Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Tomb of Jesus found -- in Kashmir...or was that Japan?

Apparently nobody told James Cameron that the tomb of Jesus had allready been found in Kashmir. From the website:

This website presents and offers evidence that Jesus Christ is dead and buried in a tomb in Srinagar, Kashmir, India, and will not be returning to earth. The website examines a range of topics from the Shroud of Turin to the Israelite origin of the people of Asia. It aims to brings together research and material related to this theory from a variety of sources.

There have been many books on the subject now and the number of researchers in this field is growing continually. Since the turn of the millenium docuemantaries on the subject have even appeared detailing the tomb and its story.

Much of the material from the website is also available in printed form as the book "Saving the Savior: Did Jesus Survive the Crucifixion?" - available here.

It is important to realize, at the outset, that this subject is not the invention of the "New Age" movement. This site is devoted to presenting the hypothesis that Jesus Christ physically survived the crucifixion as an "ordinary" human being, then travelled eastwards to join Jewish tribes that had been scattered to the northern tier of Afghanistan and also Kashmir, Northern India.

Well....I guess that settles it then....

Wait, wait -- no, apparently the tomb is actually found in the Herai village of Japan. Read for yourself:

According to "Thiaoouba Prophecy", Jesus (Joshua) born to virgin Mary in Bethlehem, after an "angel" from Thiaoouba (tYehova) implanted the embryo, escaped the slaughter of 2606 babies and arrived in Egypt. After surprising all scholars at the age of 12, he left his parents at 14 to travel with his 12 years old brother Ouriki to Burma, India and China. Eventually he arrived in Japan at the age of 50. He got married there, and had 3 daughters. Finally he died in Herai where he had lived for 45 years, gaining respect and love of everyone. Christ who appeared at Judea and died on the cross was another, very special man. No man born on Earth could do what he did. Christ never said that He was born on Earth... He insisted that He was a Son of Yehova (which is commonly translated as God or Father)… For full details of his story you need to read "Thiaoouba Prophecy".
OK, well at least it gives me some options to consider.... wait, you mean there's more? Jesus is actually buried in France? (Oh yes, the DaVinci Code mystery).

I'm very confused now. Can we please just go back to the debate over the garden tomb versus the Chuch of the Holy Sepulchure.
Thank You


The Jesus Dynasty -- whatever happened to Herod?

Even though the "Jesus Family Tomb" controversey is becoming more of a third page tabloid healdine than a serious academic story, I think it worthwhile to spend time with the original source: the work of UNC-Charlotte James Tabor. Just as The DaVinci Code evolved from the less well known Holy Blood, Holy Grail, so does the Talpiot tomb documentary find its intellectual DNA from Tabor's book The Jesus Dynasty.

True confession -- I've not yet read the complete book; any thoughts in these next few posts will be my developing thoughts as I play around with this material in my brain. In other words -- these aren't final conclusions, and I welcome your commentary. What I have done thus far is carefully read the introduction and conclusion and skim the other chapters -- then I've done a pretty detailed read of chapter 1 (where Tabor sets the stage by talking about the birth of Christ).

I admire Tabor's passion. He writes with verve about his heartfelt thrill in the study of antiquities. I'd wager that his lectures are a blast. In the first chapter, he lays some groundwork for us: the background of Mary, mother of Jesus. He takes us on a tour of church tradition rooted in minor documents of the Catholic church. Through this tour, we learn of the extrabiblical ideas that Mary's parents were named Joachim and Anna -- that she was from the metropolis of Sepphoris (the impressive administrative capital of Galilee), but that her family moved to the tiny village of Nazareth (population about 300) some 4 miles away. He introduces us to Joseph and gives surprising credence (for a critical scholar) to the Bethlehem birth story.

Now here's the interesting thing. Tabor tells us that Mary was born about 18 bc (Pg 39) and that her parents likely moved from Sepphoris sometime before its destruction by the Roman General Varus, who in 4-3 bc swept through Galilee with 20,000 men to quell a revolt following the death of Herod the Great. Remember that, will you? Varus came through after the death of Herod the Great. That's important because Tabor down the road in chapter 3 (I did skim the book and read the conclusion after all) is going to assert that Mary became pregnant by a roman soldier named Pantera. That's right, the old charge levied against Jesus that he was illegitimate. Tabor will flood us with early pagan accusations and with the innuendoes of Jesus' own hometown folk (found in scripture); he will even produce the evidence of a grave of Pantera somewhere in Europe on the frontier of the Roman empire.

But there are some things he doesn't do -- he never interacts with the scriptural assertion that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great. Matthew 2 makes this dating integral to the Birth narrative. It was the paranoia of Herod who feared a rival to his throne that led him to dupe foreign dignitaries into seeking out this coming messiah. It was the ruthlessness of Herod that grew into a pogrom, executing baby boys across his kingdom. Interestingly, Tabor doesn't address this little tidbit. He simply states that Mary was born in 18bc and sometime before the destruction of Sepphoris they were in Nazareth -- just in time to be impregnated by a roman soldier who came to the region to quell the revolt after the death of Herod the great.

