Friday, December 5, 2008

In Memory of Dr. David L. Dungan

David Laird Dungan (1936-2008)

As reported in Tuesday’s Prayer Blog, one of my favorite professors, Dr. David Dungan, died over the Thanksgiving break while visiting family in Ohio.

Here is Dr. Dungan’s obituary as it appeared in today’s edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

DUNGAN, DAVID LAIRD - 72, died of a stroke on Sunday, November 30, 2008. He was a professor emeritus of the Religious Studies Department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he taught for 38 years until retirement in 2002. He leaves behind his loving wife of 49 years, Anne; and three sons: Nathan (Minneapolis, MN), James (St. Paul, MN), and Bill (Cary, NC); daughters-in-law Carolyn, Darcy and Stephanie; and grandchildren, Sam and Jack, Simon and Leo, Katie and Ben; and his younger brother, Tom (Sparks, NV). His family will miss him dearly for many years to come. Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1936, David spent his early years in China where his parents were missionaries with the Presbyterian Foreign Mission Board. He grew up in Berea, Kentucky, graduating from high school in 1953. He attended The College of Wooster (1957), McCormick Seminary in Chicago (1963) and Harvard Divinity School (ThD) (1968). He came to Knoxville with his family in 1967 to join the newly formed Religious Studies Department. A lifelong scholar, David focused primarily on the synoptic problem and images of Jesus in the Western world. He taught, studied and published extensively in the fields of biblical literature, early Christian history, the formation of the New Testament, environmental studies, and the legacy of the Vietnam War. He was a Distinguished Lindsay Young professor, a founding member of the Institute for the Renewal of Gospel Studies, and was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Faculty Prize at UT in 2000. He was invited to teach at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, Italy, in 1976-77 and again in 2005. David was passionate steward of the Earth. He felt strongly the responsibility we all have to care for the gift of life on this planet. David was a truly gifted teacher with a unique ability to inspire and encourage those who were fortunate enough to know him. He was a builder of tree houses, downhill racers and dreams, an inventor of toys, games, and family fun, a creator of friendships, communities and memories. He was an Eagle Scout at 16, and continued to share his knowledge of woodsmanship and scouting lore all his life. He taught us how to tie knots, keep our matches dry, camp in the snow, and hike in the Smoky Mountains. David loved swimming, sailing and canoeing, on lakes, mountain streams, or the ocean. Inexplicably, he was an ardent booster of British rules croquet in Knoxville. He helped found the Knoxville Croquet Club, converting his backyard into a croquet court and making his own mallets. He loved working with wood all his life from the woodshops of Berea College in Kentucky to his own basement workshop. David attended Westminster Presbyterian Church with his wife. Through the years, he enjoyed being a frequent guest teacher on a variety of subjects in many Knoxville churches. A memorial service for David will be held in Spring 2009 at Westminster Presbyterian Church . Donations may be made in David's memory to the Institute for the Renewal of Gospel Studies, care of Westminster Presbyterian Church , or to the organization of your choice.

Bible Trivia - 12/5/2008

Question: What was the name of the servant girl accused of being out of her mind when she said that Peter was at the door?

Answer: Rhoda. (Acts 12:13-16)

Comments: After an angel aided Peter escape from an unjust imprisonment, he fled to the home of a woman named Mary. When he arrived, her servant, Rhoda, answered the door. When she alerted her fellow Christians that Peter was present they did not believe her.

This is the only time Rhoda, whose name means "Rose" or "woman from Rhodes", appears in the New Testament.

When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. (Acts 12:13, NASB)

Rhoda and Mary were the names of the two best friends featured on the popular television series The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977).

Word of the Day - 12/5/2008

Doxy

A doxy is an immoral woman; prostitute.

Revelation 17 depicts the judgment of a doxy.

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and spoke with me, saying, "Come here, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, (Revelation 17:1, NASB)

Note: This interpretation of the woman in Revelation 17 was constructed by Macha Chmakoff.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/5/2008

I spent a relaxing Thursday night with JTH and JDM.

I visited JTH as he completed his shift at MoFoS. While “working”, JTH was watching the 2006 film Crank. Naturally the only customers he rang up during the viewing walked up just as the infamous Amy Smart sex scene was playing. It is uncanny how retail customers check out at the most inopportune times. On the plus side, the customers inquired about the movie. We like to call this "advertising".

There have been two personnel moves of note at MoFoS. First, JBT has hired the cousin of his ex-girlfriend Judy (of “Judy Discount” fame), Christen, to work part-time. She previously worked at the Bonefish Grill and has already accumulated two degrees. It was uncertain why she was working retail. She also brags extensively about having dated Tennessee House Representative Stacey Campfield (STC). Of all the things to take pride in... You may remember STC as RCL’s incompetent opponent in the last election.

On the plus side, she is quite the artist and hand painted the windows for the holidays simply by looking at pictures online. She painted holiday versions of Homer Simpson, Wall-E, the Grinch, Kung Fu Panda, and Snoopy. I have never seen the store look so good.

In a bigger MoFoS personnel move, CTH was finally fired on Thursday. He simply did not know it. CTH called and informed the store manager Duncan that he was running a couple of hours late, yet again. At any other business, he would have been fired months ago. Duncan told him, “Don’t worry about it, we won’t be needing you.” CTH thanked him and Duncan repeated his statement adding the word “anymore”. CTH did not pick up on this and told him he would see him tomorrow before hanging up the phone. Only at MoFoS can you be fired without even knowing it. We are not entirely sure Duncan had the authority to fire him. More on this breaking story when it comes in.

Speaking of CTH, during Black Friday, he was given the responsibility of distributing signs throughout the area. He placed them in Turkey Creek. Not only were the signs uprooted, but a police officer called to inform JBT that if they were not removed within a day he would be fined $50 per sign. Unfortunately, he did not know where CTH had distributed them and CTH refused to answer his phone when called. Thankfully, JBT was able to retrieve all but one sign and no fines were administered. The big question is why he would have trusted CTH with the task in the first place.

After closing the store, JTH and I met JDM at Applebees. Unfortunately, AFH left early citing an illness and Amy could not get a babysitter. This left Amy’s sister Megan as our server.

JDM’s big news is that on Friday, December 12th, a future college basketball player will be born into the world. On that day, his sister will be induced. She has named the baby boy Jace. JDM does not approve. He wished to name the child Lofton after his favorite Tennessee basketball player. There will be no pressure on this child at all to play ball...

In other birthday news, on Wednesday, MoFoS regular De La Rosa celebrated his 37th birthday. Happy birthday, Mark!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/4/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 4, 2008 · (08-119)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Acting Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Group sues Ky. for law requiring credit to God for security (521 words)
Have yourself a simple little Christmas (542 words)
A 'Simple Christmas' suggestion box (243 words)
Fair trade fights poverty, allows gift giving with a clear conscience (1,252 words)
Tough economic times don't dim lights on Living Christmas Trees (691 words)


Group sues Ky. for law requiring credit to God for security
By Bob Allen

LEXINGTON, Ky. (ABP) -- An atheist-rights group and 10 Kentucky citizens are suing the commonwealth over a law requiring that the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security credit God for keeping residents safe.

The religious language, largely unnoticed when a Southern Baptist lawmaker inserted it into homeland-security legislation in 2006, made news recently when its sponsor complained the department did not mention God in its mission statement, on its website or in its 2008 Homeland Security report.

Rep. Tom Riner (D-Louisville) inserted language into the 2006 bill that called for "stressing the dependence on Almighty God as being vital to the security of the commonwealth" and affirmed that security "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon Almighty God."

Former Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), himself an ordained Baptist minister, obeyed the law, which includes posting a plaque with the 88-word statement at the entrance to the state Emergency Operations Center.

