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Saturday, December 31, 2005


I started this blog in late 2004. I want to offer thanks to a number of entities, and persons. Forgive me if you are not mentioned, or not mentioned enough.

Thanks, first of all, to God, who has given me the ability to do this. Thanks to my wife, who suggested that we purchase the laptop I'm using as we type this, and who has encouraged me in doing this.

Thanks to my readers, whether regular, occasional, or one-time, whether they comment, link to this blog, mention it in theirs, or just look. I want to thank family, especially my daughters and a nephew, a couple of dozen or more persons associated with Southern Wesleyan University, some other bloggers, an individual from our church, and, I think, some people who don't fit in any of those categories. (If some of you commented or e-mailed, I'd know more about who you are!) I'm sorry that I flit from category to category so much, but it's my blog. That makes me even more grateful to you.

Thanks to other bloggers. As some readers know from personal experience, finding time, motivation, resources, and something to write/show on a regular basis isn't a casual occupation. Finding an audience isn't easy. I want to especially thank Bonnie, Catez, Julana, Kathryn, Joe, Jeremy, Ken, Kevin, Marla, Michele, Perry, and Rebecca, who have provided material worth reading or looking at on a consistent basis. Most of you have commented or e-mailed me, in some cases a lot, and I treasure our friendship. We don't always agree (if we did, one of us would be redundant).

Thanks to the over two dozen bloggers currently, or recently, associated with Southern Wesleyan University. Whether you are telling about your visits to your grandmother, how your sister plays music you can't stand, surviving the ice storm, recovering from athletic injuries, new ways to use a computer, how your job is going, how your classes are going, showing photos, or describing how your pregnancy is progressing, I thank you. Seeing some of what you are up to has made retirement so much easier. There are some of you who ought to consider long-time blogging for the wider world, not just your friends, on a consistent basis. Not because I suggest it, though!

Thanks to Microsoft, Corel, ZoneAlarm, etc., and to Blogger, Bloglines, Google, Flickr. Thanks to the Christian Carnival. Thanks to Slate, MSN, Arts and Letters Daily, the Librarian's Internet Index, Nature, Carl Zimmer, The Panda's Thumb, Sports Illustrated, Harper's and SciTech Daily. Thanks to some relatives, and to motels, and other institutions that have provided web access.

God bless you all!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Biblical warning about aimless web-surfing

Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Psalm 119:37 (ESV)

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Thoughts on Yosemite and John Muir

El Capitan

The photo above is of El Capitan, taken in Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite National Park is amazing and unique. It is no wonder that John Muir was so enchanted with the area. The park contains redwoods, waterfalls, rivers, and spectacular cliffs. The most popular area is in a valley, surrounded by cliffs on both sides.

Shortly after the park was established, Congress allowed its Hetch Hetchy valley to be dammed, for water for San Francisco. This was a blow to Muir, and deprived us, according to him, of more spectacular scenery.

John Muir was a scientist who did much of his scientific work in nature. He wasn't a college professor, nor did he work as a researcher for the government, or for some company, on a regular basis. He observed, and he wrote. He didn't just describe, he taught (he was said to be especially good at teaching children about nature in ways they could understand) and he advocated. One of the things he advocated most strongly was the establishment of Yosemite. Muir was a Christian, and probably one of those who really do communicate with God in natural surroundings on a regular basis.

This is the next-to-last sentence of Muir's The Yosemite:
These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem tohave a perfect contempt for Nature, and, instead of lifting their eyesto the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar.

Here's a paragraph from his The Mountains of California:

In the morning everything is joyous and bright, the delicious purple ofthe dawn changes softly to daffodil yellow and white; while the sunbeamspouring through the passes between the peaks give a margin of gold toeach of them. Then the spires of the firs in the hollows of the middleregion catch the glow, and your camp grove is filled with light. Thebirds begin to stir, seeking sunny branches on the edge of the meadowfor sun-baths after the cold night, and looking for their breakfasts,every one of them as fresh as a lily and as charmingly arrayed.Innumerable insects begin to dance, the deer withdraw from the openglades and ridge-tops to their leafy hiding-places in the chaparral, theflowers open and straighten their petals as the dew vanishes, every pulse beats high, every life-cell rejoices, the very rocks seem totingle with life, and God is felt brooding over everything great and small.

We recently visited part of the park. The area is, indeed, beautiful. There are redwood trees, the spectacular valley, equally spectacular mountains, and some beautiful water features. Yosemite is not far, an hour's drive or so, from Fresno, CA, a city of roughly half million. Fresno is in the San Joaquin Valley, which is both one of most intensely farmed areas in the U. S., and also one of the most heavily polluted and transformed from its natural state. Why didn't Muir try to preserve more of this valley? Perhaps because it was flat, therefore less attractive than the mountains. Perhaps Muir knew that trying to preserve this area would have been a losing battle, more difficult than preserving Yosemite.

Muir's activity wasn't confined to the West. He was born in Scotland, but emigrated to Wisconsin as a boy, with his family, and lived and worked in the Eastern part of the U. S. Several of his works are available from Project Gutenberg. His Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf is available from the Sierra Club. He walked from Louisville, KY, to Florida.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sunspots 37

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Thorough and updated report in, on how the reported success in transplanting adult human nuclei to unfertilized eggs, carried out in South Korea, was mostly faked.

The full text of Judge Jones's opinion in Kitzmiller, the Dover, Pennsylvania Intelligent Design trial, is here. (warning: it's over 139 pages long, and a .PDF file, over 300 kb in size)

Article in The New Atlantis on Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons, which was reviewed, when it was published a year or so ago, as being basically about sex in a fictional university. (I haven't read it, and don't plan to) The authors of the article don't deny that, but say it's really about the terrible human condition we are in, with no moral compass: "If Wolfe’s description . . . accurately portrays the character of our elite universities, then the dissolution of the American way of life is nearly complete. Our ancient faith is no longer a vibrant and effective part of the education of future leaders. Our ability to perpetuate our culture and our constitutional soul will wither alongside our belief in the soul itself."

I am pleased to note that this blog now has 12 Bloglines subscribers, the most it's ever had. (I'm one of them.) Thank you, readers, or, at least, subscribers.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Torture and Christianity

I previously posted on the subject of torture, expressing surprise that evangelical bloggers had said so little about it, when we have expressed a lot of moral outrage over other issues. (I don't read every such blog, of course!).

Joe Carter and Justin Taylor have gone a long way toward remedying this, hosting an on-line symposium on torture. I recommend that anyone seriously interested in the subject read these articles. I found that Augustine had considered this issue, and that Kenneth Magnuson, a Southern Baptist, no less, was the writer who brought it up in his contribution to the symposium. Albert Mohler (also a Southern Baptist, if it matters) wrote a good essay, paying careful attention to moral distinctions and reality. Robert Vischer takes the White House's John Yoo to task. Here, he says, is part of what Yoo wrote, followed immediately by Vischer's response:
Clearly, any harm that might occur during an interrogation would pale to insignificance compared to the harm avoided by preventing such an attack, which could take hundreds or thousands of lives.

And in that single statement, we have the essence of why Christians cannot condone torture, no matter the justifications offered. An ethic grounded in human dignity can never hold that the purposeful infliction of pain on a person is insignificant, nor that its significance can be minimized as though concerns over human life and dignity are mere variables in a cost-benefit analysis.

Richard John Neuhaus had this to say:
Establishing a principle is not “merely for show.” Recognizing, clearly but sotto voce, that there will sometimes be exceptions to the principle is not hypocrisy.

There were a couple of other articles, just as deserving of your time. This is a serious issue, indeed, and I am grateful to the symposium's hosts.

* * * *

Cleaned up a little, without changing anything substantial, on Dec 29, 2005. All but one change (his to Vischer's) was in the formatting.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 15

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "The Joy of Obedience." The material below is quoted exactly, from the text at the first link in this post.

