Friday, December 26, 2008

Bible Trivia - 12/26/2008

Question: Who asked the following question: “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?”

Answer: The wise men (or Magi). (Matthew 2:2)

Comments: After Jesus' birth, mysterious magi or wise men from the east followed a star to Bethlehem in search of the infant. They appear only in Matthew's account of the Nativity. Because three gifts were given, they are traditionally pictured as a trio. Matthew's gospel does not specify their number.

"Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him." (Matthew 2:2, NASB)

At his birth (magi, Matthew 2:12) and his death (Pilate, Matthew 27:37), a Gentile declared Jesus the “king of the Jews”.

Note: This tempora on panel is "The Adoration of the Magi" by Benvenuto di Giovanni (1436-1509/1517). It presently rests in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Word of the Day - 12/26/2008


To felicitate is to compliment upon a happy event; congratulate.

The Gospel of Matthew records that magi from the east felicitated with Mary and Joseph on the birth of Jesus, bestowing gifts of of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:1-12)

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. After coming into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell to the ground and worshiped Him. Then, opening their treasures, they presented to Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11, NASB)

Note: This oil on canvas of the Adoration of the Magi was painted by Antonio da Correggio (1489-1534). It resides in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/26/2008

I had a fantastic Christmas as I got to see almost my entire family.

My Christmas began as it always has, opening gifts with my parents. Typically one of my favorite parts of this process is unveiling the gifts my paternal grandmother got the family just to see what esoteric item she came up with. She did not disappoint. There were two gifts of note. First, I received this clock in the shape of a space shuttle. I am not sure if it is symbolic of my mental state or not.

Second, this is my mother shortly after she opened her gift. It is a bell designed to be positioned outdoors and ring when the wind blows. Though it is difficult to tell from this photo, it is has “The Vinsons” painted on it. This means there will be no re-gifting outside of the family. (Note: My mother is the second person to make the blog in her bathrobe this year. KJW did it last last week.)

Neither of these two gifts rank very high on the all-time inventory. They cannot. We actually knew what their function was upon opening them.

My parents (read: mom) got me a Nintendo Wii for Christmas. I was surprised as I was not even certain we would be exchanging gifts due to the economic state of the economy in general and my family specifically. My cousin MLW bought the system and selected the appropriate accessories. Yet another reason I refer to him as the “-in-law jackpot”.

We then made the trip down Northshore Drive to my uncle JHV’s home. There was a massive crowd of 28 on hand to eat together. Family present were: my dad’s brother’s family (5), his in-law’s MWM and JHM (2), my dad’s sister and her husband (2), my mom’s brother’s family (8), their in-laws (3), and my family (3). Also in attendance were my cousin LAV’s dear friend JS and his family (4, pictured) and another friend named Melissa (1), a social work major at Pellissippi State Technical Community College. The Scarpino family is always welcome and not just because the father, FAS, is a Gene Simmons doppelgänger. Amazingly, there were no Chinese present at the event.

Also conspicuously absent were my paternal grandparents. They were recovering from a stomach virus in Newport. They received a digital frame for Christmas and requested that we photograph everyone heavily to add to the frame. After lunch, it was like a paparazzi convention at the house. I suggested an experiment. I thought we should send them last year’s photos to see if they could determine any difference. The only objection was that they were in some of the photos.

Regarding the transportation of said pictures, my grandmother requested we send her a CD. My uncle said we could not do that as she has no computer. She asked what good the frame was then. Then, he said that they could take the frame and upload the pictures to it. She responded by asking what good the frame was if it was not there for her to see the photos. This went on for minutes!

My aunt MCVD did come despite her recovering from the same virus. I was under strict orders not to hug one of my favorite people. This is also significant as she brought her dressing, my favorite holiday food. My aunt LAMV also made dressing as she was uncertain as to whether or not MCVD could complete her assignment. LAMV’s dressing was good. MCVD’s was great.

It was great to see all six of my first cousins in one place for the first time in years. There has little news on my four maternal cousins since the last time they were featured in the December 1st edition of “In Eckleburg’s Eyes”. The big news is that HANW’s baby, due May 11th, is a girl. She is tentatively named Mikaela Clare. I realize that I most likely butchered the spelling of her first name. It does not matter. I will be calling her M.C. Walker. (Given her genetics, she will likely be a dancing machine like M.C. Hammer.) Due to my history with KJW, I have been prohibited from assisting in her verbal training.

My two cousins on my dad’s side of the family are also well. LAV maintained her 4.0 for another semester at UT. She is an English major though is not enthused by her field. With no particular interests, she chose the field she was best in. She hopes one day to teach. JEV has enrolled in courses at Pellissippi and is hoping to ease his way back into the educational system. Keep this venture in your prayers.

I spent the majority of the day with mom’s side of the family. My aunt JSN referred to something using the expression “The Bomb”. It was great.

On Christmas night, I ate hamburgers with my parents before JTH and ALK arrived to exchange gifts. ALK brought me some homemade apple butter from her church, St. Mark United Methodist Church. I am excited. I have never had Methodist apple butter before.

We then visited JTH’s paternal aunt Mary Hawk. We dropped off some of JTH’s homemade puppy chow and watched Deal or No Deal with her. I always thought Hawk was her last name, but I learned that it was a nickname. Her surname is actually Giles. JTH had not seen her in nearly two years. He had to explain who he was on the phone. They are very close.

