Friday, March 27, 2009

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/27/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

-On Wednesday night I joined a party of eleven at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro at 7:30 PM to celebrate PCR’s 37th birthday. Those in attendance were myself, ANDR and PCR, JTH and ALK, JDM, ANDR’s friends Erin and Brandon, and three of PCR’s friends whom he had met in all of his years working at malls.

-Erin brought PCR a gift and balloons. The gift was a sock that he had left at her house. She wrapped it. The balloons read “Happy Birthday Princess”. I liked her.

-JTH, JDM, and I decided to cut a “C” out of felt to be placed on PCR’s church basketball jersey (indicative of captain). This idea only shortly defeated procuring an autographed picture of PH, his wife’s least favorite of his basketball adversaries.

-P.F. Chang’s was selected as the locale for this shindig as it was the first place ANDR and PCR went out to eat together. They had dated for three weeks previously, mostly at JTH’s apartment. The locale gave me inspiration for our basketball team. I may come out of retirement and insert myself into the lineup as power forward. I would call myself P.F. Chan...

-Also in the restaurant was Tennessee volleyball coach Rob Patrick who appeared to be recruiting a potential Lady Vols. Patrick’s presence seemed fitting. We did not say hi or, as was my suggestion, say “Point, Lady Vols!” the only cheer uttered at Lady Vol volleyball games.

-While most of my friends ate the Crispy Honey Chicken, I ate the moo goo gai pan. I had never tried it before. I mostly ate it in tribute to the “Over the River and Through The Woods” episode of the “The Bob Newhart Show”. It aired on November 22nd, 1975. PCR was the only one at our table alive then. Still, I was the only one who got the reference.

-The dish is named for the Cantonese names of the ingredients: moo goo (蘑菇): button mushrooms, gai (鸡): chicken, and pan (片): slices. P.F. Chang's version also features shrimp prominently. It was good but next time I think I will order the Crispy Honey Chicken.

-PCR’s actual birthday was the following day. I was a little disappointed that there were no “birthday singers”. (Read: Waiting reference.) Like most people I know, I am embarrassed by this process but had they sang “Happy Birthday” in Chinese that would have been awesome. Instead they offered PCR his choice of a mini dessert (strawberry cheesecake) and placed a candle in it. It was very subdued. He was pleased.

-We were also given Fortune Cookies. One read, “Listen to the wisdom of the old.” which seemed appropriate given the occasion. Mine read “Your cheerful outlook is one of your assets.” I was disappointed. This is not a fortune. It is a statement. Also, there was some trading of fortunes. Is that allowed?

-Finally on Wednesday, I had my haircut for my job interview the following day. My stylist, Jessica (JLH) predicted that it had been five weeks since my last haircut based upon the two-guard that I always request and the length of my hair. I was impressed.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 3/26/2009

Associated Baptist Press
March 26, 2009 · (09-43)

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

In this issue
Arizona high court declares state's voucher program unconstitutional (532 words)
Alabama Baptists headed to court over property dispute (641 words)

Arizona high court declares state's voucher program unconstitutional
By Robert Marus (532 words)

PHOENIX (ABP) -- The Arizona Supreme Court March 25 delivered the latest in a string of blows to the movement to provide tax funding for tuition at private and religious schools.

A unanimous five-member court said a plain reading of a provision in the Arizona Constitution outlaws two small programs that provided publicly funded vouchers that students could use to attend private and parochial schools. One program was for students with disabilities; another served children in foster care.

"The voucher programs appear to be a well-intentioned effort to assist two distinct student populations with special needs. But we are bound by our constitution," wrote Justice Michael Ryan in the court's Cain v. Horne opinion. "There may well be ways of providing aid to these student populations without violating the constitution. But, absent a constitutional amendment, because the Aid Clause does not permit appropriations of public money to private and sectarian schools, the voucher programs violate Article 9, Section 10 of the Arizona Constitution."

The decision affects about 475 students, who will continue to receive the vouchers until the end of this school year. Unless Arizona voters approve a constitutional amendment to undo the ban on aid to religious institutions, the programs will end.

Attorneys for the state had argued that the Arizona Constitution provision in question -- which bans any public appropriation "in aid of any church, or private or sectarian school, or any public service corporation" -- should be interpreted the way that the federal Supreme Court has interpreted the religion clauses of the First Amendment. In 2002, a divided court OK'd an Ohio school-voucher program, saying indirect aid to religious schools did not violate the Constitution's ban on government support for religion.

But the Arizona court agreed with attorneys for religious-liberty and public-school advocates, saying the state's charter provides more specific guidance than the federal Constitution on indirect government aid to religious institutions.

Parents with children in the program intervened in the case on its behalf. One of them, Andrea Weck, told the Arizona Republic that the scholarships had enabled her to enroll her autistic daughter in a small private school for children with learning disabilities. "The opportunity created by the scholarship program changed Lexie from the inside out," Weck said.

Voucher programs -- once hailed by education reformers as a way to rescue kids in failing public-school systems and encourage competition that would improve such schools -- have proven unpopular both at the ballot box and in state courts. Voters in California and Utah recently rebuffed statewide voucher programs, and the highest courts in Maine and Florida have cited similar provisions of their states' charters to prohibit vouchers for religious schools. In early March, Congress voted to discontinue funding for an experimental voucher program in the District of Columbia.

Public-school advocates as well as supporters of strong church-state separation have long opposed voucher programs that include religious schools, saying they violate the spirit of the First Amendment.

Many other states have constitutional provisions similar to Arizona's. In the 2004 Locke v. Davey decision, the federal Supreme Court said that states could use such provisions to provide a higher bar on government aid to religious institutions than the Constitution requires.

Robert Marus is managing editor and Washington bureau chief for Associated Baptist Press.

Alabama Baptists headed to court over property dispute
By Bob Allen (641 words)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (ABP) -- Alabama Baptists are going to court to resolve a dispute with Montgomery, Ala., homeowners whom Baptist leaders claim are unreasonably hindering development of land the state convention is trying to sell

The Alabama Baptist newspaper reported recently that the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions voted Feb. 23 to seek a declarative judgment against a homeowners' association. The homeowners are in a subdivision that neighbors property the state convention purchased more than 20 years ago as a building site for future relocation of the state's Baptist Building.

Two years ago the convention voted to instead sell the land in the eastern part of Alabama's capital city and use proceeds to purchase cheaper property more centrally located for anticipated future building needs.

According to the Alabama Baptist, state convention Associate Executive Director Bobby DuBois told board members that a year of negotiations with homeowners in the Halcyon Forest subdivision had reached a stalemate, forcing Alabama Baptists to decide whether to walk away from the deal or assert the convention's rights in court.
Rusty Sowell, chairman of the state board's properties committee, said he believed it is in Alabama Baptists' best interest to "sell this property when we have a signed contract."

Deed restrictions on developing the land reportedly require approval by the association's architectural review committee, but specify that such approval cannot be "unreasonably withheld."

Baptist leaders said they offered concessions worth $1.7 million to seek ways to allow a developer to build properties including a four-story hotel, two upscale restaurants and two small retail centers, but the homeowners' association turned them down.

State convention leaders voted overwhelmingly, with only a smattering of opposition, to take the homeowners to court.

A resident of Halcyon Forest charged in a letter to the editor in the Montgomery Advertiser, however, that some information given at the State Board of Missions meeting was false.

Larry Cornwell said board members were misled into believing Baptists had satisfied the homeowners' concerns about hotel windows overlooking their backyards and that the association was unreasonable to oppose a four-story hotel on property zoned for two-story buildings.

According to the Alabama Baptist report, one board member who owns a home in the subdivision said he thought it would be better for Alabama Baptists to walk away from the deal.

