Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Second Mile

A while ago I was reading a book by theologian F.F. Bruce, who was discussing Jesus' command that, "If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles."

Bruce said Jesus probably had Roman soldiers in mind when he gave this command; they got tired of toting their packs and recruited people by the wayside to carry them for a mile. But how, Bruce asks, might that command be obeyed today?

What if, he suggests, a "Christian taxpayer, as an act of grace, pays double the amount demanded, or at least adds a substantial amount to it: what then? The computer would probably record it as tax overpaid, and the surplus would come back to him as a rebate."

Bruce's point is that "going the extra mile" requires thought, which is no doubt true, but his example raises another point:

Why shouldn't there be a line on our tax forms that allows us to give a bit extra?

I can hear the laughs. I can see the big bold zeros plugged in on that line. I can read the obscenities that start in the blank space and meander up the margin of the form. I can imagine the stapled-on diatribes. But I can also imagine that some, out of grace or gratitude, will add a few more dollars.

I don't imagine this would be a huge amount of extra money for the government, but I suspect it would be better than any poll in answering the question, "How do you think your government is doing?"

Sunday, September 28, 2003

The Stuffed Dog

As I tucked my son in and prayed for him tonight, I noticed he didn't have his little tan stuffed dog, and didn't seem concerned about it - and that concerned me. I left his room, but remembered I'd forgotten to tell him I loved him, so I went back and told him, and then he remembered his dog. Relieved, I fetched the dog from where it had fallen behind the bed and placed it on his pillow.

I think it'll be so sad when he finally does set that dog aside. I'm not sure why that is so, except that it'll mean he's growing up, and, in a funny way, I'll feel sorry for the dog - the little faithful stuffed dog.

Multimedia in Church

I know that multimedia presentations during sermons are becoming increasingly popular, and I don't object to them on principle, but I'm beginning to wonder how much they contribute.

Today, for example, when I should have been listening to the sermon, I was admiring the graphics being projected on the screen. I wasn't, in fact, listening to the message at all.

I suspect this is similar to the problem publications and TV journalists face. Do the graphics and photos contribute to the story, or distract from it? In the case of magazines, you can be distracted, then go back and pick up where you left off. For TV journalism, often the picture is the news, so the viewer gets the main point by looking at the picture. But when the words are the message and you can't go back and pick up where you left off, as is the case with a sermon, then I become a bit more concerned.

Storytelling Through the Ages

I promised a bit more from the old book I stumbled upon (Religious Education Through Story-Telling, Katherine Cather). The parts I quote below are from a discussion about what stories children and adolescents like at various ages. I was particularly struck by the author's contention that you need to tell the miracle stories of the Bible at that age when children will appreciate them. If you wait too long, she says, they will scoff.

Two to Six: The author says children from two to six like familiar things: Parents, animals, and people like them. Stories that contain jingles and repetition are very popular. Here's a quote:

"The mother or teacher who does not have enough literary ability to introduce into her work jingles that fit the material is heavily handicapped. Nevertheless she does not need to be discouraged. She can feed the love or rhythm that runs as high as that of rime, be repeating phrases or sentences to form stanzas, in the following manner:

"And so the little birdie flew away,
The birdie flew and flew and flew,
The little birdie flew away
Because God said cold days were near.

"In the sweet scented garden of Eden,
The beautiful garden of Eden,
The pleasant green garden of Eden,
Long ago there lived Adam and Eve."

Ages 6 or 7 to 10: "This is the period of childhood when, like the winged horse Pegusus, imagination is a thing no man can control. Tales that satisfy now must be tales that feed the sense of wonder. During these years, which broadly speaking, are from five or six to nine or ten, the craving is for narratives that abound in supernatural elements, those in which animals are endowed with human intelligence and attributes, and in which human beings perform feats that are impossible of achievement to mortals unaided, tales in which the happenings are such that only through the help of higher powers can they be brought about."

"Failure to give wonder tales of the Bible while the child craves them often is followed by an irreverent or purely naturalistic attitude later on. - Skepticism and an attitude of levity toward the Bible often result when the wonder stories of the Book of Israel are presented to older boys and girls, who, because of the psychological period in which they happen to be, are unsympathetic toward them."