This might not seem like a big deal. But Tabor inadvertently makes it a big deal. He goes to great lengths to convey to us the character of Herod the great: he cites Julius Africanus in saying that Herod had the genealogical records of Galillee burned so that there would be no way to trace a rival claimant to the throne. Tabor cites Josephus who tells us that Herod had his own wife and children murdered in a fit of rage. Tabor reminds us that it was Herod who outfitted the rock fortress of Masada to be a refuge in case his own people revolted against him. This information seems to corroborate the Matthew account -- it's almost unthinkable that he didn't draw on Matthew's account in painting his picture of Herod.

Then Tabor talks about how the canonical gospels are our best source of information about "the historical Jesus" -- even though he's not willing to take them literally, he realizes that they're a valuable source of information. Yet he skips right over a whole chapter's worth of vital information in reconstructing his scenario. He also doesn't provide any documentation to support why he thinks that Mary's pregnancy happened after the death of Herod rather than before.

It seems this is a pretty big oversight. More on why this oversight happens in the next post.

Soli Deo Gloria

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Here are some lovely little thoughts to brighten your evening:

Joe Carter offers this surprising reflection on Christians and "animal welfare" (as opposed to "animal rights").

Healthbolt reminds us that music does soothe the mind, ease depression, and generally helps put the mind at ease. Let's put a little more Bach and Mozart into our days.

PSFK Trendwatching links to this cool video that explains the concept of Web 2.0. It might be a little too stylistic for some folks, but I think it gets the idea across well.

From the same PSFK Trendwatching site -- a story about the upcoming Shutdown day -- a day in which we are all challenged to go without our computers for one single day. Have we really come to this? Are we this deeply wired?

And finally Peter Bronson lays down a royal flush on this one-- he tells the story of a Boy Scout group uninviting a speaker .... because his company sponsored a rude trashy promo stunt.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Talpiot Tomb Controversey -- What to make of the latest eastertime criticism of the resurrection

It's an event as predictable as procrastination on taxes ("really, I meant to get it done early this year, but it just caught up on me") -- the Lent/Easter attack on the historicity of the resurrection. For the past decade or so, every Easter has brought out a new cadre of contenders hoping to cash in on a "brave" and "controversial" announcement that they've done what the Roman Empire and the Jewish Sanhedren failed to do when they had the chance -- prove that Jesus was a corpse in a grave rather than a resurrected messiah.

Undoubtedly you've heard by now about the Discovery Channel special about the "Jesus family tomb", which purports to prove that Jesus was buried alongside his father and mother, his wife Mary, his son Jude and his brother Matthew. I could power a subcontinent with the energy that's been put into analysis on this issue over the last 24 hours. It seems that the church will not be caught sleeping on this one, like it was with DaVinci Code. Here's a quick summary of thoughtful commentary thus far, followed by a few of my observations:

Texas Rainmaker gives us an actual picture of the stone ossuary (a great big stone coffin) that supposedly held Jesus' remains. See for yourself the inscription that purports to be "Jeshua bar yosef" (Jesus son of Joseph -- remember hebrew reads right to left and it's in hebrew characters) -- also note the cross sketched in beside the name- the cross a sign not used by the early church for the first couple of centuries. He links us to
This article on in which several scholars in Israel (including the scholar who wrote the original report of the excavation) dismiss this premise as a moneymaking publicity stunt.
IMonk's first page of resources on this topic -- includes links to William Craig Lane's debunk of the Empty Tomb theory, a link to the two original AP newswire stories that ran about this discovery in 1996, a link to NT Wright's defense of the resurrection, and great resources from Leadership University (also some really good commentary by Imonk himself). Particularly telling is the information that we have over 1000 ossuaries from Jerusalem at that time -- 6 have the name Jesus on them, and 2 of those are Jesus son of Joseph. Of all the female names, Mary occurs 25 percent of the time.
IMonk's second page of resources including links to Ben Witherington's outstanding commentary, Newsweek's questioning some of the methodology involved, and more issues about the translations of the names on the ossuaries
James White gives a stunning critique of the naming conventions, the idea that a poor peasant would have a middle class tomb, the flaws in resting upon statistical analysis, and the dodgy nature of resting on DNA evidence.

One of the thing that is clearly missing from this is an interaction with James Tabor's work The Jesus Dynasty, upon which the film is clearly based (with the exception of Witherington, who calls Tabor a nice guy who does some good work, but he's hitching his mule to the wrong wagon). I picked up the book from the library today and started reading. Tabor, a scholar from UNC-Charlotte, has some interesting comments about the find of the ossuaries in the Talpiot tomb. He talks about the odd cluster of names found in the tomb and then writes:

"The only way anything else could be done scientifically would be to carry out mitochondrial DNA tests on the bone samples to at least ascertain how the individuals buried there might be maternally related. Such tests, no matter what the results, could not "prove" that this particular Jesus was the one who became known as Christ, but they could show whether any of these individuals were offspring of either of the two Marys, or had a sibling relationship to one another." (26)

So here, Tabor admits that the DNA testing can't prove anything other than a relationship among the people in the tomb. In this section of the book, he hints at possibilities of coverups and hidden information, though he actually doesn't come right out and say that there has been a cover up -- he leaves it up to the reader's imagination: "The Israelis are very sensitive to the Christian world and maintain official diplomatic relations with the Vatican. They are pleased to fill the role of the welcoming custodians for Christian tourism of the Holy Land. The last thing in which they want to be involved is some archaeological find that would spark controversey or provoke Christian theological debates." (27) -- No, he doesn't accuse the Israeli authorities of a cover up, but he lays out innuendo.

