Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Coming to a university near you

There are many excellent, thought-provoking individuals in this world. Listening to them can be medicine for the soul. There are men and women who understand important issues and can speak eloquently about worldwide poverty, intelligent design, the history of this nation, or even the war in Iraq. Speakers such as Alan Keyes, Ann Coulter, and Judge Roy Moore are bringing Biblical concepts such as accountability, truth, and morality back into the public arena.
But these individuals were not the ones invited to speak at this university next week.

Cindy Sheehan was. The title of her talk will be "One Person Can Make a Difference." I agree with the title of her talk: one person can make a difference. But I have to point out that people can make a positive or a negative impact on their surroundings.
I could tell you what I think right now, or I could let Ms. Sheehan speak first. (Note: The source of the Sheehan quotes in this blog are from a Sheehan-favorable interview at Tomdispatch.com (9/29/05). To read more, take this link.)
So we will give her a mike. Back in 2005, Sheehan explained that her message was her own: "I'd been doing this a long time. I'd been on Wolf Blitzer, Chris Mathews, all those shows. I'd done press conferences. It was just the intensity that spiked up. But my message has always remained the same. I didn't just fall off some pumpkin truck on August 6th and start doing this. The media couldn't believe someone like me could be so articulate and intelligent and have my own message." (She's right, of course: intelligent people don't usually fall off of pumpkin trucks.)
Her message includes such pills of wisdom as "It's a political war. Not only should we not be there, it's making our country very vulnerable. It's creating enemies for our children's children. Killing innocent Arabic Muslims, who had no animosity towards the United States and meant us no harm, is only creating more problems for us."
Of course, the evil in our country has clearly concentrated itself in one man, namely George W. Bush: "I've called George Bush a terrorist. He says a terrorist is somebody who kills innocent people. That's his own definition. So, by George Bush's own definition, he is a terrorist, because there are almost 100,000 innocent Iraqis that have been killed. And innocent Afghanis that have been killed."
There is hope, at least, since, "[w]hen our military presence leaves, a lot of the violence and insurgency will die." (And Sheehan always takes a thoroughly realistic view of the situation).
For Ann Coulter's assessment of Sheehan and her stakeout at the Bush ranch, read this article. Now in 2007 a campus group may describe Cindy Sheehan's message as "powerful and provocative," but Ann has this to say: "Liberals demand that we listen with rapt attention to Sheehan, but she has nothing new to say about the war. At least nothing we haven't heard from Michael Moore since approximately 11 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001."

If the provocative (if oft-heard) message from Sheehan is a shot in the arm, you will want to dose up on the Friday Forums which will take place through April. These weekly forums are being sponsored by the YMCA in town.
The "Young Men's Christian Association" was originally a ministry to young men flocking to the cities, and was aided by strong-hearted believers such as D.L. Moody. Today the YMCA impacts the community by (among other things) hosting Friday Forums.
Of course, the YMCA isn't the only host. A variety of churches including the First Mennonite Church, the Wesley Church and Foundation, and the McKinley Church and Foundation are also cosponsors. What follows is a list of three abstracts from this semester's Friday Forums.

This week (March 2), it's "Sparta and the New Jerusalem: Religion, Violence and American Redemption." As described on the local YMCA website, "This talk will examine relationships between Christian
faith and violence in twentieth- and twenty first-century America,
paying particular attention to assertions that involvement in and
exposure to violence can offer redemption to individuals, communities,
and the nation."

One month before, on February 2nd, you could have heard "Profile In Courage: Fighting Religious Intolerance in City Politics." Dean Kodenhoven was here to share his story: "In his town, former Mayor Dean Koldenhoven fought for the right to establish a Muslim Mosque over local Christian objections and paid the political price. Koldenhoven spoke out against bigotry and religious intolerance and was presented the JFK award, which is presented annually to an elected official who has withstood strong opposition from constituents, powerful interest groups or adversaries to follow what she or he believes is the right course of action."

Th February 16 forum was on this happy topic: "The Political Lessons of the Ishmael and Hagar Story: Reading the Bible with Hannah Arendt." It was presented by Bruce Rosenstock, an Associate Professor of Religious Studies here.

"The story of Ishmael and Hagar in the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible tells the story of a mother and child driven from their home by Abraham and Sarah. This story challenges us to think about our duties to those who have been displaced and exiled from their home in general. I will talk about this difficult story, the way the rabbis interpret it, and how the modern philosopher Hannah Arendt helps us to think about the "rights to have rights" that is the basis of all other human rights."