Mickey Castleberry, retired pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Montgomery, said he had mixed feelings because he voted in 2007 to sell the property. But he said he understands why neighbors wouldn't want strangers in hotel rooms peering down at children playing in backyard swimming pools.

Castleberry said the arrangement would also comprise Alabama Baptists' witness against alcohol use by knowingly selling to a builder seeking to build restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages.

According to archived stories in the Alabama Baptist, the state convention in 1986 purchased just less than 14 acres of land near the intersection of Interstate 85 and Taylor Road for a little more than $1 million. The purchase was made with an eye to a future building for the convention's headquarters.

In 2007, Baptist leaders determined the plot was at peak value and costing more than $17,000 a year in property taxes, so they decided to sell it. They authorized the purchase of a smaller parcel north of the city along the Interstate 65 corridor -- more centrally located in terms of the entire state.

Baptist leaders said the state convention had no immediate plans to move its headquarters from the current Alabama Baptist Convention State Board of Missions Building at 2001 E. South Boulevard in the southern part of Montgomery, but they were planning ahead for future building needs.

Plans called for using any profit from the sale of the Taylor Road property to pay for a new site, with remaining funds being invested to help fund construction of any future headquarters building.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.


ABP wrongly attributed a March 19 opinion piece, "Global Baptists issue pledge at peace conference," to Ken Sehested, a participant at the gathering. While Sehested helped develop some of the language, he wasn't the primary author. The statement was in fact approved at the close of the meeting by the entire body as an official statement for distribution to Baptist bodies.

Word of the Day - 3/26/2009


A fremitus is a palpable vibration, as of the walls of the chest.

Paul encouraged the Philippians to work out their salavation with fear and fremitus.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; (Philippians 2:12, NASB)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Prayer Blog - 3/25/2009, #2

Tomorrow night, my father's business, Community Tectonics, has a job interview in McMinn County. They are one of two finalists for a school job. Their competition has little to no experience but these things are never certain. Please keep this meeting in your prayers. We could really use the job.

Prayer Blog - 3/25/2009

Tomorrow, I will meet with the Pastoral Search Committee of Rutledge Baptist Church(comprised of four people) at 6:30 PM in Rutledge. Please continue to keep this church and my potential involvement with it in your prayers.

Word of the Day - 3/25/2009


A gonfalon is a banner suspended from a crossbar, often with several streamers or tails.

The lover in the Song of Solomon asserrt that her lover brought her to his banquet hall and that his gonfalon over her was love.

"He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love." (Song of Solomon 2:4, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/25/2009, Part 3

News & Notes from Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

-I spent Tuesday night with my aunt LAMV, uncle JHV, and cousins JEV and LAV. When I first arrived at the house only JEV was there. After discussing his college course work, JEV shared his latest film find with me: For Y'ur Height Only. The Filipino movie from 1980 is a spoof of the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only released in the same year. Hence the tagline “Bigger than Goldfinger's Finger - Bigger Than Thunderball's (. . . . . . .)”

-The film stars Weng Weng as Agent 00, who is sent to stop drug trade and its mysterious warlord Mr. Giant. Mr. Giant is a dwarf, while Agent 00 is a midget. At 2'9", Weng Weng is known as the shortest man to ever be a lead in an a martial arts film. Mondo Macabre released the movie on DVD in a two-pack with Challenge of the Tiger and my cousin naturally jumped at the chance to own it. We watched the film until the rest of the family arrived.

-The family returned from Blount Memorial Hospital where family friend Wisam was celebrating the birth of his child. LAV’s son Weston (CWV) was briefly with us. CWV looks eerily like my cousin JEV when he was the same age, just with darker hair. Sorry for the grainy photo. It was dark in the room. It does look like the same photo quality of me at the same age because cameras were in their infancy then.

-Everyone is doing fairly well. JHV is preparing for a trip overseas on March 31st. LAV has about 45 hours left before she graduates but has yet to select a major which could add to her time at UT. She is still likely to graduate faster than I did. That is not an accomplishment.

-Their cat, Inga, is also well, though she is annoying the family by doing a lengthy ritual every morning. We suspect that even Vinson cats are OCD...

-We also discussed mutual spiritual interests. When the topics of generational bonding, soul ties, etc. emerged my aunt and uncle introduced me to Sylvia Gunter and gave me a free booklet. I will definitely check her out (in a I will read her material way not a "hey good lookin'" way).

-It was good to see the family. I hope to be back on April 5th as JEV plans on watching three exploitation films for his birthday. I suspect that I will just be able to handle one of them.

-I had about a half hour before I was to meet friends at Applebees so I stopped by RAW’s to visit him and KJW. I think that is called using time wisely. KJW was negotiating to watch cartoons. The issue was not whether or nor she could watch but where. She lobbied, “I want to watch on the big tv.” In her argument she referred to the television as hers. This was a mistake. RAW quickly corrected her, “Who’s tv is it?” KJW replied, “Keira’s tv.” This went on for minutes.

-My favorite line of the night was a classic non sequitur from KJW: “I think Chan’s gonna paint me a picture.” Really?

-After visiting at RAW’s, I joined GAB, JTH, and JBT at Applebees. We watched Penn State eliminate Florida 71-62 from the NIT. I also learned that JBT bought into the Applebees NCAA tournament pool. After the first weekend, JBT is in the top five of a very large pool with 52 points after picking fifteen of the Sweet 16 correctly. The leader has 55 points. The winner receives 75% of the pool while second place gets the remaining 25%. Our beloved server AFH is actually one of the few ahead of JBT.

-Caroline, another server, came and sat at our table briefly. (That is a common occurrence.) After noticing JBT ordered something new, she referred to me as “Predictable Patty”. I am going to take this as a term of endearment.

-Finally, on Tuesday I submitted my application to work at the Central Baptist Church of Bearden. Only at my church does one submit the application after getting the job.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/25/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Monday, March 23rd, 2009, Part 2

-On Monday night church league basketball resumed after two weeks off. Before the game, I had a brilliant idea. Dare I say “inspired”? I contemplated cutting the nets down after the game. I thought this would be hysterical given the fact that it was only the second game of the season and there were two games after ours. Delaying the action by carting out a ladder and having a ceremony amused me greatly. And probably no one else. I did bring massive scissors just in case.

-The scissors would not be needed. My team lost 62-48 to MDR’s squad. My “coaching” was atrocious. There were two points where this was especially obvious. First, I gave the team a spiel before the game about always having two post players in the game. Our spacing on offense has been awful and this was my solution. We have three natural post players on the team so I designated JTH a post so that we could always have two post players in the game. You will note that we now had four post players on the team. When the game started I had three of them on the bench. I am an idiot.

-The other obviously poor coaching moment came with eight seconds left in the first half. The ball went out of bounds giving my team possession underneath our own basket. Leading 26-24, I called timeout. Naturally, our in bounds passed was intercepted and Brandon Dial (BSD) hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to give his team a 27-26 lead at half. Just before this happened, I predicted this scenario. This is further proof that I am an idiot.

-It gave our opponents’ momentum in the second half and they pulled away at the end to produce the fourteen-point margin. The game was far closer than the final score indicated. The game marks our biggest margin of defeat in two seasons. We are now 0-2. I attribute this loss to three factors:

1. The schedule I was given before the season began indicated we would be playing MEB’s team and as such I did not work on our substitution pattern. (We should beat them handily.)
2. The officiating was horrible. It was so bad that MPW walked off the court saying he would not play with the father-son referee tandem again. Had any of my other players done this, it would not have been that shocking. The fact that the taciturn MPW did it was a statement. (I really do not know what a factor this was as the officiating was equally terrible for both sides.)
3. MDR’s squad was just really good on this night. BSD hit for 19 points and MBR had a great game, scoring 18. Phillip Humphreys (whom every fan we bring hates) added 10. In our league, three players reaching double figure in scoring is impressive. They deserved to win.

