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Monday, March 31, 2008

So large that I hurt her?

I keep finding messages in my spam filter box (Which I check, because once in a while important messages end up there, unfortunately.) which, judging from their titles, are about -- how shall I put this? About not having erectile dysfunction, but the opposite, which, I guess, would be erectile hyperfunction. I'm sick of them, but don't know how to stop them, so I'll blog about it. Sorry. I have never opened any of these spam messages, and I hope I never do.

I once asked a female acquaintance, and she assured me that she gets the same type of e-mail. Even if these advertisements were for products that actually worked, they wouldn't work for her.

What's going on here? Well, a lot of things. One is that e-mail is (provided you have a system that works) free. We'd be better off, I guess, if it wasn't. Say, if e-mail providers charged a penny a message. Most of us could afford that, and it would stop spam.

Another one is how these messages seem to think we view ourselves. There's something really sick about a male that thinks of himself as a male member with legs and a voice. There's something really sick about a society where some persons apparently want body parts outside the normal range, and some others apparently encourage them in this sort of desire. (This also applies to the ads I used to get for larger mammaries, by the way. They seem to have stopped, presumably because selling to males is more lucrative.)

So, in case I didn't already know it, there are entrepreneurs that prey on any desire that they can make money from, and we have a sex-crazed society that emphasizes the material over the spiritual. Lust over agape love.

Thanks for reading.

P. S. I'd like to claim credit for inventing the term, erectile hyperfunction, but a Google search for that exact phrase tells me that I can't. Oh, well.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The sin of Moses and Aaron

Numbers 20:12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (ESV)

Note that the verses immediately preceding say this:
10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. (Numbers 20)

I am not clear as to what Moses and Aaron did that was unbelieving. I have heard others say that it was because Moses struck the rock twice. Perhaps it was because Moses and Aaron said "shall we," rather than indicating that God was the one who would bring out the water. Perhaps it was something else. But their sin was apparently a combination of unbelief and not honoring God as they should have. All too common in this day and time. All too common, I fear, in my own life. God help me.

As I understand it, unbelief and pride are the two common and fundamental sin problems. They were so in the time of Moses and Aaron, and in 2008.

I noticed this passage as a consequence of following the ESV on-line Bible reading for a day in March. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Old Testament "Fly on the Wall" situations

Cody Thomas has posted a list of 10 parts of the historical books of the Old Testament which he would like to have observed. There's nothing wrong with his list, but he suggested that others might like to do the same. Here is my list, for now at least, (links are to ESV scripture) in no particular order:

Watching Deborah lead the Israelites. (Judges 4)

Listening to David and Nathan's conversation, including David's repentance. (2 Samuel 12:1-23, Psalm 51 -- I know, that's not in one of the historical books)

Observing Esther's selection as queen. Was it because of her great beauty, or her character,or both? Also, observing her appearance before the king, when she had no royal invitation. What was their relationship like? (Esther 2:1-18, 4:13-5:8)

Watching Jehu in action, and determining why, even though he followed God, he didn't renounce the sins of Jereboam I. (2 Kings 9-10)

Observing Manasseh's repentance. (2 Chronicles 33:1-20)

Observing the lives of ordinary people. What did the Israelites of that time eat? How was it prepared? What were their table manners like? What did they wear? What were the sleeping arrangements? How did they heat and cool their homes? What were the sanitary arrangements? What pets did they have, if any? What did they grow in their gardens, if any? What domestic animals did they have? What crafts and trades did they practice? What was their devotional life like?

When angels surrounded the city, and were revealed to Elisha's servant. (2 Kings 6:8-23)

Elijah being fed by ravens, by a widow woman, and raising her son back to life. (1 Kings 17)

Seeing the dedication of the Temple. (1 Kings 8)

Watching the courtship between Ruth and Boaz. Was Boaz an old man? Did she speak differently than the Israelite women? When did Boaz really begin to notice Ruth (and vice versa)? What happened on the threshing floor? How was the ceremony of taking off a shoe performed? What was a marriage ceremony like? (Ruth 1-4)

Thanks for reading. Thanks for the idea, Cody.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Macroevolution and microevolution

Some Christians who think about origins have no trouble believing that varieties, perhaps even species, have come about through natural selection. They call this microevolution. The same people may have difficulty, for various reasons, believing that a whole phyum, say, Chordates, evolved from some other group, which would be an example of macroevolution. Some criticize such beliefs, saying that there is no difference between micro- and macro-evolution, and claim that Christians invented these two terms, and that they are unnecessary.

