Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Veiled Tell: Nil Soli - 3/29/2008

No Country For Old Men (2007)

On Saturday, SMA and I viewed the Coen Brothers’ critically acclaimed film No Country For Old Men. It is their 12th feature together and marked only the second time in history in which co-directors merited an Oscar.

The movie is a faithful adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (b. 1933)’s novel of the same name. McCarthy is a Knoxville native who attended the University of Tennessee. He also wrote All the Pretty Horses.

The movie is set in rural Texas in 1980. While hunting, Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon large quantities of corpses, heroin, and cash near the Rio Grande. He leaves with the money. Mayhem ensues as sociopath Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem), local sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), FBI agents, a host of Mexicans, and many others relentlessly attempt to find Moss. Note: The sheriff is not named Ed but “Ed Tom.”

The film has a very gritty feel to it as the locations are bleak and the soundtrack is minimal. The game of cat and mouse is captivating. The viewer pulls for Moss, who has survival skills that would make MacGyver jealous. During most of the movie, it can be assumed his skills come because he is from Texas and has a moustache. That is good enough for me.

The three principle actors are great and all have unique appearances. Josh Brolin looks very much like the large moustached Texan WWE wrestler Bradshaw before he transformed into JBL. Bardem looks eerily like “Everybody Loves Raymond”’s Brad Garrett with a Prince Valiant haircut. Tommy Lee Jones looks like an aged version of, well, Tommy Lee Jones.

Bardem’s portrayal of the psychopath is brilliant with both a unique look and weapon (captive bolt pistol). The Coen Brothers used a photo of a brothel patron taken in 1879 as a model for Anton Chigurh's hair. After getting the hair cut Javier Bardem lamented, "Oh no, now I won't get laid for the next two months." His portrayal exuded evil and he was well deserving of his Oscar for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

All actors, including Scottish born Kelly Macdonald, play convincing Texans. Jones (San Saba) and Brolin (Templeton) are native Texans. In fact, in a scene where Llewelyn asks to buy a jacket from a bystander, the coat supports Brolin's hometown Templeton Eagles.

The film is a very good existential piece. It examines the issues of chance and the inevitably of death considerably. Like most existential films, it has an unsatisfying conclusion.

From a plot perepctive it is also excellent. There were often too many variables, including the completely superflous character Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), who adds little to the film. Otherwise, it is a solid story.

Theologically, the film is as barren as the West Texas locations in which it is set. There is very little God or good in the film. Only in a brief discussion between Ed Tom Bell and his relative Ellis, is God mentioned. From a Christian perspective, there are very few sympathetic characters. Though justice is in the film, it does not emanate from the law. In short, from a theological standpoint, the film could be titled No Country For God.

In short, the movie is a very thought provoking film with a non-Christian worldview. It won four Oscars and is presently #45 on IMDB's Top 250. There is a great deal of violence in the film and if you are troubled by graphic violence, avoid this flick. If you like violence and killer moustaches, this is the film for you.

Current IMDB rating: 8.5/10. Chanalysis: 7/10.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 3/28/2008

Associated Baptist Press
March 28, 2008 (8-33)

Watchdog groups use celebrity cast to turn focus on church-state issues
No cancer found during Mohler’s colon surgery
Opinion: On homosexuality, can we at least talk about it?

Watchdog groups use celebrity cast to turn focus on church-state issues
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) – Thomas Jefferson and James Madison are now only one degree of separation away from Kevin Bacon.

The fathers of the First Amendment’s religion clauses came together (in spirit, at least) with the contemporary actor at a celebrity-laden March 25 event in Washington, designed to kick off an election-year effort sponsored by two church-state separationist groups.

Bacon is the subject of the trivia game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, popular on college campuses in the 1990s, which tried to connect Bacon with any other actor by six or fewer levels of relationship.

Bacon was joined by other film and television notables to tape the talk-show-style presentation, dubbed “Everything You Wanted to Know About Separation of Church and State … but Were Afraid to Ask.” It was simulcast in movie theaters across the country the following evening.

The event was a splashy way to kick off a campaign, called First Freedom First, to get politicians and voters focused on maintaining strict church-state separation in the 2008 election cycle.

The purpose, said actor Peter Coyote, who emceed the show, was “to extend an invitation to all Americans -- atheists and believers alike -- to join us in gaining deeper appreciation for the history, the meaning and purpose of our sacred, protected right to worship or not.”

Coyote was joined by Welton Gaddy of the Interfaith Alliance and Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State as he interviewed several in-studio guests who had fought battles against government endorsements of religion or mistreatment of religious minorities.

They included Matthew LaClair, a student at a public high school in Kearney, N.J. He was ostracized and threatened after he attempted to get school authorities to rein in his American history teacher for his repeated endorsements of Christianity. LaClair made headlines when, in 2006, he released tape recordings to the press of the teacher, David Paskiewicz, using class time to say that those who don’t accept that Jesus died for their sins “belong in hell,” that there were dinosaurs aboard Noah’s Ark, and that evolution and the Big Bang Theory are scientifically unsupportable.

“I think the core of the problem was that this man had been teaching for 14 years by the time that I got there. Not one student has ever done anything,” LaClair said. “I think we have to start standing up for separation of church and state, because it’s so important.”

The guests also included Army widow Roberta Stewart. Her husband, Patrick, was killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2005. But the Department of Veterans Affairs initially refused to place the pentacle, symbol of the Stewarts’ Wiccan religion, on the soldier’s grave marker -- even though the military has Wiccan chaplains and even though it had several dozen other “recognized” religious symbols.

Roberta Stewart fought the government on the decision, ultimately winning the symbol and a personal apology from President Bush. “I decided to fight because if I didn’t I felt it made our love not as valid,” she said. “And I wasn’t willing to accept that, nor was I willing to accept discrimination.”

Veteran television and film actor Jack Klugman also appeared on the show, as well as in a made-for-television advertisement associated with the First Freedom First campaign. The ad urges candidates to clarify their views on end-of-life issues.

Klugman, who is 85, said he was motivated to do the spot because of the 2005 controversy over the fate of Terri Schiavo. The brain-damaged Florida woman had been in what doctors described as a persistent vegetative state for 15 years, and her husband had won several court battles in an effort to remove the feeding tube that kept her alive. But her parents and siblings objected, touching off a battle that many social conservatives cast as a pro-life issue.

Their allies in Congress passed an emergency law intervening in the case.

Klugman said the way conservative members of Congress handled the case disgusted him. “I did the spot mostly because I’m more at the end of my life than I am at the beginning, and I wanted to make a stand,” he said.

Bacon and his band provided entertainment during the show, which also featured comedy acts and a taped message from actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease. Fox appealed for science to take precedence over religiously motivated opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.


No cancer found during Mohler’s colon surgery
By ABP staff

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (ABP) -- As expected, a tumor removed from the colon of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler proved not to be cancerous, according to a seminary news release.

A popular radio commentator and spokesman for conservative social causes, Mohler underwent surgery March 20 to remove the mass. Doctors discovered it during a routine colonoscopy in February. They said they thought the tumor was pre-cancerous, according to previous statements from the school. A pathological test confirmed their initial diagnosis.

Mohler earlier announced he would be a candidate for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention when it meets in June, but he bowed out of the race Feb. 14 when he announced his need for surgery. Three other conservative candidates had already declared their intentions to be nominated -- Georgia pastor Frank Cox and Californians Wiley Drake and Bill Wagner.

Mohler said he is “very thankful” for the outcome. “As it turns out, this is a tumor that turns malignant 100 percent of the time, but was found before it had turned,” he said in the statement.

Mohler went through similar surgery in December 2006. That surgery was complicated by blood clots that formed in his lungs.

Mohler said he is working his way back into his presidential duties.


Opinion: On homosexuality,can we at least talk about it?
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- I’m one of the few leaders in Baptist life with the freedom to talk openly and honestly about the complex theological, moral, pastoral, and public policy issues raised by homosexuality without destroying myself professionally.

Because I hold a tenured professorship in Christian ethics at Mercer University, I am one of those rare souls who can talk candidly about this hot-button issue. And these days I’m finding it hard to avoid the nagging and unsought conviction that this freedom now demands responsible exercise.