-The loss could not take away my joy. I had big news that I relayed during the halftime devotional. Earlier in the day, Carlus Groves added me as a friend on Facebook. Groves is a former Tennessee basketball player (1989-1992) who famously got into a physical altercation with Shaquille O’Neal when O’Neal played at LSU. March 14th, 1992 is a date that lives in infamy in the hearts of Tennessee basketball fans. The 6'7" Groves more than held his own against the massive Shaq before both were ejected from a game in the SEC Tournament. I gave the devotional on my “friend” Carlus. Groves is seventh in all-time career field goal percentage at UT (54.6%) and payed professionally for so long in Mexico that he is a naturalized citizen there. Friends know these things about each other...

-After the game, JTH proudly showed JDM his locker in the church’s locker room, #27. We are fairly sure JTH is the only one who actually uses the locker room. Before the season ends, a prank is forthcoming. Any ideas?

-JTH, JDM, and I then met JDM’s Kroger friends Jamie and Marie (the girl whose name escaped me in the March 20th “In Eckleburg’s Eyes” post) and ALK at TGI Fridays’s. ALK was very late from handbell practice. This is why she could not take photos at the game. (I have already reprimanded her on her priorities.) Unfortunately, she will only be able to make 8:30 games. She arrived before our food did as it took a very long time. In fact, despite ALK coming late and ordering nearly half an hour after us, she got her food first!

-I spent the rest of the night with KLTW, KJW, and RAW. KLTW was preparing for finals the next day so RAW and I talked and KJW and I played in her castle. KJW is at the apex (nadir?) of the terrible twos. Thankfully, she got most of her brattiness out before I arrived.

-Finally, on Monday I was e-mailed copies of forms that indicated that after all this time I have been officially accepted to UT’s PhD program in Educational Psychology & Counseling Department. It kind of seemed anticlimactic on a day that you became friends with Carlus Groves...

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/25/2009, Part 1

News & Notes from Monday, March 23rd, 2009, Part 1

-On Monday afternoon I went to the Medic Regional Blood Center to donate blood. (The redundancy of that sentence just occurred to me.) My friend JR posted on Facebook that her friend (JOK) had lost a lot of blood in a surgery the previous Friday (March 20th). Since I have blood, I donated in her name. If you wish to do so, you can too. If you donate before April 6th, you can get this stellar March Madness t-shirt as well.

-I had never been to Medic before. I set out knowing only that it was on campus. When I remembered that I had no idea where I was going, I stopped and visited my friends at Hope Resource Center (HRC). The kind people at HRC directed me to Student Health Services. It was there that I learned where to donate blood. If you ever need to go Medic is situated on the corner of 17th and Ailor at 1601 Ailor Avenue.

-My initial interview was conducted by Ben Parrish (BEP), an old friend from church. He is now attending Fellowship Evangelical Free Church. He is still in training but did a great job in taking my initial blood and asking questions. I am not sure, but I may have answered more questions to give blood than to get into my PhD program. The preacher in me would like you to know that you can positively answer no to most questions that would prevent you from giving blood just by waiting until marriage to have sex. (Click on the list on the left to view it.)

-After reconnecting with BEP, I was taken to a large room where a woman named Mary took my blood. They had the most comfortable recliners I have ever sat in. It was a good experience. Not only did I get the t-shirt and the opportunity to sit in a special recliner, but I will also soon know my blood type. At the moment, I have no idea what it is. That might be important...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 3/24/2009

Associated Baptist Press
March 24, 2009 · (09-42)

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

In this issue
Families: Redeeming the time (1,380 words)
Family missions involvement raises children's awareness (725 words)
Southern Baptist ethics head lobbies for coal, against cap and trade (926 words)
Southern Baptist activist organizes confab on church and environment (916 words)
Opinion: What marriage is -- and what it isn't (944 words)

Families: Redeeming the time
By Ken Camp (1,380 words)

DALLAS (ABP) -- In tight economic times, families should recognize making memories doesn't mean breaking the bank, family ministry experts agree.

Dream vacations to Disney World can be meaningful memory-building times for families, but so can shared trips to a store or afternoon drives down country roads.

The times that just happen can be as meaningful as the fancy vacations-and maybe more so," said Diana Garland, dean of the Baylor University School of Social Work.

"Fun does not have to be expensive."

Sometimes, carefully planned trips fail to live up to expectations, but time spent together eating a meal, doing household chores, shopping at the grocery store or learning some new skill-like playing a musical instrument or a new game-offer unbeatable family memories, she noted.

"Quality time is not really scheduled as much as it is something that happens in the middle of the quantity of time spent together. Some of the most precious moments happen in the middle of just living life together," Garland said.

Meaningful family times don't require big budgets or elaborate timetables, but they do demand some intentionality, said Cathy Anderson, children's minister at First Baptist Church in Marietta, Ga.

"I'm a big fan of the designated family night," Anderson said. Scheduling a night each week for a family activity and sticking to that schedule demands discipline when coaches call extra practices, extra-credit school assemblies are offered and opportunities for overtime at work arise.

"Parents have to decide they really want to do it," she said, pointing to one family she knows who designated 6 p.m. Saturday to 6 p.m. Sunday as their family Sabbath time.

"That's the time they committed to turn off all the electronics and spend time together without all the background noise," she said.

Parks, museums and historical sites offer opportunities for families to have fun and learn things together at little or no cost, Anderson added.

"Pretend like you're a tourist in your hometown," she suggested.

Significant time together as a family may be accomplished by something as simple as setting one evening each week as "family night in the kitchen," said Diane Lane, preschool and children's ministry specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

"Choose something easy like spaghetti," she suggested. Give each member of the family some assignment-cooking the main dish, preparing a side dish or dessert, setting the table and cleaning up after the meal. And then rotate the assignments so nobody has to do the same thing two weeks in a row.

Time spent making simple crafts together also can be precious, Lane noted. Parents with young children can find easy craft projects with spiritual applications at no cost online from BaptistWay Press, she suggested.

Some of the time-management principles in Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People apply directly to busy families who struggle to find ways to spend time together, said Keith Lowry, BGCT family ministry specialist.

Lowry quotes Covey: "The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule but to schedule your priorities." That means paying attention to crucially important matters-like family-first when making plans.

"If you want to be happy with the life you've built, you've got to be in charge during construction," Lowry said.

"If you don't decide, and decide now, someone or something else will decide for you. Don't look back at the end of your life and wish you had made different decisions. Make those decisions now. ... Leave a path you won't be sorry to see your children and grandchildren follow you down."

Ministry experts agreed family service projects strengthen faith development and family relations.

"Children develop faith and character in relationships with the adults in their lives," Anderson said.

Parents do well when they set a good example for their children, modeling service to others. But they do even better when they involve their children in working alongside them, Garland stressed.

"It's important for children to learn about serving outside themselves. It's especially important for children and adolescents to realize the importance of who they are and what they do now," she emphasized. "Too often, we ask children what they want to do when they grow up, as if we don't value who they are now."

Service activities can be as simple as an older child reading to a preschooler or families visiting nursing home residents, she noted.

Family mission trips-whether to a remote location or close to home-require some advance planning, said Chris Boltin, short-term assignments and partnerships manager with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Missions. Families should begin by discovering their passions and interests, he recommended.

"Spend some time as a family discussing things that you already like to do together," Boltin said. A family that enjoys working outdoors might do the yard work for an elderly neighbor, or a family that enjoys playing board games might volunteer for an activities time at a local convalescent center, he suggested.

Family mission trips may involve international travel, but they also may be to an unfamiliar part of town, he noted.

