is very important), among others. Could this be the family tomb of Jesus and Mary Magdalene? The tomb and this provocative possibility were explored in the Discover Channel documentary, also linked to in that post.

It appears that some of the scholars who attended the Jerusalem conference were not happy with the media coverage it generated. They have posted a letter on the Duke University Religion Department blog. Here is part of it:
A statistical analysis of the relatively common names engraved on the ossuaries leaves no doubt that the probability of the Talpiot tomb belonging to Jesus’ family is virtually nil if the Mariamene named on one of the ossuaries is not Mary Magdalene. In fact, epigraphers at the conference contested the reading of the inscription as “Mariamene.” Furthermore, Mary Magdalene is not referred to by the Greek name Mariamene in any literary sources before the late second-third century AD. An expert panel of scholars on the subject of Mary in the early church dismissed out of hand the suggestion that Mary Magdalene was married to Jesus, and no traditions suggest that Jesus had a son named Judah (another person named on an ossuary from this tomb). Moreover, the DNA evidence used to suggest that Jesus had a wife was dismissed by the Hebrew University team that devised such procedures and who have conducted such research all over the world. Even the ossuary inscribed with the name “Jesus son of Joseph” is paralleled by a find from another Jerusalem tomb, and at least one speaker said the reading of the name “Jesus” on the Talpiot tomb ossuary was not certain. Testimony from archaeologists who were involved in the excavation of the Talpiot tomb left no doubt that the “missing” tenth ossuary was plain and uninscribed, eliminating any possibility that it is the so-called “James ossuary.”

The identification of the Talpiot tomb as the tomb of Jesus’ family flies in the face the canonical Gospel accounts, which are the earliest traditions describing Jesus’ death and burial. According to these accounts Jesus was placed in the tomb of a prominent follower named Joseph of Arimathea. Since at least the early fourth century Christians have venerated the site of Jesus’ burial at the spot marked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. In contrast, not a single tradition, Christian or otherwise, preserves any reference to or recollection of a family tomb of Jesus anywhere in Jerusalem.
As you can see, a key piece of contentious evidence revolves around the translation and meaning of the inscription Mariamne. Could this be translated in any conceivable way as Mary Magdalene? These scholars say not. Rice University Professor April DeConick, who was also at the conference, has more to say about this on her blog. She too is skeptical, although she also lays out her reasons for not signing the letter.

But what is most interesting in this letter, as DeConick also notes, is the way it uncritically assumes the historicity of the gospel accounts of Jesus tomb. DeConick says:
I found the Duke letter arresting because it takes at historical face value the canonical stories, with little appreciation for critical textual methods. The proof that the Talpiot Tomb can't be Jesus' tomb is because the canonical stories relate that Joseph buried him in a new cut tomb of his own?
It's a surprisingly definitive statement coming from biblical scholars. It almost sounds as if theology is getting in the way of scholarship.

I am just beginning to get caught up to speed on what has been written about this tomb. I don't know enough about it to comment in any intelligent way. I have always assumed that Jesus was buried somewhere and his remains were lost. Although if you read Crossan's books he suggests it is quite possible Jesus was never buried in any formal way because it was standard practice, according to Crossan, for the Romans to keep the bodies on the cross until they were devoured by carrion. How unsettling is that thought? It is.

Many Christians, of course, reading the gospel accounts, believe that Jesus was raised in bodily form from the dead. I don't believe in any kind of bodily resurrection from the dead, past or present. There are just places my skeptical mind won't go. So I assume something happened to the remains of Jesus; I'd like to believe he got a respectful burial. But if so, then it does raise the interesting question of what happened to his remains.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Islamic Scriptural Scholarship

This must be my day for coming upon links to interesting Wall Street Journal articles about religion. Via, a good source of religious news, I saw this article about the (re)discovery of ancient manuscripts of the Quran:

On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.

Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.

"He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it," says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.

Ms. Neuwirth, a professor of Arabic studies at Berlin's Free University, now is overseeing a revival of the research. The project renews a grand tradition of German Quranic scholarship that was interrupted by the Third Reich. The Nazis purged Jewish experts on ancient Arabic texts and compelled Aryan colleagues to serve the war effort. Middle East scholars worked as intelligence officers, interrogators and linguists. Mr. Spitaler himself served, apparently as a translator, in the German-Arab Infantry Battalion 845, a unit of Arab volunteers to the Nazi cause, according to wartime records.