Methodology is everything. Starting points are everything. Glen Stassen and I wrote a widely read book in which we argued that truly Christian ethics focuses relentlessly on Jesus Christ. It starts there, it dwells there, it ends there. All statements about Christian morality -- all statements about anything -- must fit with the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. Jesus is where God meets the world, and thus where any who bear his name must meet the world as well.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves. He defined neighbors to include everyone. Absolutely everyone. He sharpened that definition by calling us to attend to those regarded as the last, the least and the lost. The most rejected, the most hated, the most abandoned, the most feared, the most loathed, the most despised, the most mocked -- these are the people to whom Jesus most directs us to offer our love.

I go to press conferences sometimes and talk about what Christians ought to stand for in society. Two times in recent months I have finished one of these press conferences and been approached quietly afterwards. Both times a young man has handed me a business card and gently said something like this to me: “Please do not forget about me and people like me.” They were homosexuals. They were seeking Christian love. They were asking for some help.

In my doctoral dissertation I studied Christians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. I discovered that in that horrible drama there were essentially four categories of behavior: victim, perpetrator, rescuer and bystander. Most instances of mass evil involve a small number of direct perpetrators killing a large number of hated victims in the presence of a much larger group of acquiescent bystanders, and resisted by a tiny number of rescuers. Scalded by that research, I have vowed with God’s help to be a rescuer kind of Christian.

In light of the hatred, mockery, loathing, fear and rejection directed at homosexuals in our society -- and in our churches -- I hope to God that I am not and never have been a perpetrator. But I fear I have indeed been a bystander. I am trying to figure out what it might mean to be a rescuer.

There are always very, very compelling reasons to be a bystander. Mainly these revolve around self-interest. You live longer when you are a bystander. People like you more. And even if you entertain nagging questions of conscience about your inaction, in the end it is easier to stay out of it. And so the hated group keeps getting thrown under the bus.

There are dozens of such particular flashpoints related to the issue of homosexuality. Christians, their churches, their denominations and their institutions are arguing about everything from homosexuality’s causes to whether active gays can be church members or leaders to even whether gay couples can appear alongside other families in church pictorial directories.

I want to begin a dialogue in this column by simply calling for the rudiments of Christian love of neighbor to extend to the homosexual. And the place to begin is in the church -- that community of faith in which we have (reportedly) affirmed that Jesus Christ is Lord. I call for the following Christian commitments:

-- The complete rejection of still-common forms of speech in which anti-homosexual slurs (“queer,” “fag”) are employed either in jest or in all seriousness

-- The complete rejection of a heart attitude of hatred, loathing, and fear toward homosexuals

-- The complete rejection of any form of bullying directed against homosexuals or those thought to be homosexuals

-- The complete rejection of political demagoguery in which homosexuals are scapegoated for our nation’s social ills and used as tools for partisan politics

-- The complete rejection of casual, imprecise and erroneous factual claims about homosexuality in preaching, teaching or private speech, such as, “All homosexuals choose to be that way.”

-- The complete recognition of the full dignity and humanity of the homosexual as a person made in God’s image and sacred in God’s sight

-- The complete recognition that in any faith community of any size one will find persons wrestling with homosexuality, either in their own lives or the lives of people that they love

-- The complete recognition that when Jesus calls us to love our neighbors, that includes especially our homosexual neighbors, because the more a group is hated, the more they need Christ’s love through us

There is more to be said. But this is at least a place to start.


-- David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University.

View from 315A

The best season in Tennessee basketball history (31-5) ended on Thursday night in Charlotte with a 79-60 loss to Louisville. The game ended in a humiliating series of dunks. It was only the second time Tennessee had been beaten by more than six points all year (November 24-Texas). Just a month ago, the Vols were #1 in the nation.

The Vols ran into a hot team. Louisville won for the 12th time in 14 games. The Cardinals won their first three games in the NCAA Tournament by an average margin of 22.3 points, and the closest anybody has come is 18 points. Nobody has scored more than 61 points against them in three tournament games, and they've held their last two opponents to less than 34 percent shooting from the field.

Louisville led for the majority of the game, maintaining a lead from 9-7. When Bruce Pearl called time out with 8:58 left in the first half, the Vols were already down 24-8. The Vols cut the lead to one in the second half (36-37), but never regained the lead.

Louisville made 66.7 percent of its shots in the second half and 52 percent for the game. Six Louisville players scored 9 or more points. Sophomore Earl Clark led Louisville with 17 points and 12 rebounds.

Lousville put Tennessee’s point guards in a position to make plays, which they were unable to do. J.P. Prince, in only his second game as the staring point guard, committed twice as many assists as turnovers. Ramar Smith shot horribly, 2-9 form the field and 2-7 from the line. Senior Jordan Howell did not play in his final college game. The decision to switch horses in midstream was a calculated risk that did not pay off.

Tennessee shot just 33.9% and was even worse on 3-point shooting, making just 5 of 20. Wayne Chism (3 of 4) was the only Vol who shot over 50% in the game. The Vols connected on only 11-of-58 3-point attempts (19%) in the tournament.

Senior Chris Lofton closed his career with 15 points, but hitting on just three of 15 attempts and an abysmal 2 of 11 from three-point range. Many of Lofton’s shots were blocked. Lofton typically rose against teams from his native Kentucky who neglected to recruit him, but not on this day. He finishes his career third all-time with 431 three-point shots made.

Foul trouble hindered the Vols as well. Wayne Chism collected two fouls in the first 1:45 of the game, forcing Ryan Childress (3 minutes) and Steven Pearl (2 minutes) into rare first half action. Tyler Smith picked up his fourth foul with 12:43 left in the game.

Tennessee also got very little support off of the bench. Louisville outscored Tennessee 28-11 off in bench points.

The Vols rebounding woes also continued, getting dominated 42-24 on the glass. Louisville had 34 defensive rebounds leaving the Vols just four second-chance points. Earl Clark had twelve rebounds while Terrence Williams and David Padgett had eight rebounds each. Tennessee’s leader (guard JaJuan Smith) had only six.

Twenty Louisville turnovers kept Tennessee in the game.

Louisville, know for its three-point shooting, hit only four and none (on two attempts) in the second half.

Will this loss affect the team’s legacy? I hope not, but honestly believe it will. Advancing one more round, even losing to UNC, would have been memorable. The best team in school history did not advance further than any other Vol team. As in all three Pearl years, Tennessee peaked early.

The season will be remembered for what might have been. JaJuan Smith lamented, “The energy and all was there. That part was 'A' and I would have been more upset if that wasn't the case. We just didn't play well. We never really put it all together for a game all season. For a half against Florida, we might have played our best, but we never played our best all year from start to finish.'”

Some random game thoughts:

  • Louisville and North Carolina were supposed to meet earlier this season, but the banged-up Cardinals were upset by Brigham Young in a November tournament, spoiling the potential matchup of traditional powers. The two now meet in the regional finals on Saturday.
  • Louisville coach Rick Pitino has won fourteen consecutive games over Tennessee, dating to his time at Kentucky.
  • Pitino is now 8-0 in regional semifinal games.
  • Louisville is 5-1 against Top 25 teams this season.
  • Bruce Pearl squelched rumors that he planned to leave Tennessee after the game. He has been linked to an opening at Indiana.
  • Tyler Smith will meet with Pearl to discuss his prospects in the upcoming NBA draft. He is a 23-year old sophomore from Pulaski,TN.

Bible Trivia - 3/28/2008

Question: As recorded in Revelation 8, when was there one-half hour of silence in heaven?

Answer: Immediately after the seventh seal was opened. (Revelation 8:1)

Comments: Richard Bauckham (b. 1946), Professor of New Testament at the University of St. Andrews, suggests that the silence is a response by the angels in order to allow God to hear the prayers of the saints. He supports his argument by referencing Joshua 10. In this passage, Joshua commands the sun and moon, understood as angelic beings, to be still or silent. He then prays to God for assistance in the coming battle. Bauckham uses this example to show that the silence is to allow God to hear the prayers of the martyrs found in the fifth seal. [Bauckham, The Climax of Prophecy (London, England: T&T Clark Ltd., 1993), 74-75.]

Word of the Day - 3/28/2008


A plastron is a piece of plate armor for the upper part of the torso in front.

In Ephesians’ analogy of the “full armor of God”, the plastron (breastplate) represents righteousness. (Ephesians 6:14)

The connection between the breastplate and righteousness, as well as the helmet of salvation, is first made in Isaiah 59:17.