I have never met anyone with such open disdain for her own family. It was great. We also learned that she did not attend her brother’s wedding. Why? “I don’t go to weddings.” At one point, two phones were ringing simultaneously. After checking the caller ID, she proclaimed, “I won’t answer either one.” I appreciated her candor.

It was a good Christmas.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bible Trivia - 12/25/2008

Question: Complete the following verse about the birth of Jesus: “And she brought forth her first born son,...”

Answer: “and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

Comments: Luke 2:7 represents one of the most famous birth announcements in history. Everything about the description from the cloths to the trough bed indicate that the Savior of the world had a very humble birth.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:7, NASB)

Despite being commonly cast in plays, you will note that no innkeeper appears in the Biblical text.

Note: This tempera on wood of The Nativity was painted by Hans Baldung (1480-1545) in 1510.

Word of the Day - 12/25/2008


To peregrinate is to travel or journey, especially to walk on foot.

Luke reports that due to a census ordered by Caesar Augustus which required everyone to register in their hometown, Joseph and his pregnant fiance Mary were forced to pereginate to Bethlehem. It was there that Jesus was born. (Luke 2:1-7)

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David...And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4,7 NASB)

This painting, "Arrival at Bethlehem", was created by Macha Chmakoff.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/25/2008

I had a great Christmas Eve as I celebrated Christmas with the Walker and Hickey families.

I met KLTW, KJW, MPW and RAW at RAW’s home at noon. Shortly before I arrived, RAW had asked KJW what she wanted for Christmas. Her reply? “A new my room.” The two-year old is definitely her daddy’s girl.

After a short discussion, we all crossed Kingston Pike (via car) to visit JTH and his parents. JTH was to join us later but was detained cooking more batches of puppy chow to distribute as Christmas gifts. (This photo is proof that he actually did do the cooking.) We thought we would keep him company. KJW played hide and seek while he cooked. She is not too bad at hiding. Unfortunately, she squeals as she hides which counteracts her ability to conceal her small body.

At one point, KJW snuck into the next room where JTH’s father CEH (aka “Homer”) was sitting and watching television. She crawled into his lap and when she realized she did not know him well, she said, “Ah oh” and got down. Homer did not mind.

We played with JTH’s mother’s dog Skye for quite awhile. We were eventually joined by the neighbor’s hound Blue who jumped the fence to visit. KJW loved the dogs. She would instruct them “over here!”and “Puppy, catch me!” She also attempted to get the dogs to wag their tails by demonstrating the process.

KJW coaxed Skye into his cage (“jail”) and then locked herself in with him. At one point JTH was feeding Skye cheese, one of his favorite treats. He asked KJW, “You want to give it to him?” and then handed her a piece. She immediately ate it before the dog could!

In other KJW news, she now has a serious phobia that her nose will turn blue. She picked this up from our viewing of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on December 15th. For the past week and a half she has been periodically asking us to check her nose for a transformation. Of all the things she could have picked up from that movie...

KJW will begin attending preschool at my church on Tuesdays. Her parents really did not need a babysitter on that day but felt the child needed interaction with other children. She will be taught by the longstanding team of Amy Gibson and Hazel Swanson.

After a good visit with JTH’s parents, we ate a late lunch at Mangia Pizza & More in Turkey Creek. I had never eaten there before and was surprised when I saw my cousin’s best friend JS in the kitchen. It was great to see him and not just because he comped my meal.

I ordered the chicken calzone and it was amazingly good. It was great food but the plasticware was the worst I have ever used. I broke five different forks trying to cut the meal. I promise that I was not trying to be destructive either. Admittedly, most customers probably learn their lesson quicker than I did...

We then returned to RAW’s house where we exchanged gifts. KLTW bought me a hardcover book, Barack by Jonah Winter and illustrated by A. G. Ford. It is children’s biography of Barack Obama! KLTW was pleased that she bought me a book I did not already have. Admittedly, it was a risk.

The Walkers and Hickeys also seemed pleased with their gifts.

I spent Christmas Eve night with my parents. We ate at Aubrey’s and then watched “Christmas Truce” on the History Channel. It detailed the story of the armistice on Christmas 1914 during the trenches of World War I. We opted to do this instead of attending a service.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Prayer Blog - 12/24/2008

I wish you all a merry Christmas. Please remember those who have recently lost loved ones in your prayers. The holidays can be a very sorrowful time for many. Pray for all to have strength during this holiday season.

Church Sign - 12/24/2008

Church: Zion United Methodist Church (1807 Duncan Road; Knoxville, TN 37919)

Sign: “Don't leave Christ out of Christmas.”

Commentary: This expression has become cliche but that makes it no less relevant. As its name should suggest, Christ should be as much a part of Christmas as the word itself. The term "Christmas" originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first attested in 1038.

"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:31-33, NASB)

The sign reminds its reader of the "reason for the season". It is so easy to get caught up in the commercialism of the Christmas holiday. Remember to celebrate the Savior's birth this Christmas season.

Bible Trivia - 12/24/2008

Question: How did Mary and Joseph decide what to name the baby Jesus?

Answer: An angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream. (Matthew 1:20-21)

Comments: Jesus' name was not selected by his earthly parents, but rather his Heavenly Parent. An angel of the Lord told Joseph to name the child Jesus, which means “YHWH rescues”. Jesus' name in Aramaic, the language of the people of his time, was Yeshua. The English name “Jesus” is a derivation from the Greek “Iesous” and the Latin “Iesus”.

"She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21, NASB)

The name “Jesus” as it exists today and incorporating the letter "J" was not in use until the middle ages.