There are many relations in life which require from the different parties only very moderate degrees of devotion. We may have really pleasant friendships with one another, and yet spend a large part of our lives in separate interests, and widely differing pursuits. When together, we may greatly enjoy one another's society, and find many congenial points; but separation is not any especial distress to us, and other and more intimate friendships do not interfere. There is not enough love between us, to give us either the right or the desire to enter into and share one another's most private affairs. A certain degree of reserve and distance is the suitable thing, we feel. But there are other relations in life where all this is changed. The friendship becomes love. The two hearts give themselves to one another, to be no longer two but one. A union of souls takes place, which makes all that belongs to one the property of the other. Separate interests and separate paths in life are no longer possible. Things which were lawful before become unlawful now, because of the nearness of the tie that binds. The reserve and distance suitable to mere friendship becomes fatal in love. Love gives all, and must have all in return. The wishes of one become binding obligations to the other, and the deepest desire of each heart is, that it may know every secret wish or longing of the other, in order that it may fly on the wings of the wind to gratify it.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christ didn't come as a baby . . .

We don't seem to know what day, or even what year, Christ was born, but he was born.

Christ didn't come as a baby. He came as an embryo. Did He retain any of His divine omniscience and omnipotence during that period? I don't know, but I suspect that He didn't retain all of it. The Bible teaches that He was tempted like we are. I don't know if fetuses are tempted. However, to really be like us, He must have had an experience much like ours, and I suspect that that meant, after He was born, not being able to speak for a year or so, and, before He was born, giving up some of his powers and awareness. Was this easy for the Creator of the Universe? I wouldn't think so--the cross wasn't.

If He gave anything up, He did it for me.

(This is a repost from December 24, 2004.)

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Plants and Christmas

Poinsettia on utility pole
This photo is of a poinsettia plant, in Southern California. The red things aren't petals, they are modified leaves, or bracts. The actual flowers are the smaller yellow structures. This particular branch is part of a plant that is at least 10 feet tall. It is not twining around the utility pole, it just happens to be growing in front of it. (Note the branch behind the bracts on the lower right.) To see more of our photos, or a larger size of this one, click on the photo. You will be taken to our Flickr photos. No password is needed, and you won't be besieged by pop-up ads.

A number of plants are associated with Christmas. One web page that deals with that subject is here.

God's best at Christmas time.

Thanks for reading, and looking.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Reaction to the Intelligent Design Court Decision, 2

I didn't anticipate posting about Intelligent Design again today, but (for me) I received a landslide of comments (4) to my yesterday's post. So I'm posting again. Some of this is written because of those comments, which I appreciate so much.

1) The central message of Christianity is Christ's redemption. Since that has to be accepted on faith, it isn't surprising that believing in God's creative action also requires faith, not scientific proof (Hebrews 11:3). (The New Testament emphasizes the creative activity of God the Son, not God the Father or God the Holy Spirit. See the first chapters of John and Colossians.)

2) I have read Darwin's Black Box, even used it as a text once. Michael Behe's thesis is interesting, and he may even be correct, but his book is not proof, in my opinion. It attempts to show that some aspects of living things are too complex to have arisen by natural selection, but saying that, and proving it, are two different things. At least some of his examples of specified complexity have been explained, since he wrote the book, without invoking a Designer. (Which can be one problem with Intelligent Design. If you say that anything that you can't explain the origin of was done by God, then if you find an explanation, it seems to make God smaller. God is responsible for the things we think we can explain, as well as those we can't. He is responsible for 2 + 2, as well as infinity.)

3) Behe is right about this:

Many people, including many important and well-respected scientists, just don't want there to be anything beyond nature. they don't want a supernatural being to affect nature, no matter how brief or constructive the interaction may have been. In other words, like young-earth creationists, they bring an a priori philosophical commitment to their science that restricts what kinds of explanations they will accept about the physical world. Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York: The Free Press, 1996, p. 243. Emphasis in original.

Those who "don't want there to be anything beyond nature" have done some unscientific things. I don't doubt that there are universities and public schools where science teachers (and perhaps others) say, in so many words, or imply, that science has proved that there is no God. It hasn't, and it can't. Statements like that should be just as unconstitutional as requiring prayer in public schools.

4) Prayer can be practiced, even on public school campuses in the U. S., by voluntary groups, but not as part of a State-mandated educational program. Intelligent Design could be studied and discussed in the same way. Unlike many, I am opposed to letting prayer and other religious practices be required by the public schools. So is the Supreme Court. I have two reasons for this opposition. First, if, say, prayer were required, this would mean that some teachers who are not believers could be leading it. Second, this would open the door for other faiths to have the same privilege, out of fairness, or if their religion became the majority in a school district.

5) One problem with stating whether or not one believes in "evolution" is that the word has so many different meanings. If it means "Change in a population, over time, in response to the environment," which is usually called "natural selection" and is what Darwin's theory was written about, he was right. Natural selection has occurred, for example in humans--if all humans came from one stock, there have been changes and divergence, just as would be expected from natural selection at work. Natural selection also explains insect resistance to insecticides and bacterial resistance to antibiotics very well. As far as I know, all scientists, including those who are young-earth creationists accept the validity of natural selection. These latter would say, however, that there hasn't been enough time for natural selection to have produced all the varieties of living things, but that much of this variety was specially created, or designed, by God in the beginning.

However, if by "evolution," is meant that there is no purpose in the universe, that's a different matter. There is no scientific evidence proving that, and Christians must reject it. "Naturalism" is a term often used to mean that there is no purpose in the universe, or at least excluding God from explanations. It contrasts with "supernaturalism."

There are various other meanings to "evolution."

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Reaction to the Intelligent Design Court Decision

This week, a U. S. District Judge ruled that the teaching of Intelligent Design in a school district in Pennsylvania was unconstitutional. This statement summarizes the ruling: "our conclusion today is that it is unconstitutional to teach ID as an alternative to evolution in a public school science classroom."

The Judge, apparently a church-going Republican, also said:
To be sure, Darwin's theory of evolution is imperfect. However, the fact that a scientific theory cannot yet render an explanation on every point should not be used as a pretext to thrust an untestable alternative hypothesis grounded in religion into the science classroom or to misrepresent well-established scientific propositions.

My judgment is that the Judge was correct. The school board (most of whom have not been re-elected) wanted ID taught for religious reasons, and requiring that something that promotes a particular creed in the public schools should not be done. (I wouldn't want, say, Wiccan teaching in my grandson's school.)

However, that being said, if science (or other classes) teach that there is no purpose to the universe, and that living things are here solely by chance, that would also be religious doctrine, and should also be disallowed in the classroom. Proving (or disproving) such statements is outside the purview of science, although some scientists make statements like that. At least some, probably a lot, of the motivation to fight the teaching of ID has been based on such naturalistic beliefs.

I believe that we would all be better off if what is meant by "evolution" were clearly spelled out when it is discussed. Are we talking about the origin of the universe (which is outside the field of biology, and has nothing directly to do with Darwin) or about the origin of humans, or about changes like those in bacteria, selected by exposure to antibiotics?

Lest there be any doubt, I personally believe that God did, at some level or levels, design things so that the universe, and living things, including humans, are as they are. I am not sure when God did this, nor how. I am not sure how many times God may have done this.

Although I believe this, I don't believe that it is scientifically possible to prove that God did any of this. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that we understand how things began by faith. (Others, Michael Behe for one, believe that it is possible.)

I also believe that natural selection works, much as Darwin described it, and that organisms have changed over time. That does not necessarily mean that everything taught as fact in biology textbooks is true.

The most important thing about Genesis 1 is not when, or how. It is Who.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sunspots 36

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Blog post that claims that the conventional wisdom, that the date of Christmas was selected to counter a pagan holiday, is wrong. (A commenter says that the conventional wisdom is correct.)