During the 19th century, Germans pioneered modern scholarship of ancient texts. Their work revolutionized understanding of Christian and Jewish scripture. It also infuriated some of the devout, who resented secular scrutiny of texts believed to contain sacred truths.

The revived Quran venture plays into a very modern debate: how to reconcile Islam with the modern world? Academic quarrying of the Quran has produced bold theories, bitter feuds and even claims of an Islamic Reformation in the making. Applying Western critical methods to Islam's holiest text is a sensitive test of the Muslim community's readiness to both accommodate and absorb thinking outside its own traditions.

Modern biblical scholarship has upset, revolutionized, and in my view re-invigorated Christianity by viewing the sacred texts not as if they dropped out of heaven straight from the pen of God but as human-made documents written in a particular time, place, and worldview. Bringing the same tools to the study of the Quran would be good for Islam. But it would also be even more unsettling for many Muslims:
Muslims, by contrast, view the Quran as the literal word of God. Questioning the Quran "is like telling a Christian that Jesus was gay," says Abdou Filali-Ansary, a Moroccan scholar.
I am guessing that was meant to be a shocking analogy. In any case it is a fascinating article.


There was a time in the Church of the Brethren when disciplining church members was practiced. I suppose among the more conservative Brethren groups it may still be done. But I see in this Wall Street Journal article from a couple days ago that some churches are bringing it back:

On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs. (Listen to the 911 call)

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

Her story reflects a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted and then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent. While many Christians find such practices outdated, pastors in large and small churches across the country are expelling members for offenses ranging from adultery and theft to gossiping, skipping service and criticizing church leaders.

I can't imagine being part of a church with an atmosphere of authority where a pastor or church leader could do this. It is the very definition of fear-based religion. When I speak from the front of the church I say "this is what I believe" and I hope, and often say, that I want everyone who hears me to think for themselves and feel free to agree or disagree. "Thinking encouraged, Diversity Welcomed" and we mean it.

You do have to admire the grit of Mrs. Caskey:

She went to Florida for the winter, and when she returned to Michigan last June, she drove the two miles to Allen Baptist as usual. A church member asked her to leave, saying she was not welcome, but Mrs. Caskey told him she had come to worship and asked if they could speak after the service. Twenty minutes into the service, a sheriff's officer was at her side, and an hour later, she was in jail.

"It was very humiliating," says Mrs. Caskey, who worked for the state of Michigan for 25 years before retiring from the Department of Corrections in 1992. "The other prisoners were surprised to see a little old lady in her church clothes. One of them said, 'You robbed a church?' and I said, 'No, I just attended church.' "

Word quickly spread throughout Allen, a close-knit town of about 200 residents. Once a thriving community of farmers and factory workers, Allen consists of little more than a strip of dusty antiques stores. Mr. and Mrs. Church, both in their 70s, eventually joined another Baptist congregation nearby.

About 25 people stopped attending Allen Baptist Church after Mrs. Caskey was shunned, according to several former church members.

Current members say they support the pastor's actions, and they note that the congregation has grown under his leadership. The simple, white-washed building now draws around 70 people on Sunday mornings, many of them young families. "He's a very good leader; he has total respect for the people," says Stephen Johnson, 66, an auto parts inspector, who added that Mr. Burrick was right to remove Mrs. Caskey because "the Bible says causing discord in the church is an abomination."

Mrs. Caskey went back to the church about a month after her arrest, shortly after the county prosecutor threw out the trespassing charge. More than a dozen supporters gathered outside, some with signs that read "What Would Jesus Do?" She sat in the front row as Mr. Burrick preached about "infidels in the pews," according to reports from those present.

Once again, Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.

In the following weeks, Mrs. Caskey continued to worship at Allen Baptist. Some congregants no longer spoke to her or passed the offering plate, and some changed seats if she sat next to them, she says.

There is nothing worse than looking out at your congregation and seeing "infidels in the pews."