Note: This oil on canvas, The Vision of St. Joseph by Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674), hangs in the National Gallery in London.

Word of the Day - 12/24/2008


Gravid means pregnant.

Just as the angel Gabriel had predicted, the virgin Mary became gravid.

"And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus." (Luke 1:31, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/24/2008

On Tuesday, I worked a long shift at the Hope Resource Center (HRC).

I had two appointments scheduled but neither of my clients showed up. ***** and ****** were scheduled to have STD tests performed. I hope they do not get one of the real gifts that keeps on giving this holiday season. LEB, the organization’s administrator, is thinking of fining people who do not make their appointments like a doctor’s office would. I will simply name them on my blog. Is that unethical?

Though I did not counsel anyone, I enjoyed my time at the center. I met JLCN’s father, who was visiting from California. I also had long conversations with a counselor named Shirley (and I can call her Shirley) and LEB.

I always love talking to LEB. At a Christmas party on Saturday (December 20th), she dressed as the Virgin Mary forty weeks pregnant. You have worked at HRC too long when not only is this your costume, but you know the specific number of weeks pregnant. It is also worth nothing that she and her friend (dressed as Elizabeth) were the only ones who followed through on the theme of dressing as your favorite Christmas character. At least they won the costume contest. They also won a caroling contest by having the weaker singers mouth the word “strawberry” repeatedly. I will have to remember that trick.

LEB also fulfilled her New Year’s resolution on December 6th. She ran a half marathon in Memphis (because it is flat land). Congratulations!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 12/23/2008

Associated Baptist Press
December 23, 2008 · (08-127)

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

In this issue
Controversy over inaugural prayer is nothing new (928 words)
Opinion: Christmas Prayer (555 words)
Opinion: Loving God, Loveless Christians (722 words)
Religion in presidential race tops ranking of ABP stories in 2008 (965 words)

Controversy over inaugural prayer isn't anything new
Bob Allen

WASHINGTON (ABP) -- President-elect Barack Obama's surprise pick of Purpose Drive Life author Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration Jan. 20 isn't the first time the ceremonial prayer has created controversy.

Eight years ago Kirbyjohn Caldwell, senior pastor of Windsor Village Methodist Church in Houston, drew criticism for closing the benediction at President Bush's first inauguration with: "We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that's above all other names, Jesus, the Christ. Let all who agree say, 'Amen.'"

At Bush's second inauguration in 2005, Caldwell was more inclusive, modifying his closing to: "Respecting persons of all faiths, I humbly submit this prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen."

Franklin Graham also offered the invocation at the 2001 inauguration in Jesus' name, drawing rebuke from non-Christians. Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz called it "particularistic and parochial language" that "excluded tens of millions of American Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Shintoists, Unitarians, agnostics and atheists from his blessing."

Graham said the backlash was evidence that "there are factions of society today that hate God and everything that He stands for."

Atheist Michael Newdow, best known for his fight against the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, sued unsuccessfully in 2005 to block prayer at Bush's second inauguration, claiming that inaugural prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Invoking God's blessing has been a part of the presidential inauguration ceremony since 1789, when George Washington added the words "So help me God" at the end of his oath and proceeded to St. Paul's Chapel, where the Senate chaplain read from the Book of Common Prayer.

The prayer was moved from the church to the Senate chamber for the 1937 inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Every inauguration since has included prayers by one or more clergymen invited by the president-elect.

For years Billy Graham was a fixture of inaugural prayers, befriending every president since Eisenhower. Unable to attend the first inauguration of George W. Bush because of illness, Graham sent his son as a substitute to deliver the invocation in 2001.

Joseph Lowery, an icon of the civil rights movement and co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, is scheduled to pronounce the benediction at Obama's inauguration, but garnering most of the attention is Obama's selection of Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., for the invocation.

The high-profile invitation particularly upset supporters of gay rights. Warren has compared homosexuality to incest, pedophilia and polygamy. He also spoke on behalf Proposition 8 a California referendum to ban gay marriage, which homosexuals regard a civil right.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of three openly gay members of the House of Representatives, said he was "very disappointed" by the choice.

"Religious leaders obviously have every right to speak out in opposition to anti-discrimination measures, even in the degrading terms that Rev. Warren has used with regard to same-sex marriage," Frank said. "But that does not confer upon them the right to a place of honor in the inauguration ceremony of a president whose stated commitment to LGBT rights won him the strong support of the great majority of those who support that cause."

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, wrote in the Washington Post that inviting Warren "sends a chilling message to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans" and "makes us uncertain about this exciting, young president-elect who has said repeatedly that we are part of his America, too."

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called it "a divisive choice, and clearly not one that will help our country come together and heal."

Obama defended Warren's selection by saying there will be a "wide range of viewpoints" presented at the inauguration. "We're not going to agree on every single issue," he said, "but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common."

Warren commended the president-elect for "courage to willingly take enormous heat by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn't agree on every issue" and called it an effort "to model civility in America."

While Warren differs with Obama on homosexuality and abortion rights, they share values like fighting AIDS in Africa. Warren took heat from fellow religious conservatives for inviting Obama to speak at a conference on the subject at his church in 2006.

Joseph Farah of World Net Daily expressed "profound and abject revulsion" at Warren's acceptance of the invitation to ask God's blessing on Obama's policies, which he called "evil."

"Yes, we are commanded to pray for our leaders," Farah said. "But there is no suggestion in the Bible that we are ever to be used as political pawns by praying at their events -- especially when they are promoting the wholesale slaughter of innocent human beings."