"No matter how spiritual or beautiful a narrative may be, or what ideals it embodies, the child must make his first acquaintance with it in the period of his development when he craves material of that type, if it is to benefit him to the full limit of its possibilities."

Adolescence: "The epic period of the child's life covers a longer range of time than any other. From the age of ten to eleven on through adolescence hero worship runs high, but it undergoes definite transitions. The lad at ten, and also at fourteen delights in living in a realm of stirring adventure, but his hero at the earlier age is a different type of individual from the one who awakens his admiration during the later. The man who conquers through physical prowess alone is his first ideal, he who is rugged and elemental. But, as he nears adolescence, a more refined type supplants this crude one. Deeds of spiritual courage and fine idealism arouse admiration. The youth who a little earlier valued muscular strength and skill above everything else now responds to tales of those striving for the victory of right over wrong, even though the situations abound in little physical exertion."

Between 14 and 17: "History appeals to them now, not only as a chronicle of men of achievement, but as a drama of nations, each one of which is a participant struggling to solve its portion of the problem of the world. Interest in interclass and international affairs begins to run high. Spontaneous debates and discussions as to social policies are carried on with deep earnestness.

"A new sense of power possesses the boy or girl, a feeling of ability to overcome all obstacles, to cope with any danger. This feeling of resource sometimes far outbalances self-control, which also is rapidly growing now, but not rapidly enough to keep pace with the sense of ability to cope with any situation. Life is marked by an intensity of impulse, the impulse to do many different things - to do one, and then not to do it, but instead to do something that for the moment seems more glorious and exalted."

Later adolescence (17 or 18 and 24): "Youths of later teen age come slowly into a realization that there is a limit to their control over conditions, to their capacity for surmounting obstacles. Self-control is growing and strengthening. There is an increased social sense, and accompanying it, a growing respect for law. Not always is there conformity to law and the established order of things. Frequently independence, even defiance, is manifested in regard to prevailing opinion and belief.... Enthusiasm and aspiration are common traits. It is now that dream-houses are constructed and life plans are made. Careers are mapped out.

"The story-teller who works with youth in this period has a tremendous opportunity for the strengthening of Christian character. By using stories that show how to overcome the self-assertive tendency that sometimes leads to disaster, and by choosing tales that direct enhthusiasm and aspiration along wholesome channels, the narrator can be a splendidly constructive influence."

"During the later period of adolescence sex is fully awakened, and plays a vital part in the fixing of ideals and the formulating of life plans. It is therefore of great importance that young folk of this age have stories that teach the higher meaning of love, that portray clean, idealistic, but virile and bouyant manhood and womanhood."

Friday, September 26, 2003

G.K. Chesterton

I got a book called Platitudes Undone. It's kind of weird. It is a series of mostly Nietzschean and mostly forgettable proverbs by Holbrook Jackson, with penciled in comments by G.K. Chesterton. The fun, of course, is reading the comments. Here are a few I liked, with Chesterton in italics:

Definitions put a limit to ideas...
Definitions are ideas. A snake's head and tail don't "limit" the snake. They make him.

Beware of those who agree with you.
True: but don't alter your opinion to annoy them.

Doubt is the prerogative of the intellect...
The mind exists not to doubt but to decide.

The future will look upon man as we look upon the ichthyosaurus - an extinct monster.
The "future" won't look upon anything. No eyes.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Toys for Iraqis

This is very cool! An Army officer in Iraq is collecting toys for the local Iraqi children. Check it out here: Chief Wiggles. I think he's going to get more toys then he ever bargained for.

Bored Rich Kids

I was reading National Geographic the other day, in which there was an interesting article about Saudi Arabia. A number of the Saudis the author interviewed believed the reason the Saudi young men became involved in the 9/11 attacks was not because they were poor, but because they were rich - bored rich kids at loose ends.

At least that squares with the facts, unlike those who blame the attacks on poverty.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Christianity at its Best

Missionary's family opposes death penalty in India
The family of a murdered missionary forgives the murderer. The ability to forgive the murder of a member of your family has got to be God given.