However, the distinction has some merit. There is a Wikipedia article on macroevolution, and, according to it, there has been some use of the term, including its invention, by mainstream scientists, for other than religious reasons. The article does not support the idea that new groups have come about by other than natural selection.

There are some people who do doubt that new groups came about this way, for several reasons, some of them religious, of course.

One reason is the many phyla discovered in the fossils of the Burgess shale, which, according to some authors, arose all at once with no known fossil ancestors. I'm not sure that that helps those who disbelieve that new groups came about by Darwinian selection, but, rather, by divine creation, though. Why did God create whole phyla that soon became extinct?

Another reason is logical. How could, say, a forelimb that was intermediate between a walking reptilian leg and a flying bird wing give any advantage to a creature (if there were any such) who possessed such an appendage, over its ancestral types, which walked on four limbs? It would not, seemingly, aid in either flight or walking. A number of like transitions can be imagined, and it is not always easy to come up with reasonable intermediate steps. This doesn't prove that the intermediates weren't there, of course.

Another reason is,of course, that some people believe that there hasn't been enough time for large changes caused by natural selection.

It seems to me that macro- and microevolution are legitimate terms.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Sunspots 153

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

Wired reports that Titan, Saturn's largest moon, may have an ocean of water below its surface.

Wired also has published an article by Carl Zimmer, who writes that, for now, it is possible to distinguish artificially produced DNA from natural DNA.

Politics: (or something) Slate on why out-of-wedlock births are a "National Catastrophe."

Joe Carter on the real problem with Obama's religion, which, he says, is something called Black Theology. I would be interested in other posts on problems with McCain's, or Clinton's, theology. And then, of course, there are the problems with my theology, and, perhaps, even with yours(!) The text of Obama's speech is here , by the way.

Sports: There were four upsets in the NCAA men's tournament in Tampa, FL.

Pat Summitt of Tennessee became the first NCAA basketball coach in history to win 100 NCAA tournament games. Her Tennessee team is going to the regional semi-finals (aka Sweet Sixteen) for the 27th time in a row. I would have supposed that John Wooden might have had more such victories, but he doesn't. Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Resurrection thoughts

The Resurrection is the central theme in every Christian sermon reported in the Acts. The Resurrection, and its consequences were the "gospel" or good news which the Christians brought: what we call the "gospels," the narratives of Our Lord's life and death, were composed later for the benefit of those who had already accepted the gospel. They were in no sense the basis of Christianity: they were written for those already converted. The miracle of the Resurrection, and the theology of that miracle, comes first: the biography comes later as a comment on it. Nothing could be more unhistorical than to pick out selected sayings of Christ from the gospels and to regard those as the datum and the rest of the New Testament as a construction upon it. The first fact in the history of Christendom is a number of people who say they have seen the Resurrection.
- C.S. Lewis, Miracles, Chapter 16 (1947)

Maple leaf on concrete

I took this photo of a maple leaf last October. That leaf was dead. I could have taken it to any university in the world, and offered a reward of billions of dollars, or Euros, or yen, and all the resources of that university would have been unable to bring that one leaf back to life. Death is irreversible -- the final triumph of the Second Law of Thermodynamics over a living thing. But Christ was resurrected. The greatest miracle of all. He triumphed over death!

And, said Paul, that triumphant power, resurrection power, is available to believers:

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1, ESV, emphasis added.)

Blessed Easter!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Physiology of Christ's suffering on the cross

I did a Google search for crucifixion physiology, and found a number of hits. Here are some of the results:
From an Azusa Pacific science professor. One page, with footnotes:
"The English language derives the word “excruciating” from crucifixion, acknowledging it as a form of slow, painful suffering."

Perhaps the most thorough treatment, from a physician, with footnotes.
"Dr. Barbet secured cadaver wrists to a wooden beam using spikes through the palms and found that the weight of a body when suspended from the cross would simply tear the spikes through the hands. If, however, the spikes were placed in the wrists, a body could be suspended successfully."

From a physician, a page, discussing Christ's last words, in conjunction with His suffering.
"Though very rare, the phenomenon of Hematidrosis, or bloody sweat, is well documented. Under great emotional stress of the kind our Lord suffered, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can break, thus mixing blood with sweat. This process might well have produced marked weakness and possible shock."

