Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Veiled Tell: Nil Soli - 4/26/2008

The Nines (2007)

JTH and I viewed The Nines last Sunday while we were engaged in some spring cleaning. We watched the movie because we are both fans of the film’s star Ryan Reynolds (in a completely heterosexual way) . We quickly realized that this metaphysical film was not best viewed while multitasking. Thus, I watched the film again later in the week.

The Nines is the pet project of writer/director John August. He is a highly respected screenwriter, scripting films such as Go (1999) Big Fish (2003), and Corpse Bride (2005). This was his directorial debut. August wanted the film to be seen so badly they he alerted potential viewers where they could download the film illegally online.

Unfortunately for him, few people saw his movie in theaters. The movie, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, was released on August 31, 2007, but was only shown in Los Angeles, New York and Austin. It was released on DVD on January 29, 2008.

Despite its limited release, it turned a profit as it had a miniscule budget and as such little incentive for the studio to push it. The movie had virtually no publicity and was shot very quickly - 22 days in Los Angeles and two days in New York. Much of the film was shot in John August's own house.

The movie is difficult to detail without spoilers and I will not try. If you do not want any spoilers, stop reading now.

The Nines is self-consciously presented in three acts - "The Prisoner," "Reality Television" and "Knowing" with titles in between each to denote a new section. The cast is the same in each part and Ryan Reynolds is present throughout. Reynolds plays 1. Gary, a dense and destructive actor who is under house arrest, 2. Gavin, a gay screenwriter trying to get his television pilot picked up by a network, and 3. Gabriel, an acclaimed video game designer, stuck in the woods with his wife and daughter due to car trouble.

The script provides Reynolds a departure from his typical comedic fare and allows him to showcase his versatility. He seems to be breaking free from typecasting that resulted from films such as Van Wilder and Waiting. He also played against type in another 2007 movie, Smokin’ Aces. In The Nines, he portrays three diverse characters without resorting to acting ploys and seamlessly transitions between roles. He is believable in each incarnation.

There are nine roles (three actors in three shorts) in the film. The other two actors are the unconventional female leads Hope Davis and Melissa McCarthy. Both are excellent in their roles. In each segment, McCarthy clings to Reynolds while Davis tries to pull Reynolds away from her, often incorporating the phrase "Look for the Nines." McCarthy has long collaborated with August, acting in his scripts for the features Charlie's Angels and Go, the short film God and the short-lived television series "D.C.."

Elle Fanning (Dakota's near clone little sister) is also excellent playing the mute Noelle, who habitually appears trying to communicate truth to Reynolds through sign language. Fanning’s character was written as mute due to August’s apprehensiveness of child actors. She was originally written only in the third act, which was filmed first. August was so pleased with Fanning that he reincorporated her into the other plots.

The first act features Reynolds as the star of the television show "Crim9 Lab." Dejected due to an ended romance, he inadvertently burns his house down while attempting to burn his lover's possessions. The segment introduces the dynamics between the actors. The camera never moves except when Hope Davis is on screen, demonstrating the unsettling effect she has. Davis also inexplicably breaks the fourth wall in the first act, singing Peggy Lee (1920-2002)'s staple "Is That All There Is?"

Melissa McCarthy reprises her role as Margaret from a John August short film “God” which is included on the DVD release.

In a trivial note, the house that Reynolds burns down is that of Dodgeball writer/director Rawson Thurber who was once an assistant of August's and later appears in a cameo as himself.

The second act, "Reality television", is highly autobiographical. Reynolds unabashedly plays the character "Gavin" as John August himself, mimicking both his voice and mannerisms. The relationships Gavin has with each person is the same as August has with them in reality. August’s own house even served as the set and he provides the voice of the cameraman asking the questions. The segment is based upon his experiences with the television show "D.C." (2000) in general and specifically with his recasting of Mia Kirshner. A large part of the second part was unscripted with dialogue being improvised by the actors.

Melissa McCarthy's role in "Reality Television" further blurs the lines between fact and fiction as she plays a more glamorized version of herself. The character "Melissa McCarthy" leaves her real-life series "Gilmore Girls" to star in Gavin's new show. The segment incorporates other real life aspects of her life such as McCarthy and her real husband Ben Falcone agonizing over buying a house and her really being in the comedy troupe Groundlings. The coffee shop where McCarthy is fired in the film is the same Burbank restaurant that August informed her he had written the role for her three years prior to filming.

The third installment is the pilot from the scene before. It tries to connect the first two sequences in an essential way. In it, Reynolds plays a world renowned video game designer. It is an homage to August’s World of Warcraft addiction. In fact, many have proposed that the entire film is based upon the video game The Sims 2. There is a Sim Logo diamond at the end of the film and a piece of Sims art on the wall (in the dining room shot). Further, the prism floating on top of the people head is a classic Sims 2 trade mark. In the game, green indicates happiness.

Each segment has its own distinct feel as August shot each with different film and color schemes. “The Prisoner” features rich yellows and oranges shot in 16MM. The second act, “Reality Television”, is shot in digital video as a reality television show would be. The third and final chapter is the pilot pitched in the second installment - “Knowing.” It showcases darker blues and greens and was shot in 35MM. The first two acts are insider portraits of Hollywood - first a self-absorbed actor's tale followed by a screenwriter's. The third is located outside after the first is confined and the second emotionally confined.

The three stories intersect and overlap. All the parallel stories cross over, defying both space and time. Each sequence has much in common including alliterative names of the three characters. Each segment also explores the relationships between creators and their creations.

August intentionally deflects the usual suspects for explanations at each turn. The tying of the green string in the title sequence was not in the original script but was added to cue the viewer that Reynolds' character(s) is not insane. At the end of act one, McCarthy questions Reynolds and the possibilities of death, coma, and dream sequence are discarded. At the end of act two, the truth is finally revealed.

Each chapter ends in a way that partially reveals the meaning of the film's title and connects the chapter to the other two. Small clues in each story hint at the idea that Reynolds is the unsuspecting “author” of all three worlds. For 4,000 years he has been creating universes for his amusement. The film portrays only three of the 90 worlds. He becomes addicted to the process all the while becoming so engrossed with each role he's playing in each universe that he forgets that he himself is the creator. At some point, he eliminates the universe and starts another one.

The title of the movie becomes apparent when Sierra informs Gabriel that the universe is hierarchical in nature. Human beings are only 7s, koala bears are 8s (because they control the weather!) and Gabriel is a 9 - an extraterrestrial being in a human incarnation.

His addictiveness to the creations is problematic and has to be coaxed back to his more spiritual realm by three recurring characters who are also nines (Hope Davis, Octavia Spencer, and David Denman). They are trying to intervene and convince him to return to his natural state - a region that is warm and full of light and indescribable using human words or thoughts.

The movie concludes with an amalgamation of the three scenes which McCarthy's character classifies as "the best of all possible worlds." McCarthy's character's name is now Mommy and as such the viewer does not know which incarnation was the best. Her child, Noelle, can speak in this world. The ending is anticlimactic and too happy. It was not the original ending from the script.

While I totally disagree with the film’s metaphysical and existential worldview, I appreciate the film for what it is. It attempts to merges indie realism with metaphysical surrealism to form an existential piece, characterized by the question "Is that all there is?" It might also be classified as "metafiction." The movie explores philosophy, metaphysical multi-dimensional theory, simulated reality, ect.

It makes a bold statement against addiction, particularly getting wrapped up in a creative canvas, such as a video game. It also takes well-aimed pot shots at reality television and Parade magazine.

