Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Today's Posts

Christmas 2010 Continues

As many of you know, Claire and I celebrate Christmas throughout the 12 Days and conclude the season with an Epiphany party. So we're still very much in the midst of Christmas. Working, yes. But using what spare time we have on enjoying these wonderful holidays.

Christmas DAy One was splendid. It turned out we only had 16 present instead of the 19 we were ready for. Members of the company represented 3 countries, 4 generations but all 1 "forever family" in Christ. The menu included baked ham with sweet & sour apricot sauce, fried chicken, broiled Parmesan potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, rolls, lime whip, pumpkin pie, Napoleon torte, Christmas cookies, lemonade, tea and coffee.

We had great conversation over dinner and coffee; then music; then more conversation. It was a sweet, precious time.

Next up was a Christmas evening visit to my Mom. She was sitting up and feeling much better than in recent days which was terrific. We cleaned up her room a bit, gave her some of her presents, and had a wonderful time of talking, joking, and sharing memories.

The day concluded with a late supper at home and a Christmas movie. I then sent Claire to bed while I worked on my sermon for the next day. It was a most memorable and marvelous Christmas Day One.

Christmas Day Two was spent at church and over at Mom's. Christmas Day Three started off early with sidewalk counseling at the Bellevue abortion clinic -- terribly cold, sad duty. Christmas Day Four saw blogging, Vital Signs end-of-year bookwork, work on the 6th edition of "When Swing Was King"  and the next in our series of Christmas dinner parties. This one was fairly simple -- just 6 guests. But the conversation was rich and delightful.

And today? We've got a pretty normal work schedule with a visit to Mom's thrown in -- and a special "Santa run" set for tonight where we'll take the party (complete with goodies and a couple of friends) to an older saint who doesn't get around too much anymore. It'll be nice to visit with her again.

So Christmas continues.

And, in case you missed them, here's a couple of Christmas-oriented downloads we've offered in the last few days:

* "The Magic Lantern Christmas"

* "Christmas of the Talking Animals"

Facebook Conversation: The Reading Dearth

Pastor/teacher Jack Niewold said:

Here is what I find among FB friends. The typical Christian has a dozen or more well-identified music favorites. On the other hand, they typically have no favorite books, other than the Bible, or only popular fiction. Here is one of the great problems with the church.We are entertainment-oriented, emotion-driven, and spiritually lazy.Until we begin to read again, we will have little to say to a perishing world.

My reply --

Spot on, Jack. The decades of a "surround sound" culture (TV, movies, video games and now the assortment of ever-present audio/visual technology) are also the decades where public education abdicated its responsibility to teach grammar, reading skills and literature appreciation. Among the results? People who cannot comfortably, effectively read even when they want to.

It has even limited our capacity to listen, to sit still, to think. So, we turn instead to the things that can "move" us -- music, movies, emotional church services -- and leave the content-oriented religion to the old folks. Sigh.

Did You Catch These?

Here's a few quick recommendations. Different subjects but all relevant to the culture wars in which we're all daily engaged. Might as well be informed, right?

* "Does Religion Belong in Politics?" by Noemie Emery in the Washington Examiner.

* The 10 Premises of Modern American Political Discourse (Really good. I'm printing it off and sending it around to friends to start a discussion.) You'll find it at the Freedom and Virtue Institute web site.

* Barb Malek's "New Years Resolution #2- Protecting the Elderly" from her blog, Erase the Need.

* "2010's Most Maddening Wasteful Government Projects" from The Lid.

* "Obama Returns to End-of-Life Plan That Caused Stir" Robert Pear in the New York Times. (Opening paragraph: "When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.")

* "The Progressive end run around the Constitution" by Thomas Sowell in the Washington Examiner.

* Judicial Watch Announces List of Washington's “Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” for 2010

Christmas in the Holy Land (But With No Christians?)

One of the staples of television news over the Christmas holiday is coverage of celebrations in the Holy Land, providing a familiar and comforting nod to the ancient roots of Western civilization.

Even in our increasingly secular society, images of Christians worshipping in Nazareth and Bethlehem provide welcome confirmation that we have a long and substantial history - even if we're fuzzy on the details. It all looks so traditional and Christmassy.

Unfortunately this comforting image depends to a large extent on a dwindling number of embattled Christian communities. We are, in fact, witnessing the twilight of Christianity across much of the Middle East...

Paul Stanway has an enlightening (even if disturbing) article here in the Calgary Herald. Check it out.

Who Really Wrote "The Shack?" New Troubles for Heretical Novel.

I am no fan of The Shack.

No, I haven't read it. Nor will I. So those who want to dismiss my subsequent remarks as ignorant and irrelevant, go ahead. I'll see you later.

But if you're still reading, let me explain that my opinions are not without basis for several friends who I consider quite trustworthy (and discerning) have read it. And their reports agree: The Shack is a theologically-sloppy book that is heavy on post-modern themes and heretical ideas. Indeed, among the doctrines of the Christian faith the book particularly distorts are such essentials as the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the reality of an eternal hell and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus.

That ain't good.

But it now appears that there's trouble in The Shack community besides the theological. It's a dispute over the very authorship of the book, a dispute resulting in lawsuits, counter suits and a whole lot of hypocritical justifications from William P. Young. Here's the story.

And then over here, you may find interesting a bit of information about theology professor James DeYoung's detailed critique of the book entitled Burning Down The Shack.

Afraid of New Pro-Life Political Power, Abortion Proponents Distort History

Jamie Stiehm masquerades as a journalist, writing columns for U.S. News and World Report and such. She is, in fact, a highly-biased and lowly-skilled scribbler, a progressive Democrat who has (in her zeal to promote her pet ideological causes) "progressed" way beyond such old-fashioned journalistic virtues as fact-checking, logic, fairness, relevance and grace.