Personally, I'd rather read the Bible with the Holy Spirit as my guide. But this is definitely an intriguing passage, and was likely chosen because it is entirely free from political undercurrents. It involves Israelis heartlessly pushing a woman and son from their home, giving them only a skin of water to refresh themselves. This passage choice was definitely more favorable than other Scriptural accounts of displaced persons. There's more of the matriarch shown in this account than in the one involving a family fleeing a ruler hellbent on murdering all two-year-olds. And while it may not contain any of the rocks-as-pillows, stranger-in-foreign-land, or night-spent-at-bottom-of-well material, the story of Hagar and her son Ishmael has much more potential for adding fuel to the Israeli-as-aggressor theory.

If the Muslim apologetics from Sheehan & Co. were combined and I swallowed them as a bolus, I would be leaving today to enlist -- in the forces of Al Qaeda.

To those attending the Sheehan tirade, I bestow upon you this parting gift. In Sheehan's own words, "Most people, if they came with me for a day, would be in a coma by eleven A.M." For others of us, it doesn't take quite that long.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Ultimate Fan

Almost a month ago, I was talking to a gal who loves the Chronicles of Narnia. We got started on the topic, and an hour later, we still had so much more to talk about!

Lewis' books, and the recent Disney movie, have quite a following. This site shows a contest (through February 23rd) for the "Ultimate Narnia Fan." One candidate has reconstructed a good part of Cair Paravel, and enjoys reenacting battle scenes. Each candidate has a movie posted.

Take a look!

Thursday, February 15, 2007


Tomorrow the Grad-IV group is having a talent night. There's the promise of pirate ballads, original skits, and hoots and hollers. I signed up to read something, but there's only one problem: I don't know what to read! So, I'm going to write here instead. Actually, I'll post a picture, because I haven't done that for quite a few posts! Here goes... enjoy!

And of course, I can't stop writing just yet! The site (www.theage.com.au) that the picture is from had this (and other things) to say about the first Chronicles of Narnia film (from December 18, 2005):

Clearly, nobody involved in the film was especially concerned with C.S. Lewis' allusion to the central story of Christianity. And why should they be? Isn't it a good story - one of the greatest, most primal of stories, in fact, along with the Greco-Roman and Norse myths on which Lewis also drew? Of course, it is true that Lewis did see the books as preparatory texts in Christian spirituality, easing the way for the juvenile reader's encounter with the real thing in later years.

However, given that the Narnia books are, in Andrew Adamson's estimation, generally read by children between eight and 13, this seems a fairly benign version of indoctrination; Lewis seems to be assuming his readers will be innocent of hard-core religion at least until their teens. There is none of that scary stuff about getting a child at seven and making him God's for life.

All Lewis is suggesting is a spirited romp with centaurs, beavers and a rather unpredictable lion: make of it what you will. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is hardly likely to deprave and corrupt nature's young atheists; most children don't even get the metaphor and, if they do, it is probably because the God-botherers already have them in iron thrall.

Now that Lewis has been signed into service by the American evangelists, however, all this is cast in the light of that disquietingly foreign religion, with its cheesy excess of good cheer, glib materialism and suspect political connections.

Any "Christian subtext" thus becomes "dodgy", as Zoe Williams has noted. The implication of that "dodgy", she wrote, is that Christianity is "inherently unsound, as if it had, without our noticing, ascended to the ranks of anachronistic wrong-headedness, like Nazism or hissing at single mothers".

It seems unfair to everyone, including - but perhaps not especially - C.S. Lewis himself. Forget those awful evangelists for a moment. Really, there is no good reason why a fantasy story should not be based on Christian narratives and iconography. Our entire culture, after all - most notably the laws of the land - derives from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. There is no good reason why he should not recount the Resurrection, albeit using furry animals instead of humans as dramatis personae.

There has to be a good case for knowing any of these stories, emblematic as they are. Does anyone, especially a thinking atheist, actually want to argue that children should be told less about anything? Surely not.

So bring on the lion, bring on the minotaurs, bring on the dancing horses. Apart from anything else, the pious don certainly knew how to spin a yarn.

Earlier in the article, the woman who played the witch in the movie was quoted.

"The Christians are welcome," she says, with composed irony. "As everyone is welcome. Honestly, the connection had to be explained to me. And the more I got to know about Lewis ... I know he was a very devout Christian and that he was capable of writing, as he did his entire life, very obviously Christian tracts. This is not one of them."

Narnia is undoubtedly spiritual, she says, but its world derives from myths and legends that prefigure the religion of tracts. "In fact, if anything - and I cannot believe I am going to say this - I think it is almost anti-religious," she says.