Warren's selection also disappointed the religious left, who say his non-partisan image belies a social agenda in lockstep with the religious right. Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State called Warren "a kinder, gentler Jerry Falwell in a Hawaiian shirt."

Don Byrd, who blogs on church-state issues at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, said regardless of their stances on controversial issues, he hopes both Warren and Lowery "manage broad, all-inclusive, non-sectarian approaches to this solemn occasion that should be for all Americans" and if Obama wants to offer a specifically Christian prayer with the religious leaders that it be done before or after the public event.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: Christmas Prayer
By Jim Evans

Lord, first of all, thank you for the careful and creative way in which you have designed this world. You have made this planet a marvelous place, filled with life and beauty. It is a privilege to recognize that we humans are a part of your amazing invention.

Having said that, it is necessary to also say we are sorry. We are sorry for our poor stewardship of the earth. We have not been very careful with the air and the water. We have also not been very careful with certain forms of life. We have acted as if ours was the only existence that matters. Apparently we forgot what Jesus said about you and the sparrows.

We have also not been very good stewards of the resources which sustain life. Many of us living in the developed nations have become a highly acquisitive people. It's almost as if we believe that the purpose of our humanity is to get our hands on as much stuff as possible. There are many who look to their earthly treasures as the true source of their security and meaning. You used the word idolatry to describe that kind of thinking.

Sadly, our pursuit of things has also created a dismal state of affairs in our relations with each other. We've got it all backwards from what you intended. Instead of loving people, as you taught, we use people to get what we want. Instead using things to make life better, we love things and cling to them as if they were life itself.

This tragic reversal has had dire consequences. Our greedy consumption has created a world of poverty for millions -- as our wealth grows, so does their poverty. And we keep fighting one bloody war after another, taking the lives of your children, trying to protect our stuff.

In fact, that touches on one of our most difficult problems -- our love of violence. We treat violence in our culture as if it were a sacred rite. We believe in violence. We cherish it, we celebrate it. We teach it to our children as if we were passing along a spiritual heritage. We have endowed violence with a trust and a hope that should be reserved for you. We believe violence can conquer evil. We believe violence can make peace. We believe violence can end violence. You would think that 50,000 years of human experience would convince us otherwise, but not yet.

That is why Christmas is so important. The birth of Jesus represents the supreme effort on your part to re-shape our flawed humanity back into your own image. If we would only accept as true the things Jesus had to say to us what a different world this might be.

Somewhere along the way this Christmas we will hear the words of the prophet Isaiah: "A child shall lead them." We are drawn to the innocence of the nativity with a sense of wonder and longing. We believe that Jesus is that child.

But he cannot lead us if we do not follow. And he cannot change us so long as we insist on having things our own way.

Help us this year to finally admit that our way is not working and for once, just for once, try doing things his way. Amen.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.

Opinion: Loving God, Loveless Christians
David P. Gushee

It's Christmastime, so it seems especially appropriate to begin with reminders of the amazing love of God to the world in Jesus Christ:

"Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." --Luke 2:10-11

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but would have everlasting life." --John 3:16

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will someone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." --Romans 5:6-8

"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!" --I John 3:1

It's Christmastime, so it seems especially appropriate to continue with reminders of the Bible's demand that followers of Christ be characterized by godly love:

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. " --1 John 4:7-11

"'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?' Jesus replied: 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it. 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." --Mt. 22:36-40

"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." --John 13:34-35

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." --1 Cor. 13:1-3

It's Christmastime, so it seems especially sad to be reminded of the hatefulness that Christians demonstrate toward those whose lifestyles they disapprove of, whose politics they reject, or whose doctrine or moral beliefs they believe erroneous:

Grieve for every Christian leader pushed out of his or her job because they did not quite hit the right notes for some fellow Christians in their church, school or organization, and for every Christian who somehow finds it in their heart to rejoice at the downfall of their perceived Christian enemies.

Grieve for homosexuals, so often the recipients of Christian rejection and hatred.

Grieve for every Christian who in 2008 was treated as some kind of pagan by other Christians because they supported Barack Obama, and every Christian treated as some kind of Neanderthal because they supported John McCain.

Grieve for a Christian community in which orthodoxy rather than orthopraxy defines what it means to be right with God, which produces a community with an abundance of right-thinkers filled with contempt for those who do not see the world as correctly as they do.

"The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians...who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." --Brennan Manning

"Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love." --1 John 4:8

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

Religion in presidential race tops ranking of ABP stories in 2008
By Bob Allen

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (ABP) -- Baptist journalists and observers ranked religion in the 2008 presidential election the year's biggest story for Baptists. Faith in politics played a major role in the year's news cycle, according to an annual ranking of top stories compiled by Associated Baptist Press.

Religion stories ranged from the surprising emergence of Southern Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee as a contender for the GOP nomination, to questions about whether Mitt Romney's Mormon faith would be a turnoff to evangelical voters, to problems for John McCain over comments by his supporter John Hagee and to the Jeremiah Wright controversy that prompted President-elect Barack Obama to divorce himself from both his former pastor and home church.

Respondents to an annual informal survey by the independent news service based in Jacksonville, Fla., ranked religion in the 2008 presidential election the year's top story.
The rest of the rankings were as follows:

2. The New Baptist Covenant Celebration. The historic gathering held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Atlanta drew 15,000 participants from 30 Baptist conventions and organizations to hear addresses from speakers including former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and former vice president Al Gore. Carter, one of the meeting's principal organizers, called it the "most momentous event of my religious life." The movement toward a unified Baptist witness in North America picks up again in 2009 with a series of regional New Baptist Covenant gatherings beginning Jan. 31 in Birmingham, Ala.

