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Monday, December 31, 2007

Two more good books by Karen Cushman

I have previously posted on two books by Karen Cushman, Newbery winner, and Newbery Honor winner.

I have been privileged to read two more of her young adult novels. One of these is Catherine, Called Birdy (New York: Clarion, 1994). As in the books previously read, the protagonist is a girl in her early teen years. In this book, which is set in 1290 AD, in England, Catherine is the daughter of the Lord of a manor. As such, she has some privileges -- for example, she can read, and has her own room, although she shares it with a servant and, often, with guests. She is aware that the villagers lack the privileges that she does.

The book is written as a journal, and each entry begins with an excerpt from a book of saints, indicating which saint is honored on the particular day, and why they are honored. Some of this is serious, and some is simply hilarious. Cushman ends the book with an Author's Note, in which she indicates that she has tried to look at time in the same way a person living in 1290 would have. If she is correct, they looked at days according to their religious significance, and, of course, according to the agricultural season.

Catherine, Called Birdy gives the reader a feel for the Middle Ages, complete with privies and fleas, and illnesses that can't be cured. It is depressing, but yet uplifting. Cushman has done her usual good job. Birdy does examine her faith in the book, but that's not the major thrust of the author.

The second book is more depressing, because it is written about Los Angeles in the middle of the 20th century. The theme is lack of tolerance. Francine Green, of The Loud Silence of Francine Green (New York: Clarion, 2006) is a student in the upper grades of a Catholic girls' school. The major intolerance is toward perceived communism, but the book is more subtle than that. The characters all see that Russian communism is bad, but some of them enthusiastically climb on Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist bandwagon. Some of them, including Francine's friends, are grievously hurt by this sort of thinking.

There is also intolerance of independent thinking. Francine is silent, too silent. She doesn't speak up when she should, and she becomes convicted, in her own mind, of sinning by omission.

As I say, this is a depressing book, but the issues are real, and individual Christians, and the church as a whole, walk an uncertain line between tolerating independent thinking and rejecting thinking that isn't like ours. Thinking about that is good for us. It's a good book.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

"O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing," by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is heard often in many churches, and should be heard even more widely, is "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing." (I suspect that all of these verses are seldom sung.) These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heaven.

On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone
And filled it with repose.

Sudden expired the legal strife,
’Twas then I ceased to grieve;
My second, real, living life
I then began to live.

Then with my heart I first believed,
Believed with faith divine,
Power with the Holy Ghost received
To call the Savior mine.

I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
Me, me He loved, the Son of God,
For me, for me He died!

I found and owned His promise true,
Ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I knew
When written on my heart.

Look unto Him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.

See all your sins on Jesus laid:
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.

Awake from guilty nature’s sleep,
And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the Æthiop white.

Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew
In holy triumph join!
Believe the Savior died for you;
For me the Savior died.

With me, your chief, ye then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven

These words were published in 1749, hence are public domain.

I have enjoyed posting hymns by Wesley for the past several months, and, God willing, expect to continue for a few weeks into 2008. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Two Quotes from On Blue's Waters, by Gene Wolfe

On Blue's Waters: Volume One of the Book of the Short Sun, by Gene Wolfe (New York: Tor, 1999) is the first of a trilogy of fantastic novels. Wolfe is a good writer. He considers lots of ideas. Here are two quotations from the book:
Immediate action is the soul of war, as I learned many years ago by observing General Mint. It is not the soul of peace. (p. 185)

Listen all you phantom readers. Buildings are temporary, ideas permanent. (p. 348)

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle's The Other Side of the Sun

The late Madeleine L'Engle was the author of more than one kind of book. I first met her as the author of Newbery winner A Wrinkle in Time. She has also written devotional books, and novels more realistic than Wrinkle.

The Other Side of the Sun (New York: Ballantine, 1971) is set in a fictional area near Charleston, South Carolina, early in the twentieth century. It is told through the eyes of Stella, an English girl who has just married into an aristocratic family from the area. I won't give away the plot, but it's about race, faith, love and hate, and makes a compelling read.