Another good page from a physician, with footnotes.
"Jesus did this for me! He hung on that cross, and went through all this heinous, physical agony of the worst and most intense pain ever devised as torture that a human could conceive and be subjected to. He did this all for me; He took my place; He endured, as an innocent Person, what I deserved as a sinner. He accomplished, by Grace, what I should have born myself." [emphasis added]

They don't agree on all points, but all of them are worth reading. I have included a quotation from each.

Christ suffered for us!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Sunspots 152

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

Some leading Southern Baptists, including three of the four most recent presidents, have issued a statement saying that their church has not spoken out about global warming as it should have. Those concerned have a web site of their own.

The most important young-earth creationist organizations have sponsored a study on the age of the earth. Their conclusions are 1) that dating analysis indicates that the earth is very old and 2) it isn't really. (Which is amazing, to say the least!) The American Scientific Affiliation has produced a web site on this RATE project, which attempts to include material from both young-earth creationists and their critics.

Clemson University (and the NCAA) has helped an African-American football player serve as guardian for his younger brother, until now, says Sports Illustrated, which reports that the older brother's scholarship has not been renewed:
"In short, the McElrathbey brothers' lives are again up in the air thanks to [Clemson Football Coach Tommy] Bowden's lack of compassion. Apparently having an extra inside linebacker or tight end is more important to him than showing loyalty to a young man who has given three years of effort to the program -- to someone trying to raise a teenager."

From Slate: a mathematical formula to tell when a basketball game has been won (before the final whistle, that is).

The New York Times reports that the Houston Rockets finally lost a game, after winning 22 in a row, the second longest win streak in NBA history, to the Boston Celtics. They lost by 20 points.

Bonnie on our deceitful everyday lives.

Henry Neufeld on how he received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association continued their win streak on Sunday, March 16th, beating the Los Angeles Lakers, for 22 wins in a row. According to the Canadian Press, it's been a team effort.

The Boston Globe is gleefully anticipating a defeat at the hands of their local Celtics tonight. Headline: "Houston may have a problem." Oh, what fun these headline writers have. The Celtics have the best record in the entire league, so it won't be easy for Houston.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Biblical use of the word, "hymn"

This is not a profound post (not that any of mine are). I did a search for the word, "hymn" in the Bible. I discovered six uses of the word, all in the New Testament. Here they are (all from the ESV):

Matthew 26:30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Mark 14:26 is identical. The "they" is Jesus and the eleven apostles, Judas having left to betray Jesus to the Jewish authorities.

Acts 16:25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them,

1 Corinthians 14:
26 What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.

Ephesians 5:19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart,

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

A couple of conclusions, from an amateur:
1) Singing is appropriate, and important, in corporate worship.
2) There were apparently three types of songs used by the early church, all approved by Paul. I have no idea what Paul meant by a "hymn," or a "spiritual song," and how they might have differed. Perhaps the psalms were from the book of Psalms.
3) whatever hymns and spiritual songs were, someone must have written them, probably during New Testament times.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Houston Rockets win streak now 21 games

ESPN reports that the Houston Rockets have now won 21 games in a row. Only one other team in NBA history has a longer streak. It's the Los Angeles Lakers, who are to visit Houston tomorrow. However, it isn't the same Laker players -- LA won 33 in a row in 1971-2.

A player named Mike Harris scored more points in the fourth quarter than he had in his entire career -- 10. The Rockets activated him a few days ago. He was cut from their roster before the season started, but they have had enough injuries that they needed someone to fill in, which he did.

In other basketball news, Dave Odom, coach of the University of South Carolina men's team, coached what he has said will be his last game. The Gamecocks nearly beat Tennessee, which has been ranked as high as number 1 this year, in the SEC tournament. Bobby Knight, who retired in the middle of the season, paid tribute to Odom's character during halftime of an ESPN tournament broadcast.

Thanks for reading. There will, no doubt, be more interesting basketball news soon.

Friday, March 14, 2008

My apologies, Houston Rockets

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about some interesting developments in basketball. One was an injury to Yao Ming, the center for the NBA's Houston Rockets. I indicated that that would mean that the Rockets no longer had a chance to win a championship. I was not alone in this prediction.

Well, somebody forgot to tell the Rockets. Tonight, they are going for their 21st win in a row. Only two other NBA teams have ever won 20 games in a row.