3. Election of African-American president suggests shift in religious voters. Though opposed by the Religious Right for his pro-choice views on abortion and support for civil unions for gays, Obama found strong support from African-American and Hispanic religious voters. Some observers said the election marked waning influence of the Religious Right, while others said it is too early to tell if the trend is permanent.

4. Saddleback civil forum features presidential candidates. Southern Baptist mega-church pastor and Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren made headlines in August when he invited both major presidential candidates to a Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency at his church in Lake Forest, Calif. The first time nominees of both parties appeared on the same stage, the event provided one of the most embarrassing moments of the campaign for Obama, who tried to dismiss a question about abortion by saying that answering a question about when a baby gets human rights is "above my pay grade." McCain, meanwhile, cemented his support among Religious Right leaders previously suspicious of him for past comments critical of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

5. The economy. One writer predicted a faltering economy would top next year's ranking, but effects are already being felt in Baptist life. Two Southern Baptist seminaries -- Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, -- recently announced budget shortfalls, while Woman's Missionary Union in Birmingham, Ala., plans cutbacks including placing workers on a four-week unpaid furlough in 2009.

6. Baylor removes president for failure to unite campus. Trustees fired President John Lilley July 24, saying he had failed to reunite a university community divided by differences over leadership by his predecessor, Robert Sloan. Lilley, who took Baylor's helm in January 2006, ran into his own problems after denying tenure to several faculty members, despite recommendation by their departments. Outcry from alumni also forced him to back off from a proposal to replace Baylor's "BU" interlocking logo on the school's football helmets with the word "Baylor" in an attempt to push the Baptist school's brand name to a national level.

7. Georgia Baptists reject church with woman pastor. The Georgia Baptist Convention changed a policy to authorize leaders to refuse funds from First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., because it called woman as pastor. Convention leaders said calling Julie Pennington-Russell as pastor in 2007 violated the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message doctrinal statement and rendered the historic congregation "not in harmony" with the state convention.

8. North Carolina Baptists nix plan that forwarded funds to CBF. Capping several years of challenges to a multi-track giving plan, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina voted Nov. 12 to end an option that allowed churches to forward money through the state convention to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other entities unrelated to the Southern Baptist Convention. While supporters of multiple options said the system respected church autonomy, opponents said it put forth a divided witness for the state's Southern Baptists. Churches in North Carolina that want to contribute to the breakaway moderate group will in the future have to send funds directly to the CBF.

9. 'Evangelical center' forming in U.S. politics. David Gushee, a regular ABP columnist, began 2008 with a book arguing a "political center" is emerging in American's white evangelical community -- one that seeks a broader moral agenda than traditional family values concerns and prefers consensus solutions to polarization between the secular left and Religious Right. Groups including the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative sought to define social problems like poverty, torture and the environment as moral issues. Exit polls showed that religious voters want a broader agenda than opposition to abortion and gay marriage to best reflect their values, and prefer common-ground solutions like working to reduce instead of outlawing abortion.

10. Violence targets Christians in India. Baptists worldwide denounced violence targeting Christians in an overwhelmingly Hindu state in northeastern India. Religious violence is nothing new in Orissa, where in 1999 a mob burned Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons to death while they slept in a car. In November U.S. Christian leaders including Daniel Vestal of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and William Shaw of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., urged President Bush to take action against sectarian violence described as "ethnic cleansing" of religious minorities.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Bible Trivia - 12/23/2008

Question: What kind of animal does the New Testament say Mary rode from Nazareth to Bethlehem?

Answer: It doesn’t.

Comments: Only the Gospel of Luke includes Mary and Joseph's journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem but it does not include the mode of transportation. Joseph was forced to register for a census in Bethlehem but it is unclear why his very pregnant fiancé made the trek with him. The distance from Nazareth to Bethlehem is a straight shot of about 113 kilometers (70 miles), but the path that Joseph and Mary would have extended the trip's length to about 145 kilometers (90 miles) with an elevation of about 400 meters (1,312 feet). The common images of Joseph walking while his pregnant wife Mary rides a donkey are a way tradition has filled the gaps in the ancient text. The images also depict a sacrificial Joseph allowing his wife the more comfortable ride as opposed to a man who subjected his wife to a senseless journey.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. (Luke 2:4-5, NASB)

Despite the fact that a donkey was the primary method of transportation of the era, many believe it is unlikely that Mary rode a donkey given the couple's financial state and the fact that she was in the last stages of her pregnancy.

Word of the Day - 12/23/2008


Prognostication is 1. the act of prognosticating. 2. a forecast or prediction.

The Gospel of Matthew asserts that the Virgin Birth of Jesus fulfilled the prognostication of the Prophet Isaiah.

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL," which translated means, "GOD WITH US." (Matthew 1:22-23, NASB)

Matthew quotes Isaiah 9:6-7 in this passage.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/23/2008, Part 2

On Monday night, JTH, ALK, and I attended the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) concert at Thompson-Boling Arena. JTH took me for Christmas.

On the way, JTH drove my vehicle. He asked if I had ever used the horn before. I am generally opposed. My theory is that if you honk to alert someone that they are doing something stupid, they will stop and then continue the action compounding their error. If you honk to alert someone you know of your presence that alarms them for no reason. If you see me on the road, just call me on my cell phone. If you do not have my cell phone number then I probably do not care that you have just seen me. As such, I see little reason to use the horn. Sorry. Just felt like sharing.