So he wants to link the tomb to his theories, but not too closely. He then suggests that his theories about the historical Jesus are not dependent upon the finds in the tomb. Good for him, for he launches into a typical Jesus Seminar type reading, setting James up against Paul. He does some fine scholarship and he is quite thoughtful, but he falls into the same trap as all the researchers of the historical Jesus -- selective acceptance of the gospel narratives.

Very telling are his words in the conclusion of his book "History is not merely an assemblage of constructed facts. It also involves an attempt to retrieve and imagine a past that we can no longer see or touch. History touches the heart as well as the head. And it is here that material evidence makes a difference. Historical artifacts, authentically connected to the people and places we study in texts, offer us an avenue of linked imagination that is both moving and significant....It is that tangible touching of the past that stirs the human heart, no matter how learned or reserved one might be." (305) He wonderfully conveys his passion -- a passion I share. While viewing objects of Tutankhamen at the Field Museum or reading Herodotus Histories, imaginatively the past comes alive and we make connections with the stories we know and love.

However, he's failed to make an authentic connection between the tomb and the gospels. Indeed, he admitted that such an authentic connection is not necessary for his argumentation. I believe Tabor is carried away by his passion for antiquities and a love for a good story -- Hey I've been there too. Lots of archaeologists have been there. Heinrich Schliemann, the excavator of the ruins of Troy, was there. He made wild claims about finding Priam's Treasure, the Mask of Agamemnon and the Jewels of Helen. All balderdash. They were ancient finds that happened to be in the right mound -- he'd actually found the city of Troy -- but he dug too deep -- the artifacts were from an earlier era of history. Schliemann let his passion for antiquities and a good story get in the way of archaeological technique, careful analysis, and cautious pronouncement. It appears that the same things are in play this time.

More to come as this story develops.

Soli Deo Gloria

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bits and Pieces -- Sunday Feb 25

Another brief weekend post of tidbits from various blogs and publications. Back to more thoughtful content on Monday (Lord willing!)

  • The Wall Street Journal gives us this article about collaboration among several high tech companies (including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IMB, Sun Microsystems, and Dell) in trying to reduce the power consumption required by server systems and computer rooms. Nice to see business pouncing on the benefit of energy efficiency -- and without being told to do so by a regulatory agency.
  • Ypulse points to this article from c-net news: it's about a new social networking site trying to build itself around live streaming video from webcams. Some thoughtful discussion here about safety concerns -- also this might give us a clue as to why the church as institution will be woefully lagging in the online realm. Most churches are just catching on to blogging -- a few are on MySpace. The next hot thing is just too far ahead. It'll be up to individual Christians to be salt and light (and that's as it shoud be)
  • And then to cap the previous point off, Ypulse points to this article from Advertising Age about "trend school" where advertising execs pay megabucks to hang out with teenage hipsters who teach them all about what is and isn't cool.
  • Michael Kruse is starting another one of his patented series of processing a book he's reading -- this one is called The Other Six Days. It's a look at how we can disenthrone clergy from being being put on some kind of superchristian pedestal, and reclaim that idea that all members of the church are called to be ministers. Interesting thoughts so far -- I'm looking forward to seeing what Mike does with it.

Soli Deo Gloria


Friday, February 23, 2007

Bits and Pieces -- Saturday Feb 24

Lots of interesting articles out there, but little time to comment on them today. Here's a sampling of what has caught my interest and is stewing in my noggin:
  • Dan Elelen put up this great reflection on Television and passive entertainment versus the person to person passing along of wisdom from generation to generation. Needless to say, he comes down on the side of person to person wisdom. Note to Covenant-First readers -- check this out as we talk about Family Ministry this year.
  • Meanwhile, Healthbolt points to this article reminding us about the physical effects of excessive television for children. I wonder what they would say about recreational internet use?
  • The Wall Street Journal reports on tightening regulations on payday lenders. I've long been a vocal critic of the Payday Loan industry as little more than institutionalized loan sharking. It sounds like states are cracking down on the opportunists
  • Ann Althouse points to this NYT article about the Paris University literature professor who is offering a course on "How to talk about books you haven't read" -- is it the apex of Philistinism, or is it a clever way of encouraging people to actually try reading? Read the article and decide for yourself.

