Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The instinct to care for animals

This story in Sunday's Newspaper got my mind thinking:

ENTEBBE, Uganda (AP) -- A baby chimpanzee found alone, helpless, in the forest. An African rock python caged and taunted by villagers until it cracks its skull on the metal bars. A rare shoebill crane, a tall, gray-feathered beauty,discovered in the trunk of a smuggler's car. Dozens of animals like these are being rescued,nursed back to health and given a home at the Uganda Wildlife Education Center, a kind of halfway house for animals in trouble - wildlife under pressure on a continent where human encroachment and poachers' greed are pushing many species toward oblivion. "We give them a second chance," says the center's executive director, Andrew G. Seguya. Some are released back into the wild, while those at greater risk are given a home here for life.

By encouraging visitors to its site, which recreates Uganda's grassland savanna, its wetlands and forests, the center hopes to inform Ugandans about the need to conserve their wildlife resources by showing them the variety and uniqueness of what they have to protect. There's the story of Sarah, for example, a 4-year-old chimp being used for witchcraft when a trafficker's go-between bought her for a few dollars. Probably bound for Europe or the Middle East, Sarah raised such a ruckus as she was carried away in a bag that police intervened. She's now been accepted by the center's 11-member chimp colony. Each of the site's 35 shelters has such sad stories with happy endings, as illustrated in ... portraits by Associated Press photographer Kirsty Wigglesworth. "We want to change the way people perceive wildlife," Seguya said.

The story reflects the instinct that many of us have to preserve and protect wildlife. It seems almost innate to us to provide care and support for suffering creatures. Why is it that we care about extinction of species or not? Is it something that's hard wired into who we are as divine image bearers?

Gene Veith had a wonderful editorial in World about two years ago -- suggesting that Green party types and evangelical Christians could work together on some common causes. One of those was on human cloning, but another was on nature:

Still, Christians should be nature lovers. Christians believe in the doctrine of creation, that nature is God's handiwork. Christians have also historically seen God's moral law as having been built into that objective creation. Not that we look to nature—that realm of predators and prey—for moral models, rather than God's Word, but moral transgressions violate something in human nature and in God's created design....

If we can take over some of [Greens'] arguments, which seem uniquely persuasive to people today, and get them to fight on our side, we may have to give them some concessions and support them on some issues in return. For example, they are concerned about endangered species. And while this can be easy for us conservatives to mock, Christians, having a high view of creation, might pause.

We believe that God created the snail darter, which means that God willed that there be snail darters. On what theological grounds can we justify driving the snail darter or any other species to extinction?

Veith hits a rock solid argument that conservative christians would have a hard time dismissing. God created all creatures good -- and God decreed that humanity should have dominion over the earth, accountable to God. Thus humans are not set up as despots, but as stewards who will have to give a reckoning. Thus we cannot be terribly cavalier about our attitude toward the creatures of the earth. The existence of zoos like the Uganda Wildlife Education Center show us that these concerns are built deep into our being - we were designed to care for these creatures.

I'm also aware that our sin nature also produces the impulse for little boys to fry ants under microscopes and for witch doctors to torture chimpanzees -- how do we know which of these deep hard wirings is truly godly? That takes us back to general and special revelation issue. General revelation (through insight, nature, instinct, reason, etc) can only take us so far. It takes special revelation to point us to which line of reasoning, which inner drives are holy and godly. It takes special revelation to tell us we're stewards responsible for the earth, but that we're not one with the earth.

And thus, as Christians, and stewards of the earth, we can rejoice when strange new species are found, such as these species found buried in caves -- for God has been glorified by these species in their very existence unbeknownst to mankind for millennia. Now God's glory is made more widely known in their coming to light.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Farewell to the Pilgrims -- Bradford's view on Economics

I'm still not done with Plymouth Plantation, but I think it time to move on in my blogging activity -- but one final passage that caught my attention. When the Pilgrims arrived, they held all their land in common -- thus the fields were common fields that everyone took their turn working in and then the crops were doled out accordingly.

This process wasn't producing the results that they needed to survive, so Bradford came up with a solution. He assigned each household a plot of land on which they would grow their own crops.

