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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Detour to Eight Iron

I'm starting something fresh over at Eight Iron. The new site reveals who's behind the "Three of Six" mask.
See you there...

Friday, August 26, 2005

Hitting the pause button

I won't be posting here probably for several weeks, possibly months. Blogging is a commitment, and right now, my other commitments are nudging it out. I've just got too many irons in the fire, and something has to give. Feel free to check out the links to the right under "Thumbs Up."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The indispensable piece

Yesterday, we asked the Jenga question: Like the little block of the Jenga tower on which all the weight eventually comes to rest, what idea in Christianity is so important that, if removed, then the whole edifice of Christian faith would come crashing down?

The answer is...

the Resurrection of Jesus.

No less than the Apostle Paul said: "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith" (1 Cor. 15:14, NIV). Many on that morning long ago saw an empty tomb, but only some drew a faith conclusion from that fact. Now, we call them "Christians," or followers of Christ. More answer to that title today than to any other faith title.

But what if some clever Indiana Jones type unearthed human bones, dusted them off, and said they belonged to Jesus of Nazareth? Would someone have truly yanked out the indispenable Jenga block? Paul Maier wrote a book, A Skeleton in God's Closet, premised on exactly that scenario. It's a good read, as you wind down these short days of summer.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Best burger and fries in a while

It happened. Yesterday, that little site meter down at the bottom roared past 500, and is still truckin'. True to their promise, 1 0f 2 and 2 0f 2 took me out for dinner. These kinds of "father/son" moments, where all three of us are together, are numbered, since 1 0f 2 is beginning his senior year, and will be off to college somewhere next August. Yep, best burger and fries I've had in a while. Thanks, guys!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Christianity and Jenga

Have you ever played Jenga?

It's a tower game. Little rectangular blocks are carefully stacked together, to make a tower about 18 inches high. One by one, players carefully remove the blocks, and put them on top. Whoever knocks down the tower loses.

One thing I noticed when playing Jenga. There are lots of blocks that you can take away and the tower remains relatively stable. You hardly notice they're gone. But there comes a point in the game where the whole weight of the tower is resting on one block.Take it away, and the tower crashes to the floor. It's the indispensable block.

In the Bible, there are lots of "blocks." There are endless genealogies, commandments, sacrifices, stories of Jesus, missionary travels, etc. What "block" is so crucial to Christian faith, that if that block was removed, the whole edifice would come crashing down?

Think on these things, and I'll be back tomorrow with my answer.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Time to check Pat Robertson's meds?

He's 75, an age where senior citizens often take meds. Perhaps Pat Robertson has forgotten to take some of his? Robertson recently made an on-air plea for the United States to "take out" Venezuelan President Chavez. Thankfully, Robertson had about as much chance of being elected President of the United States in 1988 as former Ambassador Alan Keyes had of being elected an Illinois Senator in 2004. (In comparison, Keyes is looking pretty good). Now Venezuela has lodged an official complaint with the U.S. government, and the White House has distanced itself from Robertson's over-the-top remarks.

It's debatable how much influence Robertson currently has on the American electorate, although his Christian Broadcasting Network still has a cable following and maintains a flashy website. The general tone of his teachings is what is called "prosperity gospel," promising financial blessings from God, usually in return for generosity toward others...perhaps expensive television "ministries"?

The Pat Robertsons and Jimmy Swaggarts of this world, unfortunately, have given a bad name to ministers in general, since the non church-going public gets the impression that all clergy are just out to make-a-buck. Undoubtedly, some are, but far more quietly persevere in small town and big city America, paid little to give a listening ear to a down-and-outer, try to bring healing to broken homes, or pray with a dying saint's hand in the hospital. In short, they're the unsung heroes of the helping professions.

As for millionaire Pat Robertson, here's to not just the White House distancing itself from him. One can always hope that the average viewer will wake up, smell the coffee, and see him for the loose cannon that he really is.

This has been cross-posted to Digital Dissent.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Michael Behe vs. Charles Darwin

Senator Frist's recent comments confusing "science" and "faith" have focused attention once again on the evolution vs. intelligent design debate. Since the media gives little treatment to the nuances of the arguments, I decided to skim The Origin of Species and read in more detail bio-chemist Michael Behe's 1996 ground-breaking challenge to Darwinism.

I took zoology my freshman year of college, and tortured my future wife by making her listen to my seemingly endless recitations of the Kreb's cycle! However, I don't consider myself an expert on things scientific, science being more of a hobby, one of Robert Frost's "roads not travelled." So, charging-in where angels fear to tread, here's my summary after a quick perusal of Darwin, and a more careful reading of Behe.


"It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages, and then so imperfect is our view into long past geological ages, that we only see that the forms of life are now different from what they formerly were." – Charles Darwin, in The Origin of Species, 1859

"While chemists try to test origin-of-life scenarios by experiment or calculation, evolutionary biologists make no attempt to test evolutionary scenarios at the molecular level by experiment or calculation. As a result, evolutionary biology is stuck in the same frame of mind that dominated origin-of-life studies in the early fifties, before most experiments had been done: imagination running wild. Biochemistry has, in fact, revealed a molecular world that stoutly resists explanation by the same theory so long applied at the level of the whole organism...Darwin never imagined the exquisitely profound complexity that exists even at the most basic levels of life." - Michael Behe, in Darwin's Black Box, 1996

Natural selection, based on the struggle for life, is how Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, explained evolution. Now, it is accepted as fact among biologists, not only that there are minor variations within a species, or microevolution, but changes that lead to the creation of new species, called macroevolution.