My first thought once I'd read this was, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18) Sometimes it really hurts when God's truth is totally misunderstood, misrepresented, or deliberately twisted or ignored. In this instance, however, I just couldn't believe how blind the authors (and actress) were to Lewis' message.
If I had no clue what Christianity was about, after reading this article I might conclude that it was somehow caught up in pedophilia. After all, Christians have an "iron thrall," and use "fuzzy animals" for their own devices!
And to top it off, "There is none of that scary stuff about getting a child at seven and making him God's for life." Good gracious! This almost made me laugh!
Of course, in CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) we talk about how much better it is for a child to come to Christ at an early age. That's one reason why there's so much urgency in our message: each generation needs to have the opportunity to know Christ themselves, and not depend on their parents' or grandparents' faith.
That being said, I have never considered witnessing to be a way to "get" people. If I was into headhunting, I probably wouldn't be living in a quiet little neighborhood with no weapons within a 10 mile radius!
I can't help but contrast the article on the Chronicles of Narnia to my Grandma's view of things. Her prayer has always been that "not one of them be lost." That prayer was first of all for her five daughters, and then, over the years, for all of us grandkids. Her request was not that all of us would be brainwashed into believing some stale, stinking dogma that oppressed women and glorified pea-brained men. Instead, she wanted all of us to truly KNOW Christ and worship Him.
That's why all of us cousins have heard about Him from the beginning of our lives and onward. Our mothers, fathers, and grandparents wanted to share with us the sweetness of knowing Christ. Since they were convinced of the veracity of Scripture, and the incarnation of Christ, they wanted us to know about it too.
Praise God for men like C.S. Lewis who have found new ways to illustrate the gift of God's Son, Jesus Christ. And praise God for grandmothers, grandfathers, and parents who pass on God's truth to their families.
LORD: thank you for your gifts!

Here's a sign

I think I've been in the lab more than the kitchen lately...
Tonight I decided to make chocolate-chip cookies. When I noticed that my brown sugar was getting lumpy, I thought about finding a dessicator to put it into. When I added the leavening, I referred to it mentally as "sodium bicarb," instead of "baking soda." Then, after finishing my cookies, I thought "I better put the reagents back."

Sad, sad, sad.
Hmmm... maybe I should empty the waste receptacle (the trash can!).


From Newsmax.com (February 13, 2007):Link

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is apologizing for saying the lives of the more than 3,000 U.S. troops killed in the Iraq war were "wasted."

During his first campaign trip this weekend, the Illinois senator told a crowd in Iowa: "We now have spent $400 billion and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted."

He immediately apologized on Sunday, saying the remark was "a slip of the tongue."

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a Freudian slip as a "verbal mistake that is thought to reveal an unconscious belief, thought, or emotion."

If we assume that O'Bama is apologizing because he really is sorry for what he said, why is he sorry? Here's a couple options:
1) He realizes it was an arrogant and heartless statement; he doesn't believe it, and he's sorry he said something he didn't mean, or
2) He realizes it was an arrogant and heartless statement; he still believes it, but he's sorry to make his opinions so plain.

Monday, February 12, 2007


If you doubt the effects of relativity, take a nap. You'll soon experience
time dilation (was that only a half hour?), and length contraction (you'll curl up).

What, you don't believe me?

Friday, February 09, 2007

I saw you

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me

and the light become night around me,"

even the darkness will not be dark to you;

the night will shine like the day,

for darkness is as light to you.

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me

were written in your book

before one of them came to be.

(Psalm 119:11-16)

I went to the talk expecting to see a technique.
I left having seen a life.

If there's one image that I wish you all could see, it would be this: a karyotype from a human embryonic stem cell.

A karyotype shows DNA pictorially. In the picture in this blog, you can see 22 separate, paired somatic (body) chromosomes, and then one final pair that determines the person's sex. (For more on karyotypes, see wikipedia).

The karyotype in this entry isn't the one that I saw during the talk. But it is similar in its format and content. Two karyotypes from two humans would be similar enough to conclude they belonged to the same species. And yet (excluding identical twins), each person's DNA is distinct enough that no two karyotypes can be exactly the same.

That day (January 19, 2007), I didn't look at the X/Y chromosomes, so I don't know if she was a girl, or he was a boy. And the presenter didn't allow his audience to dwell on the image.

But he showed it nonetheless: his point was that the cells he was using were, indeed, normal. But the point I understood was -- this is a person.

While he said repeatedly "human embryonic cells themselves are not much to look at," and that "they're kind of boring," I now realize something completely different. While he described the cells he worked with as a type of "uncarved block," which you can "mold" into what you want, I now realize that one aspect of this little person was finished to perfection. While many of this little girl or boy's characteristics were not allowed to blossom out, one aspect of their development was complete. The nuclei of their parent's sperm and egg had fused, and the resulting DNA of this person was distinct and individual. Their genetic code was perfect.

She was someone! He was someone! His/her karyotype is unique, and his/her cells are currently being cultured by scientists scrupulous to incubate cells whose uninformed donor no longer exists on earth.

I saw you, little one.
For one fleeting moment
your life touched mine
your life touched mine

(Image credit)

Cartooned Contrasts

As I perused the listing of past speakers here at UIUC, I found that on November 3rd, 2005 a speech was given. It was called “The Slow-Motion Suicide of the American Empire.” It was presentated by Ted Rall. The previous day he delivered a lecture at Foellinger Auditorium.