A post on nudity and Christianity. The poster says there there are "Christian nudists." (He's not one of them.)

A new object, some 500-1000 kilometers in diameter, has been found beyond Pluto. Its orbit is at an angle to most of the rest of the objects in our solar system.

There's a new sound in the official international phonetic alphabet. The sound is found in several african languages, and a faith-based organization proposed that it be adopted as a recognized sound and symbol.

Something I didn't spot was the 235th birthday of Beethoven, on December 16th. Sorry.

Harper's has published excerpts from a math book, published by Bob Jones University, which combined Christian doctrine with mathematics. The most interesting quote in the excerpts: "Ambiguous means open to multiple interpretations. Some people say that you can interpret the Bible in any way that you want. However, there is no ambiguity in the Bible."

Someone named Ashley Hepp commented on one of my posts, but I can't figure out which one. If she (or he) sees this, and wants further contact, please comment again, with a note on the date or subject of the post, or some indication as to how I might reach you. Thanks.

There was an ice storm in the Carolinas. A couple of the bloggers I subscribe to, both associated with Southern Wesleyan University, were able to blog without electricity in their homes. See here for scvff and here for Joy.

Sherilyn rants about the popular perception of heaven. (hint: it isn't about us)

Bonnie has begun a series on Christians and mental illness.

April, a friend and former student, who first blogged (very effectively, I must say) about her mission trip to Southeast Asia, is back in Southeast US, and posted, for the first time in several months.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Guest Comments on the Harry Potter movie

A regular reader, who doesn't blog, e-mailed me these comments on the current Harry Potter movie. I consider them worthy of posting. Thanks!

Character Problems: 1) Every scene in which we see Professor Snape is either played for comedy at the time or played for comedy later on in the movie. I was hopeful that there might be one scene that was not played for comedy, that is, when Snape says he knows Harry has been going through his private stores, but this too was used for comedy later on when Dumbledore turns to Snape after discovering Barty Crouch Jr. and says, "Now I guess we know who's been going through your stores, Severus," or whatever it is he says. Again comedy. Snape can be funny. I enjoyed the humor that he provided earlier in the movie, but I have to wonder what in the world they are going to do when they get to movie number 6.

2) They had several shots during which it is hard not to imagine a romantic tension between Harry and Hermione and they totally loused up the romantic tension between Hermione and Ron after the Yule Ball. She's not supposed to be as angry at him for getting in the way of her date with Krum as she is angry at him for not asking her to the ball himself and then sulking about it. And Harry agrees with her. Now, I know in the book, Harry just thought that Hermione was right and didn't say anything, but they could have really played that off better somehow in the movie. If Harry and Hermione ever kiss in these movies, I will not spend another penny on going to see them.

3) The actor who plays Dumbledore has not read the books. I would be willing to bet a good sum of money on this if I had any. The scene where Dumbledore comes after Harry after his name comes out of the goblet was way overacted. Dumbledore actually grabbed him and shook him while screaming. This will not get in the way of the later plot as much as the previous two issues, but I think it was a bad decision. Dumbledore would never endanger a student or be physically threatening to them in any way. The core motivation of his character is care for the students he teaches.

Theme Difficulties: The movie left out any part of the book that had to do with the strong persecuting the weak. It left out the fact that the death eaters did not in fact burn down the entire Quidditch camp. They did something which defines who they are much more clearly in the book. They tortured a muggle family. Also, there were no house elves in this movie. In the book, they play a major role, and along with the house elves, they left out everything about S.P.E.W. (Hermione's quest to create the Society for the Preservation of Elvish Welfare).

They did a similar butchering of the themes of book three by leaving out the fact that Harry's father is the same as Harry's patronus. They also took out a lot of the themes having to do with family in the third movie.

Plot Difficulties: My main problem with the plot is that they never even touched priori incantatem until the very end and at that point they only said the name. Anyone watching the movie who hadn't read the books would have no idea that, although this casting of it is spectacular, it is a normal spell that anyone can use to determine the last spells cast by any individual's wand.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Iraqi election, in California

Iraqi polling place, parliamentary election, El Cajon, CA, USA

Many things have been said about the manner of entry of the US into a war in Iraq, about the conduct of that war, and the like. I've said a few myself. But at least one good thing seems to have come from this war, and not a small one -- an evil dictator is in prison, and Iraqis have a voice in their own future.

This restaurant, in El Cajon, California, was one of the sites where Iraqis living in the U. S. could vote in the recent election. We drove by, a couple of days after the election, and took this picture. God bless them. May Iraq not only have elections, but may Iraqis be able to decide upon the claims of Christ, too.

You should be able to see a larger version of this photo, if you wish, by clicking on it. You can also get to all of our Flickr photos that way.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 14

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "Practical Results in Daily Life." The material below is quoted exactly, from the text at the first link in this post. However, where there are blank lines between paragraphs, I have omitted material.

The standard of practical holy living has been so low among Christians that any good degree of real devotedness of life and walk is looked upon with surprise, and even often with disapprobation, by a large portion of the Church.

But we, who have heard the call of our God to a life of entire consecration and perfect trust, must do differently from all this. We must come out from the world and be separate, and must not be conformed to it in our characters nor in our purposes. We must no longer share in its spirit or its ways. Our conversation must be in Heaven, and we must seek those things that are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. We must walk through the world as Christ walked. We must have the mind that was in Him. As pilgrims and strangers we must abstain from fleshly lusts that war against the soul. As good soldiers of Jesus Christ, we must disentangle ourselves from the affairs of this life as far as possible, that we may please Him who hath chosen us to be soldiers. We must abstain from all appearance of evil. We must be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven us. We must not resent injuries or unkindness, but must return good for evil, and turn the other cheek to the hand that smites us. We must take always the lowest place among our fellowmen; and seek not our own honor, but the honor of others. We must be gentle, and meek, and yielding; not standing up for our own rights, but for the rights of others. All that we do must be done for the glory of God. And, to sum it all up, since He which hath called us is holy, so we must be holy in a manner of conversation; because it is written, "Be ye holy, for I am holy."

Meekness and quietness of spirit become in time the characteristics of the daily life; a submissive acceptance of the will of God, as it comes in the hourly events of each day; pliability in the hands of God to do or to suffer all the good pleasure of His will; sweetness under provocation; calmness in the midst of turmoil and bustle; yieldingness to the wishes of others, and an insensibility to slights and affronts, absence of worry or anxiety; deliverance from care and fear: all these, and many other similar graces are invariably found to be the natural outward development of that inward life which is hid with Christ in God. Then as to the habits of life: we always see such Christians sooner or later giving themselves up to some work for God and their fellowmen, willing to spend and be spent in the Master's service. They become indifferent to outward show in the furniture of their houses and the style of their living, and make all personal adornment secondary to the things of God. The voice is dedicated to God, to talk and sing for Him. The purse is placed at His disposal. The pen is dedicated to write for Him, the lips to speak for Him, the hands and the feet to do His bidding. Year after year such Christians are seen to grow more unworldly, more heavenly-minded, more transformed, more like Christ, until even their very faces express so much of the beautiful inward Divine life, that all who look at them cannot but take knowledge of them that they live with God, and are abiding in Him.

Where's the moral outrage?

Evangelical bloggers (and other kinds) occasionally express their moral outrage. There was a lot of this over the Schiavo case, and there has been a lot over embryonic stem cell research, plus some over whether or not churches should meet on Christmas Day. But, unless I missed it, not much on some other things . . .

As regular readers (thank you--you know who you are) know, I generally post "Sunspots" once a week, with links to various things that have interested me, and might interest you. I almost entitled this post "Things I haven't spotted," using a negative image of the sun graphic, but I didn't. But here are three things I didn't spot much, or any of:

1) Comments on the execution of "Tookie" Williams. I saw only one blogger who wrote about the matter. No doubt I heard more about it than some, as I am currently residing in California, where he was executed. It is true that Williams was a convicted felon. But, on the other hand, he was black, and there have been injustices against blacks, involving the death penalty. He claimed that he was innocent of the crimes he had been charged with. He had tried to influence young people to stay out of gangs. Maybe the death penalty itself is wrong. Perhaps he shouldn't have been executed. Didn't this doubt cross anyone else's mind?