I confess that I haven't seen a Rockets game for quite a while, so I checked out their current roster. Shane Battier, who played for Duke, is one of their starters. He has always been a talented, hard-working, intelligent player. Tracy McGrady is their superstar. Luis Scola, a rookie from South America, also starts. So does Dikembe Mutumbo, who played for Georgetown back in the 19th century. Well, not quite -- it was 1991 when he finished playing for them, and began his NBA career. No matter how old he is, he's over seven feet tall. There are, obviously, some other good players on this team, and Rick Adelman and the rest of the coaches must be doing OK, too.

All the best tonight, Rockets. My apologies.

Thanks for reading.

P. S. College March Madness is well under way!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Firestar, by Michael Flynn

Yesterday's post was on Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn. I enjoyed the book a lot, so decided to read another by Flynn. The only other book he has written, available through our local library, is Firestar (Tor Books, 1996). So I checked it out, and started to read.

The book lacks some of the most appealing features of Eifelheim. There are no aliens, it's set in the present, and there didn't seem to be any major theological issues.

Reading on, I found theological issues, all right, but not cosmic questions -- more important ones. Some of the characters struggled with ambition, and its consequences. As Matthew 16:26 puts it: For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (ESV)

The book is about a program to put humans on asteroids. The guiding force behind this program is Mariesa van Huyten, a young heiress who is also intelligent, and, usually, wise. She does not use government funding, but does work with various other corporations to accomplish her goal, usually without letting their CEOs know what the ultimate goal really is. During the course of the book, she gradually sells her soul -- her idealism, her concern for others -- for a corporate and technological goal. And she knows that she has done so:

A sense that among the gains there had been losses. Hidden losses. Things she had sacrificed precisely to make those gains. Had that been what Keith had meant when he had warned her -- very nearly his last words -- that "the best things are lost in victory"? (p. 403)

It took every bit of strength in her to remind herself that Styx did not matter in the long-term scheme of things. That even she herself did not matter. Only the Goal. Always the Goal. Asteroid. Comet. It was only a matter of time. Next millennium. Next century. Next year. It did not matter. "You shall know neither the day nor the hour." Earth had to be ready. Don't let the Goal eat you up, Belinda had warned her. (p. 410)

Toward the end of the book, another warning from Belinda: ". . . Too many megawatt lasers or impulse engines . . . or asteroids . . . can distract you from the important things. . . ." (p. 520, ellipses in original)

Since the book appears to be the first of four related novels, perhaps she will re-gain her soul later. Keith is her CFO, until his death by heart attack, and the only person in the book who is unambiguously good.

Mariesa doesn't really perform any overt evil acts, or order anyone else to do so, and some rather nasty acts are done by others to her, or to her companies. But the goal consumes her so much that she uses others merely as a means to an end. As one of Ursula K. Le Guin's characters put it, in an honored science fiction work:

". . . However, the mission I am on overrides all personal debts and loyalties."
"If so," said the stranger with fierce certainty, "it is an immoral mission." The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 1969) p. 104.

One aspect of Firestar that I didn't expect is that one of Mariesa's corporations is educational -- it makes money, or at least keeps even, by taking over failing school systems. The book includes some understanding of what teaching is about, and its problems, hardly standard science fiction fare. Some of the students from one of these schools have various important roles later in the book. One of these is the Styx mentioned in the second quote above. Belinda, mentioned in two of the quotes, is director of the educational corporation. She may be good through and through, but we don't see enough of her to know.

Another important character seems, in a way, to regain his soul. He apparently gives up a cherished ambition out of love for his wife.

I don't wish to give away any more of the plot.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim, (New York, New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2006) by Michael Flynn, was a nominee for the Hugo Award in 2007. I try to keep up at least a nodding acquaintance with some of the Hugo and Nebula Award books, so I read Eifelheim, and I'm glad I did.

The Wikipedia article on the book is here. I confess -- I wrote a little of the article.

I didn't really expect to run into two important theological questions in Eifelheim, but I did. Flynn sets much of the book in Germany of the 1300s. That seems like a strange setting for a science fiction novel, but the reason so much of the book is set there is because it's about aliens crashing to earth at that time and place.