Lost in the current sound-bite war over evolution vs. intelligent design are the nuances in what is arguably the most scientifically sound critique of macroevolution yet presented. In Michael's Behe's Darwin's Black Box: The Bio-Chemical Challenge to Evolution (The Free Press, 1996), a careful and meticulously documented questioning of Darwinism unfolds with beauty and clarity.

The key to understanding Behe's argument is first understanding who Charles Darwin was. He was a naturalist; he studied birds and insects, especially the variations among them. His theory was based on 19th century science, before the discovery of DNA or most of the inner workings of the cell. The "black box" is Behe's clever expression for any realm of science unaddressed by a theory. This wasn't Darwin's fault, but the science of bio-chemistry, which only began in earnest in the 1950s, has uncovered new findings at the molecular level for which Darwinism has no explanatory power.

Are there things in nature that are "irreducibly complex"? Yes, says Behe. Among several examples he provides is the clotting of blood. There is a "cascade effect" that happens at the bio-chemical level in the human body when we cut ourselves and start to bleed. Immediately, proteins in the blood form something of a chain reaction, allowing blood to clot. It is part of a complex system, and therefore, it is difficult to see how the system could have gradually evolved and still worked to keep people from bleeding. Something is "irreducibly complex" if it has no "functional precursors" (p.43). Importantly, though scientists know much about the clotting of blood, no one has been able to explain how such a complex system could have evolved over time. Bio-chemists give lip service to molecular evolution, but there is no solid research proving that it happens where sytems are irreducibly complex.

The close of Behe's book draws inferences from the direction in which forty years of bio-chemical research points. Irreducible complexity, while it cannot be explained by evolutionary theory, can be explained by "intelligent design." Behe, though Roman Catholic, is careful not to cross the line into theology, refusing to say who the "designer" is. (He even allows the possibility that life on earth is the result of it being sown by aliens!) Shrewdly, he likens intelligent design to the Big Bang, where there are obvious theological implications, but where he believes that scientists should leave the development of those implications to theologians.

Darwin's Black Box has become standard reading by those promoting intelligent design in public schools. Importantly, Behe distances himself from young-earth Creationists, i.e. those who see the universe has having been created by God in six 24-hour periods. He sees no problem in saying that complex systems were put into place by a designer billions of years ago. He is careful to maintain a traditional definition of science as limited to the examination of the natural world, and would no doubt be confused like the rest of us by Senator Frist seemingly equating faith and science.

Behe's book is well-done. He sets-off more technical discussions from the easier parts of his argument, and one can easily follow the gist even if you skim the diagrams of molecules, or just glance at the drawings of cellular infrastructure. If you want to make sense of the current ID debate, Darwin's Black Box is a good place to start.

This essay has been double-posted to Tacitus.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Anchors and Sails

We had gathered from the four winds, all of us converging on the campground for three days of family reunion. Some had come from overseas; most came from far-flung states up and down the eastern seaboard, scattered by the pursuit of jobs and advancement. My dad, former Navy man that he is, looked around the room and aptly summed it up: “In this family, we’ve always been more sail than anchor.”

He was talking about our family penchant for pulling up roots every four or five years, and moving on. He meant nothing political by the statement, but the "anchor" and "sail" metaphor is useful when considering the historic tensions that play themselves out in the American political arena. The “anchors” are the conservatives, once in both major parties, but now relegated almost entirely to the Republican side of the aisle. These are the Jim Talents and the Kay James', reminding us of our heritage, calling us to be “anchored” in the principles of family and faith that have stood the test of time. When change is all around us, they call us back to First Things. They are guardians of the tradition.

The “sails,” on the other hand, are the visionaries. They’re not concerned about keeping things as they’ve always been. Change isn’t a dirty word; it’s a rallying cry. These are the innovators, the Thomas Edisons and the Bill Gates, rugged individualists who push the envelope. More “sails” are Democratic than Republican.

The genius of America has always been finding room for both “anchors” and “sails.” Too much anchor, and innovation dies. Too much sail, and we all lose our bearings.

Starting next Saturday, the "Anchors and Sails" column will review one article or book personalities that are best described as either an "anchor" or a "sail." By better understanding both, we'll come to understand that we really do need each other.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Sunday "Thumbs Up!"

This week's Sunday "Thumbs Up!" pick is Tacitus.

If blogs had the equivalent of a "general store," Tacitus would fit the bill. While many posts are made pseudonymously, there are others who help fill out the many categories, including foreign affairs, culture, politics, travel, social issues, and others.