Melvin Ho, 49, has his cheeks pierced with a skewer as he prepares for the Thaipusam procession in the Sri Srivinasa Perumal Temple in Singapore January 22, 2008.

Religious History Week

The economy is tanking; the war drags on and on; and via Minnesota Monitor I see that my Congressman decides this is a perfect time to co-sponsor a bill that establishes a Religious History Week. It begins:

Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as `American Religious History Week' for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.

Whereas religious faith was not only important in official American life during the periods of discovery, exploration, colonization, and growth but has also been acknowledged and incorporated into all 3 branches of American Federal government from their very beginning;

Whereas the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed this self-evident fact in a unanimous ruling declaring `This is a religious people ... From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation';

Whereas political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible;

Whereas the first act of America's first Congress in 1774 was to ask a minister to open with prayer and to lead Congress in the reading of 4 chapters of the Bible;

Whereas Congress regularly attended church and Divine service together en masse;

Whereas throughout the American Founding, Congress frequently appropriated money for missionaries and for religious instruction, a practice that Congress repeated for decades after the passage of the Constitution and the First Amendment;

Whereas in 1776, Congress approved the Declaration of Independence with its 4 direct religious acknowledgments referring to God as the Creator (`All people are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'), the Lawgiver (`the laws of nature and nature's God'), the Judge (`appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world'), and the Protector (`with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence'); ...

And it resolves:

    That the United States House of Representatives----
      (1) affirms the rich spiritual and diverse religious history of our Nation's founding and subsequent history, including up to the current day;
      (2) recognizes that the religious foundations of faith on which America was built are critical underpinnings of our Nation's most valuable institutions and form the inseparable foundation for America's representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures;
      (3) rejects, in the strongest possible terms, any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation's public buildings and educational resources; and
      (4) expresses support for designation of a `American Religious History Week' every year for the appreciation of and education on America's history of religious faith.
"Rich spiritual and diverse religious history." In a quick read down through the 75+ Whereas's in the bill I see lots of references to Christianity but no mention of any other religious tradition. Perhaps Rep. Kline and his co-sponsors ought to spend a little time learning about America's religious history and its diversity before they propose a bill that ignores both our history and our diversity.

Why I Watch the Superbowl

When I was a young child I determined that in "my world" U.S. football (and hockey and boxing too I might add) is nothing more than a modern day gladiator spectacle played by teams. The difference is that today team owners, coaches, and players make astronomical amounts of money instead of playing for their lives. Today the players are usually only injured instead of killed while providing entertainment for the masses.

But like most Americans, I grew up around an extended family of football fanatics. Also I played the drums in marching bands which provided entertainment before and during high school and college football games. So I couldn't escape it. I put up and shut up. I even tried in the late 1980s to learn about football with a John Madden videotape (before the "Dummies" and "Idiots Guide" series of books became popular)under the mistaken impression that my ignorance of the game was holding back my enthusiasm for it. Not so. I was just as ambivalent after understanding the difference between a tight end and a running back.

I joined the mass of people, mostly women (although my mom is a die hard football fan so she breaks the stereotype) who endure these televised bloodbaths with their family and friends just to spend time with them rather than going off and congregating with a group of other football ambivalent folks to do their own thing. While watching televised football (and hockey and boxing) I have learned and completed a number of knitting, embroidery, furniture refinishing, and scrap booking projects to keep myself entertained and avoid the display of violence on the field.

I started enjoying the halftime entertainment too. I'm one of the people who can't tell you who played in the Superbowl on any given year, but I can tell you who the halftime headliner was that year. I'm not alone. One of the women was sitting around a dinner table and we were all trying to figure out which year of the early 90s Minneapolis, MN hosted the Superbowl. One of the women chimed in "that's the year Gloria Estafan was the halftime show".

Then there's the commercials. I will also admit that I love watching and critiquing the commercials shown during the Superbowl. I think that I must have been an advertising creative writer in a former life (in my present life my stint in this role was very short-lived).

I just read an article about Budwiser's Superbowl ads online. Here's a preview of what you can expect from the Anheiser Bush folks on Superbowl Sunday.