Flynn hangs two interesting theological questions on the encounter between aliens and medieval Germany. The first is, "Where is God when things go badly?" (The plague is one thing that goes badly, in this book. See here for another post, quoting Eifelheim, and also quoting an even more celebrated science fiction work, on this question.) The second question is, "Can aliens be converted to Christianity?" Flynn's answer is "yes." Some of the aliens become believers. Some of the humans think that this is monstrous, and some think that these conversions are miracles of God.

There are some more typical science fiction matters in the book. One of these is communication between species. The aliens don't look much like humans, and they don't speak as humans do. So Flynn considers communication from both technical and cultural angles. There are twenty-first century scientists in the book, and there are considerations of cosmology, and of historical research, and they are interesting. (In case you are wondering how the 1300s and the twenty-first century get together, there is time travel. Actually, I think that the story could have been told in just the 1300s, with no significant loss.)

To me, the real meat of the book is Flynn's portrayal of a German village, set in the Black Forest, in the 1300s. He seems to have done his homework. The various characters, peasants, soldiers, Lord, and priests, ring true. Especially, their religion rings true. As Flynn put it:
I have tried to depict the milieu of the mid-fourteenth century Rhineland as accurately as possible, but that is difficult enough to do for early twenty first-century America, let alone a time and place where the worldview was so different from our own categories of thought.
For one thing, they took Christianity seriously; in many ways, more seriously than modern Bible-thumpers. At the same time, they took it more matter-of-factly. (p. 315, "Historical Notes.") Flynn certainly took Christianity seriously in this book.

It was a good read, and, as I have said, it considered two deep, and interesting, theological questions. I'm sorry that it didn't win the Hugo.

See here for a post on extraterrestrial religion.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sunspots 151

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

This isn't exactly humor, but I don't have a category for it. The Chicago Tribune says that there are more Chinese restaurants in the US than the combined total of McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King.

This isn't exactly humor, either. Wired has an article on how to make a suit of armor with pull tabs from canned drinks, with illustrations.

Wired describes the recent deliberate flooding of the Grand Canyon.

The NBA has called for a replay of the last bit of a basketball game, because of a scorekeeping error. Slate details why it's a silly idea.

Arevanye has posted a poem by C. S. Lewis, on what love is.

A website on Charles Darwin's writings about religion. (I haven't looked further than a sentence or two, as yet)

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Recent essay on pornography

The January issue of First Things includes a thought-provoking, no, disturbing essay on pornography.

I recommend that you read it. I wish that it wasn't important.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The first thing God told Moses . . .

Exodus 24:18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

25:1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, that they take for me a contribution. From every man whose heart moves him you shall receive the contribution for me. 3 And this is the contribution that you shall receive from them: gold, silver, and bronze, 4 blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen, goats' hair, 5 tanned rams' skins, goatskins, acacia wood, 6 oil for the lamps, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, 7 onyx stones, and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it. (ESV)

I noticed this passage as a consequence of following the ESV on-line Bible reading for a day in February. It struck me that, on this occasion when Moses spent time on Mt. Sinai, in the presence of God, the first thing God told him was to tell the Israelites to prepare to give an offering. Or at least it's the first thing recorded about what God said to Moses. There's probably a sermon in there somewhere.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Beyond the Gates of Splendor, part 2

Yesterday, I posted on Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary film telling the story of the killing of five US missionaries in Ecuador in 1956. I have now seen the rest of the film, and the last half was better than the first. (It's not a two-part film -- I just didn't have time to see it all at once.) The End of the Spear was released later, and is a dramatization of the same events. It has the same director as this documentary. The documentary relies heavily on eye-witness testimony by participants, and also on graphic material, including some home movies, from the 50s.

The second half tells more of how Elisabeth Elliot (who has since re-married) and Rachel Saint, wife and sister of two of the murdered missionaries, went to serve the Waodani people. Elliot's service was for a couple of years, but Saint was there for a long time. She worked on translation and Bible teaching. Elisabeth Elliot, in an interview, tells how Saint prepared a woman to preach to the people every Sunday. (Saint is dead.) Elliot took her small daughter with her, and she was, basically, a Waodani kid.

Steve Saint, son of Nate Saint, also spent years with the Waodani. Many things that only God could have done are shown in the film. Steve Saint's son, who had lost one of his grandfathers, developed a grandson-grandfather relationship with one of his grandfather's killers.

The son of the Waodani man who lied about the missionaries, leading to the attack on them,
became a missionary pilot himself, although within his own culture.