From what I read, Tacitus is right-of-center, but unfraid to say the Emperor is wearing nothing, when indeed that's the case. Discourse in America today could use more who aren't afraid to break ranks, when the herd is stampeding in the wrong direction.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Debate brewing at "Radio Saigon"

The "Unrepentant Curmudgeon" lives in France, and likes to blog. I live overseas as well, and also like to blog. But what's really fun is when iron sharpens iron, and we get debating back-and-forth. Read it all at "Radio Saigon."

Friday, August 19, 2005

Jesus isn't soup, and he's not for sale

Is Jesus a product to be bought or sold? So you might think, if you listen to long-time pastor H.B. London: "Nearly every pastor is a salesman or marketer of one kind or another because...we have a philosophy to sell." I guess Jesus and the Church are no longer any different than a can of soup.

The problem is, most manufacturers reach market saturation. Their product starts piling-up in warehouses, or on store shelves. Before long, the price is slashed to move the product. ON SALE! blares from every floor display. People will shop at the biggest box store, wherever they can get it the cheapest.

In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic church got in trouble when they started selling indulgences, promises that passage to heaven could be made quicker and easier, if we just pay something now on earth. Tetzel even had a jingle: "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs." Martin Luther got angry at the commericialization of doctrine, and hammered his famous "95 theses" to the door of the cathedral in Wittenbury, Germany. The Protestant Reformation had begun.

Evangelicals have apparently forgotten the hard lesson learned by Rome. When it comes to spiritual things, forget marketing. Christian faith is not for sale. Salvation is not a commodity that you can stick a bar code on, and scan at the nearest register. It defies all of our attempts to put it in a box and hawk it on the nearest corner like Tetzel, or even to offer it for auction on E-Bay. Christianity isn't a product; it's a call, a call to come and die.

Jesus said: "If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me." Serving Christ is just that, serving him. The relationship is not equal. God's not your "big buddy" upstairs, or your instant messenger friend. And he's certainly not a spiritual commodity that needs to be hawked. But the paradox is that the same Jesus who calls us to service offers peace: "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

Jesus is a relationship, a call to extreme commitment. That commitment means belonging to others (the Church) and changing the world, by God's Spirit living inside.

So keep your jingles and your market studies. Keep your spiritual salesmanship. Jesus isn't soup, and he's not for sale.


Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

General Casey exudes optimism on Iraq

"I've been here a year, and the longer I stay, the more optimistic I am that we're going to achieve our objectives." So said General Casey, the four-star commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq. Among other things, Casey notes that the number of bombing attacks in July was 1/3 of what it was in June. Despite the more than 50 American casualities already this month, he insists that military morale is high. NBC's Matt Lauer baited him as best he could, but drew nothing negative from the General, just low-key confidence that we're on the right track. (BTW, nice to see a reporter on the ground in Baghdad, and not hiding behind some desk in New York).

Casey points out that historically, the average insurgency lasts nine years, so there will be a long road to hoe in Iraq before this is over. Still, by his read, we're making real progress. I sure hope he's right.

Watch the entire 4 1/2 minute interview here, and decide for yourself.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

The sport that time forgot

What sport was invented in 500 b.c. and remains obscure in the United States?

OK, you looked at the picture. It's badminton, of course. But now the World Badminton Championship is coming for the first time to America, and with it a spate of publicity for a sport that usually gets played alongside croquet and horseshoes at the family reunion.

College P.E. transformed my concept of the game. It was a great stress reliever between research papers and reading to get out there and plaster the birdie...uh, shuttlecock. I was surprised how fast-paced the game could get, but that was minor league compared to the 200 mph missiles that the professionals fire-off. Though the game languishes in the States, it's thriving in other parts of the world, and joined the Olympics in 1992. When played competitively, it's decent exercise. Finish a forty minute match at a high level, and you'll have travelled nearly two miles. Not bad.

Now, if they can just stop folks turning their racquets upside-down and playing air guitar...

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Icemilk, anyone?

It inevitably happens.

Someone forgets to put a box of milk in the fridge overnight. The next morning, you can either have warm milk or...get creative.

Now, I don't mind ice cubes in my milk, but the rest of the Three of Six family thinks it's uncivilized.

But the way I look at it, today's weirdo is tomorrow's hero. (Just look at Bill Gates). The first time someone combined chocolate and peanut butter, they must have raised eyebrows. But if Mr. Reeses was a real person, I bet he lived happily (and richly) ever after.

I'm hoping that some of our family's odd food pairings will catch-on and make us famous:

1) Crunched-up Graham crackers in applesauce -- eat it before they get too soft
2) Pepsi in milk -- don't try it in reverse, it'll curdle, but Four of Four says it's good. (I'll stick with my ice milk).
3) Mix Fanta Orange and Sprite, and voila: "Spranta" (Hat-tip to Sue)
4) brown sugar in tea -- better flavor
5) pickle relish and cheese sandwich

When it comes to strange combos, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Getting clipped

Their ads say that they're "everywhere you want to be." Frankly, I'm just feeling clipped.

So $ 85.00 won't send me into chapter 11. The reason it won't is that Four of Four and I have nearly always watched our Ps and Qs when it comes to money. We won't carry a card that charges an annual fee, and we always pay our balance off in-full each month. I call that being financially responsible; the credit card company has another term for it: "dead beat." That should tell you something about how they think.