In a recent column, for instance, she gives her readers schoolyard sneers instead of solid and accurate reporting. Of Sarah Palin, Ms. Stiehm snarls, "The woman from Alaska does other women no favors. She has no sense of sisterhood, and is not playing the game of politics to further the cause of anyone but herself. Does she even know what year women finally won the right to vote?...Her charms are largely lost on us and our causes. It's men that can't get over her and her bewitching one-woman rodeo..."

Stiehm goes on to bash Palin and, for that matter, all other women who don't fall in with Stiehm's aggressive promotion of abortion. But in her angry screed against the new pro-life women who will enter the Congress and Senate chambers come January, Stiehm dramatically distorts the historical record of early feminist leaders. Those feminists (Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victoria Woodhull, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell and others) detested abortion.The printed record is clear.

But abortion promoters like Jamie Stiehm don't care about historical facts -- any more than they care about medical facts regarding the extreme dangers abortion creates for mothers -- any more than they care about scientific facts concerning the humanity of the preborn boys and girls that are barbarically dismembered in abortions -- any more than they care about the moral facts concerning the spiritual costs (to individuals and the whole culture) of the bloody holocaust which is legalized abortion.

Stiehm's historical errors are corrected in a follow-up letter to U.S. News by Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, a nationwide organization dedicated to advancing, mobilizing and representing pro-life women in the political process. Writes Dannenfelser,

Jamie Stiehm’s “Sarah Palin Is No Friend of Women in Politics” isn’t the first time feminist history has been rewritten to fit the abortion-centered model, but it is one of the more egregious instances of ignoring current events. Her recent opinion cites the 2010 election results as evidence of the alleged disservice Sarah Palin and pro-life groups like the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List) have done women by decreasing the overall number of women taking office in 2011.

On one point she is right. 2011 will be the first time in 25 years the overall number of women taking office will not increase. But that doesn’t mean the voice of women in governance is fading. The truth is that authentic female leadership is soaring. The kind of woman now able to serve in all levels of government has been dramatically widened beyond Stiehm’s definition which has dominated the debate for too long.

In the House, the 112th Congress will see a 70 percent increase in the number of pro-life women representatives and a 16 percent decrease in the number of pro-abortion women. Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire will fill the void of a pro-life woman’s voice in the Senate. At the state level, we’ll see a four-fold increase in the number of pro-life women governors.

This wave of pro-life women leaders swept into office seems to have pushed pro-abortion feminists like Stiehm into denial, causing them to ignore the trend and distort historical fact...

[Susan B.] Anthony and her colleagues considered their movement a fight for women and their unborn children. But modern feminists peddling Steihm’s narrative have preached that a woman's rights and her right to an abortion are somehow synonymous.

The recent shift back to the traditional roots of authentic Susan B. Anthony feminism empowers women through their ability to give life--even in the most difficult and unexpected circumstances. And that’s probably what threatens feminists like Jamie Stiehm the most--the prospect that they will lose their monopoly over what defines a feminist to women, like Sarah Palin, who did their history homework.

This election did not ring in the “Year of Jamie Stiehm’s Woman.” Instead, it made 2010 the Year of the Pro-Life Woman and ushered in record numbers of pro-life leaders.

It’s time for Stiehm to face facts.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Today's Posts

Christmas Story LifeSharer Is Up

Sorry, Wrong Disc: Boston's Beth Israel Censured for Spine Surgery Mistakes

Alleged Sex Offender (75 Years Old) Continues to Rake In Public Education Dollars

Let's Stop the Ethanol Scam

Abortionist Sent to "Ethics Class"

Uh, Pelosi Lied. 111th Congress Amassed More Debt Than All Other Congresses Combined!

The Comeback Kid? Only in Obama's Dreams.

Christmas Story LifeSharer Is Up

I have forgotten to mention that the December LifeSharer letter from Vital Signs Ministries is up and available at our web site. Actually, it has been for awhile but I've kept overlooking to mention it here.

(We have been a tad busy.)

Anyway, this month's letter is a short story called, "The Magic Lantern Christmas." It is inspired by our experiences with residents who have attended our "When Swing Was King" presentations in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. I hope you find it interesting and encouraging.

The story concerns repressed memories of a magic lantern show from a military hospital in 1944 and how those memories are finally recalled by a similar presentation decades later. The links between them are the revelation of Christmas truth and the invitation of Christmas grace.

And don't worry about reading the story after Christmas. It's only Day Four of Christmas anyway!

Sorry, Wrong Disc: Boston's Beth Israel Censured for Spine Surgery Mistakes

It seems that surgeons of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston (a Teaching Hospital of Harvard Medical School and the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox) don't know how to count very well.

Three times in two months surgeons miscounted discs and ended up operating in the wrong section of patients' spines. Yipes.

This unusual number of serious mistakes brought understandable concern from federal and state health inspectors. In fact, they have formally censured the hospital for these malpractice errors.

Beth Israel officials have taken pains to broadcast that they've decided not to charge the patients for the botched surgeries.

By the way, the hospital also prides itself as an abortion provider, an abortion training center and a loyal partner with Planned Parenthood.

So, if you get sick in Boston, please remember which hospital to studiously avoid.

Alleged Sex Offender (75 Years Old) Continues to Rake In Public Education Dollars

The distraught 6th-grade girl said she was forcibly held, kissed and groped by a teacher in a closed room. He was arrested. Officials would not explain what happened since, but sources said the criminal charges were apparently dismissed, and a DOE disciplinary case was "dropped on a technicality."