I found the interviews with the Waodani, including some who participated in the murder, to be the most interesting part of the film. (There are English subtitles.) They are great actors, they understand that they have come out of great darkness, and they show us, through their eyes, some things about North American mainstream culture that aren't pleasant to see. They are also funny -- natural comedians.

Thanks for reading. I'm glad that I checked this out of our local library. It is still for sale, apparently.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Beyond the Gates of Splendor

I happened to see a DVD entitled Beyond the Gates of Splendor in one of the DVD racks of the local branch of our public library. I had never heard of it. I checked it out, and have seen most of it, certainly enough to recommend the DVD. It was released in 2002.

The film is a documentary, using interviews. It also uses photos, and videos, taken in the 1950s by the missionaries who attempted to reach the Aucas (also known as Huaorani and Waodani -- don't ask me which is correct) of the Amazon jungles of Ecuador. Five male missionaries were killed in 1956. Jim Elliot and Nate Saint are the best known. Elisabeth, Jim Elliot's wife, went to live with these Indians as a missionary some time after the killing. She has been an important author and speaker, and is still alive. One of her books is Through Gates of Splendor, which is about the events of 1956.

All five of the wives of the dead men are interviewed, as are other relatives, a missionary and a US soldier involved in the investigation of the incident, and several of Indians, including eyewitnesses of the events of 1956.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that the Waodani are better off because of the efforts of these, and other missionaries. An anthropologist describes them, as they were in 1956, as perhaps the most violent society on earth -- some 60% of the ancestors of Indians he interviewed back then died by murder.

One idea that I had never heard was the reason given for the killings, by one of the Indians. He said that a man and a young unmarried woman, with an older woman as chaperon, came to visit the missionary men. (There are photos of these three, at the site, with the men.) The man and the young woman went back to the Indian camp without the chaperon, which upset some of the men at camp. These men were told that the chaperon wasn't with them because the foreigners had threatened them, which was a lie. The Indians, it was said, attacked because of this.

This is a moving movie. The recollections of the wives are sometimes funny, sometimes heart-wrenching. The Indians (with subtitles) are sometimes dramatic and sometimes matter-of-fact about some terrible events in their lives, but always interesting. I haven't seen anything about conversions of Indians so far, and probably won't -- this is from Twentieth-Century Fox, not some Christian organization, which, in a way, emphasizes the interest and importance of the story.

The director, Jim Hanon, went on to make The End of the Spear, a dramatized version of the same events, which had rather wide theater distribution in 2005. I guess I'd choose the documentary, if I had to select one of the two. Apparently Beyond the Gates of Splendor is still for sale.

Thanks for reading.

* * * *

March 7th, 2008. An additional post is here.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sunspots 150

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

Male birds fed some pollutants can be more attractive to females, according to an article in Wired.

Wired selects the top ten chemistry on-line videos. (Nine from YouTube, one from PBS.)


An editorial in USA Today , calling for a special prosecutor to pursue the issue of torture carried out by the US. Here's an excerpt:

In refusing to allow a criminal investigation, therefore, Mukasey has chosen an argument often used by criminal defendants: He blamed the lawyers. It was not a crime, Mukasey has said, because Bush relied on advice from his handpicked lawyers. Because the lawyers said it was OK, it was: "Whatever was done as part of a CIA program at the time that it was done was the subject of a Department of Justice opinion through the Office of Legal Counsel and was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then."

Of course, any crime could be magically transformed into a non-crime by simply hiring clueless or collusive counsel. Ironically, while Bradbury was one of those misguided lawyers, Mukasey is seeking his confirmation as one of his top lawyers. It is enough to make the most mobbed-up lawyer blush.

(or politics) An allegation that the Clinton campaign darkened Obama in a TV ad.

Jan points out that, in one New Testament story, the men were fixing the meal while a woman was engaged in evangelism.

Thanks for reading! Keep clicking away.

Image source (public domain)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia McKillip, re-done

Patricia A. McKillip is one of my favorite fantasy authors. I have written elsewhere about one reason that I like her work, namely that much of it involves a main character deciding not to seek revenge. (I suppose that makes her novels, with this aspect important, Christian, in a sense.)

Here's what another blogger wrote about her use of words:

Words seem ironically inadequate to describe the skill with which McKillip spins the English language into magic. Lyrical is one word that is often used in reviews, but it's so much more. Most of McKillip's work deals with magic, and if there is any true magic in the world, I would suspect it would be found in her use of language. I could luxuriate in work written by McKillip regardless of the story, simply to enjoyher use of words.