He put on righteousness like a breastplate,
And a helmet of salvation on His head;
And He put on garments of vengeance for clothing
And wrapped Himself with zeal as a mantle. (Isaiah 59:17, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/28/2008

Thursday was one of those days where nothing went according to plan. In a painfully ironic twist, on the day when "emesis" was the Word of the Day, I was nauseous all day and could not eat until after midnight.

On Thursday night, I was to meet SMA and DBN at the Irish Times Pub & Restaurant at 7 pm. I would drive SMA there and DBN would drive him home, as I was to be at RAW’s by 7:45. Half of this went according to plan.

The only problem was that DBN did not get ready until 8:20 pm! I was more disappointed that he never got to the restaurant as we left explicit instructions with the hostess to berate him upon his arrival. I suppose it is encouraging that he has not changed that much in his two years away.

DBN’s unreliability did allow SMA and I the opportunity to listen to a ridiculously long, overly sentimental story on the Delilah (Rene) radio program. Yes, that would apply to everything that has ever aired on that show. I have no idea why we listened to the show as we both loathe it. Who doesn’t?

At the conclusion of the epic request, Delilah played Chicago’s “Just You ‘n’ Me” from 1973's Chicago VI. SMA and I were horrified that we both new the words to the song. (We think it is due to our mothers playing a steady diet of 97.5 as children.) SMA, the musical afficionado that he is provided an interesting song fact: Fish hate this song! (“Never release me/Oh baby don't release me.") It is tidbits like these that you will not find anywhere else.

Eventually, I did make it to RAW’s to watch the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee was routed by Louisville ending our season and the careers of Jordan Howell, Chris Lofton, and JaJuan Smith. My thoughts on the game are posted under a “View from 315A.”

Despite the loss and my queasiness (I actually borrowed two blankets!), it was still a good evening. KLTW even made homemade cookies. I could not eat them due to my diet and my lack of appetite. I did enjoy watching KJW enjoy hers though.

I returned home after midnight (the game tipped off at 9:58) and I stayed up and listened to the Bruce Pearl Show on the radio. I have grown very attached to this Vol team, having watched them all summer and having gone to virtually every home game and three road contests. I will miss supporting this team.

On the plus side, I was finally able to get some food in my system. Earlier in the day I bought some Eggo Cereal: Maple Syrup and I decided to give it a try. The cereal is designed to taste like waffles. I must say it does. If you like both waffles and cereal, try this product.

Thursday also marked MBR's 29th birthday. I hope you got my text, B.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bible Trivia - 3/27/2008

Question: What species of bird does Job describe as stupid?

Answer: The ostrich. (Job 39:13-17)

Comments: Job here refers to the book and not the character as God is the figure speaking in Job 39. The book is drawing upon the general belief among the Arabs that the ostrich is a dense bird. They even have an expression - "stupid as an ostrich." Many believe that the utterance derived from the fallacy that ostriches stick their heads in the sand.

This is not true. The confusion comes from an ostrich’s defense mechanism. When an ostrich senses danger and cannot flee, it flops to the ground and becomes still in hopes of camouflaging itself by blending into the sand. From a distance, it does look like the ostrich has buried its head in the sand, because only the body is visible.

Even so, the ostrich is still not the sharpest knife in the animal kingdom's drawer. An ostrich brain is the size of its eye ball. Their small brains make for very simple birds. This is evidenced as the ostrich will swallow almost any substance.

Word of the Day - 3/27/2008


Emesis is the act of vomiting.

Proverbs says that just as a dog experiences emesis and laps up its contents, a fool returns to his folly. (Proverbs 26:11), The verse is quoted in II Peter 2:22.

Like a dog that returns to its vomit/Is a fool who repeats his folly. (Proverbs 26:11, NASB)

The more plesant language from this verse has become a cliché as “a fool returns to his folly” is a way of saying that a person keeps repeating the same mistake.

For the benefit of all involved, I did not illustrate this noun.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/27/2008

Wednesday was a beautiful day in Knoxville. I spent the night with RAW and KLTW on RAW’s last day of vacation. They spent their three days off together improving their house. It really looks good. On this day RAW worked on imbedding a television and shelves into his bedroom wall. RAW was highly critical of his work, though I was quite impressed.

When I arrived, they took a break and we ate at the Red Lobster. This was a treat as we rarely eat there. I ate shrimp, but more importantly we received an ample portion of their cheese biscuits. Is there better complimentary bread at any restaurant?

We then went to the home of RSC and PWC, who were babysitting KJW. They have three highly annoying dogs. In fact, they were the subject of the only rant I have ever heard MPW deliver. When we arrived, RSC followed me around the house with a water pistol and sprayed any of dog that got near me. I actually felt rather important as I was equipped with my own armed personal security guard. KJW was oblivious to the dogs by this point as she was focused on an apple. She did not wish to eat it, she just wanted to hold it and let us know that she knew that it was an apple.

We then drove back to RAW’s house in “Chan’s car”, as KJW repeatedly and cutely commented. Yes, I am entrusted with chauffeuring the baby from time to time. I watched/distracted KJW while RAW returned to his power tools. I gave her the "Blue's Clues" board book The Shape Detectives by Angela Santomero. I would love to equip KJW with Christian materials but every Christian children’s book I have read, particularly for her age, is inadequate. Things I need to write...

KJW spent the rest of the night playing with what amounts to super-sized Legos. Her daddy was so proud. While he really appreciates her current age, I think he is really looking forward to the day that he has an excuse to buy Legos, not that he really needs one.

Before closing I have three news blurbs to report:

  • 1. My favorite television show (though I have not seen it in some time) “Psych” debuts on NBC on April 6th at 8 pm EST. Original episodes will still air first on the USA Network but “Psych” along side another USA show (“Monk”) will then have the opportunity to expand their audience when each air their latest season on Sunday nights on NBC. NBC decided to air both series in a block as it is done on USA.
  • 2. A tattered, half-buried parachute that potentially belonged to notorious skyjacker D.B. Cooper was found near his reported landing site. In 1971, Cooper hijacked and threatened to blow up an airliner, extorted $200,000 from its owner (Northwest Orient), then leaped from the airborne 727 with 21 pounds of $20 bills strapped to his torso. He was never seen again—dead or alive. It is the world’s only unsolved skyjacking. I document this because: 1. The story is cool; 2. The FBI's composite sketch is priceless; and 3. His treasure was the subject of Without a Paddle, a 2004 film beloved by at least two of my friends.
  • 3. The Southeastern Conference (SEC) will be refunding tickets from the SEC Tournament I attended, which was marred by a tornado. The SEC said it will issue full refunds to fans who had tickets for the final three sessions of the tournament if they purchased them through the league, the Georgia Dome or one of the twelve member schools. The maximum refund is $125. To receive a refund, fans must mail their tickets to the original place of purchase, postmarked by April 18. I am satisfied but was really hoping for vouchers to next year's event in Tampa.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 3/26/2008

Associated Baptist Press
March 26, 2008 (8-32)

New Baptist Covenant leaders OK repeat but no permanent structure
Imprisoned Baptist pastor released in Azerbaijan
ABC gives $100K grant to CBF Katrina relief
Churches, with gas ‘buy-downs,’ ease neighbors’ pain at pumps
Church plant models peace in Brooklyn neighborhood
Opinion: Are we there yet?

New Baptist Covenant leaders OK repeat but no permanent structure
By Robert Marus

ATLANTA (ABP) -- Organizers of the recent New Baptist Covenant celebration are recommending a repeat of the historic pan-Baptist event in 2011 but not a new denomination or other permanent organization.

The event drew an estimated 15,000 Baptists from across denominational, ethnic and ideological lines to Atlanta Jan. 30-Feb. 1 for fellowship, worship and discussion about cooperation on evangelism and other areas about which they can agree.

The meeting was spearheaded by Jimmy Carter and endorsed by the other living Baptist ex-president, Bill Clinton. Critics alleged it was a thinly veiled attempt to stir up Baptist support for Democratic candidates in an election year, the event largely avoided partisan overtones and included prominent Republican speakers.

Carter, Mercer University President Bill Underwood and other event planners released a statement March 19 from a follow-up meeting held the previous week at Atlanta’s Carter Center. The document said that about 70 Baptist leaders from the groups represented at the meeting decided to repeat the event in three years “in the historic Baptist pattern of triennial meetings.”

The leaders also vowed to “be as active as possible during the intervening years.” They said they would expand the Covenant’s steering committee from its original five members to “about a dozen” in an effort to engage a more diverse set of Baptists, including more young people and women.