Soli Deo Gloria


Egyptian Blogger jailed -- digging a little deeper

In the midst of the dissection of Anna Nicole's estate, speculation about Britney's new Yul Brenner do, and the salacious details of the Markus Feisel murder case, a little story came out of Egypt. It was buried in the news roundup of NPR, clustered in the little column of News Around the world that runs near the back of the front page of most US dailies. This little story had it's brief moment on the front page of Yahoo's current news -- the story of Abdel Kareem Suleiman, an Egyptian blogger who was sentenced to four years in prison -- three for defaming Islam, and one for insulting Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. From the Reuters news article:

The 22-year-old blogger, also known by his pen name Karim Amer, was arrested after posting an entry on his blog lashing out at Cairo's Al-Azhar University -- the highest seat of learning in Sunni Islam.

"I say to Al-Azhar and its university and its professors and preachers who stand against anyone who thinks differently to them: 'You are destined for the rubbish bin of history, where you will find no one to cry for you, and your regime will end like others have," he wrote.

Despite worldwide appeals for his release, the court ruled that the young Muslim blogger should be jailed for posting a string of writings insulting Islam. "The Moharram Beik criminal court has sentenced the blogger after he created a website through which he attacked Islam," Judge Ayman Okkaz said. "On his site, he claimed that Islam incited terrorism, hatred and murder."

Ordinarily that would be it. I might have offered a prayer of gratitude that I live in a reasonably free society in which I can criticize the government without fear of recrimination -- in which I can engage in religious conversation, sometimes quite heated, and not wonder when the stormtroopers will make me disappear.

But for some reason, I wanted to know more. A quick web search led me to the Free Kareem website, run by his fellow Muslims. Among the very interesting things on this site is an impassioned apologetic for why Muslims should care -- apparently there are many within the Muslim world who believe that Kareem got what he deserved, and indeed probably should have gotten much worse. Against that mentality, this group says that religious tolerance is demanded by Islam.

On this site, I also found this self-description that Kareem wrote on his weblog "I am down to earth Law student; I look forward to help humanity against all form of discriminations… I am looking forward to open up my own human rights activists Law firm, which will include other lawyers who share the same views. Our main goal is to defend the rights of Muslim and Arabic women against all form of discrimination and to stop violent crimes committed on a daily basis in these countries." The muslim authors of the Free Kareem website also add this comment: "He has written about political repression, religious extremism, and discrimination against women. Kareem often expressed ‘secular’ views and called for equality for women in all aspects of Egyptian society. He also denounced violent attacks on Christians in Alexandria."

So here we have more of the picture of the man. Not just a blogger -- a civil rights crusader. A man who spoke up for Christians in a country where it is dangerous to do so; a man who defended women in a society where they are devalued. And for this courage of speaking up for the basic God-given dignity that each human being bears as a carrier of the imago dei, Kareem is jailed, and he loses the love of his family, as also reported on the Free Kareem site:

The family of Al-Azhar student Abdul Kareem Nabeel Suleiman, accused of "contempt of religion”, has disowned him before his court verdict session on the upcoming Thursday. His father, a retired mathematics teacher, has demanded applying the Sharia [Islamic law] ruling on him by giving him three days to repent, followed by having him killed if he does not announce his repentance.

The father of the Al-Azhar student, who is accused of contempt of the Islamic religion, harming the reputation of Egypt, and inciting to disrupt the peace and to overthrow the regime, has decided to rescind from boycotting his trial hearing sessions. [He has decided] to attend the court verdict session with his four brothers, who completely memorized the Holy Quran, to announce disowning the accused Abdul Kareem inside the court room, in order to reduce the embarrassment and pressure that civil rights organizations are applying on the court panel.

The father of the accused also described the organizations that are working on having his son acquitted as “monkey rights” organizations, in his own words. He also described his son as the “monkey” who has imitated the atheists of the West in their intellectual thinking.

The Free Kareem site also contains many links to statements from human rights organizations and information about protests, writing your political leaders, and even a link to Kareem's blog (though it is all in arabic). A rich source of information here, giving us a more complete picture of the man who as the center of this maelstrom. A quick trip to the Wikipedia site tells us that he has written for Copts United, an internet resource advocating for rights of Egypt's indigenous Christian population (tracing their heritage back to the evangelism of St. Mark).

I pray that God protects and has mercy on this courageous young man. Let us all be thankful for our freedom of speech, and as we are led, may we use that freedom to tell Kareem's story!


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Where do you get your information??

In the rapidly changing media landscape, there will be winners and losers -- most traditional newspapers are hemhorraging readers, losing readers faster than Hillary is losing supporters to Barak Obama. I know I've become the worst nightmare for network TV -- I'm the guy who in the 1980's used to know the primetime lineup for all the major networks for every night of the week -- now, I don't have cable, and I almost never watch primetime TV. I just let my subscription to Time Magazine lapse because it's just plain irrelevant to me. So the question is -- where do I get most of my information? I pull from all over -- here are my best resources, and I'd be very interested in hearing about yours -- use the combox liberally....