The teacher would not meet with school investigators personally. But he submitted a document admitting he had hugged the girl and even kissed her three times. But she didn't protest his actions and he never became "aroused." Good grief.

The investigator, not surprisingly, recommended that the teacher's job be terminated.

But that didn't happen. Instead the teacher was relieved of all working duties but not denied his full salary and all fringe benefits. Thus, the school district is still paying him 13 years after the incident. And long after he has reached normal retirement age.

Indeed, with Social Security added to his school package of over $97,000 a year, the fellow is banking a cool $120,000 plus every year.

Do you see anything wrong here?

Let's Stop the Ethanol Scam

Let's see now -- corn ethanol is expensive, grossly inefficient, damages engines, emits more carbon dioxide than gasoline, and increases the prices consumers pay for groceries.

So can you explain why it still gets huge government subsidies?

Here is a great little article (with nifty pass around information) explaining why you should not be burning ethanol but why you should be writing your congressman with a message to end corn ethanol subsidies ASAP.

Abortionist Sent to "Ethics Class"

Randy Alcorn reports on the "hideous irony" surrounding the case of Dr. John Eiland, the Washington abortionist who I told you about back on December 16th -- the abortionist who killed his own preborn baby after having an affair with a co-worker.

First, why should anyone be surprised that a man who kills children for a living would have a sexually inappropriate relationship with a co-worker and try to cover it up by murdering his own child? This is a man who has spent his life accumulating substantial wealth by murdering other people’s children. He does this not occasionally, but daily.

And what message does the Washington State Health Department send when he is caught doing this? That his biggest crime was this: failing to keep records of his child-killing and failing to refer the killing of his child to be done by one of his colleagues. (It would have been perfectly fine for him to kill one of their children in exchange for them killing one of his, as long as proper records were kept.)

The ultimate irony is the way the authorities attempt to take the moral high ground. The man will be given “ethics training.” The way the health department has deemed best to deal with a licensed child-killer is not to eliminate child killing. It is not to take away his license to kill children. It is to send him to an ethics class so that in the future he can kill children without being unethical.

Randy's comments can be read in full at his blog, located in the pages of the Eternal Perspective Ministries web site.

Uh, Pelosi Lied. 111th Congress Amassed More Debt Than All Other Congresses Combined!

You knew the economy was bad. And you knew there was a terrible problem with debt. And finally, you knew both of those problems were worse rather than better because of the bone-headed actions of the 111th Congress.

But you didn't know exactly how much much worse...until now.

The U.S Treasury has just released the figures. And they will make you weep, wail and consider moving to Malta.

The federal government has accumulated more new debt--$3.22 trillion ($3,220,103,625,307.29)—during the tenure of the 111th Congress than it did during the first 100 Congresses combined, according to official debt figures published by the U.S. Treasury.

That equals $10,429.64 in new debt for each and every one of the 308,745,538 people counted in the United States by the 2010 Census.

The total national debt of $13,858,529,371,601.09 (or $13.859 trillion), as recorded by the U.S. Treasury at the close of business on Dec. 22, now equals $44,886.57 for every man, woman and child in the United States...

During the Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) tenure as speaker, which commenced on Jan. 4, 2007, the federal government has run up $5.177 trillion in new debt. That is about equal to the total debt the federal government accumulated in the first 220 years of the nation's existence, with the federal debt rising from $5.173 trillion on July 23, 1996 to $5.181 trillion on July 24, 1996.

In her inaugural address as speaker, Pelosi vowed that Congress would engage in no new deficit spending.

"After years of historic deficits, this 110th Congress will commit itself to a higher standard: Pay as you go, no new deficit spending,” she said in an address from the speaker’s podium. “Our new America will provide unlimited opportunity for future generations, not burden them with mountains of debt."...

The Comeback Kid? Only in Obama's Dreams.

Tony Blankley at the Washington Times reviews the achievements of President Obama and the lame-duck session -- you know, those achievements that the soft-headed and sycophant mainstream press has heralded as Obama's grand comeback.

Comeback, it ain't.

Come down
it is.

For Obama's capitulation regarding the tax cuts, the defeat of the trillion dollar spending bill, and the concessions he made to Republicans on the START treaty signal not a newly energized President Obama, but a dramatically deflated one.

Good, hopeful reading here.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Today's Posts

Christmas of the Talking Animals

If a quiet 1/2 hour ever comes along in your hectic holiday schedule, you might enjoy this rural Christmas story I wrote several years ago. This is an audio version that KGBI used to play on Christmas morning back when "Vital Signs" was broadcast there.

It's a story (not strict autobiography, by the way) about a 9-year old boy with a lively imagination and a remarkable Christmas in 1952 that he spent on his grandpa's Missouri farm.

I think you'll find "Christmas of the Talking Animals" a winsome, wholesome story with a very old-fashioned ingredient; namely, a spiritual moral.

You'll find the link to the audio version of "Christmas of the Talking Animals" about 2/3 of the way down this sermon page at Vital Signs Ministries web site.

Modern Day Herods

In 1991, China’s state-run press noted the role of the churches in undercutting Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, adding that if China did “not want such a scene to be repeated in its land, it must strangle the baby while it is still in the manger.” Al-Qaeda has declared that all Middle Eastern Christians should be killed, and many Christians in Iraq have canceled their Christmas celebrations lest they be targeted.

Others, while less explicit, have similar ends...