2) Moral outrage at the Bush administration for its opposition to Senator McCain's no-torture amendment to the Defense appropriation bill. President Bush went so far as to threaten to use his first-ever veto on the bill, if language forbidding the use of torture was not removed. Vice-President Cheney lobbied for its removal. They finally backed down, but because of political reality, not, apparently, because they suddenly realized that there is something terribly wrong with a country that uses torture for any purpose, especially when it claims the moral high ground. (To say nothing of the fact that use of torture by the U. S. makes it easier for other countries to justify torturing our own citizens in the future!)

You didn't read anything in this blog about these matters, either, until now. Sorry. I have, mostly, stayed out of political matters, and I intend to be very careful before posting on such in the future. I did contact my congresspersons about the second matter, and the one below.

3) Moral outrage at Senator Ted Stevens for another amendment to the defense appropriations bill, namely one that would allow drilling for fuel in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Senator Stevens is the same one who put about a quarter of a billion dollars of U. S. taxpayer's money into the highway appropriations bill, for the purpose of building a bridge in Alaska, so that less than 100 workers wouldn't have to use the ferry. As another senator pointed out, the same money could have bought each of these workers a small plane.) If we have a God-given mandate to be good stewards of the environment, doesn't that include preserving some parts of it? Doesn't that include becoming less dependent on fossil fuel? I think so.

You are, of course, welcome to disagree, even to the point of moral outrage!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Narnia movie: The Georgie Henley show

My wife and I went to see the new Narnia movie yesterday, and enjoyed it a lot. We agreed that Georgie Henley, who is currently 10 years old, was a great Lucy. And, since Lucy has the largest part in the movie, that was good for the movie. I'd say that she was Lucy.

If you are looking for a lot of stuff on the web about this young lady, you aren't going to find it. But that's OK. Even movie stars aren't defined by what you can locate with Google. Will she go on to become a great actress? Will this be her only role? (See Mary Badham, who basically had just one role, as a 10-year-old, in a great movie, but presumably has gone on to lead a decent and productive life as a non-star.) Who knows? I hope she isn't spoiled by any success that comes from this.

What about the movie? If you are looking for reviews, lots of them, see here, also here for one that didn't make the extensive Christianity Today list.

Did the film follow the book, The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe? Not exactly. There were a number of tweaks. One was adding a little material at the beginning about World War II. (I had forgotten, but Arevanye reminded me, that C. S. Lewis, himself, had children from London stay with him during the bombing.) You can read about changes from the book in many of the movie reviews from the previous paragraph. Some changes, at least, are to be expected when you change from a relatively short book to a movie. No doubt there will be many arguments on the pros and cons of these changes. I won't contribute to such arguments here.

Did the film portray Isaiah 53:5? ("But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." Handel used this KJV text as part of his great Messiah.) In my opinion, yes. That was the central Christian message in the book, and it remains so in the film.

Did the film have a sense of wonder, of joy, characteristics of the book, and of the writing of Lewis, generally? Yes. No doubt much of the credit goes to the producer, director, and their many assistants, but a lot of it goes to Georgie Henley.

Thanks for reading. Enjoy the film, if you haven't already.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Review of Narnia film by Locus

Locus Online is published by a periodical concerned with fantastic literature. They have published a serious review of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," written by a self-confessed "liberal feminist atheist." The review is surprisingly sympathetic.

The reviewer considers the Christianity in the film, and in Lewis's writing in general, and calls Lewis "less-than-enlightened" for it. However, she forgives, and writes that she was particularly impressed with how C. S. Lewis treated females:

. . . in the Narnia books, this supposedly backwards man created female heroes (not all white) and female villains who are more active, more numerous, more believable, and more in control of their own destinies than the so-called heroines and villainesses of all too many recent fantasy/SF movies and books. And, to its credit, the movie adaptation of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe leaves its strong female characters strong.

I'm trying to think of non-white heroines in the writing of Lewis, without access to my Lewis library. I'm guessing that the woman who was Eve, more or less, in Perelandra was green, and that Aravis, the Calormene princess in The Horse and His Boy wasn't white. Help me out. Are there others?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Sunspots 35

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

What does the word, tmesis, mean? The spelling, believe it or not, is correct! I didn't know. See below.

An article in Physics Today on Albert Einstein as a philosopher of science.

Article in The Guardian that says that biodiesel would be worse for the environment than fossil fuels, and details the author's support for that claim.

Interview with Richard Dawkins, by Beliefnet. Lest there be any doubt, he doesn't believe in God.

Web page from the University of California on William Paley, who is associated with the Argument from Design for the existence of God. (Thanks to the Librarians' Internet Index)

From the Griffith Observatory, a page on the Star of Bethlehem, with several links. (Thanks to the Librarians' Internet Index)

A new mammal has been discovered in Borneo. There's even a photo or two.

A scarf that automatically matches the clothing item under it has been developed.

Wired article on Firefox extensions you must have. You are using the free Firefox browser, aren't you? (Should be using version 1.5 now)

This week's Christian Carnival is here. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Image source (public domain)

tmesis means "in grammar and rhetoric, the separation of the parts of a compound word," according to the Word of the Day for December 12th, provided by my personal Google home page.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Good for Stan Van Gundy!

Stan Van Gundy, who has been coach of the Miami Heat of the National Basketball Association, resigned, for family reasons. Good for him!

Van Gundy has four children, the oldest a 14-year-old daughter. According to news reports, he had calculated that he would see them for less than 50 days out of a 170-day season, and that, said Van Gundy, just wasn't enough.

I'm afraid this kind of thing doesn't happen often enough, and it's not just professional coaching where it doesn't. The most important thing I ever did was to help my wife raise our kids.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 13

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "Service." The material below is quoted exactly, from the text at the first link in this post. However, where there are blank lines between paragraphs, I have omitted material.

There is, perhaps, no part of Christian experience where a greater change is known upon entering into the life hid with Christ in God, than in the matter of service. In all the lower forms of Christian life, service is apt to have more or less of bondage in it; that is, it is one purely as a matter of duty, and often as a trial and a cross. Certain things, which at the first may have been a joy and delight, become weary tasks, performed faithfully, perhaps, but with much secret disinclination, and many confessed or unconfessed wishes that they need not be done at all, or at least that they need not be done so often. The soul finds itself saying, instead of the "May I" of love, the "Must I" of duty. The yoke, which was at first easy, begins to gall, and the burden feels heavy instead of light.

It is altogether the way we look at things, whether we think they are crosses or not. And I am ashamed to think that any Christian should ever put on a long face and shed tears over doing a thing for Christ, which a worldly man would be only too glad to do for money.
What we need in the Christian life is to get believers to want to do God's will, as much as other people want to do their own will. And this is the idea of the Gospel. It is what God intended for us; and it is what He has promised. In describing the new covenant in Heb. 8:6-13, He says it shall no more be the old covenant made on Sinai, that is, a law given from the outside, controlling a man by force, but it shall be a law written within constraining a man by love. "I will put my laws," He says, "in their mind, and write them in their hearts." This can mean nothing but that we shall love His law, for anything written on our hearts we must love. And putting it into our minds is surely the same as God working in us to "will and to do of His good pleasure," and means that we shall will what God wills, and shall obey His sweet commands, not because it is our duty to do so, but because we ourselves want to do what He wants us to do.