Here's a quotation, on angels, supposedly, but really about us:
"Do you suppose it ever occurs to an angel to worry because he is not an archangel? or to think that if he works a little harder or makes the right angelic friends he'll get elevated in the heavenly hierarchy? That's nonsense. My guardian angel is equal, as far as rank goes, to any archangel. It's we earthlings who've lost sight of the fact that it's a difference in kind, not in degree. And anyhow it doesn't matter, because my guardian angel is fully what he is, performing wholly the function for which God has created him. At the moment, this function is to watch over me. After I die, he might be assigned to sweeping stardust out of a corner of the sky. But because he is doing what he is created to do, radiantly, joyfully, no matter how difficult I make it for him, I can catch some of his joy. Without my angel's joy, where would I be?" p. 65.

And another one, on prayer:
But now for the first time I witnessed the prayer of utter desperation, of abandonment. Honoria was putting herself, and whatever it was that she had seen, entirely into God's hands. p. 259.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was born in this date in 1832.

He is best known for his books (often combined) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Considered nonsense, nonetheless, these books are classics, and have contributed quite a bit to our culture.

Both of these are available from Project Gutenberg. Alice's, in English, is here. The splendid Tenniel illustrations are included in the German edition, here. Looking-Glass is here. Other Carroll works are also available from Project Gutenberg.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Sunspots 141

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

(In case anyone is counting, not only did I post Sunspots 140 twice, but it was supposed to be Sunspots 139. Sigh)

According to New Scientist, there is a small chance than an asteroid will hit Mars soon, leaving a large crater. Carl Zimmer also writes about this, on Wired.

Carl Zimmer reports on a possible ancestor of whales. Trust me, the picture doesn't look anything like a whale!

On the biological (not miraculous) possibility of virgin birth in humans .

Slate has an article on the best free web-based games.

In The Philosopher's Magazine, a short article on selling virtual items for real money .

A post on the 10 best science-fiction short stories dealing with religion.

Christianity Today
has an article that says that "no room at the inn" is a mis-translation.

Henry Neufeld, writing about the Incarnation, says that "You see, faith is not particularly scientific," and explains. He often writes about science, by the way.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Three years. Thanks, Blogger!

My oldest surviving post was posted three years ago today.

Thanks, Blogger! I appreciate this free service.

Thanks also to all my readers, even any who have never commented.

The 16 posts that I consider most important are listed, as links, to the right of this sentence. The titles are more or less self-explanatory, except that "Did You Get It?" is about taking pictures as part of an experience.

Thanks for reading! God bless you all.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Hark! the Herald Angels Sing," by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that should need little introduction (although some churches sing nothing written before 1990, to their own detriment!) is "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”
Joyful, all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem!”


Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest Heav’n adored;
Christ the everlasting Lord;
Late in time, behold Him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased with us in flesh to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.


Hail the heav’nly Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Ris’n with healing in His wings.
Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.


Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Now display Thy saving power,
Ruined nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to Thine.


Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.
Let us Thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the Life, the inner man:
O, to all Thyself impart,
Formed in each believing heart.


The Cyberhymnal page also gives Wesley's original version, which is somewhat different. The usual music for these words was written by Felix Mendelssohn. Since the publication date is 1739, these words are public domain.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sunspots 140

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

Carl Zimmer writes that large whales gulp their own weight in water twice a minute.

Wired reports that a Japanese lab has bred mice with no fear of cats, thanks (sort of) to genetic engineering.

Roy Innis, of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) has illustrated the importance of energy policy, arguing that what we really need is energy from coal.

Congressman Edward Markey, of Massachussets, attended the Bali conference on Global Warming in the form of an avatar -- a computer presence visible to the conference, speaking for Markey, and under his control.

A tribute to the late Madeleine L'Engle, in First Things.

Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was 90 on the 16th . He is still alive.

"So let the pagans have Christmas as their most significant holiday. Easter is the central Christian holiday. And when we are known for our Easter, then we will have our Christmas back." From a re-posted Christianity Todayeditorial.

Bonnie is beginning a series on how scripture on gender roles has been interpreted: "We must recognize that interpretation of these texts is not always straightforward, while conceding that the call to extend grace, mercy, peace, gentleness, self-control, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness to one another -- male and female -- is clear indeed."