One of the most ignored stories of 2010 has been the campaign by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Shabab militia in Somalia to kill all Somali Christians on the grounds that they are apostates. They have even beheaded Christians’ children. In one of the latest incidents, 17-year-old girl Nurta Mohamed Farah fled her village of Bardher in the Gedo Region after her parents shackled her to a tree and tortured her for leaving Islam. She went to the Galgadud Region to live with relatives, but shortly after, she was shot in the head and the chest and died...

At Christmas, we should remember these churches, each of which continues to grow, and remember these prisoners and others like them.

Please read in its entirety this important National Review story from Paul Marshall.

Re-Taking Ground in the War Against Christmas

Our old buddy Joe Scheidler has, throughout his long and dramatically effective pro-life ministry, kept a voluminous journal. Filled with inspiring stories of Joe's work in behalf of the sanctity of life, those of us who knew of this journal were always hopeful that it would someday become the basis of a book.

We're still hoping that.

However, while we wait, we do have the opportunity to check in to the Pro-Life Action League website where Joe uses his notes to regularly publish the feature, "Today in League History." It's always terrific, a great example of the creative, courageous and winsome ministry of Joe Scheidler, his family and the League.

Want a sample which will prove my point? Here's today's entry, a superb illustration of how the defense of Christmas (and all Christian values) is our responsibility, not the government's or anyone else.

December 24, 2003 -- The League brings Christmas cheer to a firehouse in the Village of Glenview, Illinois, that had been stripped of all Christmas decorations—including the firefighters’ Christmas tree—after a complaint from a local Scrooge.

Under the direction of the League’s Ann Scheidler—who grew up in Glenview and whose father was a volunteer fireman—pro-lifers erected up a small Christmas tree outside the firehouse and sang carols for the firefighters stationed there during the Christmas holiday.

Paul Harvey on the Incarnation of Jesus

Ben Watson sent along this link to Paul Harvey's famous illustration of the Incarnation -- one element of it anyhow. It is the brief but powerful story of "The Man & the Birds."

The story will make a great Christmas reading for family and friends.

And if you'd like to hear the incomparable voice of Paul Harvey reading the story (I sure did!), Ben provided a link to that too. It's right here.

Why Does Christmas Get Folks So Angry?

Christmas celebrates a baby’s birth, and that can’t be offensive, unless that baby is more than just a baby. Herod the Great, King of Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth knew Jesus was not just a baby. He saw him for what He was and that was a scandal to Herod.

Herod is instructive for us. He knew that Jesus was to be a king or a ruler and that just was not going to fit into Herod’s plans. Herod was in charge and he was not going to make space for a baby to usurp him.

Could this be the reason so many people react negatively to celebrations of Christmas? Do they see Jesus as the ruler that He was born to be and instinctively rebel as did Herod?...

(John Malek, "The Birth of Christ: An Historic Scandal.")

Read the rest of John's Christmas Eve reflections at his blog, In Pursuit of Reason.

A Christmas Carol by Robert Herrick

A Christmas Carol
by Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

The darling of the world is come
And fit it is, we find a roome
To welcome Him. The nobler part
Of all the house is here, is the heart,
Which we will give Him; and bequeath this hollie,
And this ivie wreath
To do him honor: who's our King
And Lord of all this reveling.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Today's Posts

Ten Christmastime Observations

Mary's Burden

A Few "Must-Reads" (Before Christmas Takes Our Attention)

Ten Christmastime Observations

Here's ten observations from this Christmas season. Thus far, anyhow.

1) Have you noticed that fewer and fewer homes are decorated with Christmas lights nowadays? It's been quite a dramatic decline over the last few years. Yet very much on the rise are homes decorated for Halloween. Significant? You better believe it.

2) Our Christmas this year has been enriched beyond measure by presenting the Yuletide version of "When Swing Was King" in nursing homes and other facilities. The residents have expressed the warmest gratitude to us for these programs. They declare over and again that the delightful music of the big band era, the interesting and ironic stories told about the songs and the bandleaders, and the wonderful photographs from the days of their youth constitute the best Christmas present they've had in years.

3) Our Christmas season is always so busy and we truly love entertaining and ministering to friends. Still, having a night with just the two of us -- sipping hot chocolate and watching "The Polar Express" -- was really terrific.

4) Our Christmas season dinner parties always feature one or two brand new menu items. The one getting the most applause this year is a sweet & sour apricot glaze for use with ham. (12 ounces of apricot preserves, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, pepper to taste -- all heated slowly until ready to serve.)

5) The magic of going into a toy store at Christmas is gone. There are so few wholesome, inexpensive toys compared to the plethora of video games -- video games that will keep a kid agitated in mind and spirit but all-too-sedentary in body. Where are the basketballs and jump ropes, the roller skates and hula hoops, the Frisbees and bikes?

6) We just learned the count for Christmas Day's dinner party has gone up to18. Oh, for an expandable dining room!

7) Why did so much of the "Christmas music" playing in the mall that Claire and I strolled through yesterday sound so much like what I hear pounding from pimped-out cars at stoplights? Where are Bing, Nat and Perry when we need them?

8) There are now two days before Christmas officially starts. (Claire and I celebrate all 12 days of Christmas and Epiphany). Our plan of action? Visit Mom. Dig out from the snowfall after it comes. Drive to Lincoln for Christmas Eve breakfast. Do some of the preparations for Christmas dinner. Create a toy theater production as our part of Christmas Day entertainment. Build a fire. Do some reading and watch a couple of Christmas movies. Nice.

9) On Monday morning, I implored the employees of the abortion mill to please reconsider their part in this grisly, wicked business. "How, in this wonderful, holy season can you keep helping this abortionist kill babies? Please reconsider what you're doing. Come instead to the manger like the shepherds and the wise men. Come and be cleansed by taking Him as your Savior." How many, many Christmas seasons have I made entreaties like this?