Then, too, if the work is His, the responsibility is His, and we have no room left for worrying about it. Everything in reference to it is known to Him, and He can manage it all. Why not leave it all with Him then, and consent to be treated like a child and guided where to go. It is a fact that the most effectual workers I know are those who do not feel the least care or anxiety about their work, but who commit it all to their dear Master, and, asking Him to guide them moment by moment in reference to it, trust Him implicitly for each moment's needed supplies of wisdom and of strength. To see such, you would almost think perhaps that they were too free from care, where such mighty interests are at stake. But when you have learned God's secret of trusting, and see the beauty and the power of that life which is yielded up to His working, you will cease to condemn, and will begin to wonder how any of God's workers can dare to carry burdens, or assume responsibilities which He alone is able to bear.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Happy Birthday, brother

Happy Birthday to my brother. Here's a bit of a tribute.

He knows who he is (so far -- so do I -- so far). I've got two other brothers, just as deserving of tributes, to say nothing of our four wives, who deserve tributes more than we. There are also my wife's brothers, and their wives, each deserving, too, but it's his birthday.

He's a good man.

He's a good father. He and his wife have raised three sons, who are a credit to them. God willing, in a week, all three of them will be married, to good women who are also a credit to my brother, and to themselves. Although there have probably been some slips, maybe some serious ones, and there have certainly been some falls, and problems, all three young men are now, or will, fill respectable positions in this life, and all, I believe, are followers of Christ. A father could ask for little else.

He's a good farmer. At a time when farms (haven't they always) are the center of various kinds of storms, he goes out there and works hard, feeding the rest of us, helping cut down on the trade deficit, and doing something useful. He could have retired by now, but he likes farming, and does it well.

He's a churchman. He and his wife have been members of a small church for years, holding various offices, and weathering a storm or two. They've been loyal and faithful. He's a good Sunday School teacher. He has used his talents in God's service, in many ways.

He's a military man, retired. Although he was never called on to serve the rest of us overseas, he did service during the Cold War, sitting in silos, waiting for the President to call, or working as an administrator, or teaching in one of the service academies.

He's a good son. My parents moved near him and his wife over twenty years ago, and he and she have had a lot of responsibility that I haven't.

He's a good brother. He remembers to send greetings, hosts us when we come to the area where he lives, and loves his nephews and nieces. He also roomed with two of his brothers (not at the same time) while in college, which required special grace, no doubt. He was best man for two of our weddings.

God's best, brother, on your 66th birthday!

I try not to identify living private persons on this blog, unless they have publicly identified themselves, although I may have violated that rule yesterday.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

A Prayer for Southern Wesleyan University

May the words of this blog, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, oh Lord.

On this, the day of the December graduation at Southern Wesleyan University, I offer a prayer to you on behalf of SWU and the people who make it a living institution, students, alumni, employees, and constituency. I am three time zones away, but You are not.

Thank You, Lord, for what You are. You are so good, so wise, so loving. You made heaven and earth. You made air, water, sweet gum trees, poinsettias, DNA, and galaxies. You deserve all our praise.

I confess that I was not always what I should have been, in the years you gave me at SWU. Sometimes I wasn't prayed up, sometimes I lost focus, sometimes I said, or did, things I shouldn't have done. Forgive, please. I didn't always know my subject matter as well as I should have, or present it as clearly as I should have. Forgive, please. Cover all my mistakes, my sins, my human failings, and my omissions, with Yourself.

I thank You for Paul Wood, the speaker for today's graduation. Thank you for his influence on my own decision to join the faculty at SWU, for his godly, courageous and principled stands on many issues affecting the institution and its people over the years, especially his influence on the racial integration of the institution, over 40 years ago now.

I thank You that You have preserved SWU for a century, from the prayer meeting out in an open field back then, until now. You have provided our needs: finances, employees, students, leadership, approval by various bodies, and Your presence, always, but, from time to time, perceptible, in class, in chapel, and in various other ways and places.

I thank You for the graduates in my own area of specialty, especially those graduating today, and those who graduated in May of this year.

I thank you for my wife, whom I met at SWU, and the children you have given us.

Guide my two advisees, who are supposed to graduate today, into all the ways that they should go. One wants to be a physical therapist, one a veterinarian. If it is your will, may both of them achieve this. May they also find a life's companion of Your choosing, and places to serve you, and may they want to serve You more than anything.

I also pray especially for another graduate, not in my area, who was especially good to me. She nominated me for teacher of the year, and came by to thank me when she heard that I was to retire. May she find employment in the difficult area of service that she has chosen, elementary education, and may she serve You there. Bless her and her husband on this day. Bless also those like her, most of them working full-time and going to school at night, not to become wealthy, but to serve in the public and private schools.

I also pray for the graduates from May in my areas of specialization. At least two of them are now working for SWU. One is in seminary, one is a webmaster for a local company, one is working at another Christian institution, one is preparing to enter medical school, one is working in biological research, and I'm not sure what's happened to the rest. Most likely, some, perhaps including those referred to above, are still seeking a position. All of them need guidance in all sorts of ways. All of them need Your presence in their lives.

Be especially near to Keith Iddings and Walt Sinnamon, who have academic leadership roles, and Jerry Cade. Samantha Wilson and Sara Christensen, Jim Schmutz, and others on the Student Life Council. Also guide my colleagues in the sciences. May they be what they should be. There are other employees, secretaries, janitors, administrators, coaches, faculty, librarians, IT personnel, workers in development and alumni, and others, who are just as important. You know their needs. Meet them, please. There has been a lot of change in academic programs, especially, over the last few months, and a lot of change in leadership in that area, with, I believe, more changes coming soon. None of this is a surprise to You! Guide through all these changes. May the people, whether leaving, coming in new, or staying, and the institution, be what You want them to be.

There are graduates who have worked hard to graduate. Reward them for their efforts. No doubt there are some who should have worked harder. Encourage them to do better.

Above all, may all the graduates, alumni, and employees serve you, and grant that all of us may be where you are, when SWU, and other earthly institutions, are no more.

There are other institutions, and other people, not fortunate enough to be associated with Christian institutions of higher education, just as deserving of your blessings. Bless them, too.

In my Saviour's Name, Amen.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Temptations in Narnia

In honor of the Narnia movie, opening in theaters today, I am posting references to a series of my earlier posts, exploring the idea of temptations experienced by various characters in the Narnia books. I have also explored the idea of temptation, in general, a little.

The post on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe is here.

The post on Prince Caspian is here.

The post on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is here.

The post on The Horse and His Boy is here.

The post on The Magician's Nephew is here.

The post on The Silver Chair is here.

The post on The Last Battle is here.

Escape temptation, and enjoy the movie. Read the books, if necessary, again.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ethics and the wars of Lewis and Tolkien

In a previous post, I quoted a secondary source, which credited Aquinas with three parts of a just war: proper authority to wage one, having a just cause, and having right intentions. A commenter said, I think correctly, that Augustine also contributed to just war theory.

Did the "good guys" in C. S. Lewis' Narnia books wage just wars, when they waged them? How about the "good guys" in J. R. R. Tolkien's Ring books? I'll try to answer those questions.

First, Lewis. I have seen the trailer for the soon-to-be-shown "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," and, judging from the emphasis given in the trailer, the battle fought in the book the movie is supposed to be based on will be more important than it was in the book. This war seems to have unquestionably been just, on the part of Peter and his siblings, and, of course, Aslan. The White Witch attacked them.

Other wars are mentioned briefly in the Narnia books, and I don't think there's enough information to judge as to whether or not they were just. In The Last Battle, much of the book is about warfare between King Tirian and the Telmarines. Again, self-defense was involved.

Tolkien described lots of wars in The Silmarillion, and in the appendix to the Ring trilogy. I won't concern myself with these. What about the final war, where Gondor, Rohan, and others (such as the Ents) go into combat against Sauron. Although it's more complicated than the battles in Narnia, I think, again, that this is mostly self-defense. Sauron or Saruman have harried and harrassed, and conquered lands they were not entitled to. Sauron attacks Gondor. Saruman destroys sentient Ents. Sauron clearly plans to overcome the world. Gandalf gives, as it were, supernatural approval and encouragement to go to war. So does prophecy.