I agree. It is also true that McKillip can be obscure, and leave quite a bit unexplained.

In the Forests of Serre (New York: Ace, 2003) is a book that I have read four times since I got it from one of our daughters for Christmas. I believe that I have finally gotten a handle on it, and it's not McKillip's fault that it took me so long. The central theme is the heart. The word, referring to the seat of the emotions, is used over and over again, and two of the main characters give up their hearts for something else, and regret this. (They get them back.) Here are two items of evidence:

The queen's voice cut sharply at him, cold and edged with astonishment. "What is the matter with you? You came out of that forest as heartless as your father." (p. 203). Queen Calandra is Prince Ronan's mother, and married to King Ferus of Serre, who has no love, or empathy, for anyone else, certainly including his wife and only son.

He had thought the wizard's last battle would be a tale of terror and courage, feats of unimaginable magic performed with heart-stopping skill and passion, good and evil as clearly defined as midnight and noon, a heroic battle for life and hope against the howling monster that left death in every footprint and ate life to fill the unfillable void where its heart had been. Instead he was trapped in the middle of something grisly, ugly, dreary, that ate into his own heart word by word until he could scarcely stand to look at himself. (212)

"This monster, when it could not kill me, reached into me and broke my heart. . . ." (213. The Wizard Unciel has described his battle with a monster to Euan Ash, the scribe who is working for Unciel. The wizard needs all sorts of help, because he has been weakened physically and emotionally, almost to the point of death.)

I don't see how I can summarize the plot, or even describe the characters (there are nine that I would consider main characters) in anything like a post length that's reasonable, even for me. So I'll just summarize the book this way:

McKillip has again written a book with excellent use of language, describing a marvelous forest, wizardry, and a cold castle. The Princess Sidonie decides that she doesn't want to marry Prince Ronan unless he re-claims his heart. He gave it away because his first wife and child died. After numerous trips, by several characters, into and through the forest, all is well. Everyone who should have a heart does, and the two really can fall in love and be married.

Three themes that I have found in some of McKillip's other work, namely rejection of vengeance, being visible in plain sight, and having someone strange in a character's pedigree, are not prominent in this book.

I hope that my heart is present, and doing what it's supposed to do.
Proverbs 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life. (ESV)

Thanks for reading. Much of this post comes from a previous one.

Salt in the incense and the grain offerings

I recently noticed, for the first time, that salt was significant in the religious practices of the Old Testament.

Exodus 30:34
The Lord said to Moses, “Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), 35 and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. 36 You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. 37 And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the Lord. (ESV)

Leviticus 2:13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt. (ESV)

I noticed these passages, which refer to the use of salt in worship ceremonies, as a consequence of following the ESV on-line Bible reading for two separate days in February.

A search for salt in the on-line ESV Bible turned up the following additional passages:
Moses, speaking to Aaron, the first High Priest, said: Numbers 18:19
All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you.” 20 And the Lord said to Aaron, “You shall have no inheritance in their land, neither shall you have any portion among them. I am your portion and your inheritance among the people of Israel.

2 Kings 2:19 Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city* is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.
*The city was apparently Jericho.

2 Chronicles 13:4 Then Abijah stood up on Mount Zemaraim that is in the hill country of Ephraim and said, “Hear me, O Jeroboam and all Israel! 5 Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt? . . .

King Darius speaking, and, seemingly, knowing about the requirement for salt in the work of the priests, in Ezra 6:7 Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River. 9 And whatever is needed—bulls, rams, or sheep for burnt offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, or oil, as the priests at Jerusalem require—let that be given to them day by day without fail, 10 that they may offer pleasing sacrifices to the God of heaven and pray for the life of the king and his sons.

Ezekiel indicates that newborn babies were normally treated with salt: 16:1 Again the word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. 4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.

So salt was a symbolic substance, in the Old Testament, as well as the new. Sorry I wasn't paying better attention earlier! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Quotations from Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness

One voice speaking truth is a greater force than fleets and armies, given time . . . The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 1969) p. 31.

". . . the mission I am on overrides all personal debts and loyalties."
"If so," said the stranger with fierce certainty, "it is an immoral mission." The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 1969) p. 104.

To oppose something is to maintain it. The Left Hand of Darkness (New York: Ace, 1969) p. 146.

Thanks for reading.