I was chatting with a liberal friend of mine today, and he is disgusted at the prospect of voting for Bustamante, and I am disgusted at the prospect of voting for Schwarzenegger. They say times of tragedy bring people together. I guess so.

Sunday, September 21, 2003


Sometimes I think the kingdom of God advances in waves. God brings renewal and as a result churches become more holy and obedient and begin to reach out to their communities and to the world. And the church does influence the world, but at the same time the world influences the church. Both are changed. While positive things happen in the world, the church becomes lukewarm, until there is no real difference between those within the church and those without. And then God brings another renewal, often from some completely unexpected source, and the process repeats itself. I don't know certainly that this theory is true, but it's worth pondering.

Right now I wonder if - as a whole - the church is in a trough of lukewarmness: secular, materialistic, commercial, undisciplined, self-absorbed, lots of glitz and little substance. If so, I pray that God will revive us once again. In fact, God, revive my heart! I'm many of those things I just condemned.

No Favoritism

I picked up an old book at the church library today, about telling stories to children, (Religious Education Through Story-Telling, Katherine D. Cather, Abingdon Press, 1925). I like old books because they give a different perspective. Here's a quote I find interesting and different from today. Whether the effect on children would be as the author says, I don't know, but at first glance makes a certain amount of sense.

"For a boy or girl to understand very early that there is no favoritism in God's plan is to render him more amenable to both the moral and the religious code. It makes it possible for him to fit harmoniously into conditions of life that are disagreeable and hard to him, against which, without having gained this knowledge, he might be inclined to rebel.

"In other words, the child should be led to see that God's plan embraces the great universe. It is not designed for the comfort or convenience of one individual. No matter how great the desire of that individual may be, it does not bend because of his pleasure. It is a plan of love mighty enough to include all mankind, and to cover not only an hour or a day of life but the entire course. Therefore what ofttimes seems hard about the working of God's laws, is hard only because we do not see our own lives or those of others in an unblurred perspective."

I'll share more later.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

The Wrong Question

Something that bugs me a bit in some news reporting I've read about Islam is the assertion that "the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful."

I have no argument with that assertion. In fact, I'm sure it's true. The problem is that it's just flat irrelevant.

I say this because the vast majority of any group is peaceful. Not everybody who subscribes to a doctrine acts upon it.

So whether the vast majority of some group is peaceful is simply not the question. The question is (or should be), "Does this philosophy or religion promote violence?"

Friday, September 19, 2003

General McClellan

Like everybody, I'm curious about new presidential candidate Wesley Clark. I read in the LA Times today something that gives a clue to his character. When asked if Bill Clinton, with whom, apparently, he has had some conversations, would endorse him, he said he hadn't even thought about it.

Rrrright. If such an obvious thought hasn't occurred to him, then I'm not very impressed with his intelligence. If the thought has occurred to him, then he's lying.

Speaking of Clark, the obvious parallel - which I'm sure Republicans are already laying out - is that of General George McClellan.

McClellan was the smart but lethargic general who commanded the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War, making a mess of a good plan by his lethargy. He ran against Lincoln as a peace candidate, and, of course, lost.

Modern Art

I don't know why I got to thinking today of modern art, but I did, and it reminds me of a stunt my brother pulled when he was a teenager.

He and a couple buddies went to a modern art gallery, and apparently had the reaction I've had, which can best be expressed as, "Huh?" So they pulled off their shoes and dumped them in a corner of one room, then went off to the side, sat down and watched.

People came and went and examined the pile of shoes in the corner, meditating upon it deeply.

My brother and his friends, meantime, could barely contain their laughter.

Pure Faith

I was listening to a radio interview with someone with a book to push. I didn't catch all of it, but the speakers' comments appeared to disparage the idea that human beings have a soul.

The announcer mentioned that the author would be speaking at a local sceptics society, and the thought occurred to me that the one thing sceptics never seem to be skeptical about is atheism. That they seem to accept on pure faith.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Bad Shoe Company!