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Christ didn't come as a baby, re-posted

We often say that Christ came as a baby, but this isn't true. Why not? Read on.

Christ didn't come as a baby. He came as an embryo -- probably as a one-celled 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, and it is possible that He didn't retain any of it. The Bible teaches that He was tempted like we are (Hebrews 4:14-16). I don't know if embryos and 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 easy, either.

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

*Does a soul inhabit a one-celled embryo, or does a soul not appear until there is an embryonic brain complex enough to house it? I don't know, and I don't think anyone does, although there is no lack of opinions. If the latter is true, perhaps Christ didn't inhabit His body until the pregnancy was fairly well along. Or, if it is true, perhaps Christ gave up consciousness entirely for a few months. We don't know.

Thanks for reading.

* * * * *

Feb 6, 2008: Parableman has published on a related matter -- he proposes that Jesus, like other children, acquired language skills gradually, making errors in the process.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

Today or maybe tomorrow (see next link) is the Birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, one of the greatest composers of all time, perhaps the greatest.

I make no claim to be familiar with all of his works, but I do enjoy hearing the symphonies, the piano and other concertos, and other Beethoven works. God gave him tremendous talent.

We will be traveling for several days, and I don't expect to post, except, God willing, to continue my series on the hymns of Charles Wesley, post a Sunspots or two, and also one Christmas post -- please bear in mind that I'm a biologist -- I wouldn't expect a non-biologist to have considered that aspect of the Christmas story.

Thanks for reading.

"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling," by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is still heard occasionally is "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven to earth come down;
Fix in us thy humble dwelling;
All thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation;
Enter every trembling heart.

Breathe, O breathe Thy loving Spirit,
Into every troubled breast!
Let us all in Thee inherit;
Let us find that second rest.
Take away our bent to sinning;
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith, as its Beginning,
Set our hearts at liberty.

Come, Almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return and never,
Never more Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

Finish, then, Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be.
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in Thee;
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

These words were published in 1747, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Advent and Adventure

It suddenly occurred to me, while in church a few days ago, that the words Advent and adventure must be related. This is so obvious that I have not idea why I am just now thinking of it, so late in life. I checked. Here's what the Free Dictionary says about Advent. Here's what it says about adventure.

I'll let any reader who wishes provide the moral, or an application of that fact about the origin of these two words.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gene Wolfe's "Long Sun" books

Often, when I write about literary works, I try not to give away the plot, because I suppose that, once in a while, there may be someone reading this blog who has never read the work under discussion, but decides to try it. This post will be my first one about the four "Long Sun" novels by Gene Wolfe. In this case, the plot is so complex that I'm not sure that I could give it away. Let me rephrase that. The basic plot can be described in a sentence or two, but such sentences would leave out important and interesting parts of these stories. This is not surprising, since many critics, and readers, would say that Wolfe belongs on any reasonable short list of the best writers of fantastic literature who write in English. I will not try to hide the plot in the posts I write about these books.

Here's the basic plot: The Whorl is an enormous hollow spaceship, which is gradually deteriorating. Silk, a young priest, has a spiritual awakening, which culminates in his congregation leaving The Whorl at the end of the fourth book.

The four books are Nightside the Long Sun, Lake of the Long Sun (both 1993, and combined into Litany of the Long Sun, 1994) Caldé of the Long Sun (1994) and Exodus from the Long Sun (1996) which latter two were combined into Epiphany of the Long Sun (1997).

The population of the Whorl is large, probably at least millions, and lives on the inside of this giant space ship, which is mostly an enormous hollow space, with the people living in cities on the inside of the outer wall. (There are tunnels in the wall, and some people live in the tunnels.) The Long Sun is the object that illuminates the interior of the Whorl. It is an artificial sun, apparently suspended along the axis of the ship, and there is a mechanism which sequentially darkens parts of the Whorl's interior, so that there is night and day in this great ship.