  • Word of Mouth -- by far, the best resource I have is word of mouth (or via personal contact or through weblogs) of friends. The aggregate impact of this kind of person to person information sharing is huge. Long before everyone was talking about the DaVinci code, I had 2 or 3 people ask me about it -- word of mouth. Most of the films I watch are recommendations of friends. I've bought books on the recommendation of friends. This word of mouth resource of information is by far the most potent tool we all have, especially in this uber-networked era.
  • World Magazine -- News from an unabashedly traditional Christian viewpoint. World has been at the news game for a couple of decades now -- they cover stories that the traditional news media just plain avoid. This week's issue, for instance, is a comprehensive look at the contemporary slave trade in the world. They've spent a lot of ink on human trafficking and justice issues. They cover political candidates that the other news outlets ignore -- while NPR, Time, and CNN talk about Clinton and Obama and Romney and McCain, World has the chutzpah to give profiles on Sam Brownback, Mike Huckabee and Duncan Hunter. Top that off with some of the freshest cultural commentary out there, and you've got a pretty potent mag.
  • Fast Company -- Covering business, technology, new media, and luxury lifestyle from a "socially conscious" stance, this magazine has been for 10 years one of the leaders in the digital economy. This is a great resource for those who want to be on the leading edge of actual business entrepreneurs, rather than in the never never land of the "bleeding edge" of digimaniacs. Invariably, my Fast Company issues are marked up, dogeared and I've got a dozen little notes of ideas to follow up on.
  • The Utne Reader -- A quarterly mag that I think of as the best of the left. Rather than a news mag, Utne is something of a lifestyle piece, collecting stories and think pieces from self styled progressive periodicals. There's an awful lot that I disagree with in this publication, but there's also a lot of careful, thoughtful, and in-depth writing that rattles around in my ears.
  • NPR -- I spend a lot of time in my car, and most of the news/talk shows on NPR are still quite thoughtful. Everything from the business oriented Marketplace (actually produced by rival network American Public Media, but distributed on NPR affiliate stations) to the freewheeling Talk of the Nation -- it can be by turns maddening or enlightening, but it's a far improvement over the tedium of CNN.
  • Presbyweb -- Hans and the Presbyweb team have done a consistently good job of filtering through the mass of news stories and presenting news that is of interest to presbyterians only. However, don't think that it's only for presbyterians -- a good 2/3 of each day's digest is news of interest to Christians in general: everything from reports from the worldwide church to cultural analysis, to religion in the news. The very nice thing about presbyweb is their "pay us what it's worth to you" policy -- it's a kind of barter system. I suggest a hearty payment, for their work is worth it.

There are a lot of other sources that I use, but this summarizes my best "go to list" --

For a flipside, however, here are the sources that I've used...and dropped:

  • BoingBoing -- this multi-author weblog bills itself as "a directory of wonderful things" and I was an enthusiastic reader for about a year. I picked up on one or two stories that were of interest. However I began to notice a certain redundancy among the contributers. It kept coming back to digital rights, disney stuff, weird things people do, science fiction, and sex. Quite honestly, the thing just bores me now. It's supposed to be a collection of the greatest stuff from the cyber-elites -- it is one of the most read weblogs out there. However all it shows is a shallow fascination with "cool" -- I've unsubscribed.
  • Time -- let my subscription lapse on this one. It's not that its a bad magazine -- just that it's not very timely. This year, they chose "You" as the person of the year -- celebrating the advent of consumer created content on the web -- it's just that the story was a year too late. It's old news now. While many of their feature stories are interesting, they are but regurgitations of what I hear on NPR; meanwhile the cultural commentary on books and film is generally uninteresting.
  • Leadership -- I have a new theory that by the time something hits the cover of leadership magazine, it is already irrelevant to me. Leadership seems to be a magazine that is written by large church pastors of the baby boom era for large church pastors of the baby boom era. Somebody at the magazine needs to take a long hard look at Dilbert comic strips and realize that such truths apply to churches as well.

Looking forward to your picks (and pans)



Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Amazing Grace -- a film for today

Apparently this week is Amazing Grace week, a promotion for the upcoming film about William Wilberforce, the British Politician who exercised his faith by working to end the British Slave Trade. The pre-film hype has this as an inspiring story of personal transformation and a man who fought the odds to change the world.

However, the filmmakers also want us to be aware of the existence of slavery today -- I've become aware of this kind of slavery, and have blogged on it earlier in Related Eagle and Child Posts: Fighting the Evil of Modern Day Slavery and From the Presbyterian Global Fellowship -- Conviction about Justice.

However the filmmakers want to invite us to be involved. Visit their site Amazing Change to learn about how to be involved in combatting modern day slavery. You also might check out the Salvation Army's page on Sexual Trafficking -- they have a whole resource on things you can do to help (and it's more than give money and write petitions). I have to hand it to the Salvation Army -- they're a church (and yes, they are a church -- not just a charitable organization) who have been involved in this struggle for a long time. I also strongly recommend the Polaris Project and International Justice Mission as other great resources for involvement.