But back to the $ 85.00. It showed up as an "international service fee" on my last statement. When I contacted the issuing bank, they told me that it's a 2% fee levied on all charges made outside the United States. The fee is mandated by VISA, and the bank just passes it on to the customer. Hadn't I seen the notice in a recent statement? Ah, no, I hadn't. Translate: No refund, sucker.

My employer, who sponsors employees to receive the card, is now looking into other options. Meanwhile, if enough of the rest of us globetrotters raise our voices, maybe VISA will get the message. After all, what point is there in carrying a supposedly worldwide credit card if every time you set foot outside the U.S., you get clipped?

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Don't change it, Mr. Secretary

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is new on the job, and he's itching to make changes.

Understandable, a "new broom sweeps clean," yada yada.

Unfortunately, not all changes are good.

Since 9/11/2001, there have been exactly (let's count them) zero fatalities in the U.S. due to airplane security issues. Nada. Goose egg. The sale of Dr. Scholl's for shoes has probably gone up, as passengers being screened get to kick-off their Sunday shoes. But standing in my stocking feet for a few minutes is a small price to pay to have a greater peace of mind when I get on that plane.

If any changes need to be made, it's making things more strict. I won't go into a specific list of weaknesses in the current screening system. I've always thought that there's probably some warped person trolling the web for new sabotage ideas. But if you must do something to establish your authority, Mr. Secretary, make it a change to tighten things up, not loosen them. That'll make this traveler and his family sleep easier at 30,000 feet.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Sunday "Thumbs Up!"

"Thumbs Up!" to Scott Rushing's Theology Journal. Looks like a work-in-progress, like Three of Six. Carry on.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Belay that order!

It's a great line from Star Trek: TNG.

Strange aliens have taken the real Captain Picard hostage, and replaced him with a facsimile. They want to know how far the rest of the crew can be pushed before the inevitable mutiny, so Picard starts giving silly commands. "Take us closer to that star, Mr. Crusher" he orders, even as the computer blares that destruction of the Enterprise from solar radiation is imminent. At the last possible moment, before they incinerate themselves, the First Officer barks out: "Belay that order!"

Watching President Bush and the Congress empty the country's wallet is like a re-run of that Star Trek episode, only this time there's no sane First Officer to head off disaster. When it comes to spending, not only has the Captain gone crazy; all the officers on the bridge seem to have lost their senses. Federal fiscal policy is a mess, the most recent evidence being the pork-laden $ 286 billion highway bill that Bush signed into law on Wednesday. Meanwhile, alarms continue to sound, as groups like the Economic Policy Institute warn that within 10 years, the entire federal budget will be taken up for defense and costly entitlements.

Predictably, as the treasury runs dry, the Feds will cost-shift to the state level, mandating programs that state governments can ill afford. Meanwhile, the silence on the Left and Right is eloquent, as neither DailyKos nor NRO give the story even a front-page mention. Guess impending fiscal meltdown just isn't newsworthy anymore.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Dark shades and the ministry

What do dark sunglasses and the call to the priesthood have in common? Plenty, according to the Washington Times Insider (subscription only). The lastest recruitment poster is a Catholic youth pastor, dressed in a dark priest's uniform, wearing shades, like Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The posters are all the rage in dioceses across America, where some priests credit them for help recruiting more young men to "the toughest of all jobs." A number of recent movies include celibate warriors, such as the Star Wars Jedi knights, many of the heroes in Lord of the Rings and Peter Parker of Spiderman fame. In our world painted by some as "good" vs. "evil," such a pitch apparently has appeal.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Anchors and sails

We had gathered from the four winds, all of us converging on the campground for three days of family reunion. Some had come from overseas; most came from far-flung states up and down the eastern seaboard, scattered by the pursuit of jobs and advancement. My dad, former Navy man that he is, looked around the room and aptly summed it up: “In this family, we’ve always been more sail than anchor.”

He was talking about our family penchant for pulling up roots every four or five years, and moving on. He meant nothing political by the statement, but the "anchor" and "sail" metaphor is useful when considering the historic tensions that play themselves out in the American political arena. The “anchors” are the conservatives, once in both major parties, but now relegated almost entirely to the Republican side of the aisle. These are the Jim Talents and the James Dobsons, reminding us of our heritage, calling us to be “anchored” in the principles of family and faith that have stood the test of time. When change is all around us, they call us back to First Things. They are guardians of the tradition.

The “sails,” on the other hand, are the visionaries. They’re not concerned about keeping things as they’ve always been. Change isn’t a dirty word; it’s a rallying cry. These are the innovators, the Thomas Edisons and the Bill Gates, rugged individualists who push the envelope. More “sails” are Democratic than Republican.

The genius of America has always been finding room for both “anchors” and “sails.” Too much anchor, and innovation dies. Too much sail, and we all lose our bearings.

Starting next Saturday, Three of Six, in the "Anchors and Sails" column, will review one article or book by either an anchor or a sail. Stay tuned.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Risky behaviors and media double standard?

The death from lung cancer of journalist Peter Jennings has produced a window of opportunity. Though Jennings quit smoking twenty years ago, the damage to his body had apparently already been done. CNN seized the moment to run smoking prevention reports. Turns out the best way to avoid lung cancer is to never take up smoking.