I also appreciate my God and savior more by comparison. Here are some of theological thoughts:

  • The film's three principle actors all have characters who begin with the names G (Reynolds), S (Davis), and M(McCarthy). This perhaps represents God, Satan, and Man.
  • While Reynolds' character is a 9, the movie leaves open the possibility of a theoretical ten that may or may not exist. Humans rate a seven on the same scale. Spinoza (1632-1677) developed the concept of the hierarchical representation of nature of the "beings" from eternal and infinite to finite. This in and of itself is not contrary to the Bible. The Psalmist states the obvious that man is lower than God (Psalm 8:5), which Hebrews interprets as "angels." (Hebrews 2:7) Jesus himself says that humans are more valuable than sparrows (Matthew 10:31), sheep (Matthew 12:12), and birds (Luke 12:24). The problem in the film is that humanity should not be even remotely close to God on any scale. In the words of John Bertram Phillips (1906-1982), "Your God is too small."
  • Naturally John August’s God incarnate resembles himself. This is no more surprising than Mel Gibson’ Jesus being an action hero. People often envision God in the image of the best traits they like about themselves.
  • Like the leading character in the film, my God exists in Trinitarian form, but all in the same universe at the same time.
  • My God came to earth for love, but not of just one but of all (Romans 2:11), and not for his own benefits.
  • Has anyone else notices this movie has the God figure on crack?
  • The movie addresses Joan Obsourne's lyrical question "What if God was one of us?" The God of the film is as flawed as any viewer, an experience-junkie who leaves humanity to its own fate. My God came and died for my sins to prevent such a thing.
  • The film also addresses the dilemma of a perfect God creating an imperfect world. The phrase "the best of all possible worlds" enters the film through Voltaire's Candide. Voltaire (1694-1778) was merely parodying Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716). Leibniz coined the expression (French: le meilleur des mondes possibles) in his 1710 work Essais de Théodicée sur la bonté de Dieu, la liberté de l'homme et l'origine du mal. It is the central argument in Leibniz's theodicy, or his attempt to solve the problem of evil.
  • In the film, the “best of all possible worlds” comes when the God figure leaves. John August explains, “To create a compelling world, an author must enter into the world of his story. But for that story to thrive, he must eventually leave it. This is the only way to create the best of all possible worlds." In the best of all worlds, we have the Holy Spirit with us continually as our disposal.
  • The movie also asks if ours is the only world ever created. C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) popularized what is known as Gap Theory - a gap between creations in Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. The gap theory speculates that an indefinite span of time exists between the two verses. This time span is usually considered to be massive (millions of years) which could account for “geologic ages.” Supporters of this theory also postulate that a cataclysmic judgment was pronounced upon the earth during this period as the result of the fall of Lucifer (Satan) and that the ensuing verses of Genesis chapter 1 describe a re-creation or reforming of the earth from a chaotic state and not an initial creative effort on the part of God.
  • Unlike Christianity, the film is somewhat polytheistic as there are multiple nines.
  • The Gnostic undertones ("Knowing" is featured in all three pieces) also make this a film that most orthodox Christians would consider blasphemous.

The Nines is rated R for some drug content, language and a brief bit of (non-graphic) sexuality. It naturally runs 99 minutes. The film is structured to be viewed in a loop. Unfortunately, few viewers will be enthralled with the first viewing enough to rewatch the film. The hybrid may find it difficult finding an audience as well. This being said, I enjoyed the thought-provoking film.

Current IMDB rating: 6.8/10. Chanalysis: 7/10.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 4/25/2008

Associated Baptist Press
April 25, 2008 (8-44)

Obama’s controversial pastor submits to first TV interview
Chistian credit union pledges $232,000 to support ABC workers, Thai villages
Baptist communicators big winners in ecumenical awards competition
‘God is still in control’ despite tornado, Tennessee pastor says

Obama’s controversial pastor submits to first TV interview
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Pastor Jeremiah Wright, who became a household name recently after video snippets of his sermons created a stir on the Internet and a headache for his most famous parishioner, is defending himself in an interview scheduled to be televised April 25.

The video clips, which began showing up on YouTube and were seized on by journalists and talk-radio hosts in February and March, contained comments that some have interpreted as anti-American and anti-white.

“I felt it was unfair, I felt it was unjust, I felt it was untrue -- I felt that those who were doing that were doing it for some very devious reasons,” Wright said, when PBS journalist Bill Moyers asked him how he felt when he first saw the clips and how they were being used.

The interview with Wright, who recently retired as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is his first since the controversy broke. It will be shown on Bill Moyers Journal. Trinity, which counts Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Barack Obama among its members, is the largest church in its denomination and one of only a few predominantly African-American congregations in the largely white UCC.

For example, perhaps the most inflammatory clip came from a 2003 sermon in which Wright recounted the historically inequitable treatment of African-Americans by state and federal officials. “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no. God damn America -- that's in the Bible -- for killing innocent people,” Wright exclaimed. “God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

A message Wright preached the Sunday after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks also has drawn significant fire. In it, he noted that Americans seemed shocked and bewildered that anyone would want to visit their country with violence.

“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” he said in the Sept. 16, 2001, sermon. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.”

Obama has been an active member of Trinity for more than 20 years and has credited Wright with helping bring him to Christ and being a spiritual mentor. But, in response to the uproar, Obama delivered a speech in which he denounced his pastor’s most controversial statements.

While acknowledging that his pastor came of age in a day when African-Americans were burdened under segregation’s heavy yoke, the candidate said that Wright’s words nonetheless “expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that sees white racism as endemic, that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America.”

In that sense, Obama continued, “Rev. Wright’s comments weren’t only wrong but divisive -- divisive at a time at which we need unity.”

But, in the PBS interview, Wright said the out-of-context nature of the clips created a false impression of his beliefs -- but that both his sermons and the people who excerpted them were sending exactly the messages they wanted to, respectively.

“Persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly,” he told Moyers. “When something is taken like a sound bite for political purposes and put constantly over and over again -- looped in the face of the public -- that’s not a failure to communicate; those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic.”

Wright told Moyers -- himself a member of a congregation that is dually aligned with the UCC and the American Baptist Churches USA -- that he thought the sermon clips were intended to distort his image.

“I think that they want to communicate that … I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am full of -- filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ, and by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint-hint-hint; that’s what they wanted to communicate,” he said.

“They know nothing about the church,” Wright said, ticking off a list of Trinity’s many social ministries in its economically depressed neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. “They know nothing about all that we try to do as a church and have tried to do and still continue to do as a church that believes what [University of Chicago Christian scholar] Martin Marty said, that the two worlds have to be together, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ has to speak to those worlds -- not only in terms of the preached message on a Sunday morning, but in terms of the lived-out ministry throughout the week.”


Chistian credit union pledges $232,000 to support ABC workers, Thai villages
By ABP staff

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (ABP) --The ministry of two American Baptist Churches missionaries to underdeveloped Thai villages will be undergirded with a $232,500 gift from Christian Community Credit Union.

According to the American Baptist News Service, the nationwide Christian banking group’s gift will support the work of ABC International Ministries workers Mike Mann and Becky Mann, who work with the Integrated Tribal Development Program in northern Thailand.

The donation will fund water and sanitation, construction of a school and a clinic, and support microenterprise loans for three different hill-tribe villages in the "Launch a Village" project. The money will also help provide agricultural and business training for villagers, purchase a 4-wheel drive truck, and enable local production and marketing of fair-trade coffee.

“The ‘Launch a Village’ project is a powerful example of how Christian Community Credit Union members are making a difference to improve the lives of people in desperate need,” said Reid Trulson, executive director of International Ministries, according to the news release.

“Working together with [the Integrated Tribal Development Program] allowed us to apply the credit union movement’s philosophy of ‘people helping people,’” said John Walling, Christian Community Credit Union president and chief executive.

“The ‘Launch a Village’ project is an answer to prayer," Becky Mann said. “Not only do we help bring water and life skills to the poor and remote villages in Thailand, we’re also sharing about the Living Water that will flow into each of the villager’s heart and soul!”

The California-based credit union operates nationwide, serving more than 29,000 members. It regularly contributes to Christian ministries around the world.


Baptist communicators big winners in ecumenical awards competition
By ABP staff

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- Baptist communicators garnered several awards from an ecumenical awards competition for religious journalists and public-relations professionals.

Three of the 10 best-in-class prizes at the recent Religion Communicators Council DeRose-Hinkhouse Awards contest went to Baptist professionals.

Scott Camp, senior graphics designer at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala., won best of class in public-relations materials for a worship guide for Beeson Divinity School’s year-long “Walking with the Saints” convocation series. Camp also won awards of excellence in poster and booklet and an award of merit for brochure.

Polly House, corporate communication specialist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources won best of class in writing for the story “Cops, others let down their guard at law enforcement summit.” House also won an award of excellence in the newspaper single story category and an award of merit in magazine single article for “With 2000+ prayers of salvation, Nell Kerley is still going strong.”

Lance Wallace, director of communication for the Atlanta-based Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, won best of class in non-broadcast audio and video for the group’s “Embrace the World” fall emphasis. The entry also won an award of excellence in the promotional video category.

Other award winners from CBF were: Lance Wallace, Patricia Heys and Carla Wynn Davis, who won the award of excellence in the national-newsletter category for CBF Fellowship! and an award of merit in the single-issue category for the November/December 2007 issue; Davis, who won the award of excellence in the promotional video category for “Together for Hope: CBF’s Rural Poverty Initiative;” and Wallace, who won an award of excellence in the integrated marketing category for the CBF Offering for Global Missions, and an award of merit in the CD-rom category for “Embrace the World.”