"Something as simple as traveling across town may be a difficult cultural journey," Boltin observed. "You want this to be a fun, productive and meaningful time together. By taking the time to truly know your family, potential problematic issues can be avoided."

Obviously, a full-fledged mission trip to a remote location demands participants do their homework-checking age restrictions, requirements regarding special expertise and estimated costs.

Families should have a clear understanding of expectations and responsibilities in advance, he added.

"Be sure every member of your family understands their individual roles and importance to the trip," Boltin said. "Nothing can replace the feeling that you have been a part of something greater than yourself and have made a difference in the world around you."

Richard Singleton, a counseling program supervisor with STARRY, part of Children At Heart Ministries in Round Rock, suggested several ways families can create meaningful memories:

· Focus on Scripture. "God loves to shower families with blessings built on the foundation of his word," he said. "Take a familiar passage for a test drive under the summer skies. 'The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands' would be a great verse for a picnic in the park. Dole out the bologna sandwiches and lemonade, recline on the checkered blanket, stare into the sky. Recite your verse and play the old tried-and-true game of finding shapes in the clouds. Truly, the heavens will declare glory."

· Don't spend a lot. "Good memories come in all shapes and sizes-and mostly without the need for money," he stressed. "Take pictures, play board games, create a scrapbook, share walks, build a temporary fort out of some of that stuff that you've been threatening to throw out of the garage. My grandpa made me a dilapidated little tree house one summer. I thought it was the best tree house on the planet. I still do!"

· Worship together. "Creating family memories doesn't demand that families miss church," he observed. "Many families check out of church for the summer. But church is an especially important component of a healthy summer."

· Serve side-by-side. "Volunteer for meaningful service projects that allow you and your child to spend valuable summer time together," he advised. "Participate in backyard Bible clubs, vacation Bible school and other endeavors that promote knowledge, fellowship and an opportunity for saving faith to be sparked by the Spirit of God. For many, summer has often been the most formative time for faith to blossom and flourish."

· Take it easy. "Plan for significant times of rest and relaxation," he said, remembering fondly an old porch swing that served as an informal gathering place for his family. "Each summer, our family would gather, clutching sweet tea in mason jars, feet swinging in the air and stories flowing as if from the land of milk and honey. We paused. We rested. We grew closer to God and each other.

· Unplug. "Bless your children or grandchildren with a Sabbath away from all the gadgets, gizmos and games," he recommended. "Go slow. They won't like it at first, but if you find a way to make it meaningful, they'll remember it for a lifetime."

Ken Camp is managing editor of the Baptist Standard.

Family missions involvement raises children's awareness
By Analiz González Schremmer (725 words)

DALLAS (ABP) -- Getting a young family involved in missions might seem impossible, but there are several possibilities available to help children and parents serve the needy locally or overseas.

Violetta Alvarado, volunteer coordinator at Buckner International, offered a number of ideas for families to consider, including creative opportunities to raise children's awareness of others' needs.

"A family could set aside a couple of days and create a certain theme," she said. "For example, they could talk to an international adoption agency and pray for the children from a specific country. Then the family could learn about their culture by eating some of their food or seeing a movie that was made there. They could also write a note and send it to adoption workers to let them know that they are praying for them."

Other local options could include visiting a retirement community, or hosting a drive to collect books, clothing, or coats in the winter.

"Families can pray together over their donations before giving them to their church or a local charity," she added.

Susan Williams, office manager for Buckner missions, said families serving together often can help a child form a broader appreciation for missions and service.

"When I was a child, I remember that my mom had an elderly neighbor that we used to drive to the store because she wasn't able to drive herself," she said. "I also remember Mom taking me over to her house to visit with her. Things like that make such a huge impression, watching your parents serve and experiencing it with them; family mission trips are a great opportunity for that."

Although Buckner normally doesn't offer international mission trip opportunities for children under age 12, Williams said many churches offer opportunities for families to serve together.

"Taking a child on a mission trip, whether locally or internationally, will change their world view," she said.

Buckner offers a summer mother/daughter mission trip for girls and their moms. This summer's trip to Guatemala, July 7-12, still has openings, she added.

Marty Lewis, minister to children at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas, noted the importance of involving children in service and said the children in his church are active in local service projects.

"Just yesterday, (children from Park Cities) made sandwiches for some children at a community center," Lewis said. "The children love it. We've been working with Cornerstone Academy, a school of Cornerstone Baptist Church, and they are putting together something for the children to be more comfortable during reading. So Girls in Action (the missions program for girls in grades one through six) made some pillows for them.

"Our boys recently did something called Hoops for Missions, which helped raise money for the Texas Baptist Men by shooting hoops."

Jillian Zeiger is the volunteer coordinator at the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas. Many families will spend a day, or sometimes an entire weekend, sorting shoes together for international shipment to orphans because children as young as 4 or 5 can help, she noted.

The children work together with their parents to process shoes by taking tags and trash out, sorting them and separating them by size, she said.

"Local mission trips can be a good idea because of the economy. And volunteers can make a huge difference in just a couple of hours of work. It isn't that going afar isn't good, but this allows kids to know that they can have an impact right here, too. It also makes it easier to bring friends," Zeiger said.

"Another advantage is safety. It is really difficult for anyone who has been on an airplane to go through the process with children. Staying somewhere local means they can avoid the airport system. It also saves children the trouble of having to adjust to time zone changes."

Children also can serve by feeding the homeless in their community, she added.

"I got the chance to do that as a child," Zeiger said. "I was in third grade and lived in Michigan. ... It hit my heart, and so I told my mom and we went as a family. It was a great experience that I will always carry with me and helped mold me into who I am today. That's why I know it's really important for children to have opportunities to do missions like that."

Analiz González Schremmer writes for Buckner International.

Southern Baptist ethics head lobbies for coal, against cap and trade
By Bob Allen (926 words)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (ABP) -- Coal-fired power plants have received the blessing of the Southern Baptist Convention's top lobbyist for social and moral concerns, who is urging opposition to a market-based attempt to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

Friends of Coal, a volunteer organization with ties to the West Virginia Coal Association, is running an article on its website that includes a link for readers to enter their ZIP code and send an e-mail to their senator opposing a "global warming tax" they said would raise energy costs.

The link goes to the website of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, where the agency's president, Richard Land, warns in an article that Democratic Senate leadership plans to move ahead with a "cap-and-trade" bill.

The bill would limit the amounts of greenhouse gases industries can emit and punish them with fines if they exceed those limits. But it would also allow them to pay less-polluting industries for the right to increase their emissions.

"Such a bill would put the brakes on our already slowed economy, forcing industries and businesses to slash jobs and to pass their taxes onto individuals and families in the form of price increases on commodities and energy," Land wrote. "This would make it even more difficult for America to climb out of its current economic troubles."

What's worse, Land contended, is that the whole basis behind the policy -- that it will help avoid catastrophic, human-induced global warming -- "is not even settled among scientists, who are growing increasingly skeptical, especially since we have been experiencing a decade-long cooling trend."

"Christians should take every reasonable step to care for God's creation," Land said. "But rushing into environmental policies based on questionable science that will create greater economic hardships on every American, especially the poor, is the wrong approach."

During the March 14 broadcast of his radio program, "Richard Land Live," Land said he wants "to ring the alarm bells" about "a huge tax" that is coming to all Americans.

"It's called 'cap and trade,' and it's the tax that dares not speak its name," Land said. "Politicians love cap and trade, because they can claim to be taxing polluters, not workers. But of course, that is never true. Taxes are costs that are handed on to consumers. Once the government creates a scarce new commodity -- in this case the right to emit carbon -- and then mandates that businesses buy it, the costs are inevitably going to be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices."

Land said those hit hardest by cap and trade "will be the, quote, 95 percent of working families, unquote, that Mr. Obama keeps talking about, usually omitting that his no-new-taxes pledge comes with a caveat. It comes with a footnote: 'unless you use energy.'"