So, hopefully the film will raise awareness -- I sure hope it's a well made film (the previews on the website look good). I'll keep you posted after I get the chance to see it.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, February 19, 2007

Leading for Change: Notes from Hope for Cincinnati

Every quarter, a group of pastors meets together under the auspices of Hope for Cincinnati. The purpose of this group is for pastors and ministry leaders to encourage one another in prayer and with solid equipping. In years past, this group was instrumental in bringing Billy Graham to Cincinnati, in working on racial reconciliation, and in providing cross-denominational fellowship and support.

This year's theme for teaching is "Leading for Change" -- Gary Sweeten is teaching the series (check out the great material on his weblog -- some wonderful stuff about families, personal growth, and church life). Read Gary's summary of what he presented (and see if you can spot the photo featuring a certain dashing blogger) -- in short, he gave us the 6 phases of change. Change is never an instantaneous event. Gary cited that at any given time in our group, congregation, class, workplace, etc, only 20% of the people there are at a place where they are ready to take action -- and even then you may not be addressing the change that they're contemplating.

I won't rehash what Gary writes in his summary -- but I'll share some moments that stuck with me.
  • Gary asked us all what kind of change we were wanting to effect in the church -- most of us quite honestly fumbled with some kind of canned response -- however the brightest light came when Liz Bowater (of Vinyard Central) spoke up -- "I want the church to be brilliant -- so we can't be so easily ignored" -- that statement has been banging around in my brain for the past several days. That, my friends, is a change worthy of yearning for. (Careful Eagle and Child readers may remember that Liz was featured in an earlier post about House Concerts)
  • Gary talked about Luke 10 as his paradigm for change - Jesus sends out the 70 and tells them they are as lambs among wolves. Gary lingered on this for a while. He talked about how the mockers and the scoffers aren't worth arguing with. You won't change their minds by argument -- but if you go out as lambs, and if you pray, the Holy Spirit might bring about some softening. So don't get sucked into that online argument with the angry atheist -- it's just a waste of your time.
  • When he got to the section on "conviction" (stage 2), Gary dropped this little tidbit "testimonies are the best ways to get people to change" -- hearing the stories of changed lives will encourage other people to examine themselves with the possibility for change. This struck a chord b/c this year I'm working on having people share in worship about non-church ministries and activities with which they are involved. The idea being that "Wherever you are, there is the ministry of our church."
  • Prepare people to count the cost. Gary handed out little checklists -- one a "depression analysis" and the other an "alcoholism analysis" -- if you marked 3 or more of the items on the list, it might mean that you need help. He suggested that little tools like this to help spur people to counting the cost will help accellerate the process for change.

The whole discussion kept me thinking about the Puritans. The Puritans understood that conversion was not a matter of simply walking forward. It was a process of coming under conviction and counting the cost and then committing. People would attend church for months on end before they might consider themselves being Christians -- a far cry from the Finney methods designed to get people to sign on the dotted line as a convert. The Puritans understood that Sanctification was a process superintended by the Holy Spirit.

And that continues to be a key element -- the Holy Spirit makes the change happen -- we are but instruments. We need to be smart instruments, but we are instruments nonetheless. A continual prayer for the Spirit's power in someone's life is a key factor.

The final thing that continues to be nice about Hope for Cincinnati is the connections one makes -- I finally met the uber-prolific Mark Daniels, whose blog I've been following for a couple of months now. I also met Doug Cornelius, who is a local rep for an international evangelistic newspaper called Challenge , a nice paper published from Australia featuring good news about ministries, Christian Life, and testimonies of personal change. Others were there as well -- a great opportunity to see what else is going on.

Soli Deo Gloria


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bits and Pieces

* Traditional Youth Ministry is a failure -- check out this monumental post from the Head of Youth Specialties Inc where he apologizes for the state of the church and accepts his share of blame for creating a youth ministries monster. (Hat Tip to David Wayne):

not too long ago, a blog commenter emailed me and wrote that he noticed i regularly hint at or outright rant about the state of youth ministry: particularly, our wrong-minded obsession with field-of-dreams attractional ministry (“if you build it, they will come.”). he politely asked if youth specialties senses any culpability in this, and, if so, if that has ever been said. i responded that i think i’ve regularly said on this blog that ys shares part of the responsibility for this, and i’ve said it in seminars at the national youth workers convention also.

but i’ve been stewing on this for a couple months. and I think it deserves to be said more clearly.

while youth specialties certainly isn’t solely responsible, i think it’s very fair to say we should bear the brunt of the blame. yes, youth specialties is primarily responsible for promoting – for decades – a model of youth ministry, built on a set of assumptions (mostly unstated), that elevated programming as the best path to successful youth ministry. and for this – i will speak for us, organizationally – we are sorry.

we may have said that other things – like relationships and service and the Bible and Jesus – are more important than programming. but i think we modeled something different. we did this naively and unknowingly, and – this may be the biggest admission – we did this without realizing the implications of the values were promoting. or, maybe we didn’t want to think about the implications.