Other Samford University winners were Carlie Stamper, graphics designer, Samford University, award of merit for a poster advertising the opera Die Fledermaus; Monica Washington, graphics designer, award of merit for the 2007 homecoming gala program booklet; and Carissa Bradley, web editor, award of merit in web design for department of communication studies home page design.

Winners from American Baptist Churches USA included Susan Gottshall, associate executive director of communications, award of merit in the miscellaneous-writing category for “Deliver us from evil: Baptists, slavery and freedom,” and award of excellence in the promotional-video category for “Rebuilding lives one family at a time;” Danny Ellison, award of merit in the miscellaneous design category for the “Deliver us from evil” exhibit.

Winners from the Dallas-based Baptist charity Buckner International included Jenny Pope, Alan Paul, Russ Dilday, Luis Perez, Analiz Gonzalez and Scott Collins, who received the award of merit in the national-magazine category for Buckner Today and an award of merit in the single-issue category for “The People” issue; Dilday, Collins and Paul, who received an award of excellence in special print materials for Advent Guide; Gonzalez, award of merit in newspaper single-story category for “Buckner Provides Aid to Tornado Survivors” and award of excellence in web writing for “The gift of two moms; Pope, award of merit in web writing for “Miracle home;” Paul, award of merit in design publication cover for “Our stories: missions in first person;” and Dilday, Pope, Perez, Tasasha Kelly, Ronnie Bock, Bradley Vinson and Matt Searcy, an award of excellence in the public-relations campaign category for “It’s Your”

Jennifer Davis Rash and Grace Thornton of The Alabama Baptist, received the award of excellence in the local or regional newspaper category.

Kelly Davis Shrout, Katie Shull and Jenny Rice of LifeWay Christian Resources received an award of excellence in the local or regional newsletter category.

Will Hall, executive director, Baptist Press, Nashville, Tenn., won an award of excellence in the miscellaneous periodicals category for Baptist Press and award of merit in web editorial writing for “Choosing life is the right option.”

RCC is a national interfaith association of about 500 professional communicators and is the oldest organization for public-relations professionals in the United States. The awards were given during RCC’s recent national convention in Washington.


‘God is still in control’ despite tornado, Tennessee pastor says
By Lonnie Wilkey

ETHRIDGE, Tenn. (ABP) – Members of Liberty Hill Baptist Church are mourning the loss of their church building to a tornado but celebrating signs of new birth.

Just two days after a tornado ripped through Giles and Lawrence counties April 11, severely damaging the historic building, a woman who had been attending the church professed her faith in Jesus, said Pastor Kyle James.

“God is still in control,” the pastor said during an April 13 service, held in another church’s sanctuary.

He noted members are saddened about the loss of their church, which is more than 100 years old. In addition, part of the building was historic, having served as the old Liberty Hill School.

For now Liberty Hill, which averages about 55-60 attendees each week, will meet in a former church facility provided by Victory Baptist Church in Lawrenceburg.

As of April 16, the church had not received official word from its insurance company as to whether the building is a complete loss, but James and others feel the damage is so extensive that the building will have to be torn down and rebuilt.

A structural engineer is to visit the church and would make the final determination, James said.

James told the congregation April 13 it is okay to be sad about the loss. Many of the members have been in the church their entire lives. But he also told them, “It is okay to be excited about what the Lord is going to do through this.”

Though the tornado’s path was narrow, it caused extensive damage in the community. “A building can be replaced,” James said. “We praise the Lord there was no loss of life.”

James also expressed gratitude for Giles County Baptist Association, of which the church is a member, and churches in neighboring Lawrence County Baptist Association. He noted that within three hours after the tornado hit, about 70 volunteers were on site, clearing away trees and debris. Many more also worked all day April 12.

“There was a tremendous outpouring of love and compassion,” James observed.

In addition to the volunteer labor, James said the church has received donations and has been the beneficiary of numerous prayers. “Without them I don’t know how we could have gotten through this. The prayers have been felt,” he said.

The pastor is not sure how long the building process will take. He said the church is insured for both structure and content, but he expects the congregation will utilize volunteers to help rebuild.

James, who is bivocational, is not discouraged. “I am more excited than ever. I want to be the pastor here more than at any other time that I’ve been here,” he affirmed.

“The Lord is already working here and it is exciting to know what the Lord will do through this.”


Prayer Blog - 4/25/2008, #2

I have a combination praise and prayer request. WRK has secured a summer internship. Actually, she has been offered two. Both Design Directions Inc. of Marietta, GA, and the J. Barkley Design Group of Roswell, GA, made offers on Thursday. Since the latter actually offered monetary compensation, the choice seems to be made. Still, WRK will be contemplating the decision over the weekend. Pray that she does not choose poorly and pray for the internship itself.

Prayer Blog - 4/25/2008

The much ballyhooed three-day Franklin Graham Festival of East Tennessee opens tonight at 7 pm at Thompson-Boling Arena on the University of Tennessee campus. Please pray that God is honored and the festival accomplishes its mission of reaching the community for Christ.

Note: Tickets are free and open to the public, so if you are in the area and would like to come, by all means attend.

Bible Trivia - 4/25/2008

Question: Complete the follwing: "If any man will come after me, let him..."

Answer: "deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me."(Matthew 16:24)

Comments: Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) explained, "To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us. Once more, all that self-denial can say is: 'He leads the way, keep close to him.'" (Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Touchstone, 1995), p. 88)

Bonhoeffer understood the "cost of discipleship." After resisting Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and hanged at dawn on April 9, 1945 - just three weeks before the liberation of Berlin and one month before the capitulation of Nazi Germany.

Word of the Day - 4/25/2008


Lugubrious means mournful, dismal, or gloomy, especially in an affected, exaggerated, or unrelieved manner.

When Jesus was interrogated as to why his disciples did not fast, he replied that it would be inappropriate for a bridegroom's attendants to behave lugubriously in his presence. (Matthew 9:15)

And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (Matthew 9:15, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 4/25/2008

In my vast travels yesterday, I discovered that a new used book store has opened within minutes of my home. It is called The Bent Corner and it is delightful. Two cats roam freely (just like in the Book Eddy) and the service was excellent. (Thanks, Allie.) The selection is solid for a smaller used store and the prices all were in the $5 range. The store did not have the mega (under $1) bargains, but the books were quality pieces and reasonably priced.

I do seriously question the store’s location. It is within walking distance of McKay Used Books & CDs, the best and biggest used store I have ever visited. It is also submerged in the Papermill Plaza shopping center which has spelled death to virtually every enterprise that has ever entered it. I was informed the store had opened on March 8. I must be slipping as it should never take me more than a month to sniff out a used book store.

If you get a chance, check them out.

On Thursday evening, I witnessed JTH’s team win the championship of the CBCB Men’s Slow Break League. The game pitted JTH’s fourth seeded team against the second season, captained by MHF. The team is comprised predominantly of the Bearden High School's football coaching staff. Not surprisingly, they play basketball like football players. Or like me.

Both teams were shorthanded. Three of JTH’s eight teammates were unable to attend (ZAB, BH, BAP). MHF’s team was affected even more as only four players could make the game. Their captain was among the absentee players. This is the problem inherit in scheduling the championship game of a Monday night league on a Thursday night.

The scorekeeper filled in so the two teams could play five-on-five. MHF's team hit three consecutive thee-point baskets to build an early nine-point lead, but JTH's erased the deficit and led 25-22 at the half. They cruised to a 45-32 victory as the opponents' lack of depth caught up with them. Kenton "Dutch" Deitch (KLD), the unassuming choir director of Farragut High School took the game into his own hands in the second half.

I sat with SDSH and she was especially pleased her husband's team won. In his three seasons in the league, she had never seen him win. Though they had a winning team this season, she was present only at the three losses prior to this game.

The finals of the fast break lead were held immediately afterwards which enabled me to catch up with some cherished old acquaintances. When the players arrived late in the game, they feared the slow break game was only in the first half based upon the score...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Prayer Blog - 4/24/2008

SGM has officially resigned from Central Baptist Church of Bearden's children's ministry. SGM has accepted the position as Minister to Children at First Baptist Church - Zachary (Louisiana). This is a well deserved advancement. Pray for blessing upon SGM in his future endeavors and the church as they seek someone to fill the position.

Bible Trivia - 4/24/2008

Question: How old was Sarah when God promised her a child before the same time next year?

Answer: 90 (Genesis 17:17)

Comments: Sarah is one of only two women whose age is documented in Scripture. The other is 84-year old Anna. (Luke 2:37) Evidently, even in the Biblical age it was inappropriate to cite a woman's age. More things one can learn from the Bible...