Recently, the media has highlighted other high-risk behaviors, such as dusting. Turns out the best way not to die of computer keyboard cleaner is to never deliberately suck it in.

In 2003, 14,000 Americans died of AIDS. Of all new infections, 70% are male. Maybe the best way for a young man to avoid HIV is to refrain from anal sex with another male?

As a society, we've done pretty well across the years in proscribing particularly risky behaviours. Why do we forbid Joe Camel billboards in front of elementary schools? Because it's disturbing to see a cigarette dangling from the lips of an 11 year-old girl, her future going up in a whisp of smoke. Why do we get out the word about the dangers of sniffing glue or other household products? Because it's heart-breaking trying to wake your kid up for school, only to find him dead next to an empty can of aeresol.

So how should we respond when it comes to risky homosexual behavior? As concerned parents, do we still have the courage to say to our boys: "It's not healthy. It may kill you. You don't want to go there." Such a stance taken publicly may even call down the wrath of the PC police at your neighborhood school, but whoever said parenting is easy? It's far easier to bite our collective tongue, to titter along with the latest gay recruitment sitcom. As for the big news outlets? Less disruptive to go with the pro-gay script than connect the dots on this public health issue. And don't count on the major blogs to break ranks. Seen their pro-gay ads lately?

It's hard not to notice the relationship between what's OK for the media to say and current trends in tort law. Big Tobacco? Got sued, and how. Now Phillip-Morris and friends extol the dangers of youth smoking, and so do journalists. McDonalds? Allegedly, they're making our kids fat, so a lawsuit later, they've added lots of salads. Not surprisingly, the award winning documentary Super-Size Me piggy-backed on news of the lawsuit. Who knows? Maybe a hungry attorney will sue broadcasters for airing something like Boy Meets Boy, thereby recruiting someone's son into the gay lifestyle, resulting in his eventual death by AIDS. It will be interesting to see how the media spins that story.

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Y'all come back, ya hear?

No blogging today, just more graduate research. Check back in on Wednesday for something fresh.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Wayne's comedy western good for what ails ya

"One of Two" and "Two of Two" left for summer camp yesterday. The house seemed really quiet, so "Four of Four" and I sat down to watch a movie, one of those films that everyone in the house had already seen, but I'm just catching up on.

North to Alaska (1960) with John Wayne and teen idol Fabio, was groundbreaking: It was the first western comedy. Wayne had achieved enough stature as an American icon that he wanted to do a film that would spoof himself. He pulls it off well, with lovely French actress Capucine at this side.

This one's worth some good laughs, if your laugh gauge is edging toward empty.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

A North African mother and child, working the traffic for a few coins, in Cotonou, the economic capital of Benin, West Africa Posted by Picasa

Sunday "Thumbs Up!"

Kudos go to Professor Brainbridge , a UCLA Law professor and part of the growing right-of-center blogosphere.

According to his masthead, the site is "an eclectic mix of law, business and economics, Catholicism, politics and current events, dogs, and photography." Brainbridge deals with issues cogently, but has enough "lighter" content to break up the heavy topics. There's always something new to interest the reader, and he's not afraid to depart from conservative PC on occasion, as evidenced by his recent recommendation of a First Things article opposed to the death penalty.

Welcome, Prof, to the "Thumbs Up!" blogroll, and keep up the good work.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Brainy Smurf in search of three stooges

As scam e-mails go, it was my favourite.

You know what I'm talking about, the desperate plea from a 2/3 world country, tales of woe, but sweetened with the promise of $ 6,ooo,ooo U.S. or some outlandish sum, sitting in a bank account, ready to divvy up, if only you hit the reply button. If if seems too good to be true, it probably is.

At least deleting scam e-mails serves the useful purpose of limbering up the fingers of my right hand for the day. I decided to click on one, just to see what the latest story was. Right away, I was surprised that this one wasn't typed in some sweltering cybercafe in Lagos, Nigeria, but instead it came from Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Having lived in Abidjan for four years, it was no surprise to read names like "Koffi" and "Kouame," but the name of the deceased richer than "The Donald" American who made all this possible was surprising. Who was this poor Yankee Abroad who met an untimely death, leaving all his loot behind? Why, none other than Brainy Smurf.

Now if Barney Rubble had died, I might have taken the bait. I mean, surely Barney must have squirreled away at least some of the royalties from all those "Flintstones" re-runs, maybe hidden in Wilma's hairdo? But Brainy? Truth be known, he's kind of the
conscience for the Smurf clan, but not well-liked. (On the other hand, that could provide us with a clue why someone iced him in an obscure West African country, someone tired of his moralizing...but I digress). In any case, he doesn't seem like the Smurf with the Midas touch.

Pity the poor soul who swore off Saturday morning cartoons, and now is wondering why her millions never came.

UPDATE: Here's an illuminating article on Nigerian e-mail scams.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Feeling good in your skin

Three Marines parked their Humvee next to a green recruitment tent at the amusement park. They didn't have fly paper, but not to worry. They had something better. They had a pull-up bar.