But no matter how good Tom Petty is--and I'm very much looking forward to hearing him sing "I Won't Back Down"--and no matter how clever and funny all the commercials are this year. You can rest assured that I will wonder to myself as I do every year at the end of the game, "What if all the money over the past ?40? years (I also can't tell you which number Superbowl is coming up on 2/3) that was spent on pro football had instead been raised and spent to help the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the displaced--what would the world look like today?"

Not to mention the game is shown on Murdock's FOX network this year. Sigh. But that is a post for another day!

And the Nominees Are....

Early this morning the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announced this year's nominees for the categories of the Academy's awards to be presented 2/24. (Whether there will be a ceremony remains to be seen due to the writers' strike.) Here's the link to the list of nominees. I've got some serious movie watching to do because I've seen NONE of these movies yet! So I'm totally unqualified to choose my favorites yet.

Either today or tomorrow, LiberalChurch will be announcing their own list of nominees for their own favorite film. Over the past 3 weeks Liberalchurch members and friends have submitted the names of their favorite films (not limited to the past year). The list of nominated films will be posted on the blog very soon and everyone will be invited to vote and comment on their favorite from the list and why. There will also be a ballots and a ballot box at Liberalchurch starting this Sunday for people to vote. Votes will be taken until Sunday noon 2/17. Neither Price Waterhouse nor Jimmy Carter will be monitoring the election process or certifying the accuracy of its results, so you are on your honor not to "stack" the ballot box with the name of your personal favorite. Please have as much fun with this as we are!

Some of the LiberalChurch nominees will be shown there on Friday nights at 7pm Feb. 1, 8, 15, and 22. These movies will also be highlighted in the Sunday messages on Feb. 3, 10, 17, and 24. Watch this week for the list of what is showing when! (Except we will keep the movie for 2/22 and 2/24 a surprise as it will be the top "vote getter". There will be ballots and a ballot box at Liberalchurch starting this Sunday for people to vote until after worship on 2/17.

Monday, January 21, 2008

It Starts Young


A Muslim boy has his head bandaged after flagellating himself during a Moharram procession on the occasion of Ashura in Mumbai, India, January 20, 2008.

REUTERS/Arko Datta

Obama is a Christian

Not that it matters to me; it doesn't. I care not about his religion but about his character, experience, and platform. This piece of news, for instance, speaks well to me of his experience of the world:
Obama's middle name is Hussein. His father and stepfather were Muslim. And he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia, a largely Muslim country.
But because of this he feels the need to clearly state his Christian credentials while campaigning in South Carolina:
...and campaign representatives blanketed South Carolina churches Sunday with literature that touted Obama's Christian faith.

One piece features photos of Obama praying with the words "COMMITTED CHRISTIAN" in large letters across the middle. It says Obama will be a president "guided by his Christian faith" and includes a quote from him saying, "I believe in the power of prayer."

A second piece, which like the first doesn't mention the Muslim rumor, includes photos of Obama with his family and a caption that says they are active members of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. It explains how as a young man Obama "felt a beckoning of the spirit and accepted Jesus Christ into his life."

George Bush could have spoken these same words, and I have no doubt he, like Obama, speaks truthfully about his religious faith. But Bush's personal religious faith has had no bearing on the kind of President he has turned out to be. Good Christian men can apparently still be very bad Presidents. So I would wish for a little less God talk on the campaign trail and a little more focus on policy and plans.

MLK Jr. Day

Lesser Known Words on War & Peace, Justice, Community, Civil Rights, Religion:

"This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate in to the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

"We will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process. Ultimately, you can't reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree."

"The church cannot be silent while mankind faces the threat of nuclear annihilation. If the church is true to her mission, he must call for an end to the arms race."

"The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding. It seeks to annihilate rather than to convert.

Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.

Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers."

"A religion true to its nature must also be concerned about man's social conditions....Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them is a dry-as-dust religion.

Such a religion is the kind the Marxists like to see---an opiate of the people."

"Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values.

The two are not rivals. They are complementary.

Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralyzing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism."

"Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor. It must be demanded by the oppressed."

"Direct action is not a substitute for work in the courts and the halls of government. Bringing about passage of a new and broad law by a city council, state legislature, or the Congress, or pleading cases before the courts of the land, does not eliminate the necessity for bringing about the mass dramatization of injustice in front of a city hall.