Word of the Day - 4/24/2008


A sobriquet is a nickname.

Jesus bestowed the Aramaic sobriquet Boanerges ("Sons of Thunder") on brothers James and John. (Mark 3:17)

and James, the son of Zebedee, and John the brother of James (to them He gave the name Boanerges, which means, "Sons of Thunder"); (Mark 3:17, NASB)

Some believe that the epithet was derived in deference to their temper (as exhibited in Luke 9:54) as the literal Aramaic means "Sons of Wrath."

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 4/24/2008

I spent Wednesday evening with my family, going out to eat and viewing a play.

My parents and I ate at the Ruby Tuesday Restaurant. The franchise is in poor shape, reporting on April 2 that their third-quarter income was less than half of what it was only a year earlier. It appears the local branch has changed considerably in response to the recent financial difficulties. From the looks of the menu, the establishment is returning to the franchise's original concept of offering a variety of handburgers. This particular location's look and feel have also significantly been upgraded.

We sampled their Spinach Artichoke Dip. It was not bad but failed an obvious dip test. When chips are exhausted before the dip, the dip is nothing special.

It was good to catch up with my parents. We were also privy to a loud talking patron evidently obsessed with the genealogy of one William Humprheys. I have no idea who he is, but I now know way too much about him.

We then met RLN, JSN and my cousins HANW, and HLN at the Clarence Brown Theatre for a presentation of “Guys and Dolls.” We met because I love plays and the show served double duty as a birthday celebration for my uncle, RLN.

Though the play is a classic, I was completely unfamiliar with it. The musical was first produced on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre (now Richard Rodgers Theatre), opening on November 24, 1950. The play enjoyed an initial run of 1,201 performances and won five 1951 Tony Awards, including the award for Best Musical. I had thought about viewing the 1955 movie in preparation fot the show but did not want a local actor to have to contend with Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Sky Masterson. In watching the play, I found I was familiar with much of its memorable score including "A Bushel and a Peck" (Miss Adelaide, Hot Box Girls), "Luck Be a Lady" (Sky, Guys), and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" (Nicely, Company).

We sat in the front row. We did so to obtain seven seats together in a packed house. They actually were great. Recently, the theater removed its first two rows of seats, so the seats were not overly hard on our necks. We were directly in front of the orchestra pit.

My ever observant aunt noticed the irony that my mother (Dotty) was wearing a dotted shirt. SMA, could this look be the concept behind the "Dot Master" alter ego's costume?

I thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Guys and Dolls is a musical based on Damon Runyan (1884-1946)'s short story "The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown." It was the first musical based upon Runyon material, though he did not live to see it. Though “Guys and Dolls is often performed, it is only the second time in 25 years that UT has done so. The staging was highly elaborate with a cast of 33, a crew of 14 and over eighty costumes beutifully fashioned by costume designer Eric Abele.

Guys and Dolls is the love story between guy gamblers and the dolls who seek to tame them. The real action begins when Nathan Detroit (Adam Heffernan) bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson (portrayed by New York based actor Todd DuBail) that he cannot coerce the righteous sergeant of the local mission Sarah Brown (Lena Hurt) to go with him to Cuba.

I liked the first act and loved Act 2. Many aspects of the play are dated but it was still a highly enjoyable evening with my family. Ash Edwards (as Nicely-Nicely Johnson) has a rousing rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" despite sounding eerily like Curly Howard of the Three Stooges.

Since the play features the salvation of sinners at a mission, it has many biblical overtures. I liked the theological concept voiced by the general that God can use even gabling for divine purposes. I did not like the message of marrying a man in hopes of changing him after marriage ("Marry the Man today rather than sign and sorrow/Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow.") I know little of marriage, but I do know it is something to be entered based upon product not potential.

My favorite line of the play was from Joey Biltmore, who is the unseen voice talking to Nathan Detroit on the phone. He explains to Detroit that his sure bet with Masterson is uncertain as women are far less predicatble than horse racing. Amen. This play was clearly written by a man.

The play represents the last play of the 2007-2008 season. It began on April 10 and closes on April 27. It also represents th CBT show for the talented audience favorite Jessica Culaciati, Miss Adelaide in this production. She stole yet another show in this performance.

As this season ends, a new one has been announced. The Clarence Brown Theatre 's 2008-09 season consists of "Ain't Misbehavin'" (September 4-29), "The Secret Rapture" (October 15-26), "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" (October 30-November 17), "The Triumph of Love" (January 29-February 15, 2009), "Love's Labour's Lost" (February 26-March 14, 2009), "Copenhagen" (March 26-April 12, 2009), "Flyin' West" (April 2-12, 2009) and "Tommy" (April 16-May 3, 2009). If anyone wants to go, let me know.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 4/23/2008

Associated Baptist Press
April 23, 2008 (8-43)

Catholics, other religious voters propel Clinton to victory in Pa.
Olive wood brings prosperity to CBF-backed microenterprise
Opinion: Our theology of ecology should place us within creation

Catholics, other religious voters propel Clinton to victory in Pa.
By Robert Marus

PHILADELPHIA (ABP) -- Religious voters -- especially the state’s all-important Catholic population -- appear to have given New York Sen. Hillary Clinton a big boost in the crucial April 22 Pennsylvania primary.

But most religious Catholics and most religious Protestants differed sharply in their support for Clinton and her rival, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

Exit polls in the Democratic presidential contest showed that an overwhelming majority of voters who identified themselves as Catholic cast their ballots for Clinton. Catholics -- who represented 36 percent of all Democratic voters -- chose her over Obama by a whopping 40-point margin, 70 percent to 30 percent.

Pennsylvania’s Protestants went for Clinton in percentages almost identical to that of the commonwealth’s overall Democratic electorate -- 55 percent to Obama’s 45 percent. After Catholics, they made up the next largest religious category in the primary, with 24 percent of the total.

Jews, who made up 8 percent of Pennsylvania’s Democratic turnout, favored Clinton 62-38 percent.

Only three broad religious categories favored Obama in the state. Those who said they were Christian but did not identify as Protestant, Catholic or Mormon made up 13 percent of voters, and they favored Obama by a 2-to-1 margin. He also had a 24-point edge among those listing no religious affiliation, who made up 10 percent of Pennsylvania Democrats. And the six percent of primary voters who listed a religious affiliation other than Christian, Mormon, Jewish or Muslim went for Obama 58-42 percent.

The one percent of Pennsylvania voters the exit polls identified as Muslim were not statistically significant enough to measure their support for the respective candidates.

When measured against rate of attendance at religious services, Clinton beat Obama in each of the commonwealth’s major categories except those who said they “never” attend worship -- a category he won by the same margin (55-45 percent) that he lost the overall primary.

Curiously, the worship-attendance category in which the candidates were most closely matched was among those who said they go to services more often than weekly. Clinton barely edged Obama among those voters 51-49 percent, according to the polls. However, they made up only 9 percent of those who cast ballots in the primary.

One sub-category in which the candidates were statistically tied -- at 50 percent each -- was the 9 percent of voters who said they are Protestant and attend church more than once a week.

Conversely, Catholics who said they attend Mass weekly or more often favored Clinton over Obama by a nearly 3-to-1 margin. They made up 18 percent of Democratic voters.

Blue-collar voters experiencing hard economic times -- who make up much of Pennsylvania’s Catholic vote – also preferred Clinton in overwhelming numbers.

Pennsylvania’s churchgoing vote for Clinton was in marked contrast to that of many earlier primary campaigns where Obama seemed to have erased her advantage among Catholics. In particular, Obama did well among Catholics in the Feb. 12 “Potomac Primary” contests in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia and the Feb. 19 Wisconsin primary.

But her margins among Pennsyvlania Catholics were even larger than they were in the two states she won March 5 with strong Catholic support: Texas and Ohio.


Olive wood brings prosperity to CBF-backed microenterprise
By Melissa Browning

ATLANTA (ABP) -- For centuries, the olive branch has been a symbol of peace in Judeo-Christian cultures -- and now olive wood is bringing prosperity through a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-sponsored microenterprise project in the Middle East.

“Elizabeth” is one of CBF’s field personnel in the Middle East whose full name and specific location the organization does not publicize, citing security concerns. She regularly watches as lives are transformed through the simple process of creating and selling crafts from olive wood. In the project, individuals with disabilities and others who have been marginalized by their communities are able to work and provide for their families.

“For many, this is their family’s only source of income,” said Elizabeth. “The project not only provides employment, but it raises their self-esteem.”