10) I'm generally a very sound sleeper. So why is it that during the Christmas season I'm often awakened in the middle of the night and prompted to go out in the living room, turn on the Christmas tree lights and just sit awhile. I drink a soda while I'm sitting there. I pray. I reminisce. And I soak up the special feelings that Christmastime gives -- wonder, hope, joy and gratitude but also regret, nostalgia, mourning and a longing for the full revelation of Jesus Christ, the great day when the "wars within and without" will cease and my new, glorified body will be clothed in righteousness. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

Mary's Burden

"Mary's Burden" (1920)
by Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965)

My Baby, my Burden,
Tomorrow the morn
I shall go lighter
And you will be born.

I shall go lighter,
But heavier too
For seeing the burden
That falls upon you.

The burden of love,
The burden of pain,
I'll see you bear both
Among men once again.

Tomorrow you'll bear it
Your burden alone,
Tonight you've no burden
That is not my own

My Baby, my Burden,
Tomorrow the morn
I shall go lighter
And you will be born.

A Few "Must-Reads" (Before Christmas Takes Our Attention)

Among the "best of the web" I've come across today are these:

* What if the Christmas story is true? That's the question Cal Thomas asks in this superb Washington Examiner column.

* Jennifer Marshall has a terrific article published by the Heritage Foundation, "Why Does Religious Freedom Matter?" You're probably too busy with Christmas to read it through right now but I strongly encourage you to at least bookmark it and read it later. It's a thorough, well-written and very illuminating article on the subject -- one that would be great to print off for re-reading, for reference, for passing around to timid pastors, and so on.

* Lord Nicholas Windsor, the son of the Duke of Kent, claims Islamic terrorism is not as big a threat to Europe as is abortion. Here's the story in the Telegraph.

* "Iran Just Shipped Missiles to Venezuela. Hello? Is This Thing On?" -- A massive security threat just blossomed, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an MSM or administration official who cares. Mike McDaniel reports in Pajamas Media.

* Anti-American absurdities abound in this Massachusetts public school where they're playing games with the Pledge of Allegiance. And don't miss the reactions of liberal parents and the ACLU.

“In order to meet the state legal mandate for public schools and to support our learning expectations, I will, once a week, as part of my morning announcements, recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag,” [the principal] wrote in the letter. “Under our Constitution, neither teachers nor students can be mandated to participate in this exercise.”

“I urge you to have a conversation as a family to help your children understand why I will be reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and to support them in feeling comfortable and confident in the decision on whether or not to participate.”

Also strange is a breakdown of the Pledge included in the permission slip. It explained every phrase, and what the school thinks it means. Next to the fragment “under God,” the school says, “there is one Supreme entity for every citizen.”

* 22-year old actress, Afshan Azad, one of the stars of the Harry Potter series remains in hiding as she fears beatings and perhaps even more extreme violent punishment from her Muslim family. Why? She was dating a non-Muslim and refused to go along with a forced marriage.

* The ACLU is insisting that the Obama administration force Catholic hospitals to commit abortions. (Rob Stein reports in the Washington Post)

* Robert Bryce reports for the Wall Street Journal on how T. Boone Picken's much ballyhooed energy scheme has "gone with the wind."

After 30 months, countless TV appearances, and $80 million spent on an extravagant PR campaign, T. Boone Pickens has finally admitted the obvious: The wind energy business isn't a very good one.

The Dallas-based entrepreneur, who has relentlessly promoted his "Pickens Plan" since July 4, 2008, announced earlier this month that he's abandoning the wind business to focus on natural gas.

Two years ago, natural gas prices were spiking and Mr. Pickens figured they'd stay high. He placed a $2 billion order for wind turbines with General Electric. Shortly afterward, he began selling the Pickens Plan. The United States, he claimed, is "the Saudi Arabia of wind," and wind energy is an essential part of the cure for the curse of imported oil.

Voters and politicians embraced the folksy billionaire's plan. Last year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had joined "the Pickens church," and Al Gore said he wished that more business leaders would emulate Mr. Pickens and be willing to "throw themselves into the fight for the future of our country."

Alas, market forces ruined the Pickens Plan. Mr. Pickens should have shorted wind. Instead, he went long and now he's stuck holding a slew of turbines he can't use because low natural gas prices have made wind energy uneconomic in the U.S., despite federal subsidies that amount to $6.44 for every 1 million British thermal units (BTUs) produced by wind turbines...

* "40% of Chicago Public School Teachers Send Own Kids to Private Schools" (Warner Todd Huston over at Publius' Forum)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Today's Posts

Merry Christmas Is Out. Happy Solstice Is In.

A war on Christmas?

Liberals love to insist that, despite the mountain of evidence to the contrary, the overt antagonism to Christmas exercised by government, media, businesses and the education establishment is just a myth.

Well, here comes an interesting (though quite disturbing) admission from the left that not only admits there is a war on Christmas but explains one of the significant motivations behind it; namely, the conversion of Western culture from a theistic, even explicitly Christian, worldview to an ecological pantheism.

The essay is written by a vigorously non-Christian academic and activist, Bron Taylor, and published in the Huffington Post. Here's a bit.