“It made all hands very industrious, so that much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could devise, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better satisfaction. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to plant corn, while before they would allege weakness and inability; and to have compelled them would have been thought great tyranny and oppression....The failure of this experiment of communal service, which was tried for several years, and by good and honest men proves the emptiness of the theory of Plato and other ancients, applauded by some of later times, -- that the taking away of private property, nad the possession of it in community, by a commonwealth, would make a state happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For in this instance, community of property (so far as it went), was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment which would have been to the general benefit and comfort. For the young men who were most able and fit for service objected to being forced to spend their time and strength in working for other men’s wives and children, without any recompence. The strong man or the resourceful man had no more share of food, clothes, etc. than the weak man who was not able to do a quarter the other could. This was thought injustice.” (115-116)

Now bear in mind that they still held the fishing boats in common and doled out the catch accordingly. They still divided up the provisions sent from England (rare that they were) as though they were held in common. Even so, we see the early inklings of the value of privatization.

I also think it extraordinarily cool that we have these people struggling to make a go of it here in the wilderness....and Bradford is engaging with the political thought of Plato! Who talks about Plato in the wilderness??? All the Puritan greats were rooted in a classical humanistic education -- and they brought that education to bear in their work. Very very cool stuff.

Soli Deo gloria

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

In our age when we are tempted to fixate on what is wrong, dissatisfying, annoying, or plain unpleasurable, it is a fine thing to have a holiday to remember this one truth -- we are blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all you readers of The Eagle and Child -- I count you all among the many blessings (far too many to enumerate here -- but family, friendships, and faith are among the top three) that God has bestowed. Your comments, wit, willingness to verbally tusssle, and overall graciousness have all been a blessing to me. May God bless you all abundantly.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Plymouth Plantation -- take that, Christmas!

Around here, the Christmas decorations started going up in departments stores before Halloween. Radio station 94.1 switched to an all Christmas music programming schedule about a week and a half ago. So where did Thanksgiving go? I'm still talking about Pilgrims and Plymouth plantation over here.

So a quick reminder here to put things in historical perspective. As I understand it, the Pilgrims understood Days of Thanksgiving as special feasting days for games, celebrations and praising God for His abundant goodness -- hence the roots of our contemporary celebration complete with parades, feasting, and football. The Pilgrims weren't as dour as we paint them to be, but they were precise in what was to be observed. The leaders of a congregation could declare days of Thanksgiving (or days of Humiliation -- fasting and repentence) at just about any time. We commemorate the harvest Thanksgiving celebration, but there were other opportunities.

However, the Puritans frowned on extra-Biblical religious holidays. That makes pretty much the whole liturgical year out of bounds. Easter, Christmas, Good Friday, Palm Sunday, Pentecost -- forget it. The Pilgrims saw no warrant in Scripture for celebrating such holidays as religous festivals. It's not that they didn't honor the birth of Christ or the other events commemmorated -- rather they honored God so much they wouldn't worship in any way that they saw was not expressly commended by Scripture. This even included singing -- they would sing only psalms rather than other religous texts set to music.

And thus, on Christmas day 1620, the new colonists celebrated simply by beginning construction on their homes. On Christmas day 1621, Governor Bradford went to arouse the colonists to work. Several new colonists had arrived earlier in the fall, and their response to the summons to labor prompted this remembrance:

“but most of the new company excused themselves, and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them, if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed. So he went with the rest, and left them; but on returning from work at noon he found them at play in the street, some pitching the bar, some at stool-ball, and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their games, and told them that it was against his conscience that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of the day a matter of devotion, let them remain in their houses; but there should be no gaming and reveling in the streets.” (95)

Don't get me wrong on this -- I'm not going so far as to say we shouldn't celebrate Christmas -- The Pilgrims were reacting against liturgical excesses of their day. However, it does prompt one to a little more self-examination, doesn't it....