But a 56-page homeland-security report released Oct. 31 by the current Democratic governor, Steve Beshear, omitted the religious language. Beshear is the son of a Primitive Baptist minister.

"We certainly expect it to be there, of course," Riner told the Herald-Leader.

After learning of the God requirement's existence, American Atheists recruited 10 Kentuckians to sue for its removal.

The lawsuit called the law an unlawful attempt to "endorse belief over non-belief, set up a religious test, indoctrinate Kentucky citizens and state employees in theistic religious beliefs, and diminish the civil rights, privileges or capacities of atheists and others who do not believe in a god, or who believe in a different god or gods than the presumed supernatural entity unconstitutionally endorsed by the legislation."

It denounced the law as "grossly and outrageously at variance" with both the United States and Kentucky constitutions and "retrograde to the very purposes of protecting American freedoms for which the Kentucky Office of Homeland Security was established."

American Atheists President Ed Buckner called actions by the legislature "illegal and un-American" and "unconstitutional on their face."

Paul Simmons, chairman of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, urged lawmakers to overturn the legislation. Simmons, a former professor at the Louisville-based Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, told the Louisville Courier-Journal the Office of Homeland Security "is not in the business of promoting religion" but instead "securing all citizens against harm from enemies."

AU spokesman Rob Boston described the God requirement as an example of "meaningless civil religion" similar to the prayer that opens every session of Congress -- usually delivered before a nearly empty chamber. "It has become by-rote ritual, a thing to be gotten through so we can get to work, a mere formality," said Boston. "I'd like Rep. Riner or one of his supporters to explain exactly how this helps religion."

In a telephone interview, Riner called the lawsuit "frivolous" and said the disputed language is no different than religious references in inaugural addresses or proclamations made by every U.S. president or in the constitutions of all 50 states.

An ordained minister and pastor of Christ is King Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., Riner attended Southern Seminary in the 1960s, but quit short of earning a divinity degree.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Have yourself a simple little Christmas
By Jennifer Harris

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP) -- It's time to "Unplug the Christmas machine," states a book with the same title by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli. And members of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo., are challenged to do just that.

"Simple Christmas," the church's Advent theme this year, is a plan to "take back Christmas," so it isn't driven by consumerism, commercials and things material, Pastor Doyle Sager said.

"It's to help place the focus on the spiritual meaning, to be set free. The things that mean the most don't cost anything." The idea for the churchwide emphasis began last October at a Central Baptist Theological Seminary Advent planning workshop. Holly McKissick, senior pastor at St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, Kan., led a breakout session on simplifying Christmas.

Sager and his wife, Janet, had been leading their own extended families to simplify gift-giving, from adopting families in need to gifts to charitable organizations in honor of the recipient.

As he toyed with the ideas McKissick presented, Sager knew he wanted to bring it to the church. "I told the staff, 'I already have the Advent '08 theme,'" he said.

Why is a simple Christmas necessary? "It's about focusing on the real meaning of Christmas," said Laurel Dunwoody, the church's administrator.

"So many are at the stage where they don't really need anything," Sager said. "Instead of feeling guilty for buying things no one needs," share a more relational holiday and give funds to people and organizations that can use them.

Plans started long before the economic downturn became obvious, he added.

"It made us look genius, but it is really the Lord at work," he said.

The church featured a "Christmas Made Simple as ABC" event to give members an opportunity to make Christmas gifts and collect a recipe book of gift, gift-wrapping and food ideas. According to Dunwoody, more than 90 people attended, including 33 children.

Some of the thoughts garnered from Unplug the Christmas Machine emphasize thinking through favorite Christmas memories from years past, and finding ways to create similar memories for children. Very rarely are those memories material gifts, Sager said. Instead, it's "the year we got snowed in" or "the time a homeless man intruded at church and didn't have anywhere to go, so we invited him home."

Sager recognizes simplifying the season and focusing on the meaning of Advent is counter-cultural.

"It is a challenge, and it is countering the culture if we do it right -- rather than raging (over a so-called 'war on Christmas'), do positive things," he said. "People love rituals and simplicity. The church has an open door if it stops complaining and whining. We have a responsibility of stewardship to take back holy days, to redeem time."

Sager will address simplicity from the pulpit during Advent, focusing on "simple justice," "simple holiness" and "simple humility."

The church also has created a website with resources on simplifying the season, including alternative Christmas gifts, a budget sheet and links to other helpful sites.

"The website is simple -- and purposefully so," Dunwoody said.
The church will continue to maintain the website with new resources, links and personal stories beyond Christmas.

And the church will continue the emphasis next year, Sager added.

Jennifer Harris is a news writer for Word & Way, the Missouri Baptist newspaper.


A 'Simple Christmas' suggestion box

(ABP) -- Here are some suggestions to reduce and reallocate Christmas spending habits:

· Draw names instead of giving to everyone.
· Let others help; tell them your intention to give less and ask them not to buy an expensive gift.
· Give family gifts instead of individual gifts.
· Give gifts only to children.
· Don't give children money to give you a gift.
· Design and make your own gifts.
· Set a spending limit with spouse and family.
· Don't buy a gift that simply will be returned.
· Bake something.
· Go caroling.
· Create a homemade gift certificate for a favor or service.
· Give to mission and benevolent projects in someone's honor.
· Give and wrap gifts in a way that cares for the environment.
· Give the gift of your time, talents and involvement -- more presence, fewer presents!
· Teach someone a skill you possess.
· Make cards or postcards on your computer.
· Send electronic cards; they're often free.
· Write a story or poem, make a song or create art as a gift.
· Write a letter of love and/or appreciation.
· Adopt a family in the community. Names are available through churches and community agencies.
· Support church missions around the world.

-- taken From www.simplechristmas.org, including suggestions from Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back into the Season by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli.


Fair trade fights poverty, allows gift giving with a clear conscience
By Ken Camp

DALLAS (ABP) -- Any so-called gospel that fails to take seriously Jesus' proclamation of good news to the poor lacks authenticity, Nathan George decided a few years ago. And that belief led him to found Trade as One -- a company that helps poor and marginalized workers by bringing together markets and missions.

And as a primary provider of Good News Goods, George is providing a venue for members of Baptist churches to do Christmas shopping with a clear conscience.

George grew up in India and in various parts of the Middle East as a missionary kid, while his parents served with Operation Mobilization. But in spite of his Christian upbringing, after about 15 years in business with telecommunications and software companies, he felt something lacking in his understanding of the call to discipleship.

"Five or six years ago, I began re-examining the call of the gospel," he said. In the process, he became captivated with Jesus' declaration that he came to preach good news to the poor.

"I wanted to know how business, the kingdom of God and good news to the poor could all fit together," he said. "God's heart beats for the poor."

George came to the conclusion God created human beings for meaningful work.

"The absence of work is a missions issue," he determined. And helping disenfranchised people find purpose in their labor and giving them the ability to provide for themselves and their families are ways Christians can contribute to "restoration of the Eden vision."

George and his wife, Catherine, discovered multiple small businesses in developing nations that were providing jobs with fair wages, but those businesses needed someone to help connect them to potential buyers in the affluent West.

The Georges began operating a market for those goods once a month through the 200-member Baptist church they attended in Cranleigh, England, about 40 miles south of London. Through that "low-profile, regular presence," they raised awareness about fair trade in their community and sold about $15,000 a year in what are known as "fair-trade" goods, George said.

In time, the couple felt God's call to make that avocation their full-time job, and they relocated to Santa Cruz, Calif. They built Trade as One around fair-trade practices -- no slave labor or child labor, safe workplaces, fair wages to workers, environmental sustainability and profit to producers rather than middlemen.

Trade as One works with 62 producer groups in 28 nations throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. The company only does business with producers that are fair-trade-certified or with whom Trade as One or a trusted organization such as World Vision is directly acquainted.