Caldé is the title given to the ruler of Viron, the city where Silk lives. Although I can't determine the origin of the word, I would guess that Wolfe found it somewhere. He has a genius for finding obscure ones. Some used in these books are manteion, the house of worship of the religion of Viron; Maytera, the title of females dedicated to the service of the religion -- think nuns; Prolocutor, the head of the religion; Ayuntiamento, the government of Viron; and The Juzgado, the prison.

Here are some key on-line references about Gene Wolfe's "Long Sun" series.

The Wikipedia article is here.

Nick Gevers, Wolfe critic par excellence, has written about the four books, and about connections with Wolfe's other works. In this article, he presents evidence for such connections, and argues that Silk, the main character, is a Christ-figure. In this one, he considers Silk further, and also discusses augury, an important part of the books. (See here for the Wikipedia article on augury. This page discusses Augury in the ancient world.)

Dave Langford has written reviews of the books. These are found here.

Somewhat shorter articles on the series are found here and here, in web pages that also contain material on additional Wolfe works.

The author, Wolfe, has responded to some questions about the book, sometimes cryptically, sometimes more clearly.

I have posted about Wolfe previously, here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sunspots 138

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

Will you really catch colds (or the flu) by going out in the cold?

If you want to learn more about Pocohantas, Nova did a program on her, including archaeology and history.

A Slate reviewer finds the film adaptation of The Golden Compass to be, well, not very bearable. He writes:
New Line should market the film to churches with the tag line: "Not only won't you be offended by The Golden Compass, you'll have no idea what's going on!"

Christianity Today discusses young-earth creationism. The comments are interesting, but (as you might expect) diverse, and disagreeing with each other.

Cody Thomas on how to really find God's will.

A splendid essay on the inability to bear children, in the Bible and in the author's own life, from Christianity Today .

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Eucatastrophe: Tolkien meets video talking heads

Eucatastrophe is a word invented by J. R. R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and other works. Tolkien was a professor of philology, so it is not surprising that he invented a word. Because he was Tolkien, and because it's a good word, it has been used by others.

To demonstrate its acceptance, I cite this: there is a one minute, forty-four second video on YouTube, featuring three talking heads (all white males, well-dressed) explaining Tolkien's word, eucatastrophe, with that title. A dictionary definition, and a little of the Peter Jackson movies, is included. As talking head explanations go, it's pretty good. I didn't see any credits. I don't know who produced it, or who the talking heads are.

See my previous post, including a paragraph on the subject. Quoting me:
". . . even though many 21st century English-speakers don't believe in miracles, they wish that they could, and are thrilled when miracles happen [in fiction]."

Here's the Wikipedia article on eucatastrophe. Here's Time magazine's obituary for Tolkien, from September 17, 1973, with the title "Eucatastrophe."

Back to self-promotion: Here's an essay, a few paragraphs long, on eucatastrophes in Tolkien's work, by me.

As the final link, here is a web page that includes two quotes from Tolkien on the word.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Thinking Critically and Christianly About Technology" by Ken Funk

In the September issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, there is an interesting article entitled "Thinking Critically and Christianly About Technology," by Ken Funk. (Volume 59, pp. 201-211. The September issue should appear on-line in a few months.)

Funk presents three principles to guide us in our use (or not) of particular technologies. These are as follows:
Principle 1: Technology ought to facilitate and not hinder our communion with God and the fulfillment of our moral obligations to him. . . . Principle 2: Technology ought to facilitate and not hinder the preservation of human life and improvement of human welfare . . . and the fulfillment of our moral obligations to people. Principle 3: Technology ought to facilitate and not hinder the preservation of the natural world and its order and integrity and the fulfillment of our moral obligations to God's lesser creatures. (p. 203)

He goes on to say that establishing principles isn't enough, and suggests that there are some subtle dangers in the use of technology. (204-6) Some of these are:
Technology's ambivalence. The use of technology to accomplish some good almost always also brings about evil.
Concentrating on secondary things, such as increasing the speed of transportation, or Internet access, rather than on the good we originally sought to accomplish. Perfecting the technology becomes an end in itself.
"The Illusion of Human Sovereignty." (p. 205) Technology gives us a lot of power that we didn't used to have. We think of ourselves as being in charge of our own destiny, which is a serious mistake.