The statement mentioned the possibility of convening several regional New Baptist Covenant events next year, but did not say the decision was final.

The organizers and other invited leaders “reconfirmed” their earlier decision not to form a separate permanent organization or denominational group under the aegis of the New Baptist Covenant.

The statement said the organizers will seek expert advice on “how we can assist actively in such major social issues as global warming, health care, poverty, criminal justice, human rights, religious liberty, elimination of nuclear weapons, and peace in the Middle East and elsewhere.”

The document also included a list of suggestions for specific action items and projects compiled from feedback by participants in the celebration. It encouraged local congregations to work with other Baptist churches and organizations involved in the celebration as they felt led.

The suggested projects included enhanced giving to the cooperating denominations’ mission agencies, finding ways to minister to prisoners, working for fair tax policies, having regular joint worship opportunities with local churches of differing ethnic groups, working toward reducing the abortion rate, and making churches more environmentally responsible.


Imprisoned Baptist pastor released in Azerbaijan
By Robert Marus

BAKU, Azerbaijan (ABP) -- An Azerbaijani Baptist pastor imprisoned on what his supporters have called trumped-up charges has been released, according to the Baptist World Alliance.

Zaur Balaev was freed from a prison in Baku, the former Soviet republic’s capital, March 19 after a pardon from Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev.

According to BWA, a worldwide umbrella organization for national and regional Baptist denominations, that organization, the European Baptist Federation and former president Jimmy Carter all lobbied Aliyev for the pastor’s release.

“Baptists from all over the world rejoice in God’s answer to our prayers for the release of our brother, Zaur Balaev,” BWA General Secretary Neville Callam said, in a statement. “His patience in suffering and courage in the midst of trial has provided for us a splendid example of discipleship in the modern world. We look forward to giving him a platform to talk to Baptists about his faith and his experience.”

Balaev was arrested in May 2007 after police raided his church in the remote northwestern town of Aliabad. He was charged with assaulting five policemen and damaging a police car in the process, but both members of his church -- made up of ethnic Georgians -- and other non-Christian locals said Balaev did not resist the arrest.

Ilya Zenchenko, president of the Baptist Union of Azerbaijan, was quoted by the Forum 18 news service as rejoicing in his colleague’s release, but saying that “there is a lot more work still to be done to defend religious freedom in Azerbaijan.”

The nation, wedged between Russia, Iran, Armenia, Georgia and the Caspian Sea, is overwhelmingly Muslim. However, according to the State Deparment’s 2007 report on international human rights, Azerbaijan’s government controls the registration and operation of its houses of worship.


ABC gives $100K grant to CBF Katrina relief
By ABP staff

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (ABP) -- National Ministries of the American Baptist Churches USA has given a $100,000 grant to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to continue building houses for those displaced 2 ½ years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

CBF has been working in several areas affected by the storm. The latest grant will help build homes in Pearlington, Miss., a small town decimated by the storm but often overlooked because it is a few miles inland from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and north and east of New Orleans, whose destruction garnered international headlines.

CBF, in partnership with the Pearlington Recovery Center, has helped rebuild homes and lives in the area since the storm, which made landfall in August 2005. Pearlington still needs at least 70 houses rebuilt, according to CBF disaster-response director Charles Ray.

“There are 70 families that want to come back that still own land but can’t find the money to build a house,” he said, according to a Fellowship news release. “Our mission is to help those with the most need and the least resources, and that’s what we’ll do here.”

With the ABC National Ministries grant, the Fellowship will erect and finish the exteriors of up to 10 houses. After the foundation, exterior walls and roof are completed, the homeowners will work with Pearlington Recovery Center to obtain grant money for completing the interior work.

“I’m very pleased that we are able to continue our partnership in response to Pearlington’s need,” said Kenneth George, ABC National Ministries’ national coordinator for direct human services. “It’s a community that has not received a lot of press attention but has as much of a need as other parts of the Gulf.”

“CBF disaster response is grateful for this gift to our continuing efforts to meet human need in Pearlington,” said CBF Global Missions Coordinator Rob Nash. “This gift represents another step in the ongoing cooperation between American Baptists and Fellowship Baptists that enables us to do far more together than we could ever do separately. People are still reeling from the tragedy of Katrina -- and CBF and ABC are still present together with them even almost 2 ½ years after the hurricane.”

Nearly 2,000 CBF supporters have gone to Pearlington to work since 2005, and continued volunteer labor will be crucial to meeting the grant’s maximum goal, according to CBF officials. “We need people to serve now as much as ever before,” Ray said.


Churches, with gas ‘buy-downs,’ ease neighbors’ pain at pumps
By Greg Warner

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) – When it comes to ministry in Jesus’ name, relieving “oppression” takes many forms -- including the oppression of today’s gasoline prices.

As gas prices hit record levels across the country, a growing number of churches are sponsoring gas “buy-downs” -- paying part of the cost of each gallon as a way to help their neighbors.

For two hours on a recent Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., Murray Hill Baptist Church did just that. The church covered 50 cents of the cost of each gallon pumped by 175 customers at the Kangaroo Express on Edgewood Avenue.

With gas in Jacksonville selling at $3.26 a gallon -- an all-time high -- 50 cents off wasn’t exactly a steal. Nonetheless, 100 drivers lined up an hour and a half before the 10 a.m. start. When the buy-down was over at noon, the church had spent $1,020, pumped about 2,000 gallons of gas at $2.76 a gallon, and washed a lot of windshields.

Doug Axtell, who has been the congregation’s pastor for six years, said the purpose of the gesture was “to show the community God’s love” and change residents’ image of Murray Hill Baptist.

For a 78-year-old congregation in a part of town that is being revitalized by an influx of younger residents, creating a second opinion of the church is invaluable.

“Three-and-a-half years ago, I was confronted with the reality [that] most of our neighbors wouldn’t care if our church wasn’t here,” Axtell said bluntly.

Since then, the congregation has been looking for ways to become helpful and relevant again. “The church has a problem being outwardly focused,” the pastor said.

The gas buy-down was more about ministry and goodwill than evangelism, he said -- the same reasons the church hosts a food pantry, thrift store and Murray Hill’s only fall festival.

“It is an urban neighborhood that is being rebuilt. There is a diversity of people, an interesting mix of people -- older people who have lived here all their lives, urban professionals and tons of twenty-somethings.”

“Because of who is in our neighborhood, they are expecting us to shove the gospel down their throats,” he said. “… Their image of church is so negative. We just wanted them to see that the gospel is about loving people.”

“People come to our church for about six months before they ever let us know they are here.” Axtell continued. “It’s very frustrating for a pastor. … It’s weeks of building relationships with these people, many of them hurt by the church earlier in their lives. But once they are on board, they are activist about their faith.”

Murray Hill Baptist got the idea for the project from a book about servant evangelism, which emphasizes practical ministry as a low-pressure way to create relationships with unchurched people. The buy-down resulted in at least three local families visiting the church for worship the next day, Axtell said.

The pastor advised churches that are considering a gas buy-down to get hints from other congregations that have done it before. Among those churches recently sponsoring buy-downs are ones in Kansas, Missouri and Ohio, representing various denominations.


Church plant models peace in Brooklyn neighborhood
By Patricia Heys

NEW YORK (ABP) -- In 1991, Crown Heights became infamous. The death of a young African-American child, who was hit by a car driven by a Jewish man, sparked three days of race riots in the Brooklyn neighborhood that made national headlines.

Today, Crown Heights remains racially diverse – African and Caribbean Americans call the district home and its Hasidic Jewish community is one of the largest in the United States. And Hispanic Americans, along with young white couples, are moving in.

But, for a neighborhood known for and scarred by racial tension, peace is still an important message 16 years later.

Greater Restoration Baptist Church in Crown Heights began as a Bible study five years after the riots. Currently, more than 30 members -- representing countries such as Trinidad, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Panama -- attend services each Sunday at the storefront church, located along one of Crown Heights’ main arteries.

“We are a small church but a very diverse church, with people from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds,” said Ken Bogan, pastor of Greater Restoration. “We are trying to figure out how to be a multi-racial church, and we are really committed to racial reconciliation. It’s important to for us to be a positive witness and provide hope to the Crown Heights community.”