"We buy from suppliers in-country and pay them up front to provide them working capital," George explained.

Products fall into two categories. Consumable goods include coffee, tea, rice, olive oil, lotions and cosmetics. Non-consumable goods include scarves, handmade jewelry, bags, bowls and rugs.

"We won't sell products that people don't need," George said. "Spending habits and stewardship are discipleship issues."

Americans spend more on cosmetics and Europeans more on ice cream than it would cost to provide education and sanitation for the 2 billion people who go without both, he noted. Trade as One operates no storefronts. It sells through individuals who host home parties, through direct Internet commerce and through partnerships with churches that take orders or sell products.

The company recently entered into a close working relationship with the Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission through its Good News Goods initiative.

Good News Goods enlists churches to serve as host sites for one-day or weekend fair-trade markets or as ongoing trading posts where people in the congregation and the surrounding community can order fair- trade consumable goods on a regular basis.

Trade as One serves as the primary provider for Good News Goods. Another is WorldCrafts, a nonprofit ministry related to the Southern Baptist Woman's Missionary Union. WorldCrafts imports handcrafts from 38 countries and markets them in the United States. Good News Goods also will work directly with developmental ministries related to the Baptist World Alliance and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

In addition to providing buyers with quality goods and producers with fair compensation for their work, 10 percent of sales from products purchased in Good News Goods markets in BGCT-affiliated churches directly benefits the Texas Baptist Offering for World Hunger.

While the initiative officially launches in January, two Texas Baptist churches -- Wilshire Baptist in Dallas and First Baptist in Austin -- piloted Good News Goods events recently, in time for church members to shop for Christmas presents.

"People were surprised by the quality and variety of the products," said Mindy Logsdon, Wilshire's minister of missions.

Because the church is in the middle of a construction project, the Good News Goods market had to be divided into three venues in different parts of the facility. Wilshire volunteers staffed each site, explaining the stories behind the products, showing a video provided by Trade as One and operating a sales machine.

In a single Sunday-morning event that was not advertised outside the church's membership, Wilshire sold $5,555.54 in goods.

"When you do something that's a little out of the ordinary, there's always someone who doesn't like it. But I honestly didn't hear any negative feedback," Logsdon said.

"What I heard was how glad people were to be able to buy fair-trade products -- to spend their money on products without having to worry about the use of child labor and to know the people who produced them received fair wages."

CLC Director Suzii Paynter presented the idea of a Good News Goods market to her Sunday school class at First Baptist in Austin. Steve Mines, an attorney who grew up as a missionary kid in Argentina, took the lead in contacting Trade as One and organizing the event.

"We did not have much time to advertise this to the church. It made it into one church newsletter and a short, short video clip in worship. The following week, I held my breath, wondering if our folks would support it," Pastor Roger Paynter said.

On the day of the market, a Trade as One representative spoke briefly at the close of the Sunday morning worship service. He explained that the sale of Good News Goods products would -- in part -- provide employment for young women in developing nations, allowing them the opportunity to escape from the sex-trafficking industry.

"In a matter of a few hours, our church purchased $11,000 in fair-trade products, shocking the folks from Trade as One with our generous response," the pastor said, noting it was Trade As One's second-highest one-day sales total ever.

Paynter said members told him they appreciated the opportunity to purchase quality items and make a difference in someone's life at the same time. First Baptist plans to set up an ongoing trading post where people can subscribe to consumable goods on a regular basis, he added.

"I have long contended that the church frustrates people who want to act on their faith but have very few, tangible outlets. I think that part of the success of Habitat for Humanity is that people can literally put their faith in action, pick up a hammer, see a result. Good News Goods has the same appeal," he said.

"You purchase a beautiful, unusual item while helping a woman or child find a chance to move out of the horrors of the sex-slave industry and you do it with an organization rooted in Christ. What could be better?"

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Texas Baptist Standard.


Tough economic times don't dim lights on Living Christmas Trees
By Bob Allen

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (ABP) -- Rather than cutting back on lavish Christmas programs this year due to the economy, some church leaders insist hard times make them more valuable than ever.

Billy Orton, minister of music and worship at First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Ala., said his church did not even consider cutting back its annual Living Christmas Tree performance, now in its 24th year.

"The message of hope, peace, joy and love is needed now more than ever," Orton said.

While a major investment of resources, Orton said, the church views the Living Christmas Tree -- with free admission and no offering taken -- as a gift to the entire community.

"We are thinking there might be even larger crowds due to the fact that folks will hold back on purchasing tickets to other holiday concerts and presentations in the area and instead choose to attend one of our six performances," he said. Steve Poole, minister of music and worship at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Bel Air, Md. -- a congregation born during hard economic times in 1932 -- said he volunteered to trim his music budget along with other expenses being reduced in 2009, but so far many members have remained faithful to support missions and ministries of the church.

It costs Oak Grove about $15,000 each year to present 11 performances of the Living Christmas Tree, Poole said. The church collects a free-will offering, with any money received over expenses going to a benevolence ministry to help needy families in surrounding Harford County.

"If the tough financial times we are in now bring about a reduction in the free-will offerings, then we may need to cut back on some of our plans for the 2009 program," he said.

The idea of lining up choir members on risers stacked cone-shape to resemble a Christmas tree has been around for decades. The outdoor Singing Christmas Tree at Belhaven College in Jackson, Miss., thought to be the oldest, has been a tradition since 1933.

The advent of the megachurch in the 1970s, however, introduced cavernous worship centers large enough to accommodate bringing such massive structures indoors.

While it's unclear where the idea got started, one of the early pioneers was Bill Shadle, longtime music minister at First Baptist Church in Denton, Texas. He asked Millard Heath, a heating-and-air-conditioning contractor, about building a tree-shaped platform out of metal pipe for his 103-voice choir in 1972.

Figuring pipe would not handle the load, Heath instead designed a platform using structural steel.

He patented the design and started a company that since has sold more than 200 trees for churches in 30 states and overseas.

M.H. Specialties in Bertram, Texas, now offers custom-built models ranging from 18 feet to 48 feet accommodating from 30 to 450 singers or more. Packages cost from $12,000 to nearly $100,000, but according to the company website some churches cover the initial cost within two years of purchase thanks to offerings taken at performances.

Jeffrey Smith, who purchased the company in 2003, said he hasn't seen any downturn in business due to the economy.

"Ninety percent of our trees this year are replacement trees," Smith said.

Smith said he just finished putting a tree stage up in Knoxville, Tenn., in a church that has been performing a Living Christmas Tree for 35 years, but just now is upgrading from a wooden stage to steel.

A church in Bradenton, Fla., he said, had one tree taken down and replaced it with two. A church in Ormond Beach, Fla., is considering purchase of a 60-foot tree to go outdoors on the beach, possibly in 2009.

In addition to its impact on the Huntsville community, Orton said his church's Living Christmas Tree also is important to its own membership

In addition to more than 200 musicians in the chorus and orchestra, he said, the program involves the skills of a wide cross-section of the congregation, from construction workers, technical people and decorators to car parkers. This year's program also features the church's children's choirs.

"I am praying that the impact of the 2008 Living Christmas Tree is significant and eternal," Orton said.

Bob Allen is Senior News Writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Bible Trivia - 12/4/2008

Question: According to Hebrews 11:1, what is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen?

Answer: Faith. (Hebrews 11:1)

Comments: This famous defintion of faith introduces what has been dubbed the "Hall of Faith". After defining the concept, Hebrews 11 presents the acts of faith of Old Testament believers to illustrate faith.

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, NASB)

Of all of the people listed in the Hall of Faith, only Abraham had more than one act described.