Indeed, direct action and legal action complement one another. When skillfully employed, each becomes more effective."

"When evil men plot, good men must plan. When evil men burn and bomb, good men must build and bind. When evil men shout ugly words of hatred, good men must commit themselves to the glories of love.

Where evil men would seek to perpetuate an unjust status quo, good men must seek to bring into being a real order of justice."

Moms for Hillary Winner

I don't know her, but this Mom's for Hillary winner is from my home town of Martinsburg, PA and my home church Memorial Church of the Brethren.

Female Circumcision

In the New York Times Magazine this week, it's almost too painful to watch. It's just wrong.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Environmental Education in Our Schools

It is so important for our schools to be modeling this:

Last week, District 196 rolled out a new composting program designed to keep food waste from mixing with other trash in garbage trucks -- a problem that sank students' previous attempts to turn leftover French fries into garden mulch. And the enthusiasm has been building: At Rosemount High School, students made signs for the cafeteria about how composting works and volunteered to be lunchroom monitors.

"I didn't have to sell this," said Veda Kanitz, a ninth-grade earth sciences teacher who helped get the program off the ground at Rosemount. "They know that we need to do something, that this planet is in trouble."

Composting is taking off at schools throughout the metro area: It's good for the environment, gives students an easy way to be green and can help reduce a school's garbage costs because organic waste comes with lower tipping fees and taxes.

Veda is Outreach Ministry Team Coordinator at Open Circle. She is great.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who Is Having Those Abortions?

It is not necessarily the stereotypical teenager:
In American pop culture, the face of abortion is often a frightened teenager, nervously choosing to terminate an unexpected pregnancy. The numbers tell a far more complex story in which financial stress can play a pivotal role.

Half of the roughly 1.2 million U.S. women who have abortions each year are 25 or older. Only about 17 percent are teens. About 60 percent have given birth to least one child prior to getting an abortion.

A disproportionately high number are black or Hispanic. And regardless of race, high abortion rates are linked to hard times...

Some are glad they did it. Some now regret it:

“It wasn’t a hard decision for me to make, because I knew where I wanted to go in my life — I’ve never regretted it,” said Kimberly Mathias, 28, an African-American single mother from Missouri.

She had an abortion at 19, when she already raising a 2-year-old son.

“It wasn’t hard to realize I didn’t want another child at that time,” Mathias said. “I was trying to take care of the one I had, and going to college and working at the same time.”

She was able to graduate, now has an insurance job, and — still a single mother — has a 3-year-old son as well as her first-born, now 11.

By contrast, Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr., calls herself a “reformed murderer” for undergoing two abortions when she was young.

But fortunately all of them had a choice.

Snap Shots

I have removed one widget from this site, Sphere, which never seemed to provide any relevant information when you clicked on it... and installed another as an experiment. It is Snap Shots. It comes with this suggested introduction:

I just installed a nice little tool on this site called Snap Shots that enhances links with visual previews of the destination site, interactive excerpts of Wikipedia articles, MySpace profiles, IMDb profiles and Amazon products, display inline videos, RSS, MP3s, photos, stock charts and more.

Sometimes Snap Shots bring you the information you need, without your having to leave the site, while other times it lets you "look ahead," before deciding if you want to follow a link or not.

Should you decide this is not for you, just click the Options icon in the upper right corner of the Snap Shot and opt-out.

The Tomb of Jesus?

The Discovery Channel caused something of an uproar in Christian circles when it aired its story on the "tomb" of Jesus. I didn't see it at the time, but will watch it now. However sensationalized the story might have been in its telling, there was apparently enough interest among archaeologists and some biblical scholars to hold a conference, just concluded, in Jerusalem and look at the evidence. Here is the story from Time:
Still, even after the furor over the film faded, the questions it raised about the tomb unearthed in 1980 continued to make waves among archeologists and Biblical scholars. A leading New Testament expert from Princeton Theological Seminary, Prof. James Charlesworth, was intrigued enough to organize a conference in Jerusalem this week, bringing together over 50 archeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages, to give evidence as to whether or not the crypt of Christ had been found. Their task was complicated by the fact that since the tomb was opened in 1980, the bones of the various ossuaries had gone missing through a mishap of Israeli bureaucracy. Also gone were diagrams made by excavators that showed where each stone sarcophagus lay inside the tomb, and what the family relationships might have been, say, between Jesus and Mary Magdelene, who some speculate may have been his wife.