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, November 20, 2006

Plymouth Plantation -- the landing of the Pilgrims in Cape Cod

It is hard for me to imagine -- in this era of connectivity when we seem never to be by ourselves, I find it hard to imagine how the Pilgrims must have felt. Perhaps the TV show Lost, about a band of castaways struggling to survive on a remote Pacific island, captures the sheer enormity of the situation most.

They left the comforts and securities of familiar territory; they abandoned the known struggles of civilization; they ventured across a hostile and dangerous ocean during the last throes of autumn before winter grumbled in. They arrived facing a vast expanse of untamed wilderness, fearing a harsh welcome from the natives (who were justifiably suspicious because of their previous encounters with English slavers). When they arrived, they were isolated and huddled together, ready to face the harshness of the New England winter.

And yet, somehow God sustained them. In spite of the death of half their number in the first winter, God held them up. Even though their first encounters with the Native Americans fared poorly, God sent friendly help through Samoset and Squanto, the Native Americans who brought about a peace agreement that held up for decades. Governor William Bradford, when looking back at that moment of first arrival, writes in his history: land “What then could sustain them but the spirit of God and His grace? Ought not the children of their fathers rightly to say: Our fathers were Englishmen who came over the great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and He heard their voice, and looked on their adversity….Let them therefore praise the Lord, because He is good, and His mercies endure forever. Yea, let them that have been redeemed of the Lord, show how He hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered forth into the desert-wilderness, out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his Loving kindness, and His wonderful works before the sons of men!” (66, Vision Forum edition of Plyouth Plantation).

Their courage was memorialized in the Bas Relief sculpture shown above -- a part of the US capital building rotunda. A brief visit to the website of the Architect of the Capitol will show other homages to the courage of the Pilgrims. Take for instance this painting of the Pilgrims in prayer prior to their departure from Delft Haven Holland. The commentary on this 19th century Robert Weir painting states "Protestant pilgrims are shown on the deck of the ship Speedwell before their departure for the New World from Delft Haven, Holland, on July 22, 1620. William Brewster, holding the Bible, and pastor John Robinson lead Governor Carver, William Bradford, Miles Standish, and their families in prayer. The prominence of women and children suggests the importance of the family in the community. At the left side of the painting is a rainbow, which symbolizes hope and divine protection." It was placed in the Capitol Building in 1844.

The pilgrim memorials in the Capitol complex remind us that their story is a part of our story -- a part of why we celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday. May we pause and remember and give thanks to God for Providential care.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, November 17, 2006

Now Available: A M'Cheyne Devotional

Long awaited news for Covenant First Presbyterian -- Brook Perkins has released the first volume in his M'Cheyne Devotional Series.

Some background for you. Robert Murray M'Cheyne was a 19th Century Scottish preacher and evangelist. During his time as minister of St Peter's Church in Dundee, he developed a reading plan for his congregants so they could work through the entire Bible in a year. The plan consisted of four readings, two in the morning, and two in the evening. Following the plan a congregant would go through the Old Testament once in a year and the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year. One would also be in four different places in the Bible, and thus exposed to the dramatic unity of scripture.

This unity is what inspired Brook -- as one of our elders overseeing Study ministries, he felt a real calling to lead people deeper into daily work with Scripture. So he started taking each day's reading and looking for the common themes among them and creating thought provoking questions that he'd email out to anyone on his "M'Cheyne study" list. The list grew and grew, and after some encouragement, Brook decided to edit the study and publish it in four volumes (one volume for every three months)

He now has the first volume ready for purchase on -- it's a devotional for the January-March readings. Perfect for a Christmas present for people on your list- or for assisting you in your New Year's resolutions to take Bible reading more seriously.