How did I ever do 17 pull-ups in a row in 9th grade? Those Marines must have been snickering inside, as I dropped to the ground in defeat. I hadn't done a single one. Back home, "get fit" program # 257 actually lasted a little longer this time, but inevitably, ended with less-than-spectacular results. No, that's not my bicep to the left. My photo shoot for the cover of Men's Health? That will just have to wait.

The French have a saying: "Il est bien dans sa peau." Literally, it means "He's good in his skin." Doesn't matter if you're "easy on the eyes" or not. It simply acknowledges the confidence a person exudes, that they're comfortable being who they are.

Dove soap is doing something heretical right now. In an ad campaign, they're featuring women who are less-than-thin. They aim to sell soap, of course, but also to make women who wear size 6 to 12 feel comfortable with themselves, to feel good in their skin. They're not dangerously overweight, or anorexic. They're just...average. Average is OK.

If I wore a hat, I'd take it off to Dove. Now, will someone please do the same for boys and men? Do you ever wonder how many media messages young men get every day, from the checkout stand at Walmart, to the fight games on Play Station, to the worship of ripped male celebrities on TV and the internet? How many times a day does a young man have to see "washboard abs" to realize he doesn't have any? Is it any wonder that more of our boys are taking steroids, not just to perform better in sports, like suspended Baltimore Oriole Raphael Palmeiro, but simply to "look good"? Ah, but how much money would product manufacturers make if a sudden wave of satisfation swept over us like a tsunami? To sell something, you have to make someone unhappy with their present condition. Understand that basic principle of advertising, and you've won half the battle.

So, guys, you don't look like an Olympic swimmer? Not many of us do. That doesn't mean you're a loser. Take a walk, jog a few laps, ride your bike, get your heart pumping a bit every day. But most of all, enjoy what you do best, and chuck the media messages. They just want your cash. Time to feel good in your skin!

Photo courtesy of Flickr

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Grand Canyon and False Choices

Four tourists arrived at the edge of the Grand Canyon. The first was an artist, the second, a minister, the third, a scientist, and the fourth, a cowboy. All four stood silently in awe, soaking it in.

After a while, the artist broke the silence, blurting out: "What tones! What colours! What contrasts!"

The minister, a smile on his face, gently exclaimed: "What a tremendous example of the creative power of God."

The scientist remarked: "It's amazing what effect geological processes can have over millions of years."

The cowboy didn't say much. Finally, he hazarded: "Tough place to lose a cow."

Who was right? Care to vote? Was it the artist, minister, scientist, or cowboy? In a strange way, they were all right. It just depends upon your perspective.

OK, I'll confess that this story originally had no scientist. She was added, because the tale needed updating. After all, in 2005, it's not the painter and cowboy who are coming to blows; it's the minister and the scientist. More specifically, it's a small but loud handful of Christians who interpret Genesis 1 in a very literal sense, where one "day" must equal 24 hours. All that we see in the universe, "the birds and the bees and the flowers and the trees," must have been created by God in six 24 hours periods. (Question to literalists: Why must those first two "days" be solar days, when Genesis says that the sun wasn't created until the third day?)

And here's where the argument begins...

Youth with bright minds have a God-given thirst for scientific knowledge. At school, they think chemistry is cool. They've never met a fetal pig they didn't like, even if it does stink of formaldehyde. If you took the bus home, and looked in their bedrooms, you'd be impressed by the range of their interests. Over on the shelf is a collection of assorted insects. At the window is a telescope, trained on the stars. Don't miss that desk. There you'll find a well-worn Bible, with verses underlined last year at church camp. On the wall, next to the poster of the Space Shuttle, is a framed baptism certificate. And don't forget the "F.R.O.G. (Fully Relying on God) bracelet that sits on the dresser next to the latest installment from the Left Behind series.

From Monday to Friday, in biology class, or maybe it's in earth science or astonomy, our youth learn that the universe we see around us didn't happen overnight. It took a long, long time. And of course there's no mention of God being involved, because you can't put God in a test tube. Science isn't about the supernatural; it's about the natural.

And then many of them on Sundays go to churches where a well-intentioned but misguided Sunday School teacher is placing an "either/or" in front of them. "You can't believe in evolution," he says. "Evolution is a godless theory, made up by atheists, to deny a Creator. "

And we wonder why our children are so confused...

You see, I was one of those youngsters. If I hadn't become a minister, I'd probably be teaching biology. My brothers used to kid me about my "nature trails" photography, dozens of snaps of frosted leaves or tent caterpillars, and this before digital! Tenth grade biology was all-consuming, with what little art talent I have coming out in drawings of cells, bones, hearts, and muscles. In college, zoology taught me new things, like the Kreb's cycle and how to handle an expensive microscope. But always in the back of mind, I wondered about evolution, questioning whether I was "selling out" my Christian faith by being so curious about biology. After all, though the text book still said "evolutionary theory," it was obvious the authors considered it fact.

In the middle of that semester in zoology, a friend told me about a professor in the religion department who had a PhD in Old Testament. Importantly, he also held an M.A. in marine biology. Here was someone who was well-informed in both areas. What would he tell me? He listened quietly as I explained my dilemma. Finally, he replied: "Genesis is not so much about how as it is about who."