As the school website described the speaker, "Rall is an internationally known journalist, columnist and cartoonist, as well as an outspoken critic of the Bush administration." His cartoons are posted online, but I've decided not to provide a link, in the interest of discernment. He portays Bush as a buffoon, and provides a distinctly liberal view of current events.

In his February 1st, 2007 cartoon, he spotlights Bush, thrusting such words as "I'm not addicted to Crystal Meth-Heroin Speedballs of any kind" into his mouth. Bush is, of course, decked out in a general's medallion-strewn outfit.

In his February 5th, 2007 cartoon, he portrays a drip-nosed Bush lecturing a mass grave of Iraqis. His words? "Step up and finish the job, you lazy, good-for-nothing Iraqi bums!"

Question 1) Is this what Rall considers funny? Question 2) Why would such a cartoonist be invited to a college campus to speak? Question 3) How does his pessimistic view enrich his audience?

Translation: if you're looking for good humor, look elsewhere.

Another option is to find cartoons by Wayne Stayskal. Granted, he comes from the other side of the political fence, so you could say that I'm more likely to appreciate his work from the word "Go." But reading his cartoons doesn't inspire me to go out and puke, which is the effect that other cartoonists' work has had (see above).

Instead, Staskal's work helps me see irony in a situation. For example, in his January 22nd cartoon, Stayskal shows a man ringing a doorbell. He's holding a sign with the words "Hillary for President." As he rings, the curtain at the front window parts, and a sign saying, "Nobody is Home" pops out.

In his January 1st, 2007 cartoon, Stayskal shows someone taking a poll.
Question Man: "Would you vote for Hillary?"
Man in house: "NO!"
(Next frame)
Man to wife: "Would you believe somebody asked if I'd let Bill back in the White House again?"

Of course, if you sympathesize with Hillary and her campaign, this cartoon probably won't be as funny to you. But does it sicken you?

Question 1) Why is this funny to Stayskal? Question 2) Why isn't a cartoonist like Stayskal invited to campus to speak? Question 3) How does his view of reality affect his audience?

It's just a constrast I see when I read the cartoons by Rall, and those by Stayskal. How do they treat those they don't agree with? Do they libel them, or do they poke fun? What is their view of reality?

You may think I'm overanalyzing, but I think this is an important point. Yes, we have free speech in this country (praise God!). But how do we choose to exercise that right? As for me, I'm no Bush-lover. At the same time, I'm no America-hater.

Rall obviously disagrees with Bush, and mocks his speech, clothes, intention, and morals. He distorts Bush's appearance into a nearly unrecognizable form, and has him freely uttering nasty or even unpardonable phrases.

In the examples given above, Stayskal has no need to portray Hillary directly. Even is known about her character and history that the comments of other characters is enough. He doesn't have to question her drug use to cause his readers to laugh. He doesn't portray her with frizzed-out hair, staring eyes bounded by mascara, and a mouth screaming vehemently. But of course, he couldn't do that because that would be "hate speech."

Are liberals (with their American death wish) willing to use the label "hate speech" on their own words?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

When your enemies

So this group is trying to rebuild a wall. And a governor of a nearby metropolis (Mr. Tattenai) peers into the work going on, and reports them. He writes to the guy who oversees the area, and says (in effect), "Make them stop." Granted, he's more smooth than that, and asks "Who authorizes this," but the entire letter is basically that of a guiling busybody.
At one point his letter reads,
"We questioned the elders and asked them, 'Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and restore this structure?' We also asked them their names, so that we could write down the names of their leaders for your information.

This is the answer they gave us:
"We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple that was built many years ago, one that a great king of Israel built and finished. But because our fathers angered the God of heaven, he handed them over to Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean, king of Babylon, who destroyed this temple and deported the people to Babylon."

The letter's sent, and for a while Mr. Tattenai was probably pretty smug, but there's more to the story. (If you want to hear it, see Ezra 5 and the following chapters).

But the point that I saw was --

When your enemies quote you, use it as an opportunity to glorify God.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Chief

Last night I didn't go to sleep for a while. I had heard about a meeting on this campus, and I looked up the digital feed online. After watching the opening "prayer," I was very glad I hadn't attended in person.
I don't think I could have contendly sat in a chair during this meeting.
As soon as I can, I'll be posting some of the comments that people made.
The controversy is over perceived racism on campus, and of all things the symbol that reportedly causes the most offense is the "chief" who is the campus mascot.


I just got my VOM update by email. The verse at the top really startled me. I never remember reading this before.

"Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
(2 Timothy 3:12-15)

So now I'm wondering -- why am I NOT being persecuted?
But also, it reminds me of those who are actively being ridiculed, beaten, mocked, and punished -- because of their belief in Christ.