Realize this is not a volume that exposits the readings -- it simply looks for a common theme across them and asks probing questions. It truly is more of a devotional than a study. However as such, it is a good way to get started on the discipline of the M'Cheyne study. I'm particularly excited about this because Brook is one of our elders and I think his material is pretty teriffic. You can be sure I'll let you know when volumes 2-4 come out. Go preview the book at and buy many many copies.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Now Playing: Borat

True confession time. Despite my better judgment, I took in a showing of the hit critically acclaimed film "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan"

This farcical mocumentary features an actor pretending to be a Kazak journalist doing a documentary -- and in so doing, he pramks dozens of unsuspecting Americans by putting them in absurd and uncomfortable situations. Not only is this concept unoriginal (remember Candid Camera anyone?), the producers execute this with a cynical cruelty that just saps all the fun out of it. The opening and closing sequences feature the main character Borat in his home village -- and all the strange, bizzare, and crude characters there. We laugh at how over the top the portrayal is -- thinking these are all actors in a set piece in hollywood. And then we hear this story about how the producers went to a real village and snookered the poor folks there into playing part -- not letting them know what was really going on. The producers played these poor folks for fools, and they laugh all the way to the bank.

We laugh at the moronic college students that Borat encounters along the way, and then we hear this story about how the producers got the students really drunk and gave them the hard pressure to appear in the movie.

We laugh at the antics on TV news broadcast upon which Borat appears, until we read this story about how the producer lost her job and wrestled with depression for months as a result of the experience.

We laugh at the stern looking feminists that Borat interviews early in the film, and then we read about how these people were duped into being a part of the project.

My initial contact came from Chelsea Barnard, a name that, in retrospect, might have tipped me off to a set-up (I’m still not sure if it was real or not). In a chirpy e-mail, Chelsea said she heard about me because I am on the large board of Veteran Feminists of America, a New York group that highlights the successes and history of women leaders such as Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan and Coretta Scott King. My role with the group has been to mount shows of my works to engage people in the arts at public events.

Chelsea said she was working on “a documentary-style film about America” —although by this definition, “The Daily Show” is a documentary, too. “We are working in conjunction with Belarus Television and a foreign correspondent,” Chelsea wrote, covering up even the fictional nationality of Borat. She wanted to arrange “a round table discussion about the recent history of feminism.” Members of the producing team have worked on productions about women war correspondents and female boxers, she reported.

As a former teacher in the arts, I often extend myself to talk to younger generations and people from afar, and have even traveled to Japan to talk about women artists. When I said I would consider participating, Chelsea rushed to my studio. A dark-haired “LonelyGirl15” type, she was earnest in a pre-interview. One question was odd: What television shows do I watch? I later learned that Borat/Cohen doesn’t like encounters with people who know that he’s the guy from “Da Ali G Show.”

The filming was scheduled so rapidly that I had little time to investigate. A six-person crew and Chelsea arrived the next morning to interview me and two others, although Borat was not with them. I was on the Internet at the time, checking a friend’s assessment of the banal-sounding company listed on Chelsea’s card, One America Productions. “It looks like a front,” she said, suggesting a right-wing cover. “Ask who their funders are,” said another. There was no mention of 20th Century Fox, Borat, Cohen, or a comic movie-in-the-making.

As the crew — obviously professional — set up in my art studio, “Chelsea” handed me a contract. I asked more questions. Chelsea said the funding comes from Belarus Television and deftly clicked my computer to its website. She further persuaded me about the value of the project: she said that they were interviewing former Mayor Ed Koch. As an extra step of precaution, I decided to put in a call to his office, and Koch’s secretary, Mary, confirmed that this was true.

I finally agreed, although I admit that I failed to read the fine detail on the “Standard Consent Agreement.” Since I thought this was a documentary, I probably would have signed it anyway. When I did study it later, I realized that it’s anything but “standard.” Buried are statements asserting that I waive claims for “offensive behavior” and “misleading portrayal” and “fraud (such as any alleged deception or surprise about the film or this consent agreement).” While I’m no legal expert, I can’t believe that you can agree to be defrauded — or wouldn’t every used car dealer use the same clause?

Chelsea paid me the grand sum of $200 — cash — for my appearance. Since I’m fairly successful as an artist, the amount of money didn’t concern me, but the payment convinced me that the project had backing and wouldn’t be a waste of my time. She also paid me another $250 for the use of my premises. Chelsea left and finally, Borat showed his face, bounding into my studio, rumpled suit and all.