"Putting a price on carbon is regressive," Land said. "It's not only a tax, it's a regressive tax that hurts those who make the least the most, because poor and middle-income households spend much more of their paychecks, percentage-wise, on things like gas to drive to work or to go get groceries or for home heating and air conditioning."

"Cap and trade is the ideal policy for every Beltway analyst who thinks the tax code is too progressive," Land said. "But the greatest inequities are geographic and would be imposed on the parts of the U.S. that rely most on manufacturing or fossil fuels -- particularly coal, which generates most power in the Midwest, in the Southern and the Plains states. It's no coincidence that the liberals most invested in cap and trade -- [Sen.] Barbara Boxer [D-Calif.], [Rep.] Henry Waxman [D-Calif.] and [Rep.] Ed Markey [D-Mass.] -- come from California or the Northeast."

Land said coal provides more than half of electricity generated in the United States, and 25 states get more than half of their electricity from coal-fired generators. In some states it's even higher. Ohio gets 86 percent of its power from coal, Indiana 94 percent, Missouri 85 percent and West Virginia 98 percent.

"Who's going to get soaked the most with these taxes?" Land asked. "Well, West Virginia, Wyoming, Ohio, Missouri: Grab hold of your pocketbook and hold on tight, because you're going to get more of this tax increase because you get more of your generation from coal. People who run nuclear-energy plants aren't going to have to buy cap and trade. It's going to be coal plants. It gets messier and messier."

Christian anti-global-warming activists disagreed with Land's reasoning. Land is "lash[ing] himself to dirty coal, sacrificing human health and the global environment to corporate greed," according to Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

"As a global-warming denier, Richard Land continues to distort the overwhelming agreement within the scientific community about climate change," Parham, author of Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Christian Guide to Protecting the Earth, said. He said Land's "repeated claims about Earth cooling do not negate global warming."

Jonathan Merritt, national spokesman for the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative, said Christians who care about God's creation and recognize that something must be done about the global energy and environmental crisis "are growing increasingly weary of those claiming to represent us who preach relentlessly about what [they] oppose, yet refuse to offer policy alternatives."

He added, "I find it curious that we are first in line to support the coal industry that is polluting our air and destroying the Appalachian Mountains, yet when it comes to actual pro-environmental legislation, we are nowhere to be found."

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Southern Baptist activist organizes confab on church and environment
By Bob Allen (916 words)

ATLANTA (ABP) -- An upcoming national conference on churches and the environment features several well-known evangelical speakers, including some prominent Southern Baptist leaders who will be speaking for first time on the increasingly high-profile theological issue known as "creation care."

The gathering is scheduled May 13-15 at Cross Pointe Church near Atlanta, where former Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt is senior pastor. Merritt is scheduled to speak, along with other Southern Baptists including Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research and Mark Liederbach, professor of ethics at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.

Merritt's 26-year-old son, Jonathan Merritt, is organizing the gathering, called the Flourish National Church Leaders Conference on Creation Care.

While still in seminary, the younger Merritt spearheaded A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change, which was signed by 550 Southern Baptists, including the SBC president at the time.

Other Southern Baptist leaders quickly distanced themselves from the initiative. A Baptist Press headline declared "Seminary student's climate change project is not SBC's," while Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, released a statement explaining why he did not endorse the statement.

Land said Southern Baptist public-policy advocacy "is most effective when it is supported by the broadest possible consensus among Southern Baptists." He cited a 2007 SBC resolution that urged Southern Baptists "to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research" and to support only policies that "improve the stewardship of the earth's resources without resulting in significant negative consequences" on the economy.

During that time Merritt met Jim Jewell, who has worked more than 30 years with Christian causes and organizations including World Vision, Trinity Forum, and Prison Fellowship; and Rusty Pritchard, a volunteer lay leader for three decades who taught environmental studies for seven years at Emory University in Atlanta.

Last year Jewell, former CEO of the Evangelical Environment Network, and Pritchard started Flourish, a ministry aimed at helping churches and families build environmental stewardship into their Christian commitment and witness. The May conference is the organization's inaugural event, but plans include a quarterly magazine, Web-based communications and other resources.

A 2008 Barna poll found that 90 percent of evangelicals said they would like to see Christians take a more active role in taking care of the environment, but two-thirds believe the media has over-hyped the story and most are skeptical that humans are a primary cause of global warming.

Jewell says part of the problem is that calls for environmental stewardship in the past have come largely from secular voices with values contrary to the Bible. Moreover, they have focused only on political action to combat climate change.

That prompted some evangelical leaders to overreact, he says, by telling followers that even modest care for God's creation is misplaced concern and has nothing to do with preaching the gospel.

The intent of Flourish, he says, is to bridge the chasm between those who prescribe only political solutions and those who would do nothing at all.

Jewell says there are plenty of good reasons for Bible-believing Christians to care about the environment.

For one thing, he says, Christians are called to be the very best citizens, and one way to do that is by rolling up their sleeves to improve their local communities by planting trees, working for pedestrian and bike paths or cleaning area watersheds.

Another is that Christians are called to love others, and research shows that interrupting delicate balances in the environment through pollution most hurts the needy.

Reducing dependence on foreign oil is important not only for national security, he says, but it also helps stop enriching regimes that restrict Christians' religious freedom.

There are also practical benefits. Jewell says churches can save a lot of money through energy-saving changes, which in turn can be used for programs and missions of the church. Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, for example, where former SBC president Jack Graham is pastor, undertook an environmental retrofit in 2006-2007 that saved the congregation more than $1 million in water and utility bills.

Jewell says environmental problems, like all others, are at root the result of sin, and Christians recognize the ultimate solution to conquering sin is faith in Jesus Christ. For that reason, he contends that creation care is important enough to be a major focus of the church, rooted in Scripture and religious tradition instead of simply reacting to modern trends.

Other scheduled speakers at the Flourish conference include Chris Seay, pastor of the Ecclesia Christian community in Houston; Joel Hunter, pastor of the Orlando-area Northland Church and author of books including A New Kind of Conservative; and Andy Crouch, senior editor at Christianity Today International.

"A new kind of evangelical conversation about God's creation is beginning, and Flourish will be one of the milestones," said Crouch, author of Culture Making. "Those who attend will be on the leading edge of a significant new movement that I believe will, and must, shape the church and our culture for generations to come."

Jonathan Merritt told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution he hopes the conference will be a starting point for change in how churches think about their God-given responsibility to care for the world.

"I think it's going to be a primary touchpoint for the church to get involved in in the 21st century," he said.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Opinion: What marriage is -- and what it isn't
By Benjamin Cole (944 words)

(ABP) -- In late February, David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch co-authored a provocative op-ed in the New York Times, titled "A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage." In the piece, Blankenhorn, the conservative president of the Institute for American Values, and Rauch, an openly gay scholar at The Brookings Institution and a staunch advocate of same-sex marriage, sought to forge a political compromise to move the contentious debate "onto a healthier, calmer track."

The Blankenhorn-Rauch compromise proposes a federal recognition of same-sex unions granted at the state level so long as the state licensing the marriage or civil union provides statutory exemptions for religious organizations that do not wish to solemnize or otherwise facilitate those unions. In short, churches would not be required to provide their facilities and ministers would not have to render their services to homosexual partners who desire marriage.

Not long after Blankenhorn and Rauch published their Times piece, I attended a panel discussion on it, held at Brookings' headquarters here in Washington. In the discussion, the two discussed their proposal more thoroughly. Responding to them were an attorney from the gay-rights group Human Rights Campaign, a law professor, and a representative of the Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

During the conversation, it became immediately obvious that the proposal -- at least inasmuch as it was outlined in the op-ed -- did not provide answers to all of the many conflicts between religious liberty and gay rights that will result (indeed, that are already resulting) from the legalization of same-sex unions. For instance, what about the conscientious objection of the county clerk who, on religious grounds, feels she cannot issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples? Or what about the licensed caterers and florists who will deny their services for such ceremonies because same-sex marriage violates their religious principles?