* Presidents Day is coming -- here's a celebration of George Washington based on the famous portrait. For an alternative view of the man and his faith, consider the book George Washington's Sacred Fire, recommended by the Janie Cheaney at World Magazine. The online review at Amazon says this of the book:

After spending over a decade of research going through all the original documents of George Washington, Lillback has exposed the myths about this true man of Christian faith, and proven without a doubt that Washington was a follower of Christ Jesus and not merely a Deist. This must have book is broken up into seven sections that cover the controversy over George Washington, the historical background of Washington, Washington's life, and Washington as a churchman, and even the debate over Washington and communion. My favorite part of the book was the ten appendices at the end that cover the rules of civility and decent behavior that Washington abided by, as well as representative biblical quotations and allusions that Washington used all of the time. The other appendices cover sermons, and other prayers by others that were impacting to Washington. This book also has beautiful photographs within its pages and a few hundred pages of endnotes so that you can go directly to the source and see for yourself the truth about Washington.

* An American Tragedy -- Jerry Springer Style Ann Althouse points to this thoughtful reflection on Anna Nicole Smith's death. I've pondered whether or not to comment on this incident, but Tunku Varadarajan says it so much better than I could:

For all her gaudy excesses, there is in some of us--or there ought to
be--the urge to treat Ms. Smith gently. Hers is a pathetic story, of ersatz
celebrity, dead children and the pursuit of money, sex, drugs, weight loss and
validation-through-litigation. That this pursuit was so thoroughly unembarrassed
is a comment not so much on Ms. Smith's personal aesthetics as it is on human
folly, U.S.-style, taken to its logical extreme.


Finally, a critical word. Anna Nicole Smith was also a lowbrow (or, really,
a narcissistic) version of the American dream--the American dream of only
bravado and guile, bereft of character or principles or talent. She was proof
that the dream applies even to people with nothing to offer but themselves. If
she is a tragic and cautionary tale to Americans, evidence that the American
Dream requires substance and character, she may be evidence of the opposite to
outsiders who see only the magic of wealth and fame won through the mere
presentation of self. She inflates the reputation of American possibility
abroad, making it seem like anything is possible in America--even reward without

Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Now Playing: One Night With the King

We brought home the DVD of One Night With the King, last year's film based on the biblical book of Esther. I was hoping for a thrilling epic, but I was expecting a cheesy flop -- I found the film was neither.

Strong Points: fine acting by John Rhys-Davies, Omar Sharif, John Noble. I particularly liked how the writers tied in the Esther story to the other major story of Xerxes' life -- the war with Greece (and I'm eagerly awating the upcoming film 300, which depicts Xerxes' forces in the battle of Thermopalye against 300 Spartans). Some viewers have seen this as an anti-war parable -- when in actuality, it's an old theme tracing back through hundreds of years of literature: The noble freedom loving Greeks fighting and winning an impossible war against the decadent empire of the Persians. This film ties the Biblical story and the Greek story together quite nicely. We also get a good feel for the polyglot nature of the Persian empire -- Indians, Africans, Middle Easterners, Asians -- they all are represented in Xerxes' court. (It had never occured to me that queen Vashti was Indian -- but the name fits, and it certainly fits within the expanse of the Persian empire)

Weak Points: the writing is at times very contrived -- the direction for the actors is quite sloppy (it feels like the actors were run through their lines and then the director said "that's great" -- there's no nuance, no delving for the subtle character traits that make for rich performances -- I lay that at the feet of the director). The portrayal of the villan, Haman, is heavy handed and over the top. (The film does a nice work of tracing the roots of Haman's hatred of Israel, though) -- he wears all black, he growls like a tiger, he even has a nice swastika logo which flashes every now and again as he gives demagouge speeches before assembled torch-lit mobs. Can anyone say Mein Kampf? There are annoying plot contrivances (a cheesy little pendant that when exposed to light gives off a disco-ball effect of star of Davids, as one for instance).

All told, as a romantic adventure, it's not too bad. As an Epic period piece, well, I've seen a lot better. It certainly wasn't boring the first time through, but I doubt that I'll be using this one to teach the book of Esther.

I guess I'll be sticking with the Veggie Tales version of Esther: The Girl Who Became Queen.

Soli Deo Gloria

Monday, February 12, 2007

Be wise consumers of media -- Ken Lowe on Media

One of the great things about our Cincinnati Rotary club is that we get to hear great speakers -- the past two weeks have been right up my alley as we've had visits from the CEO's of both Clear Channel Communications and Scripps Howard. There's lots to write on these two, but today, I'm focusing on Ken Lowe, CEO of Scripps Howard.

This was my first encounter with him -- but I like him. He's a North Carolina Country boy who got into radio and worked his way to the top of a great media outfit. Along the way, he pioneered the concept of targeted media -- you may have seen the HGTV channel ("a cable channel about grass growing and paint drying") or the Food Network -- you can credit Lowe (or curse him, depending on how much money these channels have cost you). Now he's leading the company's drive into web-based content. And that is what he came to speak to us about: new media.

He gave an on target short summary of the state of media today: rapid fragmentation, immense change and evolution, content creation in the hands of consumers, content delivery coming through many different sources, demand for immediacy, and demand for high quality news and entertainment. "The days of big media as the gatekeepers are long gone." We have moved from Walter Kronkite serving up 4 day old highly edited film clips of the Vietnam war to todays immediacy in which we can see the hanging of Saddam Hussien's hanging as filmed by a cell phone recorder.