That answer helps avoid a needless train wreck between Christian faith and hard-headed science.

The next year, I took a course in the history of science. Our teacher, a PhD in botany and ordained minister, one day asked: "What would it have been like to be Moses?" The Lord says, "Hey Moses, here's how it all began. Now write it down.' " Moses perks up. He's ready. "First, I took millions of tiny atoms, then smashed them together at a tremendous velocity, which produced an enormous explosion, resulting in the release of gigatons of energy. Did you get that Moses?" God looked down at what Moses had written:

"And God said, 'Let there be light.' "

The Lord shook his head at first, thinking Moses had gotten it all wrong. Then, a smile came across God's face. "How did I do?" Moses asked. "Fine," the Lord said. "You're doing just fine. Shall we continue?"

Charles Darwin, though an agnostic later in life following the untimely death of his daughter, never saw a contradiction between scientific pursuits and religious beliefs. Theologian Orton Wiley agrees that the relationship between science and faith needn't be contentious. He calls Genesis a "hymn to the Creation." Darwin and Wiley knew what we sometimes forget: The Bible isn't a science text book, never was, never will be. So why are some intent on setting up a false choice, putting our children in an impossible situation, like having to choose between mom and dad? Divorce between parents messes kids up, and making them decide between religion or science is a false choice that we can live without.

So this summer, when you see the Grand Canyon, play the artist, and play the cowboy. But for heaven's sake, don't let that minister and scientist start arguing. They're both right.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Pretzels and Swiss Cheese

MSNBC.com reports that Supreme Court nominee, Judge John Roberts, has issued a 100-page response to questions from Senators. Inquiring minds want to know whether he was ever a member of the Federalist Society. His response? "I can't recall."

Ah yes, the selective memory dodge. That one is a classic. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton used it well when they were called to testify before a panel looking into the Iran-Contra affair and some other investigation, respectively. (I don't recall exactly which one..)

Admittedly, around the age of 60, memory can start to look like Swiss cheese, yet here is a man whom they've just spent three weeks extolling as the "great legal mind of our time, "and he doesn't recall what groups he joined? Please. Don't insult our collective intelligence. There are things in life that are forgettable: my seventh grade locker combination, for one. (I did that combination how many hundreds of times that year, and I don't remember it?) But if someone asked me a membership question, I could rattle off every group I've ever joined, including the Sunrise Optimists, in 1993, in a rural Missouri town, for 4 months, eating ham and eggs, and drinking terrible coffee when saner people would have been home asleep in bed. With all due respect to His Honour, joining a group is memorable.

For the record, I hope Judge Roberts gets in. He's qualified, he's careful, and he seems to understand what the whole checks-and-balances deal is about. If confirmed, would he likely join with other like-minded justices to reverse Roe v. Wade? Yes, and the sooner that tumour is cut off the body politic, the better. Meanwhile, it should be interesting to see into what pretzel-shaped contortions Mr Roberts feels obligated to twist himself for the sake of that magic 51st Senator's vote.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Back to the 17th century

No new posting today. I'll be back in the 17th century, ruminating a fine point of theology for my graduate research.

Meanwhile, you can:

1) scroll down for some recent posts, or else
2) visit DigitalDissent, where my alter-ego, "Didsbury," just posted "Extreme Makevover in the War on terrorism."

Should have something new at "Three of Six" on Wednesday...

Monday, August 01, 2005

Yellow Cub Cadet

In my memory, boyhood summers are inseparable from my dad's yellow Cub Cadet.

There's a Wonder Years kind a snapshot of me perched behind the wheel, a contented smirk on my face, ready at 4 to be like dad and take on the "jungle" of our half-acre in Flemington, New Jersey. Do you know how cool it is for a four year old boy to ride up with his dad on a big yellow monster? The best part was when I got to steer, the loud roar of the whirring mower unit turning underneath my feet, chewing the ground like a hungry beast.

Just two summers later, my lip quivered as I hugged my stuffed tiger. The movers loaded up my life into a moving truck, trekking north into the Great Unknown of suburban Rochester, New York. I felt much better when our yellow Cub rolled down the truck ramp and staked out its turf in the middle of our new garage. But now we had less land, and a big Cub Cadet was overkill for our smaller yard, so dad bought a push mower instead. Not to fear; with the advent of our Craftsman was born "The Business."

"The Business" always had a kind of Godfather ring to it, but it was nothing nefarious. When my two older brothers got the hang of mowing our yard, they started looking around the neighborhood. There weren't too many houses built yet on our track in the summer of '69, but my siblings were undaunted. Soon, they'd landed the first customer for The Business, an old Jewish couple living next door. One of Six and Two of Six did a good job, and with it, they enjoyed good word of mouth. Others called, and at $ 5.00 per lawn, The Business was up and running.