I recently got into an argument - I'd like to call it a discussion, but, well, it was an argument - about a shoe company. Yes, a shoe company.

I won't say which one, but one of my co-workers maintained that this shoe company is exploiting the workers in the Asian country where it manufactures its shoes. How? By underpaying them.

Well, I've always figured that if someone is doing something bad, they oughta stop doing it, so I asked him if it would be better if the shoe company packed up and went home.

He hesitated, realizing, of course, that however little the shoe company was paying, it was better than paying nothing. No, he said, the company should be paying more.

So, I said, it seems you're saying the shoe company is being good, but, not good enough. Oh, and by the way, isn't the shoe company doing more for the people of this country than you are? After all, the company is paying the people something; you're not paying them anything.

I've read similar charges in some socially liberal Christian publications. But I've never understood them. Whatever evils a company may be committing in its labor practices - and I don't dispute that this may indeed happen - paying people for their work isn't one of them.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Easy Ballot

I've heard a number of comments lately by journalists who believe the California recall ballot is complicated and confusing.

Well, I just went through my sample ballot and can state without qualification that this is baloney. It's the simplest statewide ballot we've had in my recollection.

Most of the ballots have half a dozen statewide offices mixed together with county and local offices, one or two county initiatives, leavened with a hefty does of judges, and to top it off, an array of 10 or more statewide initiatives, which are often exceedingly complex.

This ballot has four items: Whether to recall Governor Davis, who to replace him with, and two statewide initiatives.

It's easier than ordering a cheeseburger at Chili's. If some journalists think it's complicated, I think that speaks more about them than about the ballot.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

God's Mercy and Hell

I just added an essay on God's mercy and Hell here and a story illustrating the concept here.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Terror Marketplace

A while ago a couple guys - one a liberal, techie, friend of mine - were gloating that Admiral Poindexter got in trouble over his proposal to try to glean terrorist intentions by using market methods (His proposal was that people would essentially "buy shares" in the likelihood of one or another terrorist events happening, thereby raising prices on certain scenarios, which, in turn, might give security people a clue about what to prevent.) I told my friend I thought Poindexter's idea was a good one, that was at least worth exploring. He surprised me by agreeing. In fact he thought Poindexter's plan was a great idea. Furthermore, he said it has already been successfull in other areas. Now I was really confused. I pressed him and it turns out that he just doesn't like Poindexter.

Anyway, one of the objections to Poindexter's plan was that terrorists might buy shares in this terror marketplace and thereby not just destroy things and kill people, but also make money off of it. While that shouldn't be a difficult problem to overcome - just take their names - the project is now dead.

Or is it?

Why would terrorists need a special terror-marketplace? If they were going to bomb an oil refinery, why not just short the oil company's stock? Or if they're going to do more evil things to an airline, why not just short the airline's stock?

This in turn suggests that a fair proxy for Poindexter's terror-marketplace is the New York Stock Exchange. So I hope the Department of Homeland Security and Securities and Exchange Commission are keeping a close eye on short selling. If someone starts beating heavily that an airline's stock is going to drop, that should be a big, fat red flag.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Prejudiced ACLU?

My wife just heard on the radio that the ever-helpful ACLU is appealing the timing of the California recall election because some counties do not yet have electronic ballots and that would "discriminate" against minorities.

She, being a "minority," was a bit miffed. What exactly, she wanted to know, is the ACLU saying? That minorities are too stupid to use punch-card ballots?

You are safer now

USA Today (off-line) had a wussy headline today that bothered me. In remembering 9/11, it asked something like, "But are you safer now?"

I think this question should be broken in two. 1) Are you safer now? and 2) Do you feel safer now?

1: Of course we're safer now! Whatever our country's security flaws, I have to believe there are fewer flaws now than there were before 9/11. Also, however capable Al Qaeda is now, I can't believe the battering we have given it has improved its ability to hit us.

2: But of course we don't feel safer! We were hit by a huge terrorist attack, something we didn't expect. Our illusion of safety was shattered. We realize it could happen again. And it can; and it may.