I think Funk has said some important things.

I previously posted on "Technology: Some biblical basics."

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Rejoice, the Lord is King," by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that is occasionally heard is "Rejoice, the Lord is King." These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore;
Mortals give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When He had purged our stains He took His seat above;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

His kingdom cannot fail, He rules o’er earth and Heav’n,
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He sits at God’s right hand till all His foes submit,
And bow to His command, and fall beneath His feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

He all His foes shall quell, shall all our sins destroy,
And every bosom swell with pure seraphic joy;
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice,
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice!

Rejoice in glorious hope! Jesus the Judge shall come,
And take His servants up to their eternal home.
We soon shall hear th’archangel’s voice;
The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!

These words were published in 1744, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 07, 2007


Yesterday's post was about Bethlehem.

I decided to follow it up with a post on Nazareth. The Wikipedia article is here. It indicates that Nazareth is currently an important city, with a population of about 180,000, and is the capital of the Northern District of Israel. It also says that the city has a long history, going back to about 7000 B. C. Nazareth is about 25 kilometers/15 miles from the Sea of Galilee.

The first Biblical references to Nazareth are in the story of Jesus, in the gospels, although it is possible that it is referred to by some other name or names in the Old Testament. Except for the gospels, all other references in the New Testament are in the phrase, "Jesus of Nazareth," as in, for example, Peter's sermon on Pentecost, in Acts 2.

According to Paul, in Acts 22, even Jesus Himself gave His name as "Jesus of Nazareth," when He appeared to Paul on the way to Damascus. (This story is told in Acts 9, which does not use that phrase, but just "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting . . .")

I don't have any profound insight from this brief study. No doubt there are some such. Feel free to comment, and tell me about them.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


The city of Bethlehem is part of what is known as the West Bank, and is currently under the control of Hamas. The current population is apparently somewhere near 25,000. It is the site of the birth of Christ, and there is a shrine at the traditional site.

The first mention of Bethlehem in the Bible has to do with the death of Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife. (See here for a chart of the family relationships.) It is in Genesis 35:16-20. She seems to have died on the way to Bethlehem.

Ruth 1 tells us that the family Ruth first married into was from Bethlehem. Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem from Moab, and it was there that she and Boaz were married. They were David's great-grandparents, according to Ruth 4. David, himself, grew up in Bethlehem, his ancestral home. (See 1 Samuel 16)

David must have loved Bethlehem. He desperately wished that someone would bring him some of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which they did, at the risk of their lives:
2 Samuel 23:13 And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. 14 David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. 15 And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” 16 Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the Lord 17 and said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did. (ESV)

Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 tell us that people from Bethlehem, perhaps distant relatives of King David, returned after the exile.

Micah 5:2, for those who could interpret it properly, foretold the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem:
2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days. (ESV)
The priests and scribes gave King Herod this proper interpretation.

The last mention of Bethlehem in the Bible is when people from Galilee, where Jesus grew up in Nazareth, doubted his authenticity, because the scripture quoted in the previous paragraph says that He would come from Bethlehem, not Nazareth.

The most thought-provoking thing that I found in doing the research for this post is that the Wikipedia article on Bethlehem lists "Jesus Christ of Nazareth" as the only notable former resident. In other words, Bethlehem's main claim to fame is that Christ was there. When I am gone, and others think of me, I hope that my main claim to fame will be that Christ was present in my life, not this blog, or whatever else I have done in my life.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

I have now published a brief post on Nazareth.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sunspots 137

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

Paul Hyde, of the Greenville [SC] News on how universal healthcare isn't nearly as bad as some would have us believe, with statistics.

Bonnie, on a case of Internet deception, with serious consequences.

The bad stuff out there is getting even more scary. A CNet article discusses viruses/trojan horses/botnets/etc. sponsored by governments, and coming with a guarantee that they'll be effective, no less. Wow, and ouch!

Excerpts from a splendid interview with Connie Willis (nearly five years ago, by Locus magazine) in which she, among other things, says that seeking immortality is a secular religion in North America, and pooh-poohs the idea that you can't find real life in books.