The entire discussion, however, missed the fundamental problem with same-sex marriage: Namely, the nature of marriage itself.

The reason that many conservatives do not approve of same-sex marriage is not because we wish to deny basic liberties to gays and lesbians. It is because we do not believe such relationships constitute a marriage by definition. It is a question of ontology rather than ideology.

Offering exemptions to ministers and churches that object does little to resolve the conflict either. No minister has ever been forced to perform ceremonies for heterosexual couples of whose union the church would disapprove. No church has ever been forced to host a reception for such a union. In my own ministry, I've refused more requests to perform a marriage than I've accepted. My churches have denied our facilities to couples whose relationships did not meet our approval.

Those traditional-marriage advocates who wish to strike a compromise on the issue of same-sex marriage similar to the one proposed by Blankenhorn and Rauch are like the man who feeds the crocodile hoping that it will eat him last.

Such compromises are more aptly labeled capitulations.

I shall never forget the day I read Chief Justice Earl Warren's opinion for the Supreme Court's majority in the landmark 1967 interracial-marriage case, Loving v. Virginia. At the time, I was in the Moody Library of Baylor University preparing for a doctoral seminar presentation on the decriminalization of sodomy and the justices' 2003 reversal of Bowers v. Hardwick, a mid-1980s case out of Georgia in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of state laws prohibiting homosexual acts.

It was probably the best paper I wrote while at Baylor, and probably the most difficult to research. Quite frankly, there are more pleasant things about which to read than criminal reports, statutes and court decisions concerning homosexual sodomy.

When I ran across the Loving decision, I was immediately struck by the way the Court defined marriage as a fundamental right and how the majority opinion -- if pressed -- could be used as precedent by contemporary proponents of same-sex marriage. Chief Justice Warren wrote:

"The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law."

The debate about same-sex marriage in this first decade of the 21st century is probably more volatile than the debate about interracial marriage was in the 1960s. Of course, I am in a priori disagreement with any assertion that the fundamental liberty of a man and a woman to marry regardless of their races is similar to the claim that two persons of the same gender deserve licensed state recognition. Apples and oranges, you might say.

In the first instance, the essential ingredient of male and female is present. In the latter, it is not.

Marriage has always been -- in every culture and society of human history -- a relationship between members of the opposite sex. Even in those cultures and societies where aberrations like polygamy have been accepted, the union of man and woman is essential to the relationship.

The conflict about state recognition of same-sex marriage is not going to be resolved soon. There are those -- like Blankenhorn and Rauch -- who wish to keep it from rising to the temperature of the abortion debate. If the Court, however, decides the issue similar to the way it ruled in Roe v. Wade, then we are almost certain to enter another long and costly phase of the very culture war that Blankenhorn and Rauch wish to avert.

-- Benjamin Cole is a former Southern Baptist pastor who now works on public-policy issues in the nation's capital.


An unclear audio recording led to mischaracterization of a quotation by Lauran Bethell in the March 23 ABP story, "Mercer conference focuses on ending modern slavery." Please replace the fourth and fifth paragraphs with the following:

Bethell, recipient of the Baptist World Alliance Human Rights Award, spent the past 20 years fighting sex trafficking, first in Thailand, then in Eastern Europe. She told the audience she had stayed sane despite working some of the "darkest situations on Earth" by following the example of her leader, Jesus, who went to the dark places of his time because it was the right thing to do. Using the example of the "woman of ill repute" -- to whom Jesus ministered in Samaria and who later became one of his greatest evangelists -- Bethell said Jesus was the ideal example of showing up.

"Jesus' example of showing up -- showing up in places where even the disciples raised their eyebrows -- let me know that I can, that we can, do this," Bethell said. "What would Jesus' solution be in our time, in our century, of modern-day slavery? I know one thing: He's sure pleased with what you have all done today, just shown up. He's sure pleased with what we have seen today, people sacrificing time and energy to learn from each other and participate together in seeking solutions."

Word of the Day - 3/24/2009


Concupiscence is sexual desire; lust.

Jesus said that any man who looked at a woman with concupiscence committed adultery in his heart.

but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28, NASB)

A related word is Cupid, the ancient Roman god of love.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Associated Baptist Press - 3/23/2009

Associated Baptist Press
March 23, 2009 · (09-41)

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

In this issue
Baptism center opens in Jordan (997 words)
Mercer conference focuses on ending modern slavery (1089 words)
Movie review: Knowing explores age-old theological conundrum (460 words)

Baptism center opens in Jordan
By Bob Allen (997 words)

AMMAN, Jordan (ABP) -- Baptist leaders and other dignitaries -- including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- took part in a ceremony March 20 dedicating a new evangelical Christian baptism center at the Jordanian spot traditionally regarded as the site of Jesus' baptism.

The afternoon celebration at the Baptism Center at Bethany beyond Jordan included more than 120 baptisms by immersion in the Jordan River. They were conducted by pastors from the Jordan Baptist Convention.

Eron Henry, associate director of communications for the Baptist World Alliance, said in a travel blog it is the first time Baptists in Jordan have received such prominent coverage in Jordan's major media outlets.

One of several new churches being built along the Jordan River at about the location Christian pilgrims have long believed Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, the center is intended to cater to Christian traditions that practice believer's baptism by immersion.

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam, in the day's major address, called the center "a place where people from all parts of the world may assemble for a journey and an experience." He expressed hope that "the waters of the Jordan extinguish the crippling fires of hopelessness that burn in the hearts of those who have no knowledge of God."

Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., sent a congratulatory letter saying he could not attend the dedication ceremony, but plans to make a pilgrimage there when he next visits the Middle East in 2010.

BWA president David Coffey read greetings from former United States presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both Baptists, and presented a gift on behalf of the BWA to Jordan's Prince Ghazi.

A plaque to be placed on the building upon its completion was unveiled at the ceremony. The plaque reads, "The Commission of the Site of the Baptism of Jesus Christ welcomes here visiting pilgrims from the member churches of the Baptist World Alliance."

Also participating in the event were Imad Maayah, a Baptist and former member of the Jordanian Parliament; Toma Magda and Tony Peck, president and general secretary of the European Baptist Federation; and Nabeeh Abbassi, former president of the Jordan Baptist Convention and chief organizer of the dedication and opening.
An estimated 1,700 persons attended the dedication and opening ceremony.

Blair, now a special envoy to the Middle East on behalf of the United Nations, European Union, United States and Russia, said it "took courage and leadership" for Jordan to allow the baptism site in a part of the world often torn by sectarian strife. The founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation said it also modeled the spirit of compassion and justice that run through the teachings of Jesus, the Old Testament prophets and Islam's founding prophet, Muhammad.

Jordan is about 92 percent Muslim, but relations between Muslims and a Christian minority, estimated at 6 percent, are generally good. While Islam is the state religion and proselytization of Muslims and conversions from Islam are prohibited, the Jordanian Constitution promises religious freedom as long as rites do not violate public order or morality, and recognizes several Christian denominations.

Founded in 1957, the Jordan Baptist Convention consists of 20 churches with combined membership of about 2,000. It operates two schools.

The offer of a designated plot of land for a baptism center came from Jordan's King Abdullah II during a meeting he held with Coffey in September 2007. In 2008, Coffey visited the site and met with Prince Ghazi, who chairs an independent trustee board that runs the site as a national park. The board facilitated the construction.