After three days of fierce debate, the experts remained deeply divided. Opinion among a panel of five experts ranged from "no way" to "very possible". Charlesworth told TIME: "I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan." Weighing the evidence, says Charlesworth, "we can tell that this was the tomb of a Jewish family from the time of Jesus. And we know that the names on the ossuaries are expressed the correct way as 'Jesus, son of Joseph.'" But the professor has a few doubts. "The name on Jesus's ossuary was scrawled on, like graffiti. There was no ornamentation. And there should have been. After all, his followers believed he was the Son of God."
James Tabor covers this issue extensively in his blog.

Sun Dog

14 below zero this morning. The view from my front porch.

Bill Moyers on LBJ and MLK Jr. - Hillary & Obama

Bill Moyers sets the record straight on the respective roles of LBJ and MLK Jr. in getting the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act bills passed. It reminds me once again of what a tragic figure Johnson was. If it wasn't for the small matter of the Vietnam War he might have been remembered as a great President.

This is the Word of the Lord: Go to the Doctor

The message from one pastor to the men in his congregation:
After the fourth death in a week, Keith Troy decided enough was enough.

Midway through Sunday services, he looked out at his congregation and asked all the men to rise. Then he asked: Would the deacons and associate ministers please assemble in the aisles with paper and pencil? Would every man write down his name and a phone number where he could be reached?

Too many church men were dying of preventable illnesses, Troy told the congregation at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, a mostly black church of about 4,500 members, including about 900 men.

Their pastor of 24 years issued a simple order: Every male congregant will see a doctor in the next three months. If they can't afford it, the church will help pay. If transportation is a problem, someone from the church will drive them.

"But one way or another," Troy said that Sunday in late November, "every man in this church will be checked out."

"Amen," parishioners responded. "Amen."

The last straw had come three days earlier when Roland Burks, 58, died of complications from diabetes and high blood pressure the day after he delivered Thanksgiving meals to the homeless.

Not Your Average Text Message

From the Washington Post:
The Cairo woman stared in disbelief at the text message in her cellphone inbox.

She and her husband, an Egyptian army officer away on duty, had just hung up after quarreling on the phone. She ignored his return call, not wanting to continue the argument, the woman recounted in an interview this week.

The electronic chirrup of an incoming message signaled his response. "I divorce you," her husband had written. "That will teach you not to answer my calls."

According to the article it takes only three such statements "I divorce you" in Islamic Law for men to be able to divorce their wives. But can they use cell phones to do it? In several Islamic states, men are apparently testing the waters.

The Other Oil Shock

The New York Times paints a stark picture of the politics of food around the world:
Rising prices for cooking oil are forcing residents of Asia’s largest slum, in Mumbai, India, to ration every drop. Bakeries in the United States are fretting over higher shortening costs. And here in Malaysia, brand-new factories built to convert vegetable oil into diesel sit idle, their owners unable to afford the raw material.

This is the other oil shock. From India to Indiana, shortages and soaring prices for palm oil, soybean oil and many other types of vegetable oils are the latest, most striking example of a developing global problem: costly food.

The food price index of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, based on export prices for 60 internationally traded foodstuffs, climbed 37 percent last year. That was on top of a 14 percent increase in 2006, and the trend has accelerated this winter.

In some poor countries, desperation is taking hold. Just in the last week, protests have erupted in Pakistan over wheat shortages, and in Indonesia over soybean shortages. Egypt has banned rice exports to keep food at home, and China has put price controls on cooking oil, grain, meat, milk and eggs.

According to the F.A.O., food riots have erupted in recent months in Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

“The urban poor, the rural landless and small and marginal farmers stand to lose,” said He Changchui, the agency’s chief representative for Asia and the Pacific.

A startling change is unfolding in the world’s food markets. Soaring fuel prices have altered the equation for growing food and transporting it across the globe. Huge demand for biofuels has created tension between using land to produce fuel and using it for food.