This is the second year in a row I have attended the TSO concert. TSO is a rock orchestra that specializes in Christmas music accompanied by flashing lights and pyrotechnics. Each holiday season they tour the country. They had just completed two performances the previous day in Nashville and were headed to Memphis the following day for two more performances.

We sat by JTH’s brother CEH, his-in-laws, and MLM and his wife. ALK took the photos in this blog. She was able to smuggle in a camera. She advised that if you open your purse before security asks, they tend not to check it. She also suggested placing a tampon on top of the other items. I will take her word for it.

The performance this year was very similar to last year’s. The first half of the show was narrated by the “Voice of Voices” Tony Gaynor. It is a concept album that tells a story. In the second half of the show, the band cut loose. This is my favorite portion of the show but it is all worth seeing. I especially liked the duel between the band’s two pianists. I also like the word pianist.

Knoxville native Andrew Ross is on his second national tour with the group.

The show lasted for three hours. The tickets are expensive but it is well worth the money. Besides, I didn’t pay.

After the show, we met TJK and JBT at Applebees. We also ran into MJ again. Amy was our waitress and as attentive as usual. Thankfully, the store manager Jeff Luengen (JWL) picked up her slack. To spare trips to tables, she just left us with pitchers, as seen in this photo. TJK and I also had bad wings that were smothered in two conflicting sauces. It was not out best meal at the Bees.

TJK and JBT had just come from a shift at MoFoS. The news there was that Lady Vols basketball player Glory Johnson visited the store earlier in the day. She had been injured the previous night and was on crutches. Customers with her credentials seldom enter MoFoS so it was newsworthy. And by that, I mean she can spell.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/23/2008, Part 1

On Monday, JTH and I continued our Christmas preparations.

While we were working, we watched movies. I forced JTH to watch the 1966 film Batman: The Movie. It is a spin-off of the popular television series starring Adam West as Batman. He had never seen it before and I consider it required viewing. It brings campy to a whole new level. As an example, this is one of my favorite parts of dialogue. Keep in mind it is delivered with great earnestness:

Batman (reading one of The Riddler's riddles): “What has yellow skin and writes?”
Robin: “A ballpoint banana.”
Batman: “Of course.”

After viewing the work of art, we took a break to eat lunch at Gattis. The price of the buffet has gone up since last we ate there. Why is it that every time we run into someone who looks like they would answer to the name “Hoss”, they know JTH?

The heat was out in my sector of the house and I knew it was getting to JTH when on the way home he suggested, “Let’s wrap the gifts in your car.” So I headed to K Mart, the closest retail store, to procure a space heater.

While there we ran into former church member and Tennessee football player (1973-1976) Ron McCartney (RLM). He is like me in that he is a nice guy but you wouldn’t want to play basketball with him. It was good catching up with RLM, who was decidedly not pleased with the quality of the going out of business sale.

As an aside, JTH thinks RLM’s name sounds like an alcoholic beverage - “I’ll have a Ron McCartney on the rocks.” What do you think?

After some searching, we found this space heater. The dipalyn item was the only one left and they refused to discount it more than the 20% off the already high K Mart price. It did not even have a box! Natrually, we tested it in the store. We were pressed for time, so I shelled out the $52.43. JTH insists it was the best purchase I have made all year.

We then returned to my house and in deference to JTH watched The House Bunny. Suffice it to say, the movie was not nominated for any Academy Awards. Not surprisingly, JTH loved the movie. His enjoyment did, however, make him angry at TJK who had sold his copy of the DVD to a customer the previous Saturday.

After wrapping gifts most of the day, we headed across town to JTH’s house where he had forgotten the tickets to the concert we would be attending that night and then to pick up ALK.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Prayer Blog - 12/22/2008

This morning my family received a call from my paternal grandparents informing us that they would not be able to attend my grandmother's birthday celebration tomorrow, scheduled to be held at Lois' Country Kitchen in Newport. They have come down with a stomach virus that is making the rounds. For them to miss a family gathering and/or a meal at Lois' they must very ill. Please keep them in your prayers.

WAM Quote of the Day - 12/22/2008

Unfortunately, I did not see WAM today. Tonight, however, at 8:54 pm, I received this text from him. It is an alternate definition for the word "geek". There was no explanation attached or rationale for sending it to me. As such, it is worthy of the WAM Quote of the Day:

"(geek) Slang. -noun. 3. a carnival performer who performs sensationally morbid or disgusting acts, as biting off the head of a live chicken."

By this defintion is Ozzy Osbourne a geek? More importantly, I am hoping this was not a confession from WAM...

Bible Trivia - 12/22/2008

Question: Which two gospels make no mention of the Virgin Birth?

Answer: Mark and John.

Comments: The nativity story is told in only half of the four canonical gospels. It appears in Matthew (1:18-25) and Luke (1:26-2:20) while the Gospels of Mark and John make no mention of the Virgin Birth.

Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" (Luke 1:34, NASB)

The Gospel of Mark begins with John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness while John's prologue discusses the preincarnate Christ.

Note: This stained glass representation of the Nativity is located in the Trinity Church in Saugerties, New York. It was designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) and manufactured by William Morris (1834-1896).

Word of the Day - 12/22/2008


A parol is an oral statement or utterance: by parol.

The angel Gabriel made his famous proclamation, known as the Annunciation, to Mary by parol.