...Progressives may ridicule those who claim that there is now a cultural "War on Christmas" but Christian conservatives do have reason to worry. They know that their cultural influence has been waning, and that those with evolutionary and ecological worldviews are growing in number and influence. A DVD series released by a group of conservative Christians entitled "Resisting the Green Dragon," provides one recent example of such fears. These fears are based on an accurate perception that there is a religious dimension to much environmentalism. Those expressing such fears understand, accurately, that those engaged in nature-based spiritualities, both overtly and in subtle ways, are converting many to an evolutionary worldview and an environmentalist spirituality and ethics. They know that this is one reason they are having trouble even keeping their own children in the fold.

In this light it is more understandable why some Christians find it disturbing when people express their holiday wishes not with "Merry Christmas" but with "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings." Such greetings acknowledge the nation's increasing religious pluralism and they are often motivated by a polite desire not to presume that everyone is Christian. But for some, it is also an unpleasant reminder of the declining power of the religion they believe to be both true and a pathway to salvation.

Although it is not as common as Happy Holidays, today "Happy Solstice" is increasingly used as a yuletide greeting. This is more than an expression of holiday cheer -- it also conveys an alternative identity and an earthly spirituality in which nature itself is implicitly understood to be sacred. It is just one example the increasingly assertive forms that nature spirituality is assuming as it gains traction globally. Those offering such blessings may also invite loved ones to solstice celebrations that consecrate the natural cycles of the universe, while also expressing kinship with and reverence for all life.

Observers of contemporary religion know that it is not only possible to integrate contemporary evolutionary and ecological understandings with theistic beliefs, but that this is increasingly done, and in a variety of creative and sincere ways. Nevertheless, the epic battle between those who consider God and the sacred to be above and beyond the world, and those who consider it to be here and everywhere, is unlikely to end anytime soon. Indeed, as I argued in Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future, in the 150 years since Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published, it is now possible to see that the momentum has shifted toward more naturalistic spiritualities. This momentum will not likely be reversed.

Happy Solstice! Or is it? The answer will depend on where the sacred is in your mind and heart.

Planned Parenthood Insists: You Must Do Abortions!

In Texas a Planned Parenthood clinic is rebelling from the national organization's new directive that orders all Planned Parenthood centers to offer surgical abortions. Though this Texas group does distribute chemical abortifacients and though it continues to defend (even promote) the practice of surgical abortions, it apparently didn't want to have the dismembered bodies of preborn children on its premises.

So, it's leaving Planned Parenthood's umbrella and going on its own.

The director of this local group told the press that Planned Parenthood officials are "standardizing" their operations nationwide. And they are strictly requiring all affiliates to do abortions.

Spread the word. Let shame and scandal become the portion of this evil, vicious (and extremely wealthy) business.

Surrounded By A "Nice Evil"

For some years now, I have mulled over the existence of something I have labeled “nice evil,” the ability of people whom we easily regard as “decent,” “ordinary,” or “nice” people, to hold, and on occasion act upon, moral ideas that our Christian forefathers would have instantly recognized as monstrously evil:

The idea that it must be legal for children to be killed before birth at their mothers’ convenience. That elderly people owe it to society to commit suicide. That a man may contract a marriage-like legal arrangement with another man. That marriages can be contracted and tossed aside at a whim. That children can, and should be manufactured to the specifications of paying customers, like a luxury car. That the populous and fecund peoples of the world are a menace solely on the basis of their fertility. That human beings when they are very small, may be used as experimental test subjects...

One day, I was struck by a horrifying thought. Under an old, Christian-based legal definition, insanity is understood to be the incapacity of a person to tell the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. If we propose that most people in the modern western world, people raised under the new, post-Christian, post-absolutist philosophical dispensation, truly do not know that abortion is wrong – that it is a monstrous evil to kill an innocent human being – nearly everyone around us is, in some sense, murderously insane. It was a bad moment.

I don’t actually believe that (completely), but it is at least true that moral relativism – the idea that morality can be a flexible thing subject to individual circumstances and personal preference – has become the guiding principle, or perhaps anti-principle, for most people in our culture. But is this idea, moral relativism, not simply another word for the evil that men choose? The evil they refuse to give up in the face of “old fashioned” moral absolutism? Does this make the common man a “moral monster”?

The 20th century political philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the term “banality of evil” when she observed the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann was the very epitome of modern, banal, “nice” evil - an unthinking bureaucrat who, even to the end, could not seem to grasp the enormity of the evil in which he had taken part as a cog in the machine, a mere functionary.

Observers of the Nuremburg trials often commented that many of Eichmann’s fellow Nazis were to all outward appearances perfectly ordinary, bland, modern, well-educated, even cultured men: bureaucrats whose mass murders were committed from a distance with the stroke of a pen, and with the most prosaic and dispassionate of justifications.

We look back on this kind of man with the comfortable assurance that we are observing an undisputed monstrous evil, and are able to see it clearly. That man, those men, clearly ought to have known, and their facades of civilization are not enough to cover their shame. It is not enough, we can say, confident that the world will agree, to like Beethoven and Bach, to read Schiller and enjoy sports and be attentive husbands and fathers. We must know the difference between good and evil, or we are lost, we become those men, those civilized monsters.

I have seen myself, many times, the existence of this new, passionless “nice evil.” I have met it nearly every time I discuss abortion with a member of the “personally opposed but…” culture. These are the “perfectly nice” people who believe that it is perfectly justifiable to murder an innocent infant or helpless old person, and for no other reason than the momentary inconvenience he creates for another. Is there not something even more monstrous about this banal and complacent evil? Is this not the smiling, reasonable face of our worst dystopian nightmares?...

(Excerpt from Hilary White's provocative and profound essay, "Nice Evil" published by LifeSiteNews)

Pro-Abortion Ornaments. (Proceeds Help Planned Parenthood.)

Can wickedness become more extreme than creating ornaments representing aborted fetuses?