Because I have temporarily left most of our library behind, including our Tolkien and Lewis books, I am operating from memory. Also, this is merely musings on the wars in these books. Perhaps a reader can take this much further than I have. For what it's worth, Lewis and Tolkien (who had both served in the British military) presented wars that had to be fought, against enemies who were grossly unjust, in these works of fiction. There was proper authority: Aslan/Peter, or Gandalf/Denethor/Aragorn/Theoden. There was just cause: evil conquest and destruction that needed to be defeated. There was right intention: restoration of justice (including, in both worlds, better care of the environment.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Sunspots 34

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

Article by theologian Nancy Pearcey, arguing that Intelligent Design is a respectable movement.

The latest issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, the journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, an organization of Christian scientists (which will not be available on-line for over a year) has a two-part article which claims that Pearcey, and Phillip Johnson, have misread history. The author, Kenneth E. Hendrickson, (or possibly the editor -- this is from the initial summary of the articles) writes that "Proponents of the Intelligent Design Movement identify themselves principally as scientific thinkers working to remove philosophical bias from modern science, especially evolutionary biology. A review of their popular literature . . . shows that their arguments rest heavily upon historical, not scientific critiques. They are less concerned with science itself than they are with the impact of science on culture. They enter the debate with desired cultural norms pre-selected as the conclusions of their arguments." ("Historical Method and the Intelligent Design Movement: Part I: Intelligent Design Movement as a Foray in Secularization Theory," 57:284-291, Dec. 2005. Quote is from p. 284.) He also writes that "IDM publicists like Phillip Johnson or Nancy Pearcey do not offer a well-rounded assessment of the recent intellectual history of the West." (Part II: A Historical Critique of a Historical Critique," 57:292-300, Dec. 2005. Quote is from p. 292.)

Rebecca is simply quoting the Westminster catechism, which is almost entirely simply quoting the Bible, on the question: "What is God?" The result is profound.

Thanks to Catez Stevens at Blogwatch, who found "Is There Mental Illness in the Bible?" a solid post on that subject (that is, were there mentally ill people described in the Bible?).

Thanks to tudogs, I discovered that you can enter, in Google's image search, something like "clip art butterfly," and (surprise!) clip art representing a butterfly will be shown. Warning: some (maybe most) of what is returned may be copyrighted and not for free use.

Thanks to the Librarian's Internet Index, a web page from the Health Department of the State of New York, offering a rather thorough document on becoming an egg donor. (I just report these things -- I'm not recommending that anyone do this, or, for that matter, suggesting that you never should. I can't, of course!)

Web page on Jane Austen, also thanks to the LII, by a professor at Brandeis. Here's part of what he says about Pride and Prejudice: In short, the novel constructs an exercise in reading for both protagonist and reader, and manipulates narrative so as to make the reader conscious of the fallibility and precariousness of reading [that is, trying to interpret the motives and feelings of others] of any kind. Again, it would not be going too far to see this exercise in terms of Austen's deeply held Anglican faith and its theology of the imperfection yet improvability--though not perfectibility--of humankind. No wonder this story continues to be dramatized.

Mozilla Firefox 1.5 is now available. If you are upgrading, it doesn't remember your home page, so be sure you can get to it before upgrading. (You can set the new version to use the old home page.)

Thanks to Neat New Stuff for the 46 Best-ever Freeware utilities. I expect to be exploring this.

Bonnie questions her own blogging. Is it a vain exercise?

From the National Geographic, an article on a fossil scorpion-like creature roughly as large as a human being. This would have been the largest arthropod known.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. The host has done an especially interesting job with the theme of "99." Check it out! (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Ethics and War

War, or the possibility of war, brings up grave ethical questions.

In the Old Testament, God directed the Israelites to attack and destroy some nations. One aspect of Saul's rebellion against God was his reluctance to completely destroy the Amalekites--he didn't kill Agag, their king, or their cattle. Samuel finished the job that Saul didn't. God sometimes ordered non-believing nations (including the Assyrians, precursors of the Iraqis) to attack the Israelites in the Old Testament.

Things had changed in the New Testament. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom, and He doesn't seem to have preached against the actions of the Romans any more than He preached against the actions of everybody else. John the Baptist didn't tell Roman soldiers to leave the army, but to be content with their wages. The Romans, lest you forget, were a conqueror occupying the Holy Land. Although Christ didn't advocate against the military, he clearly didn't mean that his Kingdom should be brought by military force. He said, in the Sermon on the Mount, "But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:39) 

Matthew 5:39 is not the platform that George W. Bush, nor John Kerry, both avowed Christians, ran on. (It is not clear to everybody that Christ's command here is for nations. Perhaps it is only for individual Christians.)

Some Christians believe that no war is justified. They are pacifists.
Some Christians believe that striking first is never justified, but that responding may be.

Some Christians believe that the U. S. is God's people, and can fight anyone who gets in our way, with God's blessing. After all, we haven't been beaten on our own soil by an outside force in our history, which must prove that God is on our side. Maybe God was on our side once, but that doesn't prove He is now. Maybe it's geography on our side, not God. We are more difficult to invade (other than by Canada and Mexico) than most nations, because of geography. God's people, in the 21st century, are Christians, not the U. S.

Other Christians believe that some wars are justified, and some not. The idea of a just war goes way back in Christian history, at least to Thomas Aquinas. The standard position is that there are certain criteria that must be met, in order for a war to be just:

“For a war (bellum) to be just,” Aquinas writes, “three things are necessary”:
sovereign authority, just cause, and right intention. ("Just War, As It Was and Is," James Turner Johnson, First Things, January 2005)

The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy's article on "Just War Theory." has almost the same wording. See also the article on "Just war," by the Wikipedia, which points out that there are conditions for a just war after it starts, including that treatment of prisoners should be just.

If there can be just wars, that means that some wars are surely unjust. Even fighting a just war, by Augustine's criteria, may lead to ethical problems. How so?
Here are a few general problems with wars:
Governments which perceive themselves as under threat of war or terrorism almost always begin to do things which are questionable ethically. One not-so-shining example was the imprisonment of many innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II. Some who were arrested shortly after the September 11, 2001 event are still in custody, not granted the usual hearings and other legal rights. There have been recent moves (The Patriot Act) to institutionalize some kinds of invasion of privacy, like e-mail monitoring and being able to find out who had checked out what library materials. Governments usually distort the truth to make their cases, and there are some indications that our present government has done that, for example in over-claiming ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, or in defining torture in ways that allow it to say that we have not tortured anyone.
Wars cost money, which might be used for other things, by governments, or by the citizens, if there hadn't been a war. We have gone, in a few short years, from actually paying down the U. S. deficit to increasing it greatly. Much of this is because of military spending.
Another ethical problem with a war is that wars, or threatened wars, often become an excuse for the ruler or government to ignore other problems. Castro has run Cuba for many years, with much of his policy directed toward hatred of the U. S. Belief among many of the citizens that the U. S. is a monstrous enemy has probably strengthened Castro's grip on power. If the perceived threat were not so large, the people might have asked themselves if they wouldn't be better off with some other leader, or some other type of government, or some other relationship with the U. S. The U. S. is the "Great Satan" to all too many poor, ignorant Muslims. Hating the U. S. makes them feel that they don't need clothing, food, education, etc., as much as they probably would if they weren't concentrating on the hatred so much.

Although it would seem that war isn't directly related to environmental and medical ethics, there are connections. Wars do cause harm to the environment, do cause injuries, illnesses, and death, and wars take resources which might be spent on protecting the environment, providing health care, or both.

Innocent civilians, including children, almost always get killed in wars.