In communities where jobs are scarce and many live in poverty, people with disabilities have a difficult time finding employment. In the microenterprise model, a sponsoring organization – such as a microfinance bank -- lends 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 microfinance 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. In March, CBF officials announced that the organization had received a $500,000 gift designated for creating a way to invest in microfinance enterprises.

In the businesses Elizabeth has worked with, the women are able to work from home, sewing table runners or tote bags, or carving Christmas ornaments out of the olive wood. They then bring the products back into the shop where they are sold, primarily to overseas clients. From individual online orders to church sales, the linens, ornaments and Nativity sets that are created in this project represent a new way of life for the workers who create them.

For Elizabeth, the most important part of this whole project is the relationships. She said she loves to sit at a table with girls who are creating crafts or to visit the workers in their homes in the evenings. In fact, hospitality is one of the greatest lessons Elizabeth has learned from living in the Middle East.

“The people we work with, they have so little, but when they invite you into their homes, they share everything they have,” she said.

When she first began serving in the Middle East 11 years ago, Elizabeth said it took time for her to adjust to the new language and culture and she was often discouraged. With a medical background, Elizabeth’s ministry originally focused on medical missions. She continues to use her medical skills as she visits workers and their families, providing health education and screenings.


Opinion: Our theology of ecology should place us within creation
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- During the most recent Earth Day April 22, Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection ran high-profile TV ads in which Newt Gingrich and Nancy Pelosi, and then Al Sharpton and Pat Robertson, sat together on couches telling the world of their shared concern about climate change.

To those who continue to take the “climate change is a dirty lie” line, you might want to reconsider whether you really want to find yourself to the right of Newt Gingrich and Pat Robertson on this issue.

The climate-change debate may be over, but the deeper theological problems that helped to get us here are definitely not resolved. It may be that the most important work that Christian ministers, scholars and other leaders can do on behalf of the climate and the creation is theological rather than activist. Many people can lobby for a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. I have. I hope you will. But few have the authority and role to teach our nation’s majority Christian population to think differently about God’s creation. Theology matters. We neglect it at our peril.

The working theology of most Southern Baptist churches has been privatistic, other-worldly, and soteriological. Church is where you went to find out how you as an individual can find personal happiness and eternal life through a saving relationship with Christ. This goes back before the denominational split in the SBC. I remember being taught at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the 1980s that every sermon must take the hearer to the Cross and to a personal decision in relation to the Cross. Another way it was said is that we must preach the gospel in every message through whatever text or issue happens to be before us.

This gospel had little or nothing to do with this world in itself. At most, the world was an inert backdrop against which the drama of individual salvation or damnation played itself out. Many of our most controversial theological debates, such as the Arminianism/Calvinism conflict that still afflicts so many Baptists, assume the same basic paradigm. Does God give us free will in choosing salvation or it is predetermined by God’s choice? At this very moment all over the nation you can find earnest young theologians engaged in coffee-shop arguments over this question—a question that once again leaves everything other than soteriology out of the picture altogether.

Somehow a theological paradigm got into our Protestant/Baptist/evangelical bloodstream in which the drama of personal salvation is all that really matters. Modern forms of that paradigm might jazz up the storytelling or extend the emphasis to lifestyle salvation and not just eternal salvation, but the basic paradigm remains the same.

We need a robust and contextually sensitive theology of creation that actually plays a working role in our daily practical theology. We need an updated theological anthropology that goes with that theology of creation. And, yes, we also need a theology of salvation that is congruent with this theology of creation and this anthropology.

When we have turned to creation, many Christians have embraced a fundamental God/world/humanity triple split. The transcendent God creates the “world” or “creation” or “nature.” This “world” contains many magnificent creatures and abundant beauty. Human beings are fundamentally distinct from both “world” and “Creator,” but have been declared by their Creator to stand in a relationship of dominion or rule over the “world” and its creatures. Meanwhile, what really matters theologically is the action between God and humanity, which is played out in the drama of sin, judgment and salvation.

This kind of theology separates human beings from the rest of the created order. We are perceived as “other” to the rivers and the otters and they are “other” to us. Moreover, we are seen as superior to the rivers and the otters and can freely exploit the “resources” they offer as we see fit.

Climate change is just one reminder that human beings are part of creation. So are the many toxins that turn out to be transmitted by every breastfeeding mother in the world to every nursing infant in the world. If we warm up the atmosphere, trigger more intense weather events, and alter rain patterns, we do it to ourselves. If we release toxins into our groundwater, soil and air, we do it to our nursing mothers and their babies.

Remember the bumper sticker “Save the babies, not the whales”? What a nice “pro-life” slam against those lefty environmentalists. But what if it turns out that you can’t save the babies unless you are also saving the whales? What if it turns out that we must save the health of the planetary ecosystems that sustain life for all creatures if we want to save our own lives?

This means more than the obvious but important reminder that caring for God’s creation is an aspect of a consistent pro-life ethic. The more fundamental point is theological. Human beings are unique in our status as imago dei and we are fellow-creatures with the millions of other species on this planet. And all creatures depend for their life and health on the well being of the air, land, sea, forests, climate and so on.

The interconnectedness of all living things can no longer be seen as an airy slogan of a few dreamers. It is a fact established by hard experience. When China belches dirty coal, Los Angeles gets asthma, and all of us live on a planet a little bit hotter than the year before. It is time that our theology caught up with both scripture and the facts on the ground.


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


By ABP staff

Please make the following corrections in the April 22 ABP release.

In the opinion column “Discipleship and the ‘outside world,’” please change “dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School” in the 4th paragraph to “president of the Chicago Theological Seminary.”

In “Rival Mo. conservative groups agree to ‘peace committee,’ an editing error created an incorrect characterization of a quotation in the 17th paragraph. Please replace the first sentence in that paragraph with the following:

Davidson said that he is unaware of anything that would prevent MBLA from continuing to distribute statements critical of SOC, hold regional rallies and maintain its “Right to Know” website during the peace committee process.


View from 315A

The Tennessee men’s basketball program signed their biggest recruit in the Bruce Pearl era today as Scotty Hopson finally inked his National Letter of Intent at an 11 a.m. press conference in the University Heights Academy gymnasium.

Hopson’s signing completed Tennessee’s signing class for next season. Here is a look at the four recruits in the order they signed.

1.Philip Jurick
6'10" Center. East Ridge High School Pioneers. Chattanooga, TN
Verbal Commitment: 4/25/2007. Signed: 11/14/2007.

Philip Jurick is listed at 6-10, 250 pounds and was one of the most highly rated prospects in Tennessee's class of 2008. At he time of his signing, rated him a four star player and ranked him 35th on their list of top 150 players in the nation. also rated him at four stars.

As a junior, he averaged 16 points, 15 rebounds and 9 blocked shots per game. His final two choices were narrowed to Tennessee and Indiana, after having eliminated Kentucky and Florida. Kentucky was thought to be the primary competition for Jurick before the departure of Tubby Smith.

Bruce Pearl saw him play several times, including his school’s first ever state sectional during the 2006-2007 season. The Pioneers lost in overtime but Jurick scored a game high fifteen points.

Jurick is not a great athlete, but he is very physical and can score with either hand in the low post. According to Rivals, his rebounding is already outstanding, which is something Tennessee has drastically needed under Bruce Pearl. His shooting and post moves, however, need work.

2. Renaldo Woolridge
6'8" Forward. Harvard-Westlake School Wolverines. North Hollywood, CA
Verbal Commitment: 10/18/2007. Signed: 11/14/2007.

Renaldo Woolridge is a 6'8" power forward. He has great basketball bloodlines. His father, Orlando Woolrdige was the #6 pick in the 1981 draft out of Notre Dame. He played thirteen seasons in the NBA (1981-1994) and scored 13,623 points. His brother Zach Woolridge is a 6'6" guard for the Princeton Tigers. Renaldo grew up with his mother, Pat(ricia) Jackson, who is divorced, older brother, Zach, and sister, Tiana. Renaldo only occasionally visits Orlando, who lives in Texas, during summer and spring breaks.

He also comes from a highly prolific basketball high school. Harvard-Westlake produced recent stars Jason Collins and Jarron Collins (Stanford), Bryce Taylor (Oregon) and Alex Stepheson (North Carolina). All have had their numbers retired by the high school.

Woolridge chose the Volunteers over his hometown Southern California and and powerhouse Georgetown due to Tennessee’s style of play and family atmosphere. He took his official visit to Tennessee on October 4. Tony Jones was the lead recruiter.