"In our Baptist faith and order, the baptism of Jesus is of central importance to our understanding of the baptism of Christians," Coffey wrote in a 2008 letter affirming the authenticity of the baptism site. "We believe baptism rests on the command of the risen Lord and is integrated with his command to preach the good news to the world; and this command is given authority by his own example at the beginning of his messianic ministry."

Bethany beyond Jordan -- not to be confused with the village near Jerusalem the Bible says was home to Lazarus, Mary and Martha -- was on a pilgrimage route between Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the west and Mount Nebo to the east. It is regarded as one of Christianity's three holiest sites, along with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jeruslam and Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.

It was a military border zone until the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan and today is regarded one of the most important recent discoveries in biblical archaeology. Excavations didn't begin until 1996, and so far more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from Roman and Byzantine times have been uncovered.

Churches of various Christian denominations -- including Anglican, Catholic, Coptic and Russian Orthodox -- have been constructed or are in the process of being built nearby.

Pope John Paul II was the first Roman Catholic pontiff to visit the site, making his pilgrimage there in March 2000. Pope Benedict XVI is expected to visit the holy site in May.

Bethany beyond Jordan is also sacred to Jews and Muslims. In addition to Jesus' baptism, it's said to be the spot where Joshua first led the Israelites into the Promised Land and where the prophet Elijah was taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.

While in Jordan, the BWA delegation met with Islamic journalists and scholars to discuss the BWA response to A Common Word Between Us and You, a letter written by 138 Muslim scholars and leaders to Christians in October 2007.

On Sunday, March 22, Callam crossed over into Turkey to preach at the Izmir Baptist Church. Today Turkey's third-largest city, Izmir in ancient times was called Smyrna, a place mentioned in the second chapter of Revelation among seven towns and cities in the area then known as Asia Minor.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

Mercer conference focuses on ending modern slavery
By Mark Vanderhoek (1,089 words)

MACON, Ga. (ABP) -- In the face of the world's fastest-growing crime -- the enslavement of an estimated million people every year -- Lauran Bethell had some profoundly simple advice for the attendees at Mercer University's recent conference on human trafficking: "Just show up."

Bethell, an American Baptist Churches USA global-ministry consultant, said that advocates must begin with the victims, ministering to their greatest immediate need and working on that until they can work on the next, and then the next. Victims have a spark within them, she said, and the resiliency of the human spirit will help to heal them if they can be reached and given hope for the future.

"The healing process is long, it is arduous and there are often many, many, many curves along the path, but we must continue to simply show up in the lives of people, to accept them, to care for them, to listen to them no matter what," Bethell said. "For no matter how long it takes, no matter how things don't go the way that we wish. No matter what: just show up."

Bethell, recipient of the Baptist World Alliance Human Rights Award, spent the past 20 years fighting sex trafficking -- first in Thailand, then in Eastern Europe. She told the audience she had stayed sane despite working in some of the "darkest situations on Earth" by following the example of her leader, Jesus, who went to the dark places of his time because it was the right thing to do. Using the Bible's example of the "woman of ill repute," to whom Jesus ministered in Samaria and who later became one of his greatest advocates, Bethell said Jesus was the ideal example of showing up -- as was his Samaritan apostle.

"She's an example of showing up. Showing up in places where even the disciples raised their eyebrows," Bethell said. "What would Jesus' solution be in our time, in our century, of modern-day slavery? I know one thing: He's sure pleased with what you have all done today, just shown up. He's sure pleased with what we have seen today, people sacrificing time and energy to learn from each other and participate together in seeking solutions."

A diverse group of more than 800 people were following her advice in attending the conference, held March 19-20 on Mercer's Macon, Ga., campus. They came to learn about the problem of modern-day slavery and how they could help defeat it. The student-led conference, titled "STOP Sex Trafficking: A Call to End 21st Century Slavery," included presentations by anti-trafficking advocates from around the state, the country and the world.

According to the State Department, more than a million women and children are trafficked into sex slavery each year -- often forced by economic circumstances into prostitution's horrors. Nearly 20,000 are trafficked annually into the United States, and many of these victims are trafficked into the Southeast. Mercer students in STOP, the Sex Trafficking Opposition Project, organized the conference to counter the growing worldwide crisis.

Among the presenters were trafficking survivors Kika Cerpa and Joana Santos. In a pattern typical of trafficking, both were lured to the United States under false pretenses and told they owed large debts for their transportation after they arrived.

Santos, who was pregnant and had paid for most of her own trip, managed to hold off her tormentors and free herself. In the process, she brought down the ring that had enslaved other girls from her native Brazil.

Cerpa, who accrued a debt from her trip to New York from Venezuela, was not as lucky. She endured terrifying years as a sex slave in brothels around New York City -- including three convictions for prostitution -- only escaping after she got a judge to listen to her harrowing story.

"I was punished by the system and by society," Cerpa said, highlighting a major issue in trafficking, particularly in the United States: that the legal system is only beginning to recognize that women like Cerpa are being pimped to pay false debts, rather than working by choice as prostitutes.

The system needs to change its focus in regard to trafficking, said Dorchen Leidholdt, co-executive director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Sanctuary for Families, the group that helped Cerpa.

"Most states have laws against prostitution that are often used against prostituted people. That is the problem with people who are trying to access the criminal-justice system," Leidholdt said. "Most states have laws against patronizing a prostitute. Those laws are, generally, rarely enforced. All of the energy of our criminal-justice system -- all of the resources -- go to arrest prostituted people."

Addressing those disparities, particularly in the United States, is the goal of the Polaris Project. Bradley Myles, deputy director of Polaris, presented some ways to target the problem. The approach to sex trafficking is threefold, he said -- focusing on prevention by targeting the men who frequent brothels, adding protection for the victims and increasing punishment for traffickers. Myles explained that the legal definition of sex trafficking includes both transporting victims for sex and simply coercing someone into sex with others. He also highlighted some of the myths about trafficking.

"Don't get boxed into thinking it's just foreign people [who are trafficked in the United States] or that trafficking requires transportation," Myles said. "The term trafficking simply denotes trade -- buying or selling."

One of the areas that has the highest incidence of trafficking in the United States is Atlanta, and the problem there often involves American teenagers who are runaways. Girls at homeless shelters are approached by a pimp within the first 72 hours, according to city officials. Alesia Adams, who is the sexual trafficking prevention coordinator for the southern U.S. region of the Salvation Army, said it is important to realize the problem isn't just international. "This isn't a Third-World problem anymore; it's in your backyard," Adams said.
"Dropping your child off at the mall alone has become the same as dropping them off at Beirut."

The issue is also one of basic human rights, said Donna Hughes, a professor of women's studies at the University of Rhode Island, and a longtime anti-trafficking advocate. In approaching new ways to fight human trafficking, Hughes said focusing on perpetrators would be the best way to go forward, which would take the burden off the victims and stop the judgment inherent with any case of prostitution.

"We need to add a perpetrator-focused approach," Hughes said. "We need to reform our laws so that we are targeting the perpetrators' activities."

Mark Vanderhoek is director of media relations at Mercer University.

Movie review: Knowing explores age-old theological conundrum
By Bob Allen (460 words)

(ABP) -- Do our lives have a purpose, or are we products of random chance? If everything is predestined, is there anything we can do to improve our fate? If not, are we without hope?

These questions are discussed daily in seminary classrooms -- but add special effects, a lot of suspense, a love interest and reconciliation with an estranged parent and sibling, and you have the story line of Knowing, a new, big-budget Hollwood thriller starring Nicolas Cage.

The sci-fi film topped box-office receipts in its opening weekend March 20-22, taking in nearly $25 million in a period generally slow for movies due to audience competition from the NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments.

Cage's character, John Koestler, is the son of a fundamentalist preacher who believes in the gift of prophecy as described in Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians. John, who is an MIT professor and a single parent since the tragic death of his young wife, is not so sure there is a divine plan.