But setting feelings aside, are we safer now than before? Absolutely. By far.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


RIAA settles with 12-year-old girl

This item sets me off.

I sympathize somewhat with the RIAA in its desire to protect music copyrights, but not very much. What annoys me most is that the music the industry has published for decades has promoted all sorts of immoral behavior, from killing cops to adultery to - no doubt - theft. But now! Now that people are violating their copyrights, suddenly they're bastions of morality.

Well, even if they're hypocrites and brought a lot of their troubles upon themselves, that doesn't make it right to steal their music.

Why are we hated?

I've read quite a few articles and heard quite a few radio reports on why the United States is hated around the world.

The answer usually is something about supporting Israel or unilateralism or one or another of our real or alleged sins.

But I don't think that washes. In terms of our sins, I think we're no worse and a lot better than most countries.

I think the reason we are hated is the same reason Microsoft is hated. Yes, Microsoft has its faults. Yes, it has been a bully in the marketplace, but I'm not convinced that is has been any worse than a lot of other companies. I think the main reason it is hated is because it is big and powerful and rich.

And that's precisely why I think the United States is hated.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Original Sin

The doctrine of original sin, as I understand it, is that everyone is in some way born guilty, not guilty of having done anything wrong personally (that comes later), but guilty because of the sin of our first parents.

This is a confusing and unpleasant doctrine, and I'm not sure I can make it pleasant, but I can point out that this doctrine, which is so easy to reject in the Christian faith, is something we accept almost without comment or complaint in everyday life.

For example, suppose a company has committed fraud and the guilty management team goes to jail or is fired. And suppose a new, honest, team is installed. Does the new team's innocence mean the company does not have to repay those it defrauded? Hardly. Does it mean the government is unjust if it penalizes the company? Of course not! Though nobody currently at the firm is guilty of anything, the company itself is guilty and everyone who works for it takes some of the burden of that guilt upon themselves, not as personal guilt, but as corporate guilt.

So it is in this sense, I suspect, that the human race is guilty. Though we did not commit Adam's sin and are not individually guilty of anything he did, yet in our identifation with Adam, we are harmed by his sin. And it is no more unjust that this be so than it is unjust for a company to be penalized for the sins of departed directors.

Driving and Voting

One more item to factor in to the California recall. A friend - adamantly pro Schwarzenegger - points out that he would try to roll back issuing licenses to illegal immigrants, which Davis panderingly approved and which Bustamante is unlikely to attempt to undo. It's a point. I'm happy for immigrants - legal or otherwise - to drive safely, but I'm concerned the license could be used to register to vote, and it is just flat wrong to allow non-citizens to vote. I am just disgusted with Davis for approving this.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

The Trouble With Ice Cubes

You know what's really annoying? Semicircular ice cubes; the kind you get from a lot of these ice-cube dispensing refrigerators.

The problem is that when I put them in a glass, they invariably turn sideways, creating this little dam that prevents you from drinking. Because the "cubes" are semicircular, they fit perfectly against the side of a standard glass.

So I sort of twirl the glass around so the ice floats away and isn't creating a dam. Then I put it to my lips and it pops back in place. Then I'll give it a little poke with my finger or a spoon and it looks okay, but as soon as I put it to my lips it realizes it's been negligent and jumps back on duty, keeping me from my iced tea.

What's with these semicircular ice cube dispensing refrigerator makers? Don't they test their products? At least they could ship them with a supply of straws.

Who to Vote For...

What a dilemna. Who to vote for in the California recall election?

On the one hand, I'd be delighted to have Davis out, but on the other hand I think it likely Bustamante would just take over, and I can't say I see much difference. Davis always has his finger in the air trying to determine which way the wind is blowing, and Bustamante's refusal to reject MECHA's racist principles strikes me as more Davis-style pandering.

On the other side, I've always admired Peter Ueberroth, but he doesn't appear to have the slightest chance, and I like Tom McClintock's straightforward approach, but he also seems like a bit of a longshot. I was prepared to listen to what Arnold had to say, but he doesn't seem capable of saying much of anything, and that whole episode with Oui magazine was way out of bounds. First he doesn't know what the reporters are talking about when asked about it. Then he remembers and says he didn't run his life to be governor. And finally, he says he made up some of the stuff in the article.