Woolridge was a late bloomer. He averaged less than five munites per game as a sophomore before a breakout junior season that saw him average 19.2 points and 7.9 rebounds. He began high school as a 6'1" freshman. He is now 6'8.” He recalled, ``My mom is tall, 6-1, and I can remember telling her every morning that I was getting closer and closer to catching up with her and passing her.”

At the time of his signing, Rivals ranked the long, slender forward at 4-stars and lists him as the 59th best player in the 2008 class and the 10th best small forward.

For YouTube highlights of Renaldo Woolridge, click here.

3. Daniel West
6'1" Point Guard. Saginaw High School Trojans. Saginaw, Michigan.
Verbal Commitment: 3/4/2008. Signed: 4/16/2008.

Daniel West is the lowest rated UT signee in a class projected in the national top-10. He earned only a three-star rating from Some, including Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, attribute this to his absence from last summer’s AAU tour. He refrained from the AAU league in an effort to improve his academic standing. In December, he took the ACT hoping to score 18 so he could play college basketball as a freshman. He scored a 22.

West originally accepted a scholarship to Bradley University on 10/18/2006 (before his junior season). But as his junior year ended, Bradley called and reneged. Saginaw coach Lou Dawkins speculated that Bradley had had some difficulties with basketball recruits meeting academic requirements and did not want to take a chance on the same thing happening with West.

West’s Saginaw Trojans (27-1) repeated as Michigan Class A champion by routing Detroit Pershing 90-71 in the championship game. West scored 21 points and added six assists in the title game. Saginaw also avenged its only season loss to city rival Arthur Hill with two wins by scores of 82-54 and 81-66. Saginaw compiled a 52-2 record in West’s last two seasons.

Despite being selected to the Detroit Free Press All-State boys basketball Dream Team and averaging 15 points, 11 assists and six steals as a senior, West was overshadowed by his teammates. Michigan State signee, 6'7" power forward Draymond Green and two Division I-level junior prospects also starred for the Trojans. Saginaw finished the season as the nation’s No. 4 high school team, according to USA Today. ranked the school No. 5 in its final poll.

West verbally committed to the Vols after his official visit saw Tennessee defeat Kentucky at Thompson Boling Arena on March 2. West is projected to contend for the starting point guard position with fellow Michigan native Ramar Smith. At the very least, West is expected to earn double-digit minutes in the Vols' 10-man rotation as Tennessee is in desperate need of a true point guard and West fits the bill. He can knock down both three-point baskets and more importantly free throws.

West will be in Knoxville in June to participate in the Rocky Top League. Further aiding his prospects are that J.P. Prince — one of UT’s two returning point guards — had arthroscopic, reconstructive left shoulder surgery Friday (4/11) and is expected to miss three or four months.

For YouTube highlights of Daniel West, click here.

4. Scotty Hopson
6'6" Guard. University Heights Academy Blazers. Hopkinsville, KY.
Verbal Commitment: 4/1/2008. Signed: 4/23/2008.

Scotty Hopson became the first McDonald's All-American to sign with Tennessee since Vincent Yarbrough (1998-2002) in 1997. He joins Allan Houston (1989) as only the second McDonald’s All-America from the state of Kentucky to sign with Tennessee

The 6-foot-7, 185-pound guard averaged 24.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, three blocks and three assists as a senior. Hopson’s team, The Blazers, won the All “A” Classic title and advanced to the Sweet 16 of the state tournament. His number 32 was retired by the school.

As a McDonald's All-America selection, he finished third in their dunk contest and scored 10 points for the West squad. A second team Parade All-America, Hopson had a team-high 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting to lead the Blue team to a 124-114 victory at the 2008 Jordan Brand Classic April 19 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

He is rated as the No. 9 overall recruit in his class by and No. 11 player in the Class of 2008 by He had countless offers, including Kentucky, Texas, Louisville, Mississippi State and Cincinnati. Hopson had committed to Mississippi State on October 23 but reopened his recruitment and later committed to UT on April 1.

Hopson, who was named The Associated Press' Kentucky Boys High School Player of the Year on Monday (4/21), is expected to immediately fill the void left by the loss of graduating seniors Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith.

For YouTube highlights of Scotty Hopson, click here.

All four signees will be playing in the Rocky Top Basketball League which begins on June 16 at Bearden High School.

Bible Trivia - 4/23/2008, #2

Question: Which one of the other apostles was an uncle of John Mark?

Answer: Barnabas. (Colossians 4:10)

Comments: At the conclusion of Paul's letter to the Colossians, he notes a familial connection between Barnabas and John Mark. The King James Version renders the relation as "sister's son." The KJV is in the minority on this interpretation.

Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, sends you his greetings; and also Barnabas's cousin Mark (about whom you received instructions; if he comes to you, welcome him); (Colossians 4:10, NASB)

John Mark and Barnabas probbably were cousins. The King James Version and Young's Literal Translation are two of the few translations that present Barnabas as the uncle. The ASV, CEV, Darby, ESV, The Message, NASB, NCV, NIV, NKJV, NLT, NLV, NRSV, RSV all render anepsios as "cousin."

The Greek anepsios is used only here in the New Testament. The word is a compound of a (as a particle of union) and an obsolete nepos (a brood). While it is rare in the canon, it appears frequently in extant literature. From its apperance in Homer's Iliad (9.464, 15.554), Herodotus & Aeschylus, the Septuagint (Number 36:11, Tobit 7:2), Josephus (Jewish Wars 1.662, Antiquities of the Jews 1.290, 15.250), Philo (On the Embassy to Gaius 67), etc. the interpreter can conclude that it consistently carried the connotation of cousin. Virtually all modern translations reflect this view.

In her unrelated article, "Greek Kinship Terminology", Molly Miller acknowledges that there is some grounds for the KJV interpretation. "Anepsios varies between cousin-german and nephew." (The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 73, (1953), p. 46.)

The Amplified Bible avoids the debate by translating with the simple "relative." That John Mark was some relation to Barnabas is clear, even if we do not know the exact relationship. This fact illuminates Barnabas' defense of Mark in Acts 15:37-38.

Bible Trivia - 4/23/2008

Question: When Jesus saw Nathanael a second time, where did he say he had seen him previously?

Answer: Under a fig tree. (John 1:48)

Comments: When Jesus first meets Nathanael, he impresses him by mentioning Nathanel's previous presence under a fig tree. Jesus' reference to the fig tree in his encounter with Nathanael in John 1:48 has been the cause of much speculation amongst Johannine scholars.

Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." (John 1:48, NASB)

Many theories have been posited as to the significance of the fig tree. Here are some:

  • The most common explanation is that Nathanael was studying Scripture. Beneath the shade of a fig tree was a traditional place for the study of the Torah. Rabbinic literature compares the law to the fig tree and the fig tree was sometimes considered a place for prayer and meditation. The fig tree was used as shade for teaching or studying by the later rabbis (Midrash Rabbah on Ecclesiastes 5:11, see also see John Lightfoot, Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, vol. 3, pp. 246-47). Also, the fig tree was symbolic for messianic peace and plenty (See Micah 4:4, Zechariah 3:10).
  • J. Ramsey Michaels sees Nathanel as “representative of the true Israel” and the fig tree as an allusion to Hosea 9:10. (“Nathanael Under the Fig Tree”, Expository Times 78 (66-67), pp. 182-183.)
  • Joachim Jeremias (1900-1979) saw the fig tree as a confession of sin and assurance of forgiveness. He incorporated Psalm 32 into his analysis. ("Die Berufng des Nathanael", Angelos 3 1928, pp. 2-5).
  • Some have downplayed its signifiicance. For examples, see Robert Kysar’s John the Maverick Gospel (p. 41) and John Henry Bernard's commentary on St. John (p. 1:63).
  • C.F.D Moule (1907-2007) introduces the less imaginative explanation that the fig tree presents Jesus' accurate knowledge of person’s movements in his article "A note on ‘Under the Fig Tree’ in John 1.48, 50" [Journal of Theological Studies 5 (1954): pp. 210-11].

Johannine guru Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) acknowledges, "We are far from exhausting the suggestions, all of which are pure speculation." (The Gospel According to John, vol. 1, p. 83).

In the end, Moule is certainly on the right track as his theory places the emphasis on Jesus. D. A. Carson (b. 1946) explains, "John’s chief point here is Jesus’ supernatural knowledge, not Nathanael’s activity" (The Gospel According to John, p. 161).

Word of the Day - 4/23/2008


To decollate is to behead; decapitate.

Herod had John the Baptist decollated. (Matthew 14:10, Mark 6:16, Luke 9:9)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 4/23/2008

I spent Tuesday night with WAM, KLT, KJW, and RAW. We met at RAW’s house and then progressed to Sir Goony’s Family Fun Center. When KJW and RAW arrived from the gym, I discovered that this is the first week KJW has had her hair in pig tails. Admittedly, they are very short pig tails, but pig tails nevertheless. Just when I thought the child could not get any cuter...