Well, yes, of course. The monstrous destruction itself of a defenseless baby in the mother's womb.

Yet the attempt to twist such barbarism into something funny -- let alone, profitable -- shows a moral callousness that should shock and outrage anyone.

Brad Mattes alerted me to the story as reported byJill Stanek.

"Emergent Church" Leader Brian McLaren: New Rings of Heresy

I've pointed out before (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) that "emergent church" guru Brian McLaren is not just another left-leaning apostate, he is a definite heretic -- a New Age apostate dressed in neo-evangelical clothing who deliberately, arrogantly and effectively dupes the ignorant and undiscerning.

Steve Camp has said about one of McLaren's previous books, A Generous Orthodoxy, "There are no rules, no models, no denominational walls; no truth constraints; no theological grids; no ecclesiastical structures; no polity; no historic faith; no seemingly observance of hermeneutics for properly interpreting Scripture; no common meta-narratives; and not even any agreed definitions to common biblical terms and truth. It's just him learning, growing, evolving, experiencing, left unfinished kind of Christianity."

Ah, pop psychology trumps theology. Self-involvement trumps revelation. And Oprah Winfrey trumps centuries of solid biblical scholarship.

Yet, like usually happens, these kinds of malcontents continue to get more more and more bizarre. To see just how weird, here's an excerpt from an Eric S. LeMasters' article showing the latest evolutionary steps of Brian McLaren.

...Just as each ring of a tree represents a new season of growth, so the church expands organically across different sects, [McLaren] said. “If you look at the outermost ring of all the sectors of the Christian faith, they’re all responding to the same environmental circumstances… and stresses. And on that outermost ring, that’s what’s emerging.”

If any word sums up McLaren’s theology, it might be the word “organic”. And the common abstraction of God as a judgmental, unmoving and unchanging force through history is one he intends to challenge.

One of the goals in McLaren’s book, A New Kind of Christianity, was to “rescue” the Christian faith from its “Greco-Roman” casting he says was imposed on it by centuries of theology. The contemporary conception of God, he says, often more closely aligns with the platonic ideals of perfection – a god whom McLaren dubs “Theos” – that eternally rages at its less-than-perfect creation. He instead attempts to reframe scripture and the gospel in terms of its Jewish, story-driven roots in which the Bible is seen more as a “library” of spiritual guidance than a “constitution” that demands rigid adherence, and God is conceived as a benevolent, dynamic personality that constantly improves upon and works with its creation...

McLaren said he rejects the doctrine of a fallen creation; rather, the earth and its sinful inhabitants are in a continual state of movement away from God’s goodness, which throughout history God has been constantly trying to restore to himself. Thus the emergent nature of the church is the expression of God’s continual creation and improvement – what McLaren characterized as the “quest”-like adventure of the Christian life of faith.

Conversely, a “refusal to grow” with this constant unfolding of creation is what McLaren defines as sin...

“But [in] the biblical theme of justice, the primary issue is poverty and how we respond to the last, the least, the lost, the outsider, outcast and so on.” It’s life on the fringes and outskirts that sees the renewing growth, he argued.

When asked at the gathering how he’d describe his own “model” of God, McLaren invoked the image of a “non-linear trinity” relationship in which the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (characterized by McLaren as female) exist in a perpetual, “dynamic, relational dance” in which there is “eternal movement… of honoring and movement of caring.”

McLaren went further, expressing man’s connection to God as a connection to the whole of the created order itself. “So to be connected to God necessarily involves being connected to your neighbor, and even to your enemy. And in our world we’d have to say to the created world: to the trees, and the coal, and the air and the arctic ice shelf, and the polar bears and everything else.”

He concluded: “To me, if we start thinking about God in that way – of just this majestic, mysterious, profound dance of mutual love of honoring and respect, ultimate reality [as] this movement of love – that invites us into this unending quest and a beautiful way to live.”

McLaren's Oprah Winfrey/John Lennon theology is a tragic example of the apostasy mentioned in yesterday's post, the apostasy that has so terribly weakened the modern church.

I Knew. You Knew. But the Director of Intelligence Didn't Know?

Yesterday the Obama administration's top anti-terrorism officials--Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, chief counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano--gave an interview to ABC's Diane Sawyer on the current state of the terrorist threat. The interview has aired, or will air, today; you can watch it here.

The questions and answers are unremarkable, except that there is a surreal moment near the end of the interview, when it becomes apparent that DNI Clapper was unaware that twelve would-be terrorists were arrested in Great Britain yesterday. Brennan jumped in to help him out, but Sawyer came back to the question later, and Clapper admitted that he hadn't heard about the arrests.

This was one of those outer space moments that are hard to fathom. The arrests were widely reported. I knew about them; Diane Sawyer knew about them; you likely did, too. Is it conceivable that the Director of National Intelligence doesn't get a daily briefing? Or that he is not briefed on likely questions before giving a network television interview? Apparently so.

It's a trite observation, but God only knows what would have happened if something like this had taken place during the Bush administration.

(John Hinderaker, Power Line)

Insensitivity and Ignorance Are Handicaps Too

Here's a very clever use of satire and irony to communicate some serious truths.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Today's Posts

The Last Christmas Party (Well, for Three Days Anyhow)

Last night was our last Christmas party before Christmas Day One. Well, the last one that we host here at the house anyhow. We do have a few "Santa runs" planned -- that's where we take the party on the road to others who can't get out so easily. But otherwise, it's a fairly easy on-ramp to Christmas from here in.

Just in time. For after Claire's Christmas tea, 3 luncheons, 6 dinner parties, and 6 presentations of "When Swing Was King" this month, we're kinda' tired!