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship began partnering with Greater Restoration in 1998 when Ronnie Adams, a CBF missionary in New York, met Bogan. That summer, facilitated by Adams, Fellowship partner churches sent teams to Brooklyn to lead summer camps. Now, an average of 12 churches a year send teams to Crown Heights to work alongside Greater Restoration in its community ministries.

“This is a small, community-based church that really wants to be the presence of Christ in its community,” said Adams, a Texas native. “And they are doing a great job for a church that has limited funds and [whose weekly] attendance is less than 100. They show the hospitality of Christ in a wonderful way.”

Adams and Taisha Rose, who serves in Brooklyn as one of CBF’s field personnel, are involved in the church’s two primary areas of ministry -- peaceful mediation and education.

While racial tensions have eased since 1991, the community is still affected by violence. Recently a young man who was a leader in the church’s summer youth camps and a local high school football player was shot nine times.

The church frequently partners with the Crown Heights Mediation Center, which was founded as a direct result of the 1991 riots. The center provides resources on solving issues without violence and often connects people looking for a church with Greater Restoration.

“The church talks a lot about reconciliation and being peacemakers,” said Rose, of Stone Mountain, Ga. “They stress that peace starts with us. It’s an important concept to teach -- appreciating people for who they are even though they may be different than you, especially when you have such a diverse community.”

With neighborhood schools consistently scoring among the lowest in the state, the church places importance on education. In addition to weekly GED classes, Greater Restoration also provides an after-school program, which includes an hour of tutoring and opportunities for children to learn to sing, play the guitar, piano and drums.

“One day a few of the students told me that their standardized test was interrupted at school because a police officer came in to search everyone for weapons,” said Adams, a native of Dallas. “The students were upset because the timer for the test wasn’t stopped during the search. That was shocking to me. We want to let the children of this area know that they do have a future -- they are people of worth now.”


Opinion: Are we there yet?
By Beth Newman

If you’ve ever traveled with children, you will inevitably hear these four words. When my children ask, “Are we there yet?” I usually try to give a response vague enough to distract them so that won’t repeat the question. Of course, when we travel the long distance to Alabama to see my husband’s family, there are only so many distractions.

If I spoke the truth, I’d have to say something like: “No we’re not there yet. We have about nine more hours to go, and it’s going to be long and very boring.” The truth is, as my husband and I well know, Smalltown, Ala., isn’t even on the radar. And if it were, it would remind us that we’re nowhere near our destination. The road sign would point to something absent: “Smalltown, Ala., 450 miles.”

Not all signs work like this, though. A sign may point not to something toward which we travel, but to something that is moving toward us. Those beautiful pastels in the morning sky – the pinks and oranges – are the signs of the coming of a light so overwhelming that we can only stare in awe.

It is in this second sense that we ought to understand scriptural signs such as those recorded in the book of Acts. Peter reads from the prophet Joel: “God declares … I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” (2:17). Later, “awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common….” (Acts 2:43-44) Visions, dreams, wonders -- all signs, not of a far-off place but of something close at hand. The light is on the horizon. This Jesus, whom you crucified, God has raised up.

And those gathered, when they see these signs, do not ask, “Are we there yet?” Instead, they are cut to the heart. The signs point to a reality that is coming to them. Their question is not, “Are we there yet?” but “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) The world has been turned upside down. Should we build buildings? Look for solutions to the world’s problems? Start programs? Set up committees? Raise money? Make money?

The answer they receive doesn’t seem particularly earth-shattering. Devote yourselves to the apostles’ teachings. Fellowship with one another. Baptize. Break bread. Pray.

The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, and this is all you do? Dunk people in water, eat together, close your eyes and mouth words to someone you can’t see? Such acts seem trivial against the backdrop of the world’s suffering: war, poverty, hunger, loneliness, financial anxieties, illness, etc.

“What shall we do?” When we ask this question today, it’s more out of anxiety than anticipation. “What shall we do?” Our church is not growing. We need more money. We’re having problems in our families, with our co-workers, with people in the church.

Perhaps we’re tempted to romanticize the early Christians and therefore more easily write them off. They lived in simpler times, after all. They didn’t have the problems we have today. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit was more available to them than it is to us.

And yet, as the Christian calendar reminds us, we are now living in the time of the birth of the church. It is often observed that when Jews celebrate Passover, they are not simply remembering an event from the distant past. Rather they are participating in the redemptive work of God, as much a reality in their lives now as it was when God led the Hebrews from slavery to the Promised Land. So also with us. We live these 50 days of Easter in the confidence that God is still creating the church through the power of the Holy Spirit.

If this is true, we too should be cut to the heart. We too should be so overwhelmed that we do as those early Christians did: baptize, pray, share the Lord’s Supper, devote ourselves to the apostles’ teachings. All signs not of a distant reality but of God’s presence among us.

There is yet a third way to understand a sign: as something that brings about or causes certain realities. “I pronounce you husband and wife.” Six simple words. And yet a whole reality comes into being when a minister utters them. “I condemn you to 20 years in prison.” A simple statement, and yet imagine being a family member of one so condemned.

The words and deeds of the church seem small and insignificant when measured against the seemingly insurmountable problems in our lives and in the world. And yet, baptism is participation in the life and death of Christ. Breaking of bread is communion with Christ and the body of Christ. Devotion to the apostles’ teaching sustains the oneness of the body of Christ across space and time. And prayer is the practice through which we allow Christ to pray in us and through us on behalf of the world. Such actions are ways that God in Christ creates the church so that the church itself becomes a sign for the world.

The church is ever being born anew through the Holy Spirit. If we’re looking for signs about a distant future, we may well miss how God is now creating the church “through water and the Word.”


-- Beth Newman is professor of theology and ethics at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond.

Bible Trivia - 3/26/2008

Question: Why did Abimelech ask his servant to ill him?

Answer: To avoid the disgrace of being killed by a woman.

Comments: Abimelech was the son of Gideon who ruled Israel for three years (Judges 9). Though featured in the Book of Judges, he is considered a king, not a judge, as he opposed Israel. He met his death while attacking the city of Thebez, which had revolted. He was struck on the head by a mill-stone, thrown by a woman from the wall above. Realizing death was imminent, he asked his armor-bearer to strike the death blow so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman (Judges 9:50-57).

The armor-bearer did as he was commanded, but a close reading of the Biblical text reveals that Abimelech did not get his wish. Amidst the David-Bathsheba saga, Abimlech is referenced and his fate had evidently become a cautionary tale for warfare too close to walls.

'Who struck down Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?'--then you shall say, 'Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.'" (II Samuel 11:21, NASB)

Word of the Day - 3/26/2008


Venals means willing to sell one's influence, especially in return for a bribe; open to bribery; mercenary: a venal judge.

The Book of Acts depicts Felix (aka Antonius Claudius), Governor of Judea, as a venal figure as he spends time with Paul in hopes of obtaining a bribe. (Acts 24:26)

At the same time too, he [Felix] was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him. (Acts 24:26, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/26/2008

I led my Monday Bible Study on Tuesday. That just does not sound right. We never seem to develop a consistent schedule but I have been told on good authority (MLM) that we will be meeting on Mondays for the foreseeable future. I will believe that when it occurs. There is one constant though. Regardless of which day of the week we meet, CEH always seems to be at the church pumping iron.

I taught on Luke 5:12-16 and all went well. CMU received a free video from the Global Oneness Project with the stipulation that he show it too as many people as possible. While due to ignorance, I neither endorse nor reject this endeavor, I will give you a link to help CMU fulfill his vow -

I then visited JTH at the Daycare. While there I got to finally see “Summer”, who is the baby sister of my all-time favorite daycare kid - “Davis.” Davis hiked his pants up like Urkel (even when swimming), talked like he had been smoking for his entire (albeit short) life, and hated virtually everything. He was the definition of loveable. (Does anyone else find it disturbing that I took a photo of a sleeping kindergartner?)

Before heading out for the evening, I listed a mountain bicycle on eBay. Evidently, the site allows you to sell as well as buy.

Those of you who know me well know that I literally never learned to ride a bicycle. So why do I have one? I am selling it for PAT. When we moved him into his Kennesaw apartment on January 12th (several lifetimes ago), the bicycle was there. Evidently, a vagrant had been occupying the space in between tenants. As part of the compensation, management offered him all of the apartment’s contents, including this bicycle and an impressive collection of pornographic materials. Those of you who know me well also know that this kind of thing happens around me all of the time. I call it “Dottyicity.”