Sir Goony’s is actually located adjacent to RAW’s backyard. If and when he constructs a bridge across "his" creek, it will be accessible by foot. For now, we drive. I explain its propinquity to interpret why we decided to play the most poorly kept miniature golf course in America. The water in the water feature is literally black. Thus, “Black Water” is not just a Doobie Brothers song, but also a landmark. While the song dates me, I would not be surprised if the park had not seen a maintenance worker since it was originally popular.

KJW “played” some too. She was even supplied a miniature (even for mini golf) club and an orange ball - her favorite color. Her Vol obsessed grandfather must be so proud. (Note: This photo was taken after she “traded” balls with her mother.)

As usual, I finished dead last. I was magnificent on the front nine holes. I was in first place and had hit three holes in one, including acing the very first two holes. My downfall can be attributed to two factors: 1. I am not a very good golfer and 2. I become increasingly impatient as the game goes on. Though I enjoy playing (the trip was my idea), nine holes is about my limit. I still finished seven under par. About that...

RAW, our official scorer and most competitive player since SMA is in another state, made the executive decision to add one to each par. This was attributed to the course's deplorable condition significantly enhancing the degree of difficulty. To be honest, KJW also became a significant obstacle as the night wore on. See photo. Amazingly, she was not hit all night.

Naturally, RAW won the game.

Afterwards, the gang went to Chick-fil-A. I would love to tell you it was to support a great Christian organization, but on this night it was because the restaurant comes equipped with a play set. We needed one for an increasingly restless KJW. It was a good choice as we ended with a tantrum free night. Who could ask for anything more?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 4/22/2008

Associated Baptist Press
April 22, 2008 (8-42)

Rival Mo. conservative groups agree to ‘peace committee’
N.C. college receives donation of 1686 Luther Bible translation
Sudanese Baptists reunite after years-long division
Opinion: Discipleship and the ‘outside world’

Rival Mo. conservative groups agree to ‘peace committee’
By Bill Webb

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP) -- Seven members of rival conservative groups in the Missouri Baptist Convention will go to mediation in an effort to bring about peace within the battle-torn statewide group.

The MBC Executive Board voted on April 15 to create a “peace committee” that will submit to Christian mediation through Peacemaker Ministries. The Billings, Mont., organization focuses on Bible-based conflict resolution.

The committee makeup and its methodology were proposed by Executive Board member Jody Shelenhamer, a layman from First Baptist Church of Bolivar, Mo., according to MBC president Gerald Davidson.

Shelenhamer proposed four members who have been associated with the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association (MBLA). Three others represented a group called Save Our Convention (SOC), which has criticized what it calls an inordinate amount of control in convention life by a small group of MLBA adherents.

The Laymen’s Association led a successful effort in the late 1990s to wrest control of the convention from the moderates that had dominated its leadership. However, SOC supporters -- many of whom were foot soldiers in the association’s battle against moderates -- have taken issue with their former allies on a handful of issues in the past year.

Save Our Convention successfully swept officer elections during last fall’s MBC annual meeting. That is proof, they say, that rank-and-file Missouri Baptists have grown weary of intra-conservative dissension and of what they say is a tightening of trustee representation on boards and agencies.

All seven members of the committee are men.

The four closely identified with the current Laymen’s Association leadership include Roger Moran, the organization’s founder and research director; Jay Scribner, retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Branson, Mo; Jeff White, pastor of South Creek Church in Springfield, Mo.; and Jeff Purvis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Herculaneum-Peveley, Mo.

The Save Our Convention representatives are John Marshall, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Springfield and the current MBC second vice president; Bruce McCoy, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis and current first vice president; and Wesley Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church of Paris, Mo.

Two weeks prior to the Executive Board meeting, MBLA supporter Kent Cochran, a member of Calvary Baptist Church in Republic, Mo., proposed a similar committee, modeled after the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention Peace Committee.

Cochran’s proposal, which he mailed to every member of the Executive Board, called for a committee to “research the perceptions, activities, expectations, history, present and future of Missouri Baptists focusing particularly on the three issues of: theology, methodology, political activity and any related matters that involve Missouri Baptist life.”

“I’m hopeful that it will work,” Davidson told Associated Baptist Press. But the effort will have to be more successful than the SBC peace committee, which resulted in one side winning and the other withdrawing from the SBC, he said.

Davidson, the retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Arnold, Mo., was himself once a supporter of the Laymen’s Association’s efforts to drive moderates out of MBC leadership. But he became one of Save Our Convention’s organizers last year, and he said he believes the solution to the impasse between Missouri conservatives is not complex.

“We don’t have any big differences except in turning loose and letting Missouri Baptists make Missouri Baptist decisions they think are under the leadership of the Holy Spirit,” he said.

“People have to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to have to quit fighting,” Davidson continued. “I’m tired of all the bickering, fussing and fighting.

But, he added, “I am strongly opposed to a handful…taking control” of the convention – a situation Davidson pledged to continue working against.

As far as he is concerned, Davidson said, MBLA may continue to distribute statements critical of SOC, hold regional rallies and maintain its “Right to Know” website during the peace committee process. And if SOC organizers choose to reactivate their organization, they could do the same.

He said there is no timetable for completion of the committee’s work.

The SBC Peace Committee was launched in 1985, submitted its final report in 1987 and asked the Southern Baptist Convention to extend it another three years to monitor response to its recommendations.

But many moderates protested the committee’s final report, which they said was unfairly weighted toward conservatives. Most of them eventually left the SBC for moderate organizations, such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Alliance of Baptists and the historic state conventions in Texas and Virginia.


N.C. college receives donation of 1686 Luther Bible translation
By Teresa Buckner

MARS HILL, N.C. (ABP) -- Across the centuries, across the ocean, through bombings and world wars, a sacred bit of history has emerged from the distant past to find a home at Mars Hill College.

The North Carolina Baptist school has received a 1686 copy of Martin Luther’s Bible translation. It was donated by Elfriede Ludwig Wilde, a resident of Texarkana, Texas, and former resident of Hendersonville, N.C.

She gave the rare book in memory of her late husband, Harold Wilde, and in honor of the Wilde family of Western North Carolina, where Mars Hill is located.

Elfreide Wilde has been in possession of the Bible since 1967. “The time has come for this Bible to find a new and permanent home, Mars Hill College,” she said, in presenting the gift. “So I am passing on to you as a gift this special book that the Lord has protected again and again for 321 years.”

It is unknown how many copies of the translation still exist. But other aspects of the volume make it valuable, including its sheer size, its ornate drawings, its thick leather binding, and the brass moldings on its cover.

Although the Bible was passed down to Wilde through her family, her husband’s ancestry is closely tied to Mars Hill and its environs. Harold Wilde’s family has been present in western North Carolina since the late 1700s. The Wilde family was involved in the college’s early activities, and was closely tied through marriage to the school’s founding Sams family.

Genealogy connected Elfreide Wilde to the school more recently, when she met Darryl Norton, Mars Hill’s director of auxiliary services, as part of his personal genealogical research. It was through their friendship that she came to the conclusion that the school and the book would be a good fit for each other. Knowing the history of the college and its Baptist heritage, she decided that the gift of the Bible would be a proper way to honor her deceased husband and his family.

The receipt of such a valuable gift carries with it a solemn duty, according to Mars Hill President Dan Lunsford. “There is every reason to believe that this Bible could have been destroyed many times in the three centuries since its publication,” Lunsford said. “The fact that it has now come to us at Mars Hill College means that we are the custodians of a rare treasure. We therefore owe a duty to those people through whose hands this Bible has passed, to preserve it for all the people of the present and the future who will learn from its pages.”

Believing that God intended the Bible to be accessible to the masses, Martin Luther translated it into vernacular German in the 15th century. The translation was first printed by Johann Andreas Endters, a publishing house in Nuremberg, Germany.

According to Elfreide Wilde, nobody knows who the first owner of this Bible was. It was most likely a nobleman or wealthy merchant, because the average citizen in those days could not afford to own a book, even if he or she could read.

By the 1930s, the Bible had made its way to a suburb of Stuttgart, Germany, where it belonged to a good friend of Wilde’s grandfather, known only as Mr. Neff. Her grandfather, Adolf Ludwig, also had an ancient Bible, printed only a few years later than Neff’s copy.