One day, Two of Six spoke up. "Dad," he said between mouthsful at the dinner table, "we got another offer to do a lawn today, but I told the lady I'd think about it. It's pretty far away, and I don't think we can push our mower that far." Always the handyman, you could see the wheels turning in my father's head. First he bought the lumber, then the wheels and axle. A week later, there it was. We were the proud owners of a tractor trailor! No, not an 18 wheeler, but a useful, low-riding trailer that hitched to the back of the Cub. On the front we put our Craftsman, and on the back was room for the gas can and a rider. By now, One of Six had a job at the grocery store, so I got to join The Business at the whopping wage of $ 1.50/lawn. The next morning, Two of Six, as Boss of the Business, slipped behind the wheel of the Cub, and I climbed on the back of the trailer. The Cub roared to life. Happy to be useful again, it rolled down the driveway, and headed at 3/4 throttle to our first remote job, more than a mile away. As we motored past the other kids in the neighborhood, the looks on their faces were...priceless. Our stock rose by a hundred-fold that day. Not just anybody had the coolest amusement park ride, and got to earn money to-boot.

Two of Six later went to work at the grocery store, and now I was Boss of the Business. My brother, Four of Six, was my lowly slave...er, helper. What a feeling of power! This was even better than the day I joined the force of super cops...I mean, school safety patrols. And so another summer came and went, months of grass stains on my shorts, a killer tan from sunrays at a time when no one knew what skin cancer was, and chilled lemonade offered by our customers that we gratefully gulped down. Two hours later, we climbed back on our Cub Cadet, faithfully waiting in the driveway like a horse tethered to a hitching post in some old Western town. Tired, sweaty, and a few bucks richer, we headed home.

Life goes on. Two years later, I was off at college. My parents moved, and the Cub went with them to their new home. One repair too many and one newspaper ad later, the Cadet was gone, a retirement well deserved. It's probably confined to some scrap-heap now, like Mike Mulligan's steam shovel. But for me, our yellow Cub Cadet will never die.

God, or country?

Former President Jimmy Carter, calling the war in Iraq "unnecessary and unjust," is drawing the usual fire from the right side of the blogosphere. Some call his remarks unpatriotic, while others in the political center seem willing to cut him some slack, realizing Carter's consistency. At least since the Camp David Accords of 1978 until today, he has viewed foreign policy through the lens of a pacifistic brand of Christian faith.

Carter's recent remarks highlight an historic tension for the thinking Christian. It's as old as the Apostle Paul, who said that believers are "citizens of heaven," yet invoked his Roman citizenship as a kind of "get out of jail free" card when wrongly beaten and imprisoned. The early Church had a strong pacifistic streak, discouraging its youth from joining up with Caesar's legions. On the other hand, Martin Luther in 16th century Germany pronounced God's blessing upon his Prince's ruthless crushing of a rebellion, where thousands were massacred. John Wesley, the genius of early Methodism, had no compunction against his followers serving in the military, and was fascinated by stories of Methodists serving honorably in the ranks.

For our part, the U.S. has always been a flag-waving nation. (For background, rent James Cagney's classic film, Yankee Doodle Dandee). When we were attacked on 9-11-2001, flags went up on seemingly every lamp post, and sprouted from every porch. I've been in churches with huge American flags displayed at the front, and in one service the pastor led us all in the pledge of allegiance. One of the memorable images from Ground Zero was two iron girders that survived the attack, standing in the shape of a Cross. At the top, someone tethered Old Glory. What does it mean when we combine these symbols? How would we feel if communist China did the same?

Beyond the question of mixing symbols is the polarization that it always brings. What makes me most uncomfortable in the America of 2005 is the choosing sides. We seem stuck in an "either/or" scenario, where you're either vociferously opposed to the war (like Carter, or those at DailyKos), or you're blindly in favour of any U.S. military action baptized with the blood of the American Martyrs of 9/11. If citizens on either side ask a tough question in their own camp, they're branded a heretic. The first group, the "hell no, we won't go" group, seems unable to imagine any circumstances that would merit the use of force in our nation's defense. On the other hand, the second group, the hawks on steroids, don't seem to care that the Pentagon is developing horrific weapons, like the nuclear bunker buster, that can only be described as immoral.

Where is the Church on this issue? Are we so busy declaring our patriotism, draping the Cross with the flag, that instead of looking after orphans and widows, we want to make more with Doomsday devices? Have we rightfully taken up the cause of the unborn, only to despise the well-being of children caught in the cross-fire in places like Iraq?

There are no easy answers in times like these, but more and more, I'm concluding that change must come both from outside and within. "Outside" means bringing up the tough questions in forums like blogs and letters to the editor. "Inside" means exercising influence where the levers of power are manipulated. A 1st Lieutenant in the U.S. Army might only follow orders, but a three star General can help interpret policy to make it more balanced. Representatives and Senators of faith must steadfastly refuse to be drawn into the polarization that presents a false choice between God and country. Soldiers and politicians who are Christian must understand anew that:

1) "loving your neighbour" sometimes means coming to her defense with lethal force, and
2) Euphemisms like "collateral damage" come from the pit of hell. There is no such thing as "collateral damage," only human beings, lovingly molded by the Creator.

They say that the first casualty in war is the truth. The second casualty is nuance. The Apostle Paul never seems to have balanced his competing loyalties, and it won't be any easier for us. I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm positive it's not the polarization we've seen so far.