So if you know anyone in need of a bike, send them our way. It is a Schwinn Mesa GS and is item #190209505435 on eBay, or you can simply click here.

I then made the rounds. I first went by MoFoS. Not only did I get to see JTH again, but I also got to see CDM and more importantly her precocious daughter, KM.

I then went to see KLTW, KJW, and RAW. The home improvements continue as RAW and his brother made a really impressive fire pit out of marble that had been left by the creek outside of his home. It is imbedded into the ground and as such is now a permanent fixture. RAW and I had a fireside chat while the girls bathed inside. I felt very FDR.

We then went inside and watched “SpongeBob Square Pants,” or as KJW calls it “Bob Pants.” This was preceded by a long discussion of KJW saying “Bob Pants” and her father replying “No.” This went on playfully for minutes until her mommy reminded her daddy that the baby had not seen any television all day. SpongeBob was followed by a program called “The Fairly OddParents.” The bits and pieces I caught were all indeed fairly odd. KJW seemed to enjoy them though.

KJW finally got my Easter gift of a dozen SpongeBob eggs. One Easter sermon I read online focused on the fact that Easter should not be considered a one-day holiday. We followed this advice, only we made the week after Easter the extended observance. I am sure this is what the preacher had in mind.

My night ended in the best way possible, at Applebees. JTH, Mr. X and I were joined by DBN, who moved back to Knoxville on Monday. He is getting his house in order as he begins his new job on Monday. The night marked the two-year anniversary of his mother’s death and I was honored to spend it with Mongo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bible Trivia - 3/25/2008

Question: Which book says, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”?

Answer: Job. (Job 1:21)

Comments: This verse is the basis for the bridge to Matt Redman’s popular song “Blessed Be The Name” which was featured on his 2002 album Where Angels Fear to Tread.

Tree63's version of the song was featured on the 2005 edition of WOW hits. Contemporary Christian artist Chris Tomlin described Tree63's rendition of "Blessed Be Your Name" as "...the definitive recording of one of the most all-encompassing songs in the entire world of Christian music."

Its chorus sings:

Every blessing you pour out,
I turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say...
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be your glorious name

Word of the Day - 3/25/2008


Celerity means swiftness, speed.

Ecclesiastes reminds its audience that the race is not always won by celerity.

I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. (Ecclesiastes 9:11, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/25/2008

Knoxville had its first snow of the spring on Monday and I had my first meeting with JW, associate and interim pastor at the Church at Sterchi Hills. It looked as though the meeting would be postponed as the church was empty when I arrived for my scheduled appointment at 2 pm. I called the church several times and finally heard back around 3. I had stayed in the area and was thus able to meet him when he got there. He explained that he had been looking at books and got delayed. Of all the excuses he could have given me he picked the one that actually endeared him to me.

I was at a nearby Wal Mart when he called and was buying KJW some Imperial Super Miracle bubbles. I had to buy them in bulk and I used an extra bottle as a gift for JW. What minister working with youth cannot use a miracle, much less a super miracle?

JW is a 44-year old local who was educated at Luther Rice Seminary. He worked for the International Mission Board (IMB) for eighteen years, serving as a missionary to the Philippines. A year and a half ago he married a Filipino woman. He soon came home on furlough with every intention of returning to the mission field, but a new IMB policy stated that his wife must be a member of a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) church for three years before leaving. Despite this inane rule, he is devoted to the SBC and despite our diverse denominational allegiances (though I really have none), I liked him. He was very forthcoming, which I appreciated.

The church is located at 904 Dry Gap Pike, off of the Merchants Drive Exit of I-75. “Sterchi Hills” is named after the family associated with the Sterchi Brothers Furniture Store who once owned all of the land in the area. The name has stuck though there are no longer any Sterchis in the area. In fact, Sterchi Mansion, located across the street from the church, is for sale.

The region could best be described as in the Inskip area, on the edge of Powell. JW told me that locals specify the area over the hill where the church is located as “Dante.” (Pronounced like the name “Dan” and the drink “tea”.) I have lived in Knoxville most of my life and have never heard of that designation. The majority of the youth go to Powell High School with some from Halls and one from Gibbs. Most importantly, one has to pass an Applebees to get to the church.

The church was formed in 1995 after a split from Glenwood Baptist Church. The schism came when the founders of the Church at Sterchi Hills (known within the church as the “Prime Timers”) felt that Glenwood was not modern enough. They have been at their present location since 2003.

They market themselves on their web site and even their church sign, as providing “casual worship.” This picture is of their last senior pastor preaching. JW now handles the preaching duties and uses PowerPoint throughout. They start their services at 10:30 am and are done within an hour. Like any good Baptists, they are proud to beat nearby Faith United Methodist Church to lunch.

They incorporate contemporary music. JW has worked at the church about a year and they have featured three music leaders in that time. The current musician toured with Robert Plant in his band the Honeydrippers before he formed Led Zeppelin.

The church is located in an edifice that looks like a warehouse. The plan is for another similar structure to be built with a more traditional church building connecting the two. There is a painting of the completed building as you enter the church. What is now serving as the sanctuary will one day be a gym.

The church literally owns all of the land as far as the eye can see and are devoted to expansion. They have $600,000 to pay off the present facility before proceeding as planned. Though it is small, JW described them as “givers” and they have the resources to pay both an associate and senior pastor full-time.

The problem with the location is that there is no roadside visibility, though the church sign can be seen from the street. Further, it is in a totally residential area with little through traffic. This means that walk-up attendance will be minimal.

The church has no one on staff that was employed on January 1, 2007. Their beloved senior pastor retired abruptly in December 2006 and moved to Anderson County. A rift was formed in the church when a faction wanted associate RS to be promoted. He and thirty of his family members left in February 2007, which is a huge loss in a church of this size. He now works in McMinn County. Soon after he left, a phone campaign against the church began, including charges as farfetched as pedophilia. JW believes that the church has withstood the attack and has already bottomed out. He is encouraged as Sunday School attendance is back up to 80 with more in worship.

Their primary goal is to reach a burgeoning local community that represents a young demographic. I have some ideas but any suggestions on how to do this would be appreciated.

As of now, this meeting amounts to little more than a fact finding mission. The church has a dozen resumes on file and I have been the first one to tour the church by invitation. This means very little. Keep this process in your prayers, please.

Afterwards, I went to the Post Office to mail “Flat Stanley” to PAT in Kennesaw. Stanley accompanied me to a concert, the SEC Tournament, and the beach. He even survived a tornado so he is more durable than he appears.

While at the Post Office, I paid what Christian financial adviser Dave Ramsey calls the “Stupid Tax.” I picked up an envelope and filled it out so that I would be ready when I got to the front of the line. I did not realize that Express Mail would cost me $16.25! At least, he should be there soon. PAT, be ready.

I spent Monday night watching JTH’s team win a tough 50-47 game in the church league. I was more impressed with a new referee. It was not so much his officiating that I noticed, but his hair. His hair did not move once after refereeing three games! If I had his “preacher hair”, there would be no need to interview for jobs as churches would beat my door down to hire me. Plus, I could enter Jimmy Johnson lookalike contests.

While at the gym, I was also able to demonstrate my stupidity. The referee with less than perfect hair was searching for a needle. I got the keys to the equipment room from JEKGR but returned with no needle. I explained that I could not find one. It was actually a failure to communicate as I was looking for a needle (as in a needle and thread) while they wanted a needle for the basketball pump. At least I did not come back with a hypodermic needle.

Afterwards, I went to see KLTW, KJW, and RAW. KLTW and RAW are off of work through Wednesday to celebrate KLTW’s spring break. They are celebrating by cleaning the house. To give them some time, KJW ate some of my Sonic takeout with me. She enjoyed the mozzarella sticks (fried cheese is just a good idea). She also wanted some of my water. I had to show her that I poured it from my cup into hers to appease her. She is a distrusting little booger...

She also has some new acts in her repertoire. If you say “Sumo,” she squats and moves her leg like a sumo wrestler preparing for battle. My favorite new bit ivolves guns. No, we have not armed a baby. Her father has taught her that biceps are called “guns.” She now flexes while saying “Guns.” It is awesome! (By the way, I bought her the camouflage shirt she is wearing.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 3/24/2008

Associated Baptist Press
March 24, 2008 (8-31)

Judge dismisses Klouda lawsuit against Patterson, Southwestern
CBF receives $1 million from anonymous donor
Fantasy: Should Christians use violent video games to lure teens to church?
Fantasy: Where do Hobbits and Hebrews intersect?