Word of the Day - 12/4/2008

Cull

To cull is to choose; select; pick.

After a night of prayer, Jesus culled his twelve disciples.

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. And when day came, He called His disciples to Him and chose twelve of them, whom He also named as apostles: (Luke 6:12-13, NASB)

Note: This watercolour of Jesus calling his disciples was painted by James Tissot (1836-1902).

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/4/2008

On Wednesday night, MPW, RAW, and I attended the Tennessee basketball game at Thompson-Boling Arena. As always, the boys were running late. When we finally got to our seats, 11:28 remained in the first half and Tennessee held a slim 14-10 edge over UNC-Asheville.

Tennessee would win the game 87-69. There was drama at the buzzer as Tanner Wild’s three-point attempt buzzer clinked out. Had he made the shot, Tennessee would have totaled 90 points and all in attendance would have been entitled to a free chicken sandwich from Chick fil-A. You would be amazed at what an incentive that is for fans to stay and cheer long after the game has been decided.

It was an historic night as Bruce Pearl won his 400th game and Tyler Smith recorded the first triple-double in school history, posting 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists in just 26 minutes. He also committed no turnovers. It is amazing that in 100 years of basketball at the school, no one had ever done that before. I am still not sure that I wouldn’t have preferred the chicken sandwich.

My friends were aghast that the coach's son, Steven Pearl, played extensively in the game. They were convinced that he significantly contributed to our lack of complimentary poultry. RAW noted that since Bruce Pearl divorced his wife, he should not worry about what she thinks about not playing their son. He then asked me if chicken was kosher as Pearl as Jewish. (For the record, kosher chicken can be prepared though it takes significantly longer than normal.) One way or the other, we are convinced that Bruce Pearl did not want us to get our sandwich. As you can tell from this discussion, the chicken was very important to us.

By the way, does anyone know where walk-on Rick Daniels-Mulholland is?

After the game, we helped KLTW’s classmate MP transport his new television set from the Best Buy in Turkey Creek to his apartment complex located off of Sutherland Avenue. If you are familiar with the area, you know that we drove from campus to the farthest western point of Knoxville and back across town to the apartment complex. MP had bought the 42" plasma on Black Friday and was eager to have it installed. KLTW had been bugging RAW to do this since Friday and being able to empathize with living with a nagging woman, I agreed to lend my Xterra to the cause. On the plus side, I got to see KJW for the second day in a row as we met MP, KLTW, and KJW at the store.

Unfortunately, my cell phone died at the game. Hence, there are no photos and this post is cluttered with logos. My phone became hot to the touch and then powered itself down. I am no expert but I do not think that is good. Thankfully, after recharging at the house, it did not seem to be suffering any long-term ill effects.

After picking up the television, we ate at the Applebees in Bearden as RAW and MPW had yet to eat. I felt like I was cheating on a girlfriend as this was not my Applebees. If it is any consolation to the Cedar Bluff branch, the experience was horrible. The service was atrocious and the bill was notably higher as this franchise required that I order a beverage with each appetizer to accrue the half price rate. Fortunately, I was able to deflect the cost increase by ordering one of the appetizers for KJW as there is a limit of one per customer. She did eat some of my wings. She did great the entire night despite the late hour. It was her mother who conked out.

In other Wednesday news, Fleenor Security Systems installed an alarm system at my house. This was my parents highly romantic Christmas gift to each other. There have been a rash of break-ins in the neighborhood as people struggle for funds in our present economic crisis. In fact, we learned that our dear friends, the Days, had been burglarized on Tuesday. KRD was especially disappointed that her jewelry box was invaded. In response to this situation a guy name Chuck was at the house all day continually saying “10-4" on his radio. That instilled s a great deal of confidence. I type this all to foil your pending plans of breaking into my house.

Finally, on Wednesday I submitted my term paper on Jack Mezirow’s concept of transformative learning to RGB. I hope to apply Mezirow’s theory to Christian education. The more immediate impact of this paper being completed is that I now have the luxury of reading what I want to for the first time in months.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/3/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 3, 2008 · (08-118)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Acting Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Bush administration leaves major mark on faith-based funding, experts say (849 words)
Study says churches with WMU stronger supporters of SBC (550 words)
Opinion: A doomed, reactionary church? (737 words)


Bush administration leaves major mark on faith-based funding, experts say
By Robert Marus

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- President Bush's administration and a host of court rulings have indelibly altered the way that the federal government relates to religious charities, according to an analysis by experts on the subject.

"The heart -- the core -- of the faith-based and community initiative is a commitment to equal treatment of faith-based social-welfare providers," said George Washington University professor Bob Tuttle at a Dec. 2 briefing in Washington. "Now, eight years into this, it doesn't seem like such a radical proposition."

Tuttle and George Washington Law colleague Chip Lupu spoke to reporters at the release of their annual "State of the Law Report" for the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy. The non-partisan educational organization -- a cooperative effort between the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Rockefeller Institute of Government -- has been tracking Bush's effort to expand government funding for religious charities.

While the report has annually tracked changes in the legal status of government-religious partnerships, this year's report analyzed the cumulative changes in the status of such partnerships since Bush took office.

Tuttle said Bush's effort to boost government funding of religious groups has been largely successful. The success owes, he added, mainly to significant changes over the last 10-12 years in how the federal courts view direct government funding for ostensibly secular social services provided by churches and other deeply religious organizations.

"Because of the way that constitutional law developed in the 1970s and 1980s ... religious organizations were frequently -- not always, but frequently -- excluded from government aid programs," Tuttle said. "But in the 1990s, that began to change."

A series of decisions began to lower the high wall that the courts had placed between church and state in regard to direct government funding for social services. Before the late 1990s, religious groups wishing to qualify for grants from most federal social-service programs had to incorporate separately from the churches that supported them and operate much as secular social-service agencies would.

The courts gradually altered that equation, and the welfare-reform legislation of the late 1990s further expanded government funding of churches.

However, Tuttle noted, "When the Supreme Court says something's permitted, there's a big gap between that permission and something actually happening. And I think when you look at the accomplishments of the faith-based initiative, you have to look at this gap."

Tuttle and Lupu's analysis found that, while the courts removed legal barriers to federal funding for religious groups, Bush and his lieutenants also removed many administrative and even cultural barriers that had existed within the executive-branch agencies that administer social-service programs.

"Measured against that standard, the initiative has been, I think, a success that really doesn't have a parallel in administrative law," Tuttle said.

Bush has contended that one of the essential aspects of the faith-based initiative is that religious groups should be able to compete for social-services funding on the same basis as secular agencies without having to alter their religious character.

Part of that character, Lupu noted, is the unique ability of churches to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring decisions.

"The Bush administration has fought to preserve this aspect of religious character -- the right of faith-based grantees to hire only those of their own faith," he said. "The administration has fought this with every tool at their disposal."

Lupu said the administration has done that through a combination of legislation, administrative decree and what he termed a "very aggressive interpretation" of a law guaranteeing strong protections for religious expression in federal settings.

Federal grant programs for social services are administered by multiple federal agencies and authorized by multiple pieces of legislation. Some include explicit provisions preventing grantees from religious and other kinds of employment discrimination. Some include explicit exceptions to those rules for religious grantees. And many programs are simply silent on the subject of employment discrimination.

The employment-discrimination provisions have been among the most controversial aspects of Bush's faith-based effort. Lupu noted that the incoming Obama administration could choose to reverse some of the Bush interpretations of such provisions in a couple of ways. One is re-interpretation of existing statutes; another is executive orders explicitly reversing Bush policies.

Many supporters of strong church-state separation hope he will do so. But Obama has vowed to continue with at least some of Bush's initiative.

"The fact that Obama said that he was going forward with some version of this on his own and his own life experience as a community organizer suggest that he is quite serious about this," Lupu said.