The fake journalist began legitimately, asking me to describe my sculptural torsos. These works of Women Warriors draw upon iconic female figures, including Wonder Woman, a character who emerged in the midst of World War II “to further the cause of peace, equality and security in a world that seems to be spiraling madly toward perpetual war,” according to original DC Comics introduction. As I pointed out the various materials in the work — wood, metal and stone — Borat listened closely.

But it wasn’t long before the fake journalist started switching and baiting, performing like a Howard Stern wannabe. Women in his country must walk behind men, he said. Condoleezza Rice is the “chocolate lady,” he claimed, implying that she beds foreign diplomats. He gestured his interest in large-breasted women. His goading produced predictable results. Right before I kicked him out, he declared — as the clip shows — that women have smaller brains than men.

Newsweek covers this story pretty well too.

This kind of intentional cruelty does not become us. I've been the victim of radio pranks -- it's not fun to be the object of ridicule. And I get very frustrated by the old catchphrase "It's just a joke -- it's all fun". No, it's not. This film has hurt unsuspecting people. The producers invaded people's spaces with high pressure fast talking con jobs -- and the producers are making a mint for doing it. These guys are no better than the "girls gone wild" producers. But make no mistake -- this isn't reality -- it's abuse.

CS Lewis alerts us to the danger in the Screwtape Letters -- as the demon Screwtape tells of the advantage of humor:

The real use of Jokes or Humour is in quite a different direction, and it is specially promising among the English who take their "sense of humour" so seriously that a deficiency in this sense is almost the only deficiency at which they feel shame. Humour is for them the all-consoling and (mark this) the all-excusing, grace of life. Hence it is invaluable as a means of destroying shame. If a man simply lets others pay for him, he is "mean"; if he boasts of it in a jocular manner and twits his fellows with having been scored off, he is no longer "mean" but a comical fellow. Mere cowardice is shameful; cowardice boasted of with humourous exaggerations and grotesque gestures can be passed off as funny. Cruelty is shameful -- unless the cruel can represent it as a practical joke. A thousand bawdy, or even blasphemous, jokes do not help towards a man's damnation so much as his discovery that almost anything he wants to do can be done, not only without the disapproval but with the admiration of his fellows, if only it can get itself treated as a Joke....Any suggestion that there might be too much of it can be "puritanical" or as betraying a "lack of humour."

Nailed. We're letting the con men tell us what's funny and laugh all the way to the bank. In the process, lives are ruined and a level of public trust is lost. Pay attention Fox films -- your distribution of such films is exactly why I find your Fox Films play to the Christiam market to be cyincial and disingenuous. You show that you don't care who gets hurt, as long as you make the money. When will you bring on the gladiators?

Classical Presbyterian has a really good post on this one too. In the comments to that post, we find the silver lining -- where God seems to be working to bring some redemption to this film: a renewed compassion for the Roma people, who were exploited as the villagers in the film:

To support the Roma, you may want to consider this Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship project.


Perhaps God will use this cruelty to bring relief to the plight of people who are suffering. Meanwhile, don't waste your money on Borat.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

of Plymouth Plantation -- a saddening quote from William Bradford

I'm reading Of Plymouth Plantation to help get the right frame of mind for Thanksgiving. William Bradford relates the reasons why, after 12 relatively peaceful years in Leyden, the Pilgrims decided to emigrate to the New World. He enumerated 5 reasons:

1) the hardships of urban life in Holland were such that few would leave England to follow them (though they might seek opportunity in the colonies)

2) old age was wearing down the colonists in the urban envirionment (most of them had been country folk in England, and they longed to be invigorated by the country again)

3) Thinking of the children -- many were wearing out from being forced to work in the urban center -- many others were being lured into temptations by the decadence about them.