Judge dismisses Klouda lawsuit against Patterson, Southwestern
By Robert Marus

FORT WORTH, Texas (ABP) -- A federal judge has ruled that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s decision to fire a female Hebrew professor was akin to a church’s decision to fire its pastor -- and therefore outside the purview of the civil courts.

In a March 19 ruling, United States District Judge John McBryde dismissed all of the complaints in Sheri Klouda’s lawsuit against her alma mater and former employer.

Citing a string of precedents by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, McBryde wrote, “the courts are prohibited by the First Amendment from involving themselves in ecclesiastical matters, such as disputes concerning theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government or the conformity of the members of the church to the standard of morals required.”

Klouda’s suit against Southwestern and its president, Paige Patterson, involved such an ecclesiastical matter, the judge determined. It should, therefore, be treated the same way the law would treat an employment dispute between a church and a minister -- by avoiding involvement.

“[T]he record establishes as a matter of law that the employment decision made by defendants [Southwestern] concerning plaintiff [Klouda] was ecclesiastical in nature,” McBryde wrote. “If the court were to allow plaintiff’s claims to go through the normal judicial processes, the procedural entanglements would be far-reaching in their impact upon [the] seminary as a religious organization.”

Klouda filed suit against Southwestern a year ago, citing gender discrimination and breach of contract, after leaving the school to take a teaching position at Taylor University in Upland, Ind. Her case was publicized by critics of Patterson, including prominent reform-minded Southern Baptist bloggers Wade Burleson and Benjamin Cole.

Klouda was hired to teach Hebrew in 2002, under a previous president’s administration. Patterson became Southwestern’s president in 2003. According to court documents, he decided that women should not teach theology to male ministers-in-training because the Southern Baptist Convention’s confession of faith says the office of pastor is reserved for men.

Nonetheless, according to Klouda, Patterson assured her that she was safe in her tenure-track position. However, in 2004, she was told that she would not be granted tenure. In 2006, according to Klouda, seminary officials told her she would be terminated at the end of that year.

Among her complaints were that the seminary had violated its promises to her, and that there was no clear justification in the Bible or the SBC confession for Patterson’s decision to bar women from Southwestern’s theology faculty.

But McBryde said that was not a decision for the court to second-guess, writing, “mere inquiry into those areas would be an unconstitutional intrusion into the affairs of the seminary as a religious organization.”

Patterson, in a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said McBryde’s decision “has implications for all of our institutions and churches. Americans everywhere may still rejoice in freedom of faith and the ordering of their institutions accordingly.”

In a March 22 blog post analyzing the ruling, Burleson said the implications of the ruling, if carried out to their legal conclusion, would bar women from serving as professors at any SBC seminary.

“In the long run, I believe people of the Southern Baptist Convention will realize that there are two ideologies causing tension within our convention,” he wrote. “[O]ne ideology would wish to relegate all women to a position of subordination to men, while the other seeks to acknowledge the biblical view of equality between men and women -- with the only official denominational exception to that equality being the prohibition in the [2000 revision of the SBC “Baptist Faith and Message” statement] for women to serve as ‘senior pastors.’”

Klouda did not return an Associated Baptist Press reporter’s telephone messages requesting comment for this story by press time. But, as of March 21, she reportedly had not decided whether she would appeal the decision.

The case is Klouda v. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


CBF receives $1 million from anonymous donor
By ABP staff

ATLANTA (ABP) -- The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship has received an anonymous $1 million gift for funding “micro-finance” loans in poor countries and other CBF ministries.

Daniel Vestal, the moderate Baptist group’s executive coordinator, announced the gift March 20, according to a CBF news release.

“It is humbling and encouraging that a donor would entrust the Fellowship with this kind of gift,” Vestal said. “We are excited to be able to put these new resources to work in fulfilling our vision of being the presence of Christ among the most neglected. Lives will be forever changed because of this gift.”

Half of the $1 million gift will be used for a new finance initiative coordinated through the CBF Foundation. The group is currently conducting due-diligence research on creating a fund designed to give the organization and its partner churches and ministries a way to invest funds in micro-finance banks around the globe.

Micro-finance banks lend small amounts of money to people in developing countries as start-up funds for small businesses. For example, an initial loan of as little as $50 to a woman in many parts of Latin America, Africa, or Asia would enable her to open a business that, within a few months, could generate enough income to provide for her family’s basic needs, employ neighbors, repay the loan and qualify for another one.

Many non-profit groups have begun operating or investing in micro-finance programs in the last 30 years. Such loans have demonstrated significant success in lifting small entrepreneurs and entire communities out of poverty while experiencing the dignity of self-sufficiency.

Last year, CBF leaders committed to supporting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for reducing global poverty. At least six of the eight goals depend directly on helping families become economically self-sufficient so that they can address issues like education and health.

“The donor’s visionary investment will help the industrious poor lift themselves out of poverty by providing access to capital to start their own businesses and earn income to support their families and repay the loans,” said Don Durham, CBF Foundation president. “Loans to poor people are repaid with amazing reliability, and lending money to poor people has been one of the most reliable strategies globally for helping the poor lift themselves out of poverty. Thanks to this gift, CBF Foundation can provide a way for CBF and other CBF Foundation clients to invest so that their principal does as much good as the proceeds. This provides an exponential increase in the positive impact we are all able to make among the most neglected.”

The donor designated the other $500,000 of the gift for a number of Fellowship-supported ministries, including equipping CBF field personnel with computers, supporting missions opportunities for undergraduate students, and care and wellness programs for missionaries.


Fantasy: Should Christians use violent video games to lure teens to church?
By Hannah Elliott

(ABP) -- What do warthogs, pelicans, energy swords and Spartan lasers have in common? And how do they relate to John 1:17?

They’re all part of a video game called Halo 3, the top-selling video game of 2007 that pre-sold more than 1 million copies two months before it even hit stores. In the first two weeks after its release, Halo 3 -- the third installment of Microsoft’s first-person shooter game -- made more than $300 million in sales.

The game is so popular many churches across the country are hosting Halo nights -- evenings filled with pizza, camaraderie and multiple-player games flashing across several television screens. Proponents say the nights aim to reach teenagers -- mostly boys -- on their own terms and show that churches can be relevant in a world filled with emerging technologies.

Indeed, national retail sales of video games, which includes portable and console hardware, software and accessories, generated revenues of nearly $12.5 billion last year, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. Almost 60 percent of frequent game players play with friends, and 33 percent play with siblings, NPD reported.

But critics question the value of using shooting games to entice boys to attend church. They say games like Halo numb kids to violence and even teach them to kill. And the M-rating for Halo 3 gives young people access to something they can’t legally buy, since M-rated games must be purchased by someone 17 or older.

An October 2007 story in the New York Times brought such video games to the forefront of a dilemma youth leaders constantly face: how to be relevant to teenagers without necessarily condoning everything the world offers them. Such leaders and evangelists are trying to sort out how to be “in” the world but not “of” it.

Greg Stier, president and founder of Dare 2 Share ministries, spends his time giving teens tools to share their faith in the thick of pop culture. Among other outreach efforts, Dare 2 Share publishes guides that help teens do things like use troubled chanteuse Amy Winehouse’s latest CD or actor Owen Wilson’s recent suicide attempt to talk to their friends about Jesus.

Last October, the ministry published a tract dealing with Halo.

“Our big deal this year is that we think that on the subject [of video games and movies], sometimes it feels like youth leaders are so isolated when it comes to culture, they really don’t know what these kids are watching or playing,” Stier, who works in Arvada, Colo., said. “So we tell them you really need to understand what these kids are seeing. You need to get out there and see it and know exactly what it is they’re seeing. You need to be familiar with it.

“We’re not advocating that everybody goes out and buys [Halo], but we’re saying that you’ve got to be aware.”

Halo in particular has an intricate plot that most outsiders don’t know. Its first installment began an epic story of human soldiers trying to destroy an outer-space outpost called “Halo,” which turns out to be a weapon capable of destroying all life in the galaxy. The Halo is guarded by a mysterious alien race called the Covenant, and the aliens regard the Halo as a religious artifact. The star player is Master Chief, the last of a line of genetically enhanced Spartan warriors, who is humanity’s last hope for survival.