War brings up many serious ethical questions, and usually leads to serious unethical behavior by at least one side. One of the things I ought to pray for more is that the current war, and wars that may happen, will not lead me, my loved ones who are in the military, other Christians, or government leaders, to do wrong things.

Thanks for reading!

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Monday, December 05, 2005

The Christian Carnival: A Proposal

For those who don't know, the Christian Carnival is a weekly blog post, hosted by volunteers, with the site different each week, which lists links to posts by Christian bloggers, with a brief description. Each blogger submits her own choice of post. See here for links to instructions, and locations of previous Carnivals. Anyone can submit, but the post has to have some Christian facet. There are roughly 40 posts listed each week in a Carnival.

I don't deserve to make any proposals, as I have never hosted the Carnival. Thanks so much to those who do! However, even though I have no right to, I'm going to make a proposal, anyway. I think the Carnival is a great idea, and I want it to make as much of an impact as possible. There are devotional, apologetic, and other types of entries, and they should be having an impact on Christian bloggers, and maybe even on others. Here's my proposal:

Cut the number of posts in half.

How to do this? I suggest that blogs beginning with the first half of the alphabet (say A - L, plus any beginning with non-alphabetic characters, the first week that this policy starts) submit one week, and the rest submit on the next, so that no blog gets to submit oftener than every other week. If this were put into practice, I would not be eligible to submit for the first Carnival under this policy, since my blog begins with an S.

This would make each Carnival shorter, and therefore, I hope, more likely to be read. (My own reaction to 40 or so posts is that that's just too many to read, so I don't try very hard to read them all.) It should also make the host's job easier. It should also mean that, since bloggers can only submit every other week, that the submissions will be more significant.

This may not be practical, unless there is a good way to notify potential new posters, but I submit the proposal, anyway, for what, if anything, it is worth.

Thanks for reading! If this post has been included in a Christian Carnival, thanks to the host!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life, pt. 12

I continue a series of excerpts from The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. The book, which is public domain, is available on-line in its entirety here. This version is somewhat different from the paperback I have in my physical possession. (New York: Ballentine Books, 1986) For an article on Smith, in Christian History, go here. This Chapter is entitled "Growth." The material below is quoted exactly, from the text at the first link in this post. However, where there are blank lines between paragraphs, I have omitted material.

But then we believe in a growing that does really produce maturity, and in a development that, as a fact, does bring forth ripe fruit. We expect to reach the aim set before us, and if we do not, we feel sure there must be some fault in our growing. No parent would be satisfied with the growth of his child, if, day after day, and year after year, it remained the same helpless babe it was in the first months of its life; and no farmer would feel comfortable under such growing of his grain as should stop short at the blade, and never produce the ear, nor the full corn in the ear. Growth, to be real, must be progressive, and the days and weeks and months must see a development and increase of maturity in the thing growing. But is this the case with a large part of that which is called growth in grace? Does not the very Christian who is the most strenuous in his longings and in his efforts after it, too often find that at the end of the year he is not as far on in his Christian experience as at the beginning, and that his zeal, and his devotedness, and his separation from the world are not as whole-souled or complete as when his Christian life first began?

To grow in grace is opposed to all self-dependence, to all self-effort, to all legality of every kind. It is to put our growing, as well as everything else, into the hands of the Lord, and leave it with Him. It is to be so satisfied with our Husbandman, and with His skill and wisdom, that not a question will cross our minds as to His modes of treatment or His plan of cultivation. It is to grow as the lilies grow, or as the babes grow, without a care and without anxiety; to grow by the power of an inward life principle that cannot help but grow; to grow because we live and therefore must grow; to grow because He who has planted us has planted a growing thing, and has made us to grow.
Surely this is what our Lord meant when He said "Consider the lilies, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." Or, when He says again, "Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?" There is no effort in the growing of a child or of a lily. They do not toil nor spin, they do not stretch nor strain, they do not make any effort of any kind to grow; they are not conscious even that they are growing; but by an inward life principle, and through the nurturing care of God's providence, and the fostering of caretaker or gardener, by the heat of the sun and the falling of the rain, they grow and grow.

War, again, plus good news

This post has two purposes.

One is to commend some parts of the mainstream media. CSPAN and CSPAN2 can be as dull as watching paint dry, or riveting, depending on what's on, but they perform a vital service, and I am grateful that they exist. Then there's CBS's Sunday Morning. Since we got a VCR, I've taped that more than any other program. Granted, there are lots of advertisements, and that there is usually a segment on some popular entertainer that I fast-forward through, but this program does good things. For example, last Sunday there was a segment on good news, pointing out that it doesn't get much coverage, and showing three examples. Simple stuff, but powerful: an 11-year-old who raised $5,000 for surgery for a dog at the city pound; a public school cafeteria who had a fancy chef change their menus (the kids claim they like tilapia); a police force that stops bicyclers at night and puts on bike lights, free. There are thought-provoking commentaries, as good as Andy Rooney. There's Bill Geist, wandering the country in search of oddball people and events. There's coverage of the arts. Last Sunday they reported on the 75th anniversary of American Gothic, and on a recently discovered Beethoven manuscript. There's poetry by the host, Charles Osgood, and, finally, there's a brief segment, with no music or narration, of some natural area, for example the first snowfall in New England, or wild turkeys somewhere. Thanks, CBS!

CNBC has a program entitled "Tim Russert" on Saturday nights. Again, lots of commercials, but, around them, Russert spends the entire hour talking to some author. He does a wide variety, and, by the time he's through, you really know something about that person or persons.

Then there's PBS's News Hour. I know, mostly talking heads. But these people are given more time than the commercial networks usually would give them, and they are queried and rebutted.

That brings up the second purpose of this post. Last night, on the News Hour, two war-related questions were debated, and both had serious moral questions related to them. Is it right to pay for news coverage favorable to the US, in Iraq? Should torture by intelligence agencies be allowed? There were experts on both sides of both questions, and I think I understand the argument. Here's my opinion. I don't want my country to be buying news reports, whatever the reason. I don't want my country to be using torture, whatever the reason. If we claim to be an example for others, we need to set a good example.

Friday, December 02, 2005

A tribute to a military wife

I don't expect her to see this, and I'm not naming her, but she (and, no doubt, many other military spouses) deserves a tribute. I know that whether war can be just at all, and whether this particular one is, are subject to debate. I'm leaving that aside.

She came to SWU from a place far away. She was a good student, and graduated, then went back to her home area. Eventually, she married, and her husband was sent to Iraq, from a military base a couple of time zones from the rest of her family. He is now about to finish his second tour of duty. While he has been gone, She has raised three children, the youngest of which has yet to see his father, and, somehow, taken the oldest to school, gone to the doctor, etc., all the little things that have to be done, all by herself. God bless her, her children, and her husband.

My Friend Flickr

I once posted on some fascinating blog titles. Here's a similar list, random, mostly, of Flickr user names (I'm not making these up).


Kate Refocused


screen name taken


Be Still


nihilist pancake

even elsewhere

Grim Optimist


Laughing Squid

Fack to Bront

Faded Photograph


Delusions of Grandeur

spam receptacle

Philosopher Queen


And there's Sustainable Harvest International, whose Flickr profile says, in part: As Outreach Director for Sustainable Harvest International, I saw flickr as a wonderful tool to share images of our programs with people interested in our work! I first found flickr when my husband posted our wedding photos to share with our friends and family all over the U.S. and it occurred to me that I could use it to share photos demonstrating techniques that have been successful to people all over the world interested in Sustainable Agriculture.

Sustainable Harvest has over 5000 photos posted. A short-term missionary who recently graduated from my university used Flickr to post dozens of photos of her work.