Yikes! He describes an orgy for a magazine and doesn't remember? How many orgies has he attended that this particular one just kinda slipped his mind? And just like Arnold, I'm not living my life with an aim to becoming governor either, but what does that have to do with participating in orgies? And then he says he made up some of these stories. So now he's admitting to being a liar. I'm reallly doubtful.

So why don't I just vote for McClintock? Well, I'm afraid of splitting the Republican vote. But then again, maybe I should. After all, my allegiance is to principles, not to party. Also, if Schwarzenegger wins the governorship and runs the office as badly as he's running this campaign, then the state continues as it has and the Democrats can blame Schwarzenegger and the Republicans for the mess in the next election. As long as the state is in a mess, maybe it's best the blame lay right where it belongs, with Davis. But then, if Arnold can pull the state out of the soup, maybe he could reinvigorate the Republicans and help deliver California to Bush during the next presidential election. But could he? I'm pretty doubtful...

I guess I'll just have to wait and watch for a while.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Genealogies of Jesus

There are two genealogies of Jesus listed in the New Testament, in Matthew and in Luke, and they are not quite the same. A common explanation for this is that one is the genealogy through Joseph, Jesus' earthly father, while the other is through Mary, his mother.

Perhaps this is the case, but the problem I see is that the wording does not seem to suggest that either genealogy is through Mary. It seems to be saying that both genealogies are through Joseph.

So, I think they are both through Joseph.

But how can this be?

I think that when Joseph was young, his father - or father and mother - died. Then, either his mother remarried or, if she had also died, Joseph was adopted. (In support of this speculation, Joseph apparently died fairly young, as we hear nothing about him in Jesus later life, so perhaps Joseph suffered from a hereditary disease that also afflicted his birth father.)

Anyway, this would mean that one genealogy was through Joseph's birth father, and the other through Joseph's stepfather, or adopted father.

Friday, September 05, 2003

Being More Secular

Since 9/11 I have frequently read comments suggesting that the world would be such a better place if Islam and Christianity would just be more "secular."

When you think about it, this isn't really possible, even if it were desirable. Secular means "non-religious," so what these people are asking for is a non-religious religion. It is kind of like asking the color green to please stop being so green.

A religion that becomes secular stops being a religion. It may keep some of the forms of the religion, but it has had it's heart cut out.

And, when you think about nations that are, or have been, most determinedly secular, the ones that stand out are the communist countries, which have denied the supernatural in all its flavors. The Soviet Union comes to mind, as does the People's Republic of China under Mao. Or, to bring it up to date, North Korea and Cuba. I doubt that any of these countries are the models critics would like Islam or Christianity to follow. Or - sigh - perhaps they are.

Anyway, I'd be happy to hear about the importance of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control," (Gal. 5:22-23) but don't bother me with secularism. Secularism doesn't cure anything.

Speaking of Books

Speaking of books reminds me of how to pick an unfamiliar author's best work. In picking "Blood Lure" I looked at all the covers of the books by Nevada Barr and read the lines that said, "Author of ...". I figure the publisher will tout the most popular of the author's books. A lot of the covers said, "Author of Blood Lure," so I fished around until I found Blood Lure. I haven't been disappointed.

Not Quite Natural

I like mystery novels, and have been working on a good one by Nevada Barr, called Blood Lure, set in Glacier National Park. The book combines an exceptionally good story (though with a bit more rough language than I prefer) with an environmentalist view of the world. On occasions the book gives a message I've heard repeatedly from environmentalists:

"People are messing up nature."

This statement divides things into two groups, nature and people. And this is a bit odd since people are part of nature. We're as much a part of nature as the trees and tigers and whales.

But on the other hand, we're also part of a spiritual realm, and in a sense we do stand off from nature and are not fully a part of it.

I had never thought of the environmentalist movement affirming humanity's spiritual side, but sometimes if you listen hard enough, you'll hear all sorts of intersting things.

First Post

My first blog post. I'm so excited.