4) “Last and not least, they cherished a great hop and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in remote parts of the world, even though they should be but stepping stones to others in the performance of so great a work.” (21, Page citations from the Vision Forum edition)

After spirited debate, they decided to go -- they were looking to build something new and good and Godly. When communicating to their agent in London to help secure a ship, the Pilgrims wrote "We are knit together as a body in a most strict and sacred bond and covenant of the Lord, of the violation whereof we make great conscience, and by virtue whereof we hold ourselves straitly tied to all care of each other’s good.” (28)

And this gets to the sad quote -- The edition I have of this text has a footnote which indicates that Bradford later penned in the margins of his journal this quote:"O sacred bond, -- whilst inviolably preserved! How sweet and precious were its fruits! But when this fidelity decayed, then their ruin approached. Oh that these ancient members had not died (if it had been the will of God); or that this holy care and constant faithfulness had still remained with those that survived. But alas, that still serpent hath slyly wound himself to untwist these sacred bonds and ties. I was happy in my first times to see and enjoy the blessed fruits of that sweet communion; but it is now a part of my misery in old age to feel its decay, and with grief of heart to lament it. For the warning and admonition of others, and our own humiliantion, I here take note of it.” (28)

How sad that such great hope, promise, effort and unity would somehow dissipate. Bradford is very forthright in his work -- not sentimentally indicating that they all had tea and cookies and sailed off to the New World. He unabashedly portrays the tears, difficulties, struggles, fears, and disagreements of his group. Though the quote is saddening, it is heartening to know that these herioc figures were by their own admission, human. Somehow this humanity makes their expression of thanksgiving all the more poignant.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

King Tut -- Akhenaten -- and Pentecost

"You have been summoned to see the king" read the promotional flyer that came in the slush pile that is my office mail. On the cover was the famous funeary figurine of Pharoah Tutankhamen. Thus began the plans for our recent jaunt to Chicago. The main reason we went was to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum.

Since I started this interest in Egyptology earlier this year (as a way of better understanding the Old Testament), I've been on the lookout for good opportunities to learn more see some of the artifacts for myself. The Cincinnati Art Museum has a nice, but humble, collection of Egyptian antiquities -- two cases full and a mummy. It is nice and helpful, but it only scratches the surface. The arrival of a major exhibit like King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs presented a great opportunity for me to expand my interest.

This exhibit is the largest travelling exhibit of Tut's treasures to have come to the states -- twice the size of hte last one that came. It contains artifacts not only from Tut's reign, but also from his father's and grandfather's (thus setting the stage for understanding the context). And herein was my primary interest -- for Tut's father was none other than Akhenaten, the so called "heretic" pharoah who tried to eliminate polytheistic worship and instate worship of one true god -- the Aten (the Sun Disk god). Scholars have said that Akhenaten was an innovator who invented monotheism -- I believe that Akhenaten derived the idea from sojurners in his land.

Tut came to the throne at age 10 -- far too young to effectively lead a country. Doubtlessly, he was closely supervised by his inner circle, including Grand Vizier Aye and Chief General Horemheb (both of whom would succeed Tut as pharaoh). It's likely that these advisors pressed Tut into restoring the old ways of worship and doing away with all his father's monotheistic innovation. By the time Tut died at age 19, Egypt had entirely returned to the old ways of worship.

Of particular interest to me was what would be there of Akehenaten's time -- not much. A few reliefs of queen Nefertiti. A colossal statue of Akhenaten himself. But what caught my eye was this balustrade showing Akehnaten and his family worshipping (Unfortunately I couldn't find a great big photo -- so I've also found another photo of Akhenaten and his family being blessed by the Aten)

The convention of the art is that the Aten is the round Sun disk at the top -- exending from the sun are rays that end in hands holding what appear to be Ankhs (the egyptian heiroglyph for life). Interestingly, there is what appears to be a tiny bird sitting on the sun. I've not seen an explanation of that yet -- it could be the cobra of the crown of egypt -- or it could be another symbol. But to me, the picture looks a lot like paintings I've seen of Pentecost -- the Holy Spirit surrounded by a circle of light (holiness) and beams extending down ending in tongues of fire touching the disciples. (Indeed, the next day at the Chicago Art Institute, I saw a painting of Pentecost that was eerily similar to the pictures of Aten worship here. I can't find that painting online, but here's another example of the imagery I'm talking about.