Wilde said her father and Neff compared their Bibles often and found that, though the translation of the text was the same, the Bibles had different features. For example, Neff’s Bible had an indexed drawing of the city of Jerusalem. It also contained elaborate drawings of several Old Testament characters, including Moses and Elijah, with notations that the drawings were reproduced from “ancient libraries.”

One of the most striking features of Neff’s Bible, however, was an unusual and detailed drawing of Noah’s Ark by artist Joseph Fuerttenbach. With the drawing is a description of the ark written by Martin Luther.

During the World War II bombings of Stuttgart, more than 60 percent of the city was destroyed, but Neff’s house was spared. Even after the Ludwigs moved to the country, they kept in touch with Neff. Occasionally they made the arduous journey into town -- by train, by bus and on foot -- to see their friend.

Under the regime of Adolf Hitler, many of Germany’s religious artifacts were destroyed, but Neff’s Bible was spared. When Neff died, Ludwig inquired about his friend’s Bible. Like many young Germans following the war, the Neffs’ only son had renounced his Lutheran faith. He said Ludwig should get the book if he wanted it because he planned to destroy it.

Despite their war-induced state of malnutrition, Wilde’s grandparents carried the large Bible back home -- by train, by bus and on foot.

According to Wilde, Ludwig told her that he wanted her to have the Bible after his death. But there was a stipulation. “I had to promise that I would never sell the Bible for profit,” she said. “If I ever should decide to sell it, the money would have to go to the Lord. Even though I encountered hard times in my life, I kept the promise.”

When her grandfather died in 1967, Wilde was living in America, and circumstances prevented her from attending the funeral. Still, her father and a friend in Germany remembered Ludwig’s wish for Wilde to have the Bible. They tried to mail it to the United States, but the postmaster refused to accept it, saying that the post office could not insure so valuable an item. Wilde’s friend wrote to her, describing the trouble with transporting the Bible. At that point, Wilde assumed the family would donate the Bible to a church in Germany.

About three months later, a large, plain box arrived on Wilde’s doorstep with a German customs declaration stating the box contained “old books.” It was her grandfather’s Bible, which had traveled, at book rate, by ship from Germany, then over land to Arkansas. There was no indication on the package of insurance or its valuable contents.

Mars Hill officials are currently having the Bible restored. The process is scheduled to be completed in late September or early October.

Wilde said that she and her family made the decision to donate the Bible to Mars Hill College, in part, because they wanted it to be protected. Her wish is also that religion and history students may use the Bible for scholarly research.

Most importantly, Wilde said, she feels that her gift was divinely directed. She believes that, in giving the Bible to Mars Hill, she has followed the leading of God and that she has kept the promise made so many years ago to her grandfather. “This is what he would have wanted, for this Bible to be kept in a place where it would be honored,” she said.

“This Bible has been through so many tribulations, but wherever it has been, it has seemed that there was a protection around it,” she said. “Now, I wish for that protection to rest on Mars Hill College.”


-- Teresa Buckner is media coordinator for Mars Hill College.

Sudanese Baptists reunite after years-long division
By Robert Marus

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (ABP) -- After years of division precipitated by one of history’s deadliest civil wars, Sudanese Baptists have finally -- like their nation -- reunited.

The reunification of the Sudan Interior Church North and the Sudan Interior Church South took place during a series of meetings April 1-5, in the southern Sudanese city of Renk, according to a Baptist World Alliance news release.

The occasion was one of “jubilation and praises to God for his goodness,” said Ramadan Chan, who was elected by the reunified denomination as general secretary.

According to BWA, there are about 45,000 baptized believers and 225 churches in the reunited denomination. The BWA release said the northern church is growing quickly, expanding from 15,000 baptized believers in 2000 to 21,000 in 2007.

The reunion meeting culminated a process begun with a series of talks a year earlier. Sudanese Baptist leaders had long hoped to recombine the separate conventions. They insist the division was borne of administrative necessity, after thousands of Christians were displaced from the north as a result of the 12-year-long Second Sudanese Civil War.

The war pitted the mainly Arab and Muslim north of the vast nation against the mainly Christian and animist ethnic blacks of the south. It took an estimated 2 million lives and caused about 4 million more Sudanese to be displaced between 1983 and 2005.

The displaced included many Baptists, and many of them formed churches in Kenyan and Ethiopian camps for Sudanese refugees.

“The scattering of the church necessitated the development of a second administrative center based in Nairobi, Kenya,” said Elijah Brown, a Texas Baptist who has studied Sudanese Christians and sits on BWA’s freedom and justice commission.

The establishment of the Sudan Interior Church South “was a pragmatic attempt to minister to a dispersed church divided by warring factions,” Brown said. He has submitted to the University of Edinburgh a doctoral thesis on the role of the Sudanese church in the war.

BWA, the worldwide umbrella group for national and regional Baptist denominations, accepted the Sudan Interior Church as a whole as a member body in 2000, even though the two branches had not been officially reunited.

BWA officials have paid close attention to Sudan during its war years and after, which have included repeated accusations that the Arab-dominated government in the north has oppressed Sudanese people of non-Muslim religions.

In recent years, international human-rights groups and Western governments have denounced Sudan for supporting genocidal Arab gangs carrying out a campaign of extermination of ethnic blacks in the Darfur region of western Sudan.


Opinion: Discipleship and the ‘outside world’
By Beth Newman

(ABP) -- Quite by coincidence, I had just finished reading Carolyn Jessup’s Escape when the news stories broke about the raids on the Texas ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints. The “escape” of the book’s title is from an abusive, polygamous marriage. Yet there was for me an unexpected coda to Jessup’s story. Her eldest daughter, on turning 18, returned to her father and the Fundamentalist Mormon Church.

The FLDS makes an easy target. If the reports of child abuse are true, then of course the state has an overriding interest in intervention. But it seems to be a routine part of every discussion of the Texas situation to observe that among the sins, real or imagined, of that ranch was its prohibition of contact between the Mormons who lived there and something called the “outside world.”

That division is a particularly tricky one, and believers in any faith would do well to pause over it for a moment.

In a column published a couple of years ago, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School, wondered whether children might not possess the right to be exposed to varying points of view, a right presumably denied to them by fundamentalist parents. That is, the public good requires that each of us be prepared to participate fully within the rules of a secular, pluralist society. According to Thistlethwaite’s logic, aren’t such children victims of child abuse?

To cite a less academic but more contemporary source, comedian Bill Maher recently wondered why the Texas pedophiles were being prosecuted while Pope Benedict was being lionized. After all, he observed, child abuse was much more widespread with the Catholic church than among a few hundred misguided Texans.

This is the issue for me. Progressives, such as Maher and Thistlethwaite, and fundamentalists are offended by the same thing: that there are people who think differently than they do.

Here let me return to the example of Carolyn Jessup’s daughter. It may well be that this young woman is continuing to live out the results of a life of abuse. She may be so broken by her experiences that she cannot understand her own self-interests. Or it may be that she has decided the life lived out by the Fundamentalist Mormon Church is in fact the life that most faithfully reflects the call of God. From the outside, how can any of us know?

It is not difficult, however, for even the most mainline of current denominations to look back and discover when it was maligned by slander. It is even easier to discover when our churches were guilty of real crimes; remember where the “Southern” part of the Southern Baptist name came from.

All in all, the difficulties of the Christian churches have not been that we were not open to the outside world, but that we accommodated ourselves far too well.

With this in mind, I think we, as Christians, need to see the Fundamentalist Mormons -– alien as they might seem to be to us -– as our brothers and sisters in Christ. While the teachings of Joseph Smith are heretical (or not fully scriptural), heresy nonetheless belongs in some sense in the Christian tradition. Polygamous Mormons in particular raise the question of what constitutes Christian marriage.

Lest we see them as too “other” in their practice, some ethicists today have observed that we are living in a culture that increasingly practices “serial polygamy.”

The Christian reason for monogamy is that we are to be faithful to our spouse as God is faithful to the church, the one body of Christ. Thus, monogamous marriage is directly linked to the oneness of the church.

Of course, one might readily observe that God seems more like a polygamist today: having many, many churches. And some theologians have gone so far as to compare the crucifixion to child abuse. Such “polygamy,” however, has more to do with our adultery and idolatry than with God’s desire to have many partners. In the book of Hosea, the faithless wife (Israel) is restored when God says: “And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more” (Hosea 2:1-17).

Our faithlessness cannot defeat the faithfulness of God. This fact is most fully displayed in the crucifixion, which is not an angry Father punishing his Son, but God’s own willingness to enter, heal and defeat our brokenness and sin “from the inside.” This astounding gift frees us to live more faithfully as Christ’s body for the world.


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