Halo 2 continues the story (multiple Halo installations are found to exist throughout the galaxy) as the aliens deploy to fight the soldiers. In Halo 3, the aliens try to activate the space weapons and later unleash monster-like creatures that may annihilate the entire galaxy. Although the end-game to the Halo story remains unclear, players find out in Halo’s third installment that Master Chief’s true name is John-117.

A crucial selling point is that players can play the game over the Internet with anyone worldwide. Using online handles like BlueFlappers or x2k1dynastyx, they ride around on warthogs or pelicans and shoot each other and alien zombies with all manner of firearms.

Game mode options include capture-the-flag challenges, traditional shoot-out battles and full-fledged strategic campaigns. Characters in the game sometimes use mild profanity, and player names sometimes border on vulgarity.

The game has some religious thematic elements, namely the good-versus-evil plot and the role of Master Chief. That’s why some say it can be a valuable tool in relating to non-Christians.

“The person in that role in Halo 3 is kind of a messianic figure.… That is an opportunity to talk about” Christianity, Stier said. “Personally, I don’t think that was an accident. I think that was some programmer who was trying to make a point.”

Some, however, don’t see redeemable religious overtones in Halo 3 any more than they do in shoot-’em-up Western movies. It was the potential for vulgarity and isolation of gamers that led Mike Matlock and Kedrick Kenerly to create Christian Gamers Online, a nonprofit ministry that runs servers supporting Battlefield 2 and Call of Duty, both of which are first-person shooter games. The site also hosts weekly Bible studies that attract as many as 40 people simultaneously online.

Matlock, 45, said Christian Gamers Online is first and foremost a ministry that attracts non-Christian gamers and helps protect impressionable young minds. It was a deliberate decision to label the group as “Christian” first and “gamers” second, he said.

Now the senior administrator for the group, Matlock said video games reach an overlooked segment of the population, and hosting such games in church is a legitimate way to reach kids for Christ.

“Really, people can get legalistic -- you can take complete objections to everything,” Matlock said. “We try to be very careful and be true to the gospel when we’re using gaming as an outreach tool. We try not to compromise that. We just use it as an outreach tool just as you would if you had some live music … or if you were having some kind of athletic event.”

Lyle Dorsett, an evangelism professor at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School, similarly compared some video games to sports. The competition and strategy in both have great appeal, and that can be an effective evangelism tactic, depending on the situation, he said.

What’s more, churches historically have used popular games or activities to reach young people, he said.

“To use things that young people do and are enthused about so you can bring them in and witness isn’t a bad thing per se,” said Dorsett, who lives in Birmingham, Ala. But he reiterated that the overwhelming message to teens must point to Christ, not culture.

“We can use all kinds of clever tricks to bring young people in or adults in. We can entertain them, we can give them better coffee, we can give them more comfortable seats,” he said. “They may love it, and they may stay for a year. But they will never become true disciples of Jesus Christ and be born again unless the Spirit changes their heart and somebody gives them Christ.”

Of course, it’s one thing to bring teens in to play basketball and something quite different to bring them in to play violent video games, Dorsett and others say.

Al Menconi is a leading expert on the influence of pop entertainment on the Christian family. Menconi says that while he doesn’t presume to judge anyone else’s youth ministry, he disagrees with those who permit violent video games in church.

“I wouldn’t do it because I think the games are constant killing,” said Menconi, who used to lead college classes at Scott Memorial Baptist Church near San Diego. “There is no redeeming factor. It’s just the adrenaline rush of killing. I really believe that I can validate scripturally that that’s not right.”

And when it comes to comparing sports and video games, Menconi doesn’t buy it for a second. First-person shooter video games are much different than something like paintball, where there are live consequences to getting hit, he said.

In paintball, “if you screw up, you get hit, you get hurt. It stings, and you’re out there and you’re in reality,” he said. But Halo is suitable even for military training, because it teaches recruits how to kill without hesitating -- and without real-world consequences.

Many experts agree that outreach using games with violence-based M-rating places undue pressure on parents, who may not allow M-rated games at home but have trouble explaining to their child why the games are allowed in church. Stier recommends youth ministers talk with parents and pastors before allowing any M-rated games at youth functions.

The general consensus among experts is that parenting makes a big difference in how such games affect kids.

Good parenting in general provides a barrier of reality for young gamers, some authorities pointed out. And it can make the difference between a child who uses a game to isolate themselves from the real world or who uses it to befriend others. That vital difference is something youth pastors must note, Dorsett said.

“The vast majority of teens today feel alienated.… These young people are hungry for love. They’re hungry to be listened to,” Dorsett said. “They need someone to get to know them and really listen to them. If you just bring a crowd of kids in and give them a show and entertain them and then give them a talk, you haven’t listened to them. You haven’t really listened to them to know what they like and care about.”

It’s a tough line to walk, Stier granted: “You’re torn. Youth leaders are torn. You want to reach kids, but you don’t want to compromise biblically.”

Of course, the Bible was no walk in the park either. Stier noted, “If the Old Testament were a video game, it would make Halo 3 blush.”


Fantasy: Where do Hobbits and Hebrews intersect?
By Jay Smith

(ABP) -- Evangelical Christians have long struggled with literature and films espousing a view of reality that confronts the values of their Christian lives.

In general, if a book or movie challenges what are generally perceived as Christian values or morals (for example: the existence of God, sexual propriety, general human dignity or a gratuitous emphasis on the supernatural), then we tend to be wary of it.

Evangelicals often have assessed such literature and films in two different ways. On the one hand, Christians have enjoyed and promoted the imaginative literature and films produced by professed believers, such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and even Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.

On the other hand, books and films such as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter installments or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, which raise serious theological questions, force Christians to take a harder look at the fantasy genre and the role that it plays in their Christian spiritual formation.

When we, as Christians, investigate the role of fantasy and its effect on our discipleship, we must be aware of the powerful influence it has on our imaginations.

As one of the three primary mental faculties, the imagination creates our functional reality by focusing what the senses perceive through the filter of reason and memory. In this sense, we literally live through our imaginations.

As a secondary function, the imagination can daydream or fantasize. In other words, when allowed to “idle”, our imaginations can use our memories or experiences to envision a different version of reality than the one playing out before us.

When the Bible speaks of imagination, it is usually in a negative fashion. For example, the Old Testament writers located the imagination in the heart. As the seat of the affections, such authors believed, the heart was subject to corruption. Indeed, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel affirmed the need for God’s people to have “new hearts” in order to see, hear and obey as God’s people and given only at God’s initiative.

The New Testament does not directly reference the imagination as such, but several passages help us to understand its role in the life of faith. When Paul, in Ephesians 1:18 references “the eyes of your heart” or when in Hebrews 11, we are asked to understand how in faith we can envision the unseen, or throughout the gospels, where Jesus speaks in parables, we begin to understand how critical the imagination is to the life lived in faith.

Ultimately, we affirm that the gospel itself -- with the life, death and resurrection of Christ at its center -- is the reality for which the imagination was created to grasp.

Our imaginations enable us to learn, to perform, to solve and to envision. In a child with few cumulative memories, the imagination is especially impressionable.

Though the fantasy genre is appealing to people of all ages, it is especially so to children, for it allows their imaginations unlimited room to run. This is the effect attained in The Chronicles of Narnia as well as in The Lord of the Rings. When we find ourselves walking the woods of Narnia or the roads of Hobbiton in the Shire, we find ourselves imagining a new, different -- and hopefully better -- world.

Indeed, the imagination helps us to draw correlations from these tales with “the greatest story ever told” -- the gospel.

Yet, it is this world-inhabiting ability of the imagination that also makes the fantasy genre problematic. Caught up in our fantastic nature, we tend to disregard the fact that ideologies -- both positive and negative -- are embedded in every story.

For parents, this means that there is a responsibility either to monitor what their children are reading and viewing or to help them understand what they are experiencing according to their beliefs.

As adults, we have an opportunity to continue to grow in Christ as we experience different worldviews through the various perspectives of the fantasy genre. The key is Christ, who must be Lord of the imagination, if he is to be Lord at all. As C. S. Lewis suggested, if Christ is Lord in our life, then we posses a “baptized imagination.”

Consequently, fantasy can have a role to play in our lives and should not be rejected outright, especially if our imaginations are first lashed firmly to the Cross.


-- Jay Smith is a professor of Christian studies at Howard Payne University in Brownwood, Texas.