When a time capsule at his son's elementary school is opened after 50 years, he finds strong evidence of foreknowledge of major catastrophic events, including the end of the world.

Baptists have been arguing about predestination versus free will for nearly 400 years. One of the first controversies dividing Baptists was between Particular Baptists, who believed God has pre-ordained who is saved and lost, and General Baptists, who believed every soul is free to determine whether to accept or reject Jesus Christ.

That debate pitted the theology of John Calvin, the Swiss reformer whose doctrines of divine providence pointed toward predestination, and Jacob Arminius, the Dutch reformed theologian who emphasized that humans have free will.

Those theories divided many Protestants into Calvinist and Arminian denominations, but in some, like Baptists, both Calvinist and Arminian strains have existed side by side. Southern Baptists traditionally have embraced some points of Calvin's doctrines -- like eternal security of the believer -- while rejecting others to affirm that "whosoever will" can come to faith in Jesus.

Still, that hasn't stopped occasional skirmishes between Calvinist Southern Baptist groups (such as Founders Ministries) committed to historic Baptist interpretations of the so-called "Doctrines of Grace" and anti-Calvinist Southern Baptist groups and leaders. For instance, last year Southern Baptist Convention president Johnny Hunt's church hosted a "John 3:16" conference that took a critical look at Calvinism.

These are ambitious questions, and Knowing takes them on in ways that may not be fully theologically (or emotionally) satisfying. But the movie -- rated PG-13 for disaster sequences and some strong language -- is overall faith-affirming, and for Bible fans there's an understated but pretty cool allusion to and depiction of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel's "wheel in a wheel" prophecy.

Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.

See the movie's website.

Prayer Blog - 3/23/2009, #3

Today at 1:42 PM, I received an e-mail from Gayle Roberts (BPR) with an attachment indicating that I had been recommended for acceptance to the PhD Program in the Educational Psychology & Counseling Department at UT. Finally! Thanks for all who have prayed for me during this time. Now, please pray that I can actually do the work.

Prayer Blog - 3/23/2009, #2

My friend BP asked for prayer for a ten-year old name Madison (MP). MP has experienced chronic headaches due to spinal fluid pressure since September and her condition is worsening. Within the past week she had a bad reaction to her medication and was placed in the East Tennessee Children's Hospital today for observation. She is scheduled to go to Vanderbilt Medical Center on March 31st for treatment, but truly needs to be admitted sooner. Please pray that God would grant the doctors wisdom to properly diagnose and treat MP’s condition as well as give strength, comfort, and encouragement to MP and her family as they endure this trial.

Prayer Blog - 3/23/2009

Today, my friend JR informed me that her friend JOK lost a lot of blood during surgery Friday at the UT Medical Center. Please pray for her and if possible, follow my lead and donate blood in her name at the Medic Regional Blood Center. If you donate blood before April 6th, you can get a complimentary t-shirt with this design (see right).

Word of the Day - 3/23/2009


An atheling is a man of royal blood; a prince.

Hamor, an atheling of Shechem, raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah.

When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her by force. (Genesis 34:2, NASB)

Dinah's brothers Simeon and Levi avenged her.

Note: This woodcut of Genesis 34 was created by Johann Christoph Weigel (1654-1726) in 1695.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/23/2009, Part 3

News & Notes from Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

-On Sunday morning, I attended the Soul Purpose community group at Fellowship Evangelical Free Church. There, RSB taught the latest installment of a series on the Beatitudes entitled “Jesus’ Guide to True Happiness”. This week we discussed Matthew 5:7:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7, NASB)

-RSB divided us into small groups where we discussed passages on “mercy”: Psalm 40:11-13, Psalm 51:1-2, Matthew 9:10-13, Titus 3:3-7, and Hebrews 4:14-52. The definition of mercy that RSB presented was “an act of compassion toward someone suffering from the effects of sins.” As always, the lesson was great.

-On Sunday night, JTH, ALK, JBT, and I ate at Texas Roadhouse. The company was good though the service was terrible. It was also must have been birthday night which meant that a saddle was dragged out and loud birthday celebrations were held throughout the night. Before leaving, I stood on a chair and yelled just out of spite. Note to self: Work on maturity issues.

-It was nice to see JBT. He informed us that his breakup from SCB the previous day was a “break” more than a breakup. (Insert your own Friends joke.) He was taking everything in stride as he does everything. He was focusing on the bright side, namely the monetary gain of the new arrangement. Speaking of JTB's money, he just ordered 15,000 DVDs for the store: 5,000 copies each of Pinocchio, Slumdog Millionaire, and Twilight. If you are interested in any of these titles, pick them up at MoFoS.

-JTH and ALK also had interesting stories to share. JTH had bene propositioned by a man the night before while driving. ALK shared an interesting blurb in the police reports of The Farragut Press.

-As noted our service was terrible. This meant that our friend GAB was not our server. He was working in the kitchen and when his shifted ended he sat with us.

-After dinner, JTH, ALK, and I went to my house where we watched a movie. It took longer for JTH and ALK to select a movie than for us to watch it. If Barry Schwartz writes a sequel to the Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, I will submit this story. We eventually settled on the 2004 romantic comedy Love on the Side. Despite the cover art, my beloved Marla Sokoloff stars. The film is not bad though we were all a little disturbed by the superfluous homosexual content. I would like it known that ALK was texting throughout the film. Party foul!

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 3/23/2009, Part 2

News & Notes from Saturday, March 21st, 2009

-On Saturday morning I took AMTT to IHOP for her birthday. Her birthday is February 21st so I was exactly one month late which is about par for the course. We ordered the exact same thing: a stack of pancakes and a side of bacon. Unfortunately, this meant AMTT got her bacon as burned as I like mine. Sorry, Ames.

-When I walked in, our waitress Pam asked, “Is my fella not with you today?” She was referring to my father, whom I usually eat with. I found it odd to have my dad referred to as “my fella”...

-AMTT has been busy attempting to find her unborn baby childcare. The baby is due in September. Who knew that one had to start this early? Her first choice is Trinity United Methodist Church, where my cousins attend. Priority for admission goes to children who have siblings in the program, then to church members, and finally to others. Is being a friend of a friend of members worth anything? We are going to find out.

-On Saturday night, I visited JTH and TJK at MoFoS. Much to my surprise former employee CTH was also there. Even more surprising was that even TJK was happy to see him. I am pretty sure this is more indicative of how much TJK despises CTH’s replacement.

-The big news at the store was that earlier in the day, JBT and SCB had broken up. Not to be rude, but Ray Charles could have seen that coming. Predictability does not reduce the pain involved. Please keep them both in your prayers.

-The visit was to be short until our friend JTS walked in, seen here about to rip tape off of JTH's arm. Among the topics we discussed were his endorsement of the 1986 film Rad and his basketball team at Roane State. Roane State was eliminated in the first round of their tournament. The big news, as it has been all season was Ken Mink, the 73-year old player JTS has coached at Roane State this season. Wright Thompson, a reporter from ESPN, had spent a week with Mink investigating his story which has made many news outlets. Unlike other reporters, Thompson actually did his research, including taking JTS out on ESPN’s tab. The result was an 8000+ word article that is less than flattering. It is a great read and can be accessed here.

-Mink flunked Spanish and caused his team to forfeit a game. The 73-year old actually scored in the game. Mink’s story ended as it began - by being kicked out of school. This gives a potential movie about his life, which has been discussed, an ending. The real question: Who would play JTS in the film. Without hesitation, JTS answered: Dolph Lundgren.

-Finally, on Saturday, I picked up family prescription information from Walgreens for tax purposes. My 59-year old father’s information covered a page. Mine was small booklet...