The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus." (Luke 1:30-31, NASB)

The Annunciation stated that Mary would give birth to a son named Jesus whose birth would change the entire world as much as it would her own.

Note: This painting of the Annunciation by Gaudenzio Ferrari (1471-1546) is an oil and egg tempera on poplar. It hangs in the National Gallery in London.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/22/2008, Part 4

On Sunday night, JTH, ALK, and I drove to Mt. Herman Methodist Church where we saw the church’s youth group perform “Christmas in Cricket County”.

The church is located in Powell, Tennessee, so we had a nice drive to the church. On the way, the topic of KJW’s potty training (or lack thereof) came up. In her job, ALK has trained many obstinate children to use a toilet. She felt she was up to the challenge with KJW. She instructed me, “Don’t underestimate my potty skills!” Duly noted.

After our lovely discussion, we found our way to Mt. Herman Methodist Church (located at 235 E Copeland Drive in Powell, TN). JTH has visited many times as his aunt GTH and cousins TRY and TY all attend the church. We attend their Christmas play each year and it is one of our favorite parts of the holiday season. In fact, the last play I attended was written by TY herself. This year they purchased the rights to a play instead. It was great, but I suspect TY would have written a stellar play as well.

All three of JTH’s relatives were involved as GTH directed while her son had a starring role and her daughter was a stage hand (she has graduated from the youth group). They all did well. We sat by JTH’s parents and grandmother. Amazingly, we were the ones on time!

JTH’s family did arrive in time to catch the entire play but they missed a four-year old singing “Away in a Manger” to start the service. She was unbelievably good and did not miss a word.

The play was Eddie McPherson’s one-acct comedy “Christmas in Cricket County”. It tells the story of a wealthy family going into the country for Christmas for the sole purpose of the reading of their rich Uncle Zeke’s will. The play uses the clash of cultures to accentuate how skewed priorities have become. It also has the group sing a version of the Christmas story to the tune of the “The Ballad of Jed Clampett” (the theme from The Beverly Hillbillies). The forty-five minute performance was both funny and meaningful.

I will give the performance five stars. I suspect I will be the only one to write an online review of this performance, so all critics gave the play five stars! That sounds better.

After the play, all who attended were invited to the church’s basement for a veritable feast. Each family prepared a dish and all of them were great. Santa then distributed gifts to all of the children present. Since I have known ALK, I have visited many a Methodist function. I have concluded that Methodists really love Santa Claus.

After eating and chatting, we hit the interstate to go to the closeout wonderland that is Big Lots! so JTH could select holiday tins to put his Puppy Chow in. I managed to scavenge the entire store in the time it took him to select his tins. It is worth noting that Big Lots! has a DVD section. Almost all titles sell for $3 and some of them are mainstream, such as Superman Returns. Most are not. But, if you are a fan of Jonathan Silverman or Sean Young, you ought to check them out.

Afterwards, we went back to my house where we subjected JTH to Mamma Mia!. (Big Lots! And Mama Mia! have it right. I need to name something with an exclamation point at the end!) Recently, ALK and I have fed JTH a steady diet of musicals. It was his favorite one he has seen so far. He still disliked it but he did not hate it as much as the others.

As I do every Sunday, I ate Everlasting Gobstoppers throughput the day. On this Sunday, I ate the holiday version, Snowballs. I highly recommend them. They are red, green, and white, and they are good.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/22/2008, Part 3

I do my holiday shopping early in part so that I do not have to endure the holiday traffic. On Sunday, I did just that. Although I do my holiday shopping early, JTH does not.

JTH and I set out with a checklist so long that it would stress Santa Claus. Of course, we first set out for Wal-Mart where we could get the most tasks done at one time. While there, I had an item to return. I have a theory regarding customer service at Wal-Mart. They post the slowest people imaginable in that department to reduce the number of returns. Given the long lines there, one has to ask - is it really worth it?

I have a question regarding price matching. Could we take a photo with my camera phone at Wal-Mart and get Best Buy to match the price? Is that enough proof?

We then went across Clinton highway to Kroger to procure the ingredients JTH needed to make “Puppy Chow” for ten friends. This is a sweet made from Kellogg’s Crispix. We were pressed for time, so I drove JTH back to my house where he cooked the Puppy Chow while I ran other errands for him.

I made stops at Food City (pictured), Champs Sports in West Town Mall (where an employee named “Da Kid” checked me out), Target, and McKay’s. To shop at the mall on the weekend before Christmas, one has to be a masochist or stupid. I qualify for at least one of these two titles.

In my travels, I did bump into JLTB at Target and ROW at McKay’s (he was buying all of his Christmas gifts there). JLTB noted that I must really love JTH to brave the traffic for him. Agreed.

I then returned to my house where JTH and ALK awaited. I felt like Cosby entering after braving the weather in the Thanksgiving episode of The Cosby Show ("Cliff's Wet Adventure"). (Did anyone get that reference?) They had completed the batch of puppy chow needed for that night and saved the rest for later.

We then headed to Mt. Herman Methodist Church to watch a Christmas play.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/22/2008, Part 2

After attending the Tennessee basketball game, I spent a long Saturday night at MoFoS. JTH, TJK and I had planned to eat at 11 pm when their shift ended and I just did not want to go home in between the game and dropping MPW off at Best Buy.