While an Obama administration would "be sensitive to church-state issues in some ways that a Bush administration might not," he noted, Obama would likely proceed cautiously on any major alterations of Bush's policy with regard to employment discrimination or other provisions of the faith-based initiative.

One reason, he added, is because the employment-discrimination issue is still not a settled one in federal case law.

"I think they're going to make some of those moves slowly, because it's going to take several years for [the legal consensus involving them] to ripen," Lupu said.

Robert Marus is Acting Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Associated Baptist Press.


Study says churches with WMU stronger supporters of SBC
By Bob Allen

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (ABP) -- Southern Baptist churches that have Woman's Missionary Union organizations support the denomination's missions programs at significantly higher levels than congregations without WMU, according to an analysis of reported church giving.

Tensions over several issues surfaced in recent years between some Southern Baptist Convention leaders and leaders of the independently governed auxiliary group, founded in 1888 to promote SBC missions. They included WMU's refusal to submit to direct oversight by the denomination and the group's decision to remain part of the Baptist World Alliance women's department after the SBC severed ties with the global Baptist group in 2004.

Despite those differences, a new breakdown of giving patterns suggests missions education by WMU continues to play an important role in inspiring local churches to give more money to SBC home and foreign missions.

A review of annual statistics collected by LifeWay Christian Resources found that churches that have age-level WMU organizations like Girls in Action and Women on Mission support the SBC's unified budget and two annual special missions offerings at higher per-capita levels than those without ongoing missions education.

The study, conducted jointly by WMU and the SBC North American Mission Board, found that churches with missions-education programs supported by one or both of the organizations gave $43.28 per member to the Cooperative Program. That compared to $23.65 per capita by churches without such programs.

Giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for foreign missions was $3.29 per capita from churches without missions education, compared to $9.05 from those with missions education. Per-member giving for the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for home missions was $5.34 for churches with missions education, compared to $1.54 for those without.

Wanda Lee, WMU's executive director, acknowledged to a group of Baptist state convention executive directors and editors that "there have been some rocky times" with recent years' leadership transitions at WMU and the SBC's two mission boards, "but we are learning how to work together for missions."

Lee, meeting with Baptist leaders at a Dec. 2-3 briefing at WMU headquarters in Birmingham, Ala., said that communication between the auxiliary and the SBC agencies has improved in the last year.

"Do we always agree about everything?" she asked. "No, but we seek to have healthy communication." She reported on both recent visits and planned future visits from NAMB President Geoff Hammond and Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC's International Mission Board.

WMU recently appointed a full-time liaison to coordinate communication with the two mission boards. WMU staffer Steve Heartsill said he received 7,000 e-mails from IMB personnel in the past year and a comparable number from NAMB workers.

The briefing was scheduled midway through WMU's Nov. 30-Dec. 7 Week of Prayer for International Missions. The national goal for this year's Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is $170 million.

Over 120 years, WMU has helped raise more than $3 billion for international missions by promoting the Lottie Moon offering and $1.1 billion for home missions through the Annie Armstrong offering.

This year WMU produced nearly 4.2 million Christmas prayer guides in six languages, distributed by state WMU organizations to churches in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada. About 174,000 Week of Prayer posters were sent to churches, and 4.8 million Lottie Moon Christmas Offering envelopes were placed in pews in Southern Baptist churches.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Opinion: A doomed, reactionary church?
By David Gushee

(ABP) -- The act of reflecting this week, in class, on the development of Catholic social ethics resonated in an unexpected way with the situation facing Christians today. It became clearer than ever to me that when Christians become cultural reactionaries, they doom the church to irrelevance.

The Catholic story went like this: After the Reformation, for centuries the Catholic Church postured itself in a defensive crouch. It missed the opportunity to respond to the challenge posed by the Reformation. It resisted creative engagement with modern science. It held onto a feudal-agrarian economic vision long after industrialization and capitalism. It resisted political liberalism and modern democratic movements. It resisted egalitarianism in gender relations. It resisted birth control and legal divorce. It resisted its own loss of political power and cultural hegemony. It resisted the separation of church and state.

In all of these matters, the Catholic Church dug in its heels and just said "no."

But in the late 19th century the tide began to turn. Pope Leo XIII added an authoritative Catholic voice to the chorus of Social Gospelers and others who were concerned about the excesses of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism. He released the first modern Catholic social encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in 1891. This document didn't just say "no." It engaged contemporary culture, especially economic life. It sought to draw on the best of the Catholic tradition in order to speak a relevant and helpful word into the culture of the day. That encyclical, for example, treated such issues as the role of the state in economic life, the need for a living wage for workers, economic life as serving the common good, the need for workers' associations, and the profound problems of communism as an alternative to capitalism.

Ever since that time, Catholic leaders have offered periodic declarations in the style of Leo XIII. Some of these declarations have been better and more relevant than others. But all represent a shift from a merely reactionary posture to an effort to engage society constructively. These documents are significant enough that all who study Christian social thought today must consider them.

Now consider the parallel to conservative Protestantism, especially as one finds it in the South.

Ever since the social revolutions of the 1960s, white conservative Protestants basically have been in a defensive crouch. They have missed the opportunity to respond in creative ways to the challenges posed by the social changes that have occurred since that time. They responded to the Civil Rights Movement with caution or worse, and many have never come to terms with it -- as evidenced by the unsubtle racism that surfaced during this election season. They responded to the modern feminist movement with scorn. They responded to the sexual revolution with scorn. They responded to critiques of American capitalism and foreign policy with scorn. They responded to the growth in American ideological and population diversity with scorn.

This has positioned conservative white Protestantism as a culturally reactionary religion in a rapidly changing culture. It is a religion that just says "no" to everything about American culture as it has developed since the 1960s.

Such a religion appeals to a sizable but rapidly shrinking proportion of the American population. It is most appealing in the small town and rural South and Midwest. It characterizes the rhetoric of most Christian Right groups.

There are moments when all that Christians can do in relation to culture is dig in their heels and say "no." Certainly that was true in Nazi Germany. There could be no accommodating with the absolute evil of that regime, and those who did accommodate have been rightly viewed as a disgrace to the gospel.

Everyone has to make their own judgment about how to read "the signs of the times" in any particular cultural moment. As for me, I think this is a time for Christian engagement rather than reaction; for creative participation rather than angry retreat. I believe that, if conservative white Protestants and their leaders continue in a stance of mere reaction, they will doom themselves and their version of Christianity to irrelevance.

Cultural engagement does not mean the abandonment of Christian Scripture or tradition. It means creative reflection on the contemporary significance of Scripture and tradition to the culture in which we have been placed. It means engagement with real people around us right now, not dreamy retreat to an earlier era that is now gone forever.

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

Bible Trivia - 12/3/2008

Question: Who lived to 962 years?

Answer: Jared. (Genesis 5:20)

Comments: In the genealogy of Genesis 5, a man named Jared is said to have lived 962 years. This is the second longest lifespan recorded in Scripture, seven years behind the record set by Methuselah.

So all the days of Jared were nine hundred and sixty-two years, and he died. (Genesis 5:20, NASB)

Jared awas Methuselah's grandfather. They lived on the earth 735 years together!

Note: This image is of another healthy Jared, Subway spokesperson Jared S. Fogle.

Word of the Day - 12/3/2008

Captitation

A capitation is a numbering or assessing by the head; a poll tax.

Jesus used the coin used for the capitation tax to illustrate a point to the Pharisees. (Matthew 22:15-22)

"Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax." And they brought Him a denarius. (Matthew 22:19, NASB)

Note: This depiction of this gospel scene was painted by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). It resides in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/3/2008

I spent Tuesday with KLTW and KJW. KLTW and I both had a great deal of school work that we should have been working on. Naturally we spent the day Christmas shopping.