Here's a contemporary rendering of Pentecost that shows the lasting nature of the image:

I don't want to push this too far for fear of sounding like a lunatic - but is it possible that Akhenaten somehow came to know something of the God of Abraham? One might argue that the re-occurance of the imagery shows deep psychological themes of unity across religions (Joseph Campbell's route). However, one might also argue that there's actually something there -- Akhenaten's departure from tradition represented something fantastic that had happened -- perhaps in his encounters with Hebrew slaves? Just thinking aloud on this one.

Soli Deo Gloria

Other Egyptology Posts:
So Glad They Agree With Me
Ancient Egypt and the Exodus -- what really happened
Continuing Education -- a course on Ancient Egypt
The Oriental Institute in Chicago -- a real treasure trove

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Of Pilgrims and Plymouth Plantation

This year, I'm trying to immerse myself a little more in the roots of Thanksgiving (if Christmas can have a 2 month season, why can't Thanksgiving get a little more early press?). Therefore, I ordered a copy of Of Plymouth Plantation -- it's a very nice hardcover reprint of the 1909 translation to contemporary english. What could be better than the first hand history of a man who was actually there? That should tide my reading over for the next month or so.

However, I also saw this interesting article in Smithsonian magazine online. It's a pretty balanced article -- not a hagiography by any stretch. You might also be interested in Chuck Colson's article on Squanto, the Native American who befriended the Pilgrims. Or perhaps these articles from Christian History about the American Puritans.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, November 06, 2006

This I believe.....

Here's a great opportunity for you Eagle and Child readers.

Since April 2005, National Public Radio has been airing the "This I Believe" feature -- it consists of essays written by people from all walks of life. These essays are stories and rememberances of their deepest held core values. In NPR's own words "This I Believe is a national media project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values and beliefs that guide their daily lives."

Based on the popular 1950's show hosted by Edward R. Murrow, This I Believe has garnered quite a bit of attention. The NPR site hosts over 17,000 essays, from both the 50's and today -- you can search through them. They provide a list of the top 20 most viewed essays. At the top is Penn Jillette's atheist manifesto. However, also in the top 20 is this charming essay about comfort through prayer.

One might wonder about the relevance of such a project today -- in the 1950's, the "common person" didn't have much of a voice; whereas today, a vast swath of our society has the capacity to create and distribute statements about life, meaning and personal interests. Indeed, so much content is being generated that many of us are living on information overload.

Even so, it seems that this is a realm where we as Christians are being asked for input, and it is a fine opportunity for us to respond. I'm encouraging Eagle and Child readers to work on a "this I believe" essay (and you bloggers -- pass the challenge along to your readers as well). Go read the tips on the NPR website and craft a statement. Also realize that your local NPR station might be doing the project locally (as is our WVXU here in Cincinnati).

When you've submitted your essay -- email me and let me know so that I can read your work. I'll get cracking on mine. Let's bear witness to our faith -- because we're being invited to tell our stories. As Peter tells us " your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." (I Pet 3:15-16). Let us not miss out on the call to do this with gentleness and respect. We've seen too much vilification and name calling during this political season -- let our words be seasoned with salt and abounding in light.

Looking forward to seeing what you write.
Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What to do about upcoming elections

As a pastor, I'm generally pretty chary about sharing my political views. As near as I can recall, I've only written once about a specific public policy issue (a permit for a casino downtown) and never about candidates. This is mainly because I get two uneasy vibes from the general public (not from everyone, but this is a general sense): 1) they view pastors talking about specific political details with the same level of trust as they might view a used car salesman on the merits that '76 Volare that you just have to drive home today. 2) When pastors spend more time talking political policy than talking about Christ, they become pawns of political strategists rather than physicians of souls. (you may disagree with me on these two general senses -- but then I humbly ask, what is your inner response when you hear a pastor espousing political views with which you disagree. Do you immediately dismiss those views, or do you internally begin to challenge your own stances.)

For these reasons, I generally speak to big issues, without comment about particular items of legislation, policy, or lawmakers. I try to remind our congregation that God is not the sole province of any of the political parties.

However, I do remind my congregation that they as Christian citizens are called to be active in our political process. When Peter writes about submission to authority, he says "Be subject to for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good....Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor." (I pet 2:13-14, 16-17). Paul expresses similar sentiment in Romans 13:1-7 (even talking about the necessity of paying taxes that are due).