The store was slammed as it was the Saturday before Christmas. When I arrived De La Rosa was there. Yes, he was watching a movie with the staff. We had an interesting De La Rosa experience on this day. He purchased copies of Bio-dome, Son of Godzilla, and Troy/Troll 2. The purchase of horrible movies is not the least bit abnormal. (Note: RCC, I thought about you when he picked up Troll 2.) Shortly after making his purchase, the 36-year old returned to the store claiming his mother objected to his choices and wanted a refund. This is against store policy but in our minds, the rules do not apply to the great De La Rosa. We refunded the money. Later in the night we got a call. It was De La Rosa asking us to remove those DVDs from the shelf and to hold them for him. Naturally, we complied.

The best MoFoS story occurred before I arrived. A woman came in and asked to cash out rolls of quarters and dimes. NHH complied. When he unrolled the “coins”, he found washers. She got away with $35 virtually free. We did not let the washers go to waste. I put them in a fan and watched them fly later. Maybe that is why many businesses do not make change.

In other MoFoS news, JTH outsold TJK eleven to nine in Redline copies. They were actually sold to the same woman! Yes, one woman bought twenty copies of Redline. A lot of people are going to have a lousy stocking stuffer this Christmas.

With both the owner and manager out of town we felt the need to produce more shenanigans than normal. This would prove to be very difficult given the company. There was a great of destruction on this night. The most notable tirade came when JTH got angry that TJK sold one of “his” movies. He swears that he requested a copy of a particular DVD before a customer asked and TJK sold it from under the counter. This sent JTH into a rage involving a baseball bat being swung everywhere.

What recently released DVD was JTH upset about? No, not The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Not The Dark Knight either. It was the critically acclaimed and commercially successful...The House Bunny!

In other MoFoS news, when we were closing the store we discovered that the money was amiss due to a gift card purchase. This would be more acceptable if MoFoS actually sold gift cards.

Naturally, we ate at Applebees afterwards. JDM joined us. We watched the replay of the game I attended earlier. I was amazed at how many plays I remembered. Amy was our server and our service was atrocious as usual but the food was good. It was a good way to end the day.

Finally, Saturday was SLOW’s birthday. Happy birthday, Sandy! I miss you.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 12/22/2008, Part 1

On Saturday afternoon, MPW, his father ROW, and I watched the Tennessee basketball team play Belmont in their last game before Christmas at Thompson-Boling Arena. ROW is a Belmont alum and was decked out in support of the Bruins.

They were running late. On the way to pick me up, ALF offered ROW a great seat just behind the Vols’ bench that he could not resist. I love ROW but this also meant that we did not sit with the fan rooting for the visiting squad so I was okay with not sitting with him. Besides, we still made the game on time. I wished for a close game for ROW’s sake. Be careful what you wish for...

We saw a lot of people we knew. Maybe you see more people when you show up on time. We ran into BCA and DA as well as AC. AMTT and JCT and CDL all sat in our section. 317 is the section of champions. We would not sit there long during this game.

For the first time all season, we got to see the opening video montage. The Vols come out to Young Jeezy’s “I Put On For My City”. I was aghast. If they were going to use this song, why not use the personalized Bobby Maze version. See this post for details.

Shortly after the game began, we shifted seats. JTL’s father-in-law was not coming and he left us his seat numbers. We sat in section 321, at midcourt. The view was good but we sat by some annoying fans. I cannot stand fans who repeatedly refer to players by their first names. We were not done upgrading our seats.

Before moving down, we may have sat through the worst halftime performance in history. The Alcoa High School step team performed. I am not sure that qualifying for this team is not simply being rejected from the cheerleading and dance squads. I like the concept but they were awful. Later the Karns Elementary School students were honored. I think they should just give the kids a ball and let them go. Who schedules these things anyway? Except for the retired chiropractor hitting three’s last year, the halftime entertainment has been horrid.

At halftime, ROW called us to let us know there were seats in the lower deck with him. We sat in Section 103. We experienced the strange phenomenon of looking up to see the scoreboard. Congressman Duncan was three rows in front of us and new Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin two rows in front of him. I was hoping Kiffin would recruit Emmanuel Negedu to be a tight end. A 6'6" power forward doesn’t have much a future at the professional level but he would be ideal as a tight end. Besides, the football team needs him more right now.

I know what you’re thinking. Kiffin’s wife was not there.

The game was great and very closely contested. The Vols eeked out a 79-77 victory. Scotty Hopson had the best and worst play of the game. He had a steal and reverse dunk that was beautiful. With 10:55 in the second half, he also air balled a free throw shorter than any I have ever seen. It must have missed the rim by two feet.

ROW was in heaven and did not wish to leave even after the game was over. So we kept our stellar seats and stayed for the Bruce Pearl Show after the game. Tyler Smith (23 points) was player of the game and interviewed first. Then the coach came out. Pearl announced that he would be celebrating Hanukkah the next night and Christmas with his girlfriend’s family later in the week.

Afterwards, ROW wanted to see if we could find the Belmont bus. We chased down a bus but it was not Belmont basketball team. Tara VanDerveer walked out followed by her Stanford women’s basketball team. Evidently they were there for a walkthrough before their game the following night.

In the most important stats of the game, Steven Pearl checked in from 6:13-2:49 and 1:03-0:06 remaining in the first half. He scored at the 6:01 mark, hitting a free throw. What were the odds of him scoring before flopping? With 4:36 he did try to draw a charge. He was unsuccessful.

In other sights and sounds from the game, my allergist Dr. Bob was on the kiss cam for the second time this season.

Finally, several of our players wore high socks. Is this coming back? I hope so. I would be back in fashion again. Well, for the first time anyway.