My journey began at West Town Mall where I visited the Angel Tree program, which provides Christmas gifts for needy children. I picked up the tags of three four-year olds named Tyree, Zylon, and Christopher (what were his parents thinking?). Each requested a five-pack of either Hotwheels or Matchbox die-cast cars. In deference to RAW, I bought Matchbox cars as they replicate real vehicles.

I then picked up KLTW and KJW. KJW showed me her new favorite game which she learned from her Nana. She is using her kitchen set as a restaurant counter. She asked me, “May I take your order?” After this has been done, her playmate trade places with her and the roles are reversed. This process can (and seems to) go on indefinitely.

As an aside, KJW’s goldfish Dwight is now massive compared to his peers Marbles and Tang. The fish won at a fair and that survived three days of living in a wine glass now rules the tank over the fancy store bought fish.

We started our shopping at Target in Turkey Creek. KLTW’s angel tree participants requested WWE items. She enlisted my help. For once I was an expert. If you need advice on God or pro wrestling, I am your man!

Periodically, KJW would say, “Hey, guys check this out” or inform us that something was “cool”. My favorite comment came when we were in the men’s pajamas section. We were inspecting adult SpongeBob SquarePants pajamas for her daddy. Though they were her daddy’s size (read: huge), she reeled off in rapid fire succession,“I like those. Those are my favorite and I wanna wear them.” That pretty much covered all of the bases.

I was thrilled when KJW sat down next to this talking SpongeBob SquarePants doll. It is what I bought her for Christmas. (Hopefully she will not read the blog and ruin the surprise.) I now know she will like it as she nestled her way onto the shelf and sat down with it. I was pleased until I learned that she was actually relieving herself when this photo was taken.

KJW’s favorite toy was the Spike the Ultra Dinosaur which was on display. It stomps and roars and is generally impressive. The dinosaur-sized price tag does not justify its purchase though as the novelty would wear off fast.

Afterwards, I made a huge sacrifice by agreeing to chauffeur KLTW to Lifeway, which KLTW refers to as “The Jesus Store”. I am opposed to the store on many levels from their price gouging to censorship. I did resist the urge to ask for a Smyth & Helwys product or ask some probing theological question to a clerk. It took great restraint.

In these two photos, Uncle Chan is letting KJW play with a knife and watch television too closely. For the record, it was a butter knife. I am not sure it could actually cut butter much less the child. And I did remove KJW from the position shortly after she got too close.

I was pleased that we bought nothing from the store.

We then picked up RAW from work at Best Buy and dropped he and KJW back at their home before heading to Bearden. There, I returned the angel tree gifts to the mall. I do not know if I had ever visited the mall twice in the same day before. I hope I do not again. Since it was close and they had an item I on my list, we frequented K Mart before returning home. The latter stop was primarily to avoid studying.

We then returned to RAW’s and KLTW’s home where RAW made us pasta. We were short of bread and milk, so KLTW and I abandoned the family again to make stops at Food City and Weigel’s. Why is that everyone’s favorite milk? (Sorry, I drink water almost exclusively.) At Food City, I won a bear out of a grabbie machine for KJW. I accomplished this on the first try no less. Yes, I still have the gift. I felt like in olden days when cavemen clubbed their food and dragged it home. My sense of accomplishment was palpable. KJW named the bear Amos.

It was a good night with my friends. This picture was taken just after I had taken another photo of KJW. She rushed and got her phone and exclaimed, “You got your phone. I got my phone.” I love that kid! Can you tell?

When I returned home, I had an unexpected pleasure. TAM and OMM were at the house. My parents had run into them and asked them over for leftovers from my mother’s book club earlier in the day. It was great to see them as always.

Finally, I did receive some bad news from my mother’s book club. My neighbor and book club participant LWJ informed me that her church friend David Dungan died over the Thanksgiving break. Dr. Dungan was one of my favorite undergraduate professors at the University of Tennessee, where he headed the Religious Studies department. He suffered a massive heart attack while visiting relatives in Ohio. Though he had experienced heart problems in the past, his death was unexpected. As of yet, no obituary has been published. Please keep his family and friends in your prayers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/2/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 2, 2008 · (08-117)

David Wilkinson, Executive Director
Robert Marus, Acting Managing Editor/Washington Bureau Chief
Bob Allen, Senior Writer

In this issue
Former SBC missionary accused of embezzling now suspected in insurance scam (692 words)
Baptists in Russian city claim bureaucrats restricting religious freedom (551 words)
Longtime Southern Baptist pastor Frank Pollard dies (231 words)
Opinion: Ethiopian eununchs and reading the text from the margins (692 words)


Former SBC missionary accused of embezzling now suspected in insurance scam
By Bob Allen (692 words)

GULF SHORES, Ala. (ABP) -- The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention declined to press criminal embezzlement charges in 2005 against a man now accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in an Alabama insurance scam.

Benton Gray Harvey and an accomplice are suspected of scamming hundreds of thousands of dollars from residents of the Alabama Gulf Coast.

According to legal documents obtained by the Mobile Press-Register, the IMB won a judgment of $359,499.62 against Harvey on March 15, 2005.

The suspect, under the name Gray Harvey, served through the mission board as an accountant for a Baptist outpost in Istanbul.

IMB trustees fired Harvey over allegations that he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked for earthquake relief and reportedly decided against pressing charges, citing concerns for missionary safety.

The board settled the case for the amount of loss that could be documented -- though some observers believe the amount actually missing could be larger -- and pledged not to talk about the settlement.

Wade Burleson, a former IMB trustee who joined the board after fellow trustees accepted the confidentiality agreement, said he argued vehemently at his first board meeting that the IMB had "a moral obligation" to file criminal charges. But his fellow trustees rejected his argument.

A receptionist answering the phone Dec. 1 at Starfish Insurance Agency in Gulf Shores, Ala., said the business owner had no idea about the IMB's judgment against Harvey when she hired him about two years ago and that if prosecuted he probably would not have been employed because he would be in jail.

According to newspaper reports, Harvey and his alleged partner-in-crime, Jonathan Adams, cannot be located and may be out of the country. The two former Starfish employees vanished last summer from a condo they shared as roommates, leaving food in the refrigerator and toiletries in the bathroom.

Police say the duo swindled coastal residents by selling fake insurance policies for homes that most insurance companies don't want to cover because they are susceptible hurricane damage. Police believe Harvey was the mastermind, forging documents that he downloaded from the Internet.

Wendy Norvelle, an IMB spokesperson, said Oct. 1 that Gray Harvey worked with the mission board from November 1998 until September 2003, but she would have to speak with legal counsel and/or administrators before discussing details of the case.

"What gets my goat is that charges were not filed by the IMB," Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., said Dec. 1.

He said he argued unsuccessfully that Southern Baptists should have been informed of the embezzlement allegations, even if it meant shutting down mission work in a particular area.

"We didn't want people to know," he said of the board majority.

Burleson said IMB administrators stumbled onto the problem by accident, when a visitor to the building managed by Harvey decided to use an elevator for which he remembered approving funds, only to learn that it was never installed.

At the 2006 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., Ron McGowin, at the time youth minister at First Baptist Church in Fairfield, Texas, made a motion seeking an "external comprehensive audit" of funds handled by the IMB's Central Asia region between 1995 and 2005 because he had been told the IMB "at best could only account for $372,831.62 of embezzled monies."

The following year the IMB responded to his referred motion by confirming "there was both an audit as well as supplemental procedures accomplished by a qualified certified public accountant regarding Central Asia finances."

"The results of these audit procedures were fully disclosed to the board of trustees of the IMB in November 2004, and appropriate action was taken, the official response continued.