Now if the early Christians were called to submit to the governing authorities of the day, then it is logical to infer that we are too. However, we've been blessed to be born or naturalized into a democratic republic, a part of which means that submission to the authority implies at minimum a call to participate in the electoral process as informed voters.

Then I read articles like this one on voting habits of the American public. (Hat tip to Librarian's Internet Index for this one). According to this article only 1/3 of eligible voters actually make the effort to vote in every election. There's a full 22% of the eligible voting population that isn't even registered! The survey measured voting habits as compared to church going habits. Interestingly, weekly churchgoers were had the highest percentage of attending elections (39% vs 35% for monthly or less churchgoers and 31% for seldom or never); even so, there were still 38% of weekly churchgoers who responded that they seldom or never participate in elections!

Now I know that there are lots of ways to participate in society -- volunteering, local work, civic organizations, church work. We're called to be salt and light in many different spheres, and participating in elections is but one small way -- but based on what I see in I Peter and Romans, I believe that we have a responsibility to be informed participants in elections. We may have honest disagreements on the role of government in a democratic republic -- we may have differing opinions about particular policiy initiatives or candidates qualifications -- but we all, each of us who claims the name of Christ, has the responsibility to respect our wordly government by participating in the process.

One main part of this participation consists of being informed -- The Librarian Internet Index pointed me to this website of information -- but it is mostly geared toward California. Are there similar resources for other states? Please let me know. By being informed -- perhaps the most important things to be informed on are the local ballot initiatives in your area -- your vote carries much more weight locally -- and those issues are ones which will impact you and your community directly.

Remember -- election day is on Tuesday. Pray hard - not that your "team" wins, but that you and me and we all might have wisdom.

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Honor thy father and thy mother

Today is my birthday.

I can think of no more appropriate way to celebrate this day than by publicly doing that which none of us do enough:

Thanks Mom and Dad. Not only were you used by God to give me life, but by your character you shaped who I am.

Mom, you taught me what it is to approach the world with wonder and excitement, as though every day and experience were an adventure. You taught me to laugh, to think of other people, and to be spontaneous. From you I learned a love of the earth, a delight in the wonders of creation, a joy in the arts, and whatever conversational skills I have.

Dad, you showed me what it was to be strong, to be diligent, to get a job done. Anything I've learned about being a gentleman comes from your propriety, warmth, and graciousness. When I've had to show backbone in confrontation, it was your steel that gave me courage. You have taught me what it means to show respect and to give back to the community.

Both of you have taught me faith by example -- by your service, by quiet acts of kindness (yes, the stories come back to me, even though you did kindnesses behind the scenes), by your well-worn bibles and devotionals, and by the times I came across you reading them in the early morning or late at night. You taught me faith by making sure I was in church almost every Sunday and by letting me rub up against a lot of other people of faith. You gave me room to learn faith for myself, but kept Christ before me in so many ways.

You taught me about friendships through your loyalty and willingness to be there for your friends. You've shown me the value of hospitality -- opening our home to friends passing through and to friends for meals and fellowship. Your wide circle of friends -- all of them distinctive characters and individuals with color and opinion and verve -- has taught me that people are both fascinating and a little maddening, and we can enjoy friendship even in the face of difference.

You've taught me that the whole world is fascinating -- your wide array of interests has provided me a fullness of experience that I treasure. You came to every play or concert I performed in. You watched soccer games, track meets, and church basketball games. You bear patiently with my scatterbrainedness and you have been consistent encouragers.

And so, I want you to know that I am thankful for you -- and I am proud of you (hence the reason I put this on the blog -- for I want it publicly known that you have been very good parents). Today is my birthday -- and I thank you for your role in making me who I am.

I love you both,

Wheet - ting

Music Mission Kiev Photos

Dyah sent me some great music mission kiev photos -- and in the process, she set up a flickr page for all church photos. I'll be getting more info out about this later on the church webpage. In the meantime, check out these beauties that Dyah took!