At this point, it would be easy to get lost in the slew of issues that arise in such an era of discontinuity -- privacy concerns, quality concerns, what these changes do to us as a culture. But Lowe made a very clear statement that keeps ringing in my ears -- Consumers will ultimately decide the look of media companies in the future. We only have 24 hours in each day, and we spend those 24 hours as coin upon various media (including humble blogging pastors). Now here's the kicker -- Lowe said, with those 24 hours, remember that you have family, friends, and opportunities to give back to society as a whole. Ultimately, in the long scope of things, these technologies don't determine the quality of life.

This frankness fits the profile of Lowe I read from Broadcasting and Cable:

For relaxation, Lowe enjoys all things outdoors. He golfs, skis, SCUBA-dives and fly-fishes, and he enjoys soaking up the great outdoors with his wife and two dogs. He's also vice chair of marketing and a member of the Zoological Society of Cincinnati's board of trustees, as well as a trustee for the Fine Arts Fund; he also serves on the board of directors of Fifth Third Bancorp, the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp.

Though he sits on various civic boards, there's a lot of country left in Lowe. Besides mentors in the business, Lowe credits his father, a tobacco farmer by trade, with teaching him “the ethics of living a good life and being a good person.”

“We came from a rural area and a fairly basic lifestyle, but he taught me the value of hard work and keeping your word,” Lowe says. “That's really served me well, especially in rising to become the CEO of a company today.”

Co-workers say Lowe is passing on those values to the Scripps team. “I've never met a business leader who inspires as Ken does,” says Susan Packard, president, Scripps Networks Affiliate Sales and International Development. “He binds a team together toward a common vision and moves us to do great work. And we have great fun in the process.”

So Lowe sees that media consumption isn't the point of life, but quality media can enhance life. That's likely why he's such a good fit at Scripps which focuses on news delivery and lifestyle TV (like Home and Garden and Cooking as cable channels). Scripps is squeaky clean ("the sexiest thing we have is the fitting of two ends of pipe together" said Lowe) -- a trait that carries back to Charles Scripps, who passed away earlier this year -- the Scripps webpage features a prominent quote from Scripps "Quality reflects character".

In the follow-up questions, Lowe fielded a question about how young people could prepare for a media career -- and his answers were spot-on:

1) be voraciously curious about life -- not just learning from books, but spend lots of time talking with people and finding out what they like (when planning the HGTV network, Lowe cruised the aisles of Home Depot simply asking people about their projects)

2) be wise consumers of media -- and here he made a riff about how we as adults need to be diligent in how we teach our young people to use media (do you hear this -- coming from a Media CEO).

Timely words from Lowe. I hope to set up an appointment to pick his brain some more on that last point -- for I'm wondering how we can best do that? A number of groups have resources. Focus on the Family, for instance, has a slew of great articles (see this one as a sample) on how to navigate this tricky terrain. Meanwhile Christianity today has a Media and Culture page -- but it focuses mainly on book and film reviews rather than tips on how to actually monitor media usage. Meanwhile, the PCUSA has what looks to be a great resource called "The Electronic Great Awakening" -- I just found it seconds ago. I'll have to save an analysis of this website for another time.

I look forward to your thoughts on this weighty topic.

Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Persecution watch -- Christians in Burma targeted for genocide

Presbyweb pointed to this article from England's Daily Telegraph newspaper. The headline: Burma 'orders Christians to be wiped out'.

The military regime in Burma is intent on wiping out Christianity in the country, according to claims in a secret document believed to have been leaked from a government ministry. Entitled "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma", the incendiary memo contains point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.

The text, which opens with the line "There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practised", calls for anyone caught evangelising to be imprisoned. It advises: "The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilise its weakness."

Its discovery follows widespread reports of religious persecution, with churches burnt to the ground, Christians forced to convert to the state religion, Buddhism, and their children barred from school.

The story goes on to tell of Buddhist monks who lead the charge in burning churches and intimidate Christians.

What is a rational Christian do to? First, let's get more informed -- the situation in Burma is bigger than violence against Christians -- as the Human Rights Watch website shows, there's a history of violence, oppression, and abuse in Burma. Meanwhile Christian Solidarity Worldwide has a more in depth profile of the nature of religious persecution in Burma -- with abundant links. Christian Solidarity provides information about how to contact appropriate governmental officials to express concern:

Write to your Senator at U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510, or your representative at U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515. (Call the Capitol Hill Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to find out your Congressperson’s name). Ask your Congressperson to raise your concerns with both the Congress and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and to additionally raise this in appropriate international forums.

Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice U.S. Department of State 2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520 Fax: (202) 261-8577 Phone: (202) 647-4000 Email:

In addition to these sites, you can also view the PBS Religion and Ethics Weekly report on persecution in Burma (with photos and video).

These are just a few of the links that come up with a Yahoo search on Burma/persecution.

Soli Deo Gloria