"Fear Not The Compass," from Christianity Today, by Jeffrey Overstreet. Among other things, the article discusses Philip Pullman's agenda in The Golden Compass (and the other two books of the trilogy, and complains that some Christians went way overboard about the Harry Potter books and movies.

A Slate commentator thinks there is too much shopping and other consumerism in Disney's Enchanted .

He Lives asks if the New Testament is anti-semitic.

This week's Christian Carnival is here. For information on these Carnivals, go here.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Changed post

I have significantly changed a previous post, which claimed that Philip Pullman is a "materialist magician," based on comments on the post, and withdrawn that claim. The seriously revised item is here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Two articles on -- gasp -- sex

Two articles about sex have appeared recently in Slate.

One of these is strictly biological, and little directly to do with humans. It's an examination of why there are only two sexes (almost always). Why, indeed? Read the article. Among other things, it tells about a couple of cases of (sort of) more than two sexes, among animals.

Although the relation to biology required that the article be written for reasonably intelligent adults, I don't think there's anything particularly offensive.

Warning: some of the links in the article require membership in certain sites providing scientific journal content.

The second article may be somewhat more offensive to some readers. It explores the question of why most special homes for the aged prohibit sexual activity. (It indicates some of the answers, without mentioning any moral prohibitions.) Lest you wonder why anyone would even consider allowing any such, there's at least one good reason. Some inhabitants of such homes are long-time marriage partners.

As I say, this doesn't explore all the sides of this subject, but it does a good job with some of them.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Messiah, Prince of Peace," an anti-war hymn by Charles Wesley

This year is the 300th anniversary of Charles Wesley's birth. Wesley wrote many hymns. One that I have never heard, but which is appropriate for this advent season, is "Messiah, Prince of Peace." It is also an anti-war hymn! These are the words, as posted by the Cyberhymnal:

Messiah, Prince of peace!
Where men each other tear,
Where war is learned, they must confess,
Thy kingdom is not there.
Who, prompted by Thy foe,
Delight in human blood,
Apollyon is their king, we know,
And Satan is their god.

But shall he still devour
The souls redeemed by Thee?
Jesus, stir up Thy glorious power
And end the apostasy!
Come, Savior, from above,
O’er all our hearts to reign;
And plant the kingdom of Thy love
In every heart of man.

Then shall we exercise
The hellish art no more,
While Thou our long-lost paradise
Dost with Thyself restore.
Fightings and wars shall cease,
And, in Thy Spirit giv’n,
Pure joy and everlasting peace
Shall turn our earth to Heav’n.

These words were published in 1762, hence are public domain.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

In Defence of the Soul, by Keith Ward

One of the few books I have found on the important subject of what a soul is is Keith Ward's In Defence of the Soul. (Oxford, UK: OneWorld, 1998.) Ward argues strongly that there is such a thing as a soul, that the development of a soul depends on something physical, but that a soul is transcendent -- it can survive without the material necessary to produce one in the first place:

The most important characteristic of a soul is its capacity for transcendence. It has the capacity to 'exist', to stand outside the physical processes that generate it, and of which it is part. We might see the soul, the subject of awareness, deliberation and intention, as one part of a vast web of interacting processes, at various degrees of complexity, coming to conscious perception of the actions of other forces upon it, and realizing its own capacities in accordance with more or less clearly formulated principles. It is distinguished not by being quite different in kind from its material environment, but by reflecting and acting in that environment in a more conscious, goal-oriented way. In other words, the soul is not an alien intrusion into a mechanistic world. It is the culmination and realization of the principles that dimly inform what we call 'matter' at every stage of its existence. Yet, in that culmination, it is able to transcend the material. The material is limited by a particular location in space and time. It is contained by that location. But the soul by nature 'transcends', it is orientated away from itself, to what is beyond itself. (pp. 142-3)

Ward does not rule out the possibility of a computer having a soul. He doesn't seem to think that computers of today have such.

Thanks for reading.

Added Dec 3, 2007: I have written an extensive document, entitled "Soul uploading: computers and the mind-body problem." I make no claim to understand exactly what a soul is. The Bible says that we have one, so we must.