We start up again on Christmas Eve with the traditional breakfast we host in Lincoln for all the Aylward side of the family who happen to be in town (last year it was 23) and then on Christmas Day One it will be dinner here again for a gang of 15 or more: Kurt, the Morans and the Kabores with their extended family and friends. It's a marvelous tradition -- the customary American menu spiced up with African fare, stimulating conversation among Christians from different continents, and after-dinner prayers, musical entertainment and a performance by the Toy Theater Players. We're really looking forward to it.

And then we start up with the next round. Christmas is celebrated for 12 days here. So that means more dinner parties, more lunches, more "Santa runs" and one last gala event, the ceremonious Epiphany Party. But we'll get to those next week. For now we rest a bit, do a little Christmas shopping, and listen to a lot of music together by the fire.

But before that -- a quick review of last night.

Last night's party was a particularly sweet one. Coming over were Dick & Jan Loneman, Allen & Cindy Nelson and John & Barb Malek. The menu featured ham (with a sweet/sour apricot sauce), "baconed" green beans, roasted Parmesan potatoes, roles, salad and a dessert of cookies, lemon curd cups, and ice cream (peppermint and egg nog).

The fellowship was even more wonderful. We talked Christianity and pro-life action (natural subjects for this group), music, grandkids, food, movies, common friends, Christmas traditions and memories, and more.

And, relevant to that last category, the Nelsons gave me the most splendid Christmas present I've received in many, many years -- a small bottle of Lucarelli after shave! I'd thought the brand had gone out of business years ago and so it was a great and marvelous surprise. Wanna' know why? Just read this.

Thanks Allen & Cindy. You made my Christmas with that gift. It's one my whole family will get a kick out of.

Look Out! It's a Christmas Tree!

It's that time of year when we are reminded just how indebted we are to the left's mega-tolerant cultural warriors. Annually, they jolt us out of our complacency to notice how imposing, intolerant and dangerous Christmas and Christianity are.

If it weren't for these valiant soldiers, this disturbing proliferation of Christmas celebrations and other Christian symbols would proceed unabated.

Each year, the examples are too voluminous to document exhaustively, but permit me to share a few highlights, which will enhance your appreciation for the sheer magnitude of the effort being undertaken by these selfless watchdogs committed to liberating our culture(s) from the oppressive chains of Christmas and Christianity. The noble work of these secular saints is global in scope because the threat they confront recognizes no geographic or national boundaries...

Read the whole David Limbaugh column (a really good one) right here.

Jakubczyk's Birthday Musing

John J. Jakubczyk is a Arizona lawyer, a gifted and faithful pro-life activist, a family-oriented Christian and a friend. I heartily recommend your reading of John's reflections on his 57th birthday.

Those reflections are wise, winsome and encouraging -- making them a very appropriate read for Christmas week.

Top Ten Sacred Christmas Songs (Elvis Didn't Make It.)

Over at First Things, they've assembled a video clip list of their "Top Ten Sacred Christmas Songs."

Nice... but way too highbrow for me. I mean, no Bing Crosby? You gotta' be kidding. And nothing by Perry Como, the Mills Brothers, Nat King Cole, Karen Carpenter, Johnny Mathis, or Andy Williams?

And note too the songs that didn't make the First Things list? "Silent Night." "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." "O Little Town of Bethlehem." "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen." "Go Tell It on the Mountain."

Instead, the list includes "O Magnum Mysterium," "See Amid the Winter’s Snow," "Weihnachtsleid" and "Lo, Es Ist Ein Ros Gesprungen."

Good grief, were these guys raised in a museum?

Anyhow, on the chance that your cultural education was more lofty than mine (a pretty easy bet), you may find these clips inspiring. Go on over.

Lewis, Tolkien and "Looking for the King"

It may not turn out to be your cup of tea (or, more appropriately in this case, your glass of ale) but read this Kathryn Jean Lopez interview of David Downing to see if an adventure novel featuring C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien is something to put on your Christmas list.

Yipes! What's Happening to the Church?

In this brief (and alarming) article, the George Barna group organizes the hard data and reviews six "mega-themes" of what's happening in the modern church.

And it ain't pretty.

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.

There is only a paragraph or two describing each of these "mega-themes," but they provide important insight into what must be done to correct these serious weaknesses. Indeed, I'm printing the article and distributing it to friends so that we can pray about, discuss and develop a local response.

(Thanks to Jack Niewold for the tip about the article.)

"Why Is the Black Abortion Rate So High?"

Even though it comes from a "neutral" news source that tries to excuse Planned Parenthood, this article ("Why Is the Black Abortion Rate So High?" written by Lynette Holloway and posted at The Root) exposes crucial facts that are usually well hidden by the mainstream media.

The national disparity in abortions is even more staggering. Overall, African-American women account for 36.4 percent of all pregnancy terminations in the United States, although blacks make up only 13 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The agency attributes the higher abortion rate among blacks to a higher incidence of unintended pregnancies.

But is that the whole picture? Consider this: Nearly two-thirds of African Americans polled believe that abortion should never be legal or should be legal only in cases of rape or incest or when the woman's life is endangered, according to a 2004 poll by Zogby International. (This compared with 56 percent of respondents overall and 78 percent of Hispanics.)...

Some black pro-lifers, such as Bomberger, believe that the conflict has a more nefarious cause. "I've done research that could not be explained by socioeconomic factors," he says.

Bomberger and others like him accuse white abortionists of exhorting black women to obtain abortions as a form of genocide. Planned Parenthood is one of their targets...