Asked last year in San Antonio why the trustees decided against an external audit, IMB President Jerry Rankin told McGowin and other messengers that that an internal audit had been performed, as well as an audit by an outside firm.

"The trustees were involved in the thorough review of this," Rankin said. "Policies have been put in place to prevent this from happening again."

Rankin assured messengers that the board honored its "fiscal responsibility to the convention."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Baptists in Russian city claim bureaucrats restricting religious freedom
By Bob Allen (551 words)

MOSCOW (ABP) -- Baptists in the city of Lipetsk, Russia, claim local authorities are using bureaucratic methods to restrict their activity.

The provincial capital 235 miles southeast of Moscow has in recent years become a focal point of tension between Russian Orthodox and Baptist Christians.

According to Forum 18, a Norway-based news service that monitors religious freedom, two local congregations recently lost legal status for allegedly failing to file tax returns on time -- a charge that Baptist leaders strongly deny. A third lost its rented worship space for failing to have a representative appear at a court hearing that congregation members claim they weren't informed about.

"Soon there won't be a single Baptist church in Lipetsk!" exclaimed a Nov. 28 headline on the Forum 18 website.

Vitaly Vlasenko, director of external church relations for the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, said it is obvious that government officials in Lipetsk are partial to the Orthodox, but he personally does not believe events there represent a campaign aimed specifically at local Baptists.

Vlasenko said the processes of registration, documentation and taxation for churches have become entangled in bureaucracy, and that issues once settled through negotiation with government officials now often wind up in court.

Most Russian Baptist congregations have neither made the effort nor had the funds to hire bookkeepers and lawyers in the past, Vlasenko said, but now they must focus on including such safeguards.

The Russian Baptist union said in a recent news release that tensions between religious groups may revolve largely around money. In 1989, Lipetsk city leaders handed over the former Orthodox Church of the Trinity's Conception for Baptists to renovate and use for worship. Four years later, officials reversed the decision and ordered Baptists to return the building to Orthodox officials in exchange for appropriate compensation.

The Orthodox side did not agree to compensation and accused the Baptists of seizing an Orthodox sanctuary. The 100-member Baptist congregation has said they are willing to return the building for monetary compensation for improvements to the building or use of another building of comparable size and value.

In April the city decreed the Baptists must give up the building without compensation. Officials dissolved the congregation as a legal entity, claiming the church neglected to file required tax statements.
Vladimir Ilovaisky, the church's pastor, accused local officials of deceit.

"We have always handed in our tax reports on time," he said. "If we are guilty of something, then tax offices should inform us accordingly or levy a fine. They have instead taken away our legal status."

Ilovaisky said the Baptists "are not barbarians" and would not resort to defending the building by force, but still hoped for a settlement through legal means.

Not all residents of Lipetsk have shown as much restraint. On Nov. 4 about 200 marchers took part in an annual procession from Lipetsk's central Orthodox cathedral to the outlying Trinity Church now used by Baptists.

The event celebrated National Unity Day, a state holiday introduced in 2005 to commemorate Russia's 1612 expulsion of invading Polish and Lithuanian forces. In recent years, the day has become a forum for demonstrations by nationalist and far-right activists.

Two nights after the march, 28 windows of the Baptist-run structure were broken by vandals thought to be members of the nationalist Slavic Union.


Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Longtime Southern Baptist pastor Frank Pollard dies
By Bob Allen (231 words)

SAN FRANCISCO (ABP) -- Frank Pollard, one of Southern Baptists' best-known preachers and leaders, died Nov. 30 at his home in San Francisco.

Pollard, 74, twice served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss., for a combined total of 22 years. Between his stints in Jackson he served as pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio and as president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif.

He also was a past president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention and a regular preacher on the Baptist Hour broadcasts produced by the SBC Radio & Television Commission.

Pollard, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, had moved with his wife to San Francisco earlier this year, reportedly to be near his granddaughter.

A memorial service is planned at First Baptist, Jackson, but details are incomplete, according to a statement on the church website.

According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, Pollard became pastor at First Baptist, Jackson, in 1976. In 1980, he left for the San Antonio pulpit. In 1983, he went to Golden Gate, but left there in 1986 and became his former church's interim pastor. After three months on that job, the church called him to reprise his role as permanent pastor. He retired in 2002.

After retirement, he served as a visiting professor of homiletics at Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary.

Time once named Pollard one of seven "Outstanding Protestant Preachers in America." The Mississippi Legislature passed a resolution commending his ministry after his retirement.

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Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


Opinion: Ethiopian eununchs and reading the text from the margins
By Miguel De La Torre (692 words)

(ABP) -- As a man of color, I always read the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 with an emphasis on Africa.

When we think of the gospel message moving beyond the Jews, we usually see the trajectory going toward the center of the dominant empire at the time of the early church -- Rome. Many see the good news as a Eurocentric project that found its fulfillment within the empire.

The first non-Jewish convert to the gospel message was not a European, however, but an African. Ethiopia is an African nation, and it is to the Africans that Christ's message first goes in the biblical account. After Africa, it makes its way to Europe.

This reading through Hispanic eyes unmasks insights about the text that most of my Eurocentric colleagues miss. Nevertheless, I can easily fall into a similar myopia if I solely read the text with heterosexual eyes.

While whites may gain insight from me when I read the text from my particular social location, I myself am in danger of missing all the gems to be mined from a passage if I refuse to learn how to read the text from other marginalized social locations.

That is why people of faith need the GLBT (shorthand for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community. It wasn't until my GLBT colleagues shared with me how they read the text from their social location that the Word came alive for me. They challenged me to place as much emphasis on the fact that he was a eunuch as I have been placing on the fact that he was an Ethiopian.

Eunuchs were men who were castrated, usually so that they could be considered safe enough to work for royalty in places of great trust. Because they were unable to be fruitful and multiply, eunuchs were deemed sexual outcasts, unable to enter the assembly of Yahweh according to Deuteronomy 23.

The question we should ask ourselves as we approach Acts 8 are: Who today are the sexual outcasts? Who today, because of their sexual identity, face obstacles in entering or serving in God's house? Who today, in the words of Deuteronomy, are cut off?

For many GLBT scholars, the eunuchs who were the sexual outcasts of yesteryear are the GLBT community who are the sexual outcasts of today. These eunuchs of old are considered to be the predecessors of today's gays and lesbians.

How, then, do we make sense of the exclusive reading of Deuteronomy that prevents the eunuch from entering into God's house?

Whenever we read the biblical text, we read it from our particular social location. What is usually accepted as biblical truth is nothing more than the subjective reading of those in power, who make their interpretations normative and legitimate for the rest of the faith community.

Unfortunately, if we are unaware of readings of the text that come from marginalized perspectives, we ignore how our interpretations justify lifestyles that are at times contradictory to the very essence of the gospel message.

With this in mind, we can return to the Ethiopian eunuch and discover an interpretation ignored by those who wish to keep the GLBT community marginalized.

Here, then, is the good news for all who are sexual outcasts, whether they be the eunuch of old or the homosexual of today.

In spite of Deuteronomy's exclusion, there exists a special place reserved for them in God's house. In the messianic dream in Isaiah 56, the prophet proclaims: "Do not let the eunuch say, 'Behold, I am a dried-up tree,' for thus says Yahweh to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, and chooses things with which I am pleased, and take hold of my covenant.

"I will even give them in my house and in my walls a hand and a name better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off." (No doubt the puns were intentional.)

Here, then, is the significance of the story in Acts 8. The first non-Jew to be converted to the faith was a sexual outcast. So-called normative heterosexuals follow the sexual outcast to Jesus.