So what is Flickr? It's a free (Limited to about 20 Mb of uploads per month -- for $24.95 US per year, you can upload more, I believe an unlimited number. I have not paid, which means, among other things, that I must be more careful in what I choose to post, which is good.) photo posting service and large web community. There are unobtrusive ads along pages of photos. I have never received spam e-mail attributable to Flickr. With membership comes a home page, which links to your own photos, to Flickr e-mail, to help forums, to photos from Flickr members you have designated as Family, Friends, and Contacts, and to the general photostream, that is, to some of the photos from everybody, more or less as they are posted. You can also join Groups. You can designate some or all of your photos as visible only to Friends and Family. You can restrict usage rights to some or all of your photos.

Groups are photos on special topics. There is, for example, a group on Images of the Christian Faith, and another on C. S. Lewis (not many photos in that one yet).

You can search for photos, using Tags. It's not a perfect system, as the photographer/poster produces her own Tags. Some posters don't tag at all, and some, like me, don't always know what they are posting. I may have taken a photo of a flower that someone in Malaysia wants to see, but if I can't name it, it won't be found, as "blue flower" isn't very helpful! Ah, human limits.

Flickr is a community in that, generally, anyone can comment on anyone else's photos. Comments are not anonymous -- anyone can read what you have written. Most photos posted are of friends and family, in weddings, shopping, etc., and, therefore, of limited interest, but there is some beautiful work on nature, scences from around the world, and lots of photo art.

Flickr supports most blogs, so that you can post to Flickr and then easily use what you have posted on your blog. (In my case, just copy and past some HTML.) It automatically generates more than one size, and you can choose which size will work best for your blog post.

The little rectangle of shuffled photos, somewhere on the right margin, is a Flickr feature that can be used in blogs.

Contacts are posters you have chosen. Flickr posts a thumbnail on your page of the work of your contacts. I have commented on the work of members who are even greener at it than I, and made a few of them my contacts, so I can watch their progress, and compliment them on it. I have found photographers that specialize in insects, or frogs, or flowers, as well as at least one infrequent poster from our home county. I have 34 contacts, plus 6 friends. The contacts include a Japanese, a Pole, a Taiwanese, and two persons from Dubai. At least 6 of them are not native speakers of English. I'm not sure why these two contacted me, but they did, and I decided to add them to my own list.

Like most communities, there are sometimes problems. Occasionally someone will complain to a Flickr forum about someone copying and posting their photos. The staff doesn't attempt to monitor all the posts, as there are too many, so occasionally some pornography slips through. When the staff finds it (or is notified by other users) it is removed. But, all in all, this is a community where the things shared are not mostly words, but pictures. I'm glad it's there.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sunspots 33

Things I have recently spotted that may be of interest to someone else:

A page of "Science Quotes," from a number of famous scientists (at least a couple of whom were professed atheists) all pointing toward a designer. Unfortunately, documentation isn't as complete as it might have been for one or two of these. Thanks to a colleague for a tip on this.

Slate article that says that String Theory (at least in its present forms) is untestable, hence not really science. (Many believe that Intelligent Design is also untestable.)

A number of sources (here's one) say that Korea's leading "cloning" researcher has resigned, because of ethical violations in obtaining human eggs, by his research team (probably not by the leader himself.) The post quotes Hwang Woo-Suk as using the word "repentance." (Presumably a translation, but, if correct, he seems to see himself as guilty and owing something to others. There's a post at that argues that what Hwang Woo-suk did was not quite so bad -- he probably really didn't know that two of his lab workers had donated eggs until after the fact, for example. Also argues that compensation for egg donation might not be ethically questionable. (Lab workers donating still is, says the author.)

Article in Wired, of all places, saying that our technology is speeding up our ruin, or causing it.

Julana, who has a child with Down syndrome, writes movingly about her life, for Thanksgiving season.

Article on people who want to have a limb amputated.

Article in First Things on randomness, the Catholic Church, and evolution. Basically, Stephen Barr, the author, says that the Catholic Church has no problem with organisms, including humans, having evolved from non-life, or from non-human organisms, but does assert that the spiritual part of humans is of Divine origin.

Edge article by Daniel Gilbert, who is not a believer, and is attempting to debunk Paley's design argument by psychological experiments. However, he has some sympathy for religious faith, even though he doesn't have it himself, as the following two paragraphs indicate:
Is God is [sic] nothing more than an attempt to explain order and good fortune by those who do not understand the mathematics of chance, the principles of self-organizing systems, or the psychology of the human mind? When the study I just described was accepted for publication, I recall asking one of my collaborators, who is a deeply religious man, how he felt about having demonstrated that people can misattribute the products of their own minds to powerful external agents. He said, "I feel fine. After all, God doesn't want us to confuse our miracles with his."

That's fair enough. Science rules out the most cartoonish versions of God by debunking specific claims about ancient civilizations in North America or the creatio ex nihilo of human life. But it cannot tell us whether there is a force or entity or idea beyond our ken that deserves to be known as God. What we can say is that the universe is a complex place, that events within it often seem to turn out for the best, and that neither of these facts requires an explanation beyond our own skins.

Article in British Medical Journal on why dogs should be banned as pets (for health reasons).

Stan Berenstain, co-author, with his wife, of the Berenstain Bears books, has died.

You can see ACC basketball in Southern California, at least sometimes, and it's 3 hours earlier! I watched most of the Illinois-North Carolina men's game, which Illinois won by a little.

This week's Christian Carnival is at this blog. (For information on locating these Carnivals, see here)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Seven Sevens

Bonnie has mentioned my name as a person she'd like to have post on seven sevens. She didn't tag me. I'm responding, more or less, anyway.

Seven things to do before I die:
1. know that my relatives all are believers
2. see my children and their husbands happy with their work, etc.
3. believe that my local church is in a position to grow, not spectacularly necessarily, but healthily, spiritually, financially, and numerically
4. see alligators and moose again, a cougar (from a car) for the first time, and a mountain goat/sheep, all in the wild
5. attend a performance of most of Elijah or Messiah
6. learn how to edit videos taken with our video camera
7. believe that the government (all branches) is willing to honestly and seriously address (not necessarily solve) the problems of health care, poverty, ignorance, peace, the environment, justice, immigration and racism as a priority higher than getting re-elected

Seven things I cannot do:
1. Play in the NBA
2. cook like my wife or sons-in-law or daughters
3. understand most of what our 13-month-old grandson is saying
4. love other people as I should
5. get evangelicals to understand that the Bible does not make a rock-solid case that the world is only thousands of years old, and that claiming too strongly that it is makes Christianity look foolish in the eyes of some, to say nothing of denying some of what God reveals to us in nature
6. really sing well
7. organize my time as well as I should

Seven good things about my wife:
1. She is deeply compassionate
2. She tries hard to understand things that she doesn't
3. She loves me, our grandson, her daughters and sons-in-laws, our brothers, their wives and their kids and . . . you get the idea
4. She is a strong believer
5. She is willing to put up with, and occasionally enjoy, classical music
6. She helped me lose about 30 pounds, and keep it off
7. She is a wonderful companion on trips

Books or series important to me:
1. The Bible
2. Watership Down
3. Mere Christianity
4. Tolkien's Ring trilogy plus the Silmarillion
5. Le Guin's Earthsea books and short stories
6. If I ever teach again, the text for the course
7. Other works by George Macdonald, C. S. Lewis, Patricia McKillip, A. A. Milne, and many others.

Movies I like:
1. Hoosiers
2. To Kill a Mockingbird
3. The Mission
4. the recent Pride and Prejudice
5. Fried Green Tomatoes
6. Ever After
7. Anything that makes my wife happy to watch

Things I say most often:
1. "It's OK."
2. "Don't worry about it."
3. In response to how I am: "Better than I deserve."
4. "He/she/it/they can't help it."
5. "I/we can do it."
6, and 7. No doubt there are aggravating things I say that others would fill in here for me.

Seven people I'd like to join in on this, but I'm not going to ask them:
1. Drew
2. Jason
3. Laura
4. Brandy
5. Anyone else from my family, my church, or SWU
6. Katherine Fodor
7. some of my Flickr contacts

Thanks for reading!