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-- Miguel De La Torre is associate professor of social ethics at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Prayer Blog - 12/2/2008

Today I learned that one of my favorite undergraduate professors David Dungan (DLD)died over the Thanksgiving break. Dr. Dungan headed the Religious Studies department at the University of Tennessee and helped me considerably. He suffered a massive heart attack while visiting relatives in Ohio. Though he had experienced heart problems in the past, his death was unexpected. As of yet, no obituary has been published. Please keep his family and friends in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 12/2/2008

Question: According to the book of John, who really took Jesus’ life?

Answer: No man. He gave it voluntarily. (John 10:18)

Comments: The Gospel of John accentuates the fact that Jesus gave his life, as opposed to having it taken from him.

"No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again This commandment I received from My Father." (John 10:18, NASB)

In 1897, sociologist Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) produced a groundbreaking work on suicide in which he identified four types of suicides: egoistic, altruistic, anomic, and fatalistic. In deference to this verse, many have characterized Jesus' death as an altruistic suicide.

Word of the Day - 12/2/2008

Prodigal

Prodigal means wastefully or recklessly extravagant.

One of Jesus' most famous parables was a story about a "prodigal son." (Luke 15:11-32)

"Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished." (Luke 15:14, NASB)

Note: This is Rembrandt (1606-1669)'s famous painting "Return of the Prodigal Son". The painting, created shortly before the artist's death, is presently located at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/2/2008

On Monday morning, I had an appointment scheduled at the Hope Resource Center. (Note: I was the counselor, not the client.) My appointment naturally no-showed. Yes, we have gotten to the point where I am getting stood up by men!

My presence was not for naught. The center had hardwood floors installed over the Thanksgiving break and needed help moving heavy items back to their original locations. Among the items I moved was an ultrasound machine. This device costs more than the rest of the building combined. I am just glad all of that seminary training paid off... Well, all of these years ministering with MLM did anyway.

As I walked around the refurnished clinic, I noticed a portrait in the hallway. I recognized the subject. It looked strangely like WES, an old friend from church. I inquired about the portrait and learned that his wife had drawn it and that his mother-in-law had donated it. The good news is that it is a really good likeness. Seeing as how its presence makes him somewhat of a poster child for STDs, the bad news is that it is a really good likeness.

On Monday night, I met EA, JTH, TK, TK’s best friend Justin, ALK, and JBT at Applebees. Applebees had been decorated for Christmas and looked especially festive. (Note: Earlier in the day, ALK changed her profile picture on Facebook to a photo I took of her on Sunday.)

Topics of conversation included but were not limited to how TK’s ability to get what he wants by excessively poking EA, how our waitress AFH's family asked if she was goth when she visited her home on Thanksgiving, how bra sizes mirror battery sizes, how EA is scary, and how the manager of the Halls branch of MoFoS requested a leave of absence. Yes, someone requested a leave of absence from the easiest job on the planet.

Oh and I inadvertently prompted JTH to try to carve a hole in the tabletop from its bottom with his knife...

In other Monday news, my meteoric rise continued at the Allergy, Asthma & Sinus Center. I was injected with the last shot from the green vials and will be upgraded to red on Wednesday. You may remember that it was just November 12th that I advanced to green from blue. (See this post for details.) I wonder what the next color will be...

This time I actually asked what this meant. I am eligible to go on maintenance, meaning one visit per week. I will continue the three-day-a-week schedule to speed up my resistance, but it is nice to have the option of reducing my visits. Are you proud of me?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Prayer Blog - 12/1/2008

Tomorrow, my paternal grandfather, WCV Jr., has a doctor's appointment concerning his prostate cancer. Doctors will measure his prostate to determine how many radiation pellets he will need as treatment. The number could be as high as one hundred. The procedure will be planned, but not performed, tomorrow. Please keep him and my family in your prayers.

Bible Trivia - 12/1/2008

Question: What did the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross disagree about?

Answer: Who would get his clothing (or coat). (John 19:24)

Comments: After being stripped for his crucifixion, Roman soldiers cast lots to determine who would obtain the souvenir of Jesus' tunic. As there was one tunic and multiple soldiers, they cast lots to determine who would win the prize.

So they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: "THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS." (John 19:24, NASB)

In recalling this event, the Gospel of John relates it to Psalm 22:18. Psalm 22 is often seen as foretelling the crucifixion of Christ.

Note: This tempera on panel of the parting of Jesus' garments was created by Fra Angelico (1387-1455). The painting hangs in the Museo di San Marco in Florence.

Word of the Day - 12/1/2008

Portent

A portent is an indication or omen of something about to happen, especially. something momentous.

The surrendering Aramean representatives interpreted the fact that Israel's king Ahab referred to their king Ben-Hadad as "brother" as a portent.

Now the men took this as an omen, and quickly catching his word said, "Your brother Ben-hadad." Then he said, "Go, bring him." Then Ben-hadad came out to him, and he took him up into the chariot. (I Kings 20:33, NASB)

Note: This woodcut of Ahab and Ben-Hadad by Johann Christoph Weigel (1654-1726) was first published in 1695.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/1/2008, Part 5

After worshiping at St. Mark United Methodist Church, JTH, ALK, and I met some of ALK’s friends and family at the food court at West Town Mall. I had not eaten there in some time. It is evidently the place to be as a strong contingency from my church was there including the Campbell, Hickey, Major, Roberts, and Wishart families. I ate my Sbarro next to the youth minister’s beautiful daughter, Grace. Though I failed in my attempts to get her to talk, I did elicit several smiles.

Afterwards, JTH, ALK, and I shopped at K Mart and the Wal-Mart in Oak Ridge before heading to JTH’s grandmother’s home. There, I sampled JTH’s mother KTH’s famous dessert, Death by Chocolate. This does not look particularly appetizing, but I assure you it may be the best dessert on the face of the planet. When KTH arrived she noted that she thought she might add peppermint to the recipe for Christmas. Why? You cannot improve on perfection. Would you let Ellen Page have plastic surgery?

Afterwards, JTH and I deposited ALK at Bearden United Methodist Church for her handbell practice. Amazingly, we were on time. ALK was rehearsing for Christmas programs that will be performed on December 10th and 14th. If anyone wants to tag along, just let us know. The best part of us dropping ALK off and picking her up was getting to see the director’s children Ben and Ainsley.

While we waited on ALK, we stopped at K Mart and Target. Yes, we went back to K-Mart. JTH had finally to decided to make a purchase. We also got to see several people we know at Target, bumping into MJ, AJCC, and ACC. More important is the fact that for the first time we ran into someone we know at K-Mart. I noticed that one of the employees looked familiar. It was Roy G’Fellers (RHG)’s granddaughter Sheila whom I had not seen in years. She told us that her grandfather is still playing ball. It was good to know that somewhere out there, G’Fellers is pointing and throwing behind the back passes.

After picking up ALK, we ordered pizza from Papa John’s and settled in for a night of television. While we waiting on the Tennessee basketball game to start, we watched the trick shot pool championships on ESPN, including among others Jeanette Lee. ALK was not amused. Why do they have referees? That seems to be the most pointless job ever. Where do I apply?

We then watched the Vols lose their first basketball game of the season in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic. Tennessee lost to a great Gonzaga team, 83-74. To the two teams will play a rematch in Knoxville on January 7th. We were not too disappointed but I was surprised at how vocal ALK gets during games.

After engaging in some banter with my mother, we watched Elf at the request of ALK. She really likes this movie and I had never seen it before. In fact, it and White Christmas are her all-time favorite holiday movies. I did not hate the film but did not find especially funny either. On the plus side, with this kind of taste in movies, she is perfect for JTH.

The most important news from Sunday was that the Tennessee volleyball team learned that they would be playing on Friday, December 6th, in the NCAA tournament at Clemson. Unfortunately, the Vols play the host team in the opening round.