24 December 2008

Happy Christmas

It's the morning of Christmas Eve in South Korea, where I will once again be spending my Christmas holiday.

From this war zone to the war zone in Uganda, let us pray for peace.

Happy Christmas.

Rock on.

Post Script: I apologize for the size of the video and its interference with the lay-out of my blog. I tried to manipulate the size of the video, but to shrink the frame is to cut off a rather large chunk of the video itself. So, until I add a few more posts, you're just going to have to guess your way around the blocked links.

25 November 2008

Getting a Few Things in Order

This semester has really flown by as I have spread myself thinner and thinner. As such, I have not been able to devote the attention deserved to any one thing in which I am involved - this blog, classes, extracurricular activities, or even friends I don't usually see. And things will only get busier before I leave for another Christmas in South Korea.

In an effort to organize myself more readily for the last few weeks of class, followed immediately by finals, I am suspending this blog until the beginning of the year. Hopefully, by that time, I will have some well-thought-out posts that will receive the attention they deserve. I have several posts I've been tinkering with - hopefully, they will see the light of day.

In the meantime, please read this article about the resurgence of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda and the neighboring Congo. After coming so close to ending the war, new abductions and massacres threaten to plunge the war into its darkest period yet. The twenty-year-long civil war has taken a turn for the worse. While the world watches the situation in the Congo, few realize that the LRA, the cult-based rebel militia from Uganda, is steadily contributing to the turmoil in both countries. Please, write to your Senators and Representatives, to both the President and the President-elect, and to the Department of State. We should have acted years ago, and every day longer we do nothing, more children are put at risk, their futures taken from them in the name of death, destruction, and despair.

Please, visit Invisible Children and Resolve Uganda for more information.

Rock on.

Edit - 29 November 2008: For those unaware, LRA leader Joseph Kony has, to date, refused to sign the peace treaty because the ICC has issued his arrest warrant. While I have in the past and do continue to support the efforts of the ICC, I have spoken with Ugandans who say that they are more than willing to forgive the LRA if it brigns about an end to the war - following in the steps of post-Apartheid South Africa before them. As such, the Ugandan government has stated they will have the ICC lift the warrants if Kony signs the final treaty, ending the war. This article, posted by the BBC today, suggests that peace may still be within reach.

Watch and pray.
Edit - 30 November 2008: Kony was a no-show.

03 November 2008

#430 - Pretending to Like CS Lewis

From Stuff Christians Like.

I started reading Mere Christianity because it was what good Christians do. I didn't read The Chronicles of Narnia growing up. MC was my introduction to Lewis, and even then, he was over my head.

Then I read The Screwtape Letters. Again, because it's what good Christians do. Come to think of it, I'm not even sure I had finished Mere Christianity. I probably got through the first few chapters and put it away. Anyway, Screwtape is what really got me into CS Lewis.

Now, I'm a huge CS Lewis fan.

Just sayin'.

Rock on.

31 October 2008

Happy Last Day of October!

Tonight, I will be visited by one of two entities:
  1. The Great Pumpkin
  2. The ghost of Martin Luther
Either way, I get presents.

In honor of Halloween and Reformation Day, here are a few old posts from years past.

First, for those curious about Halloween, here's my take on the controversial holiday.

But, since today is not just Halloween, but also the anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 Theses.
For those who are completely unfamiliar with the history behind Martin Luther, I wrote a brief post a few years back concerning the event.

The traditions and teachings of Luther, though, are alive and well today, and influence most western Christians. While I am not Lutheran, nor would I ever dare to consider myself a great theologian, I cannot deny the importance of Lutheran thought in my own writings. Below are several posts I have written throughout the past two and a half years that demonstrate Luther's legacy.
Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt / im huy die Seel im Himmel springt
"I am Yours. Save me."
"...of whom I am the worst."
Sin Boldly (But Believe in Christ More Boldly Still): Thoughts on Evangelism
The Simple Beauty of Salvation

Luther was known for his wicked sense of humor. And just because I can, I proudly present "I Got 95 Theses, but the Pope Aint One"

Rock on.

Hat tip for the video: Locusts and Honey

26 October 2008

Gun Control and God

From Congressman Paul Broun:
All of our rights come from God, not from government. Our Founding Fathers understood this. They understood that the role of government, is to recognize and preserve our God-given, inalienable rights. Therefore, they wrote the Second Amendment.

Guns and religion. You, sir, are clinging to them.

I don't care enough about guns to have much of an opinion on the Second Amendment. Yeah, you should be licensed to own one, just as you are to drive. Outside of that, I meet both sides of the argument with an astounding "Meh."

But to say that gun ownership is a "God-given inalienable right" while at the same time arguing that universal health care is not part of the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" is insane.

Rock on.

20 October 2008


I first started listening to mewithoutYou my senior year of high school. It was a period during which I would buy and listen to pretty much any album released by Tooth and Nail records. As a result, I have a lot of really crappy CDs (Does anybody want my copy of Hawk Nelson's Letters to the President? I've been trying to ditch that thing for two years now...)

mewithoutYou's three albums, though, are the highlight of that period.

Falling somewhere between modern Sufi music (lead singer Aaron Weiss's mother was a Sufi) and post-alternative-hardcore (a catch-all category for music that is beyond simple classification) with elements of Roma/Eastern European folk music, mwY is one of those bands that has a very distinct style, but avoids the trap of repeatedly making the same album.

The first album of theirs I bought was [A->B] Life, which is much closer to their hardcore roots. Their second LP, Catch for Us the Foxes might be my favorite (the videos posted below are both from Foxes), though Brother, Sister - their third release - is what got me through freshman year of college.

"January 1979"

"Disaster Tourism"

I was fortunate enough to see mwY in concert at the 40 Watt, but I've already written about that.

As far as musicians go, the guys from mewithoutYou are out there; Aaron Weiss has taken vows of poverty and chastity, and the bus is run off of used vegetable oil. But for all of their eccentricities, or perhaps because of, their music stands out in a world where rock is finally starting to become innovative again.

Rock on.

19 October 2008


Bravo, Pixar. Bravo.

I have long been a fan of Pixar movies. They know how to tell a good story, and with style.

With that in mind, I must say that WALL E is Pixar's best movie yet.

The creators have managed to look back on the history of cinema and look forward to the future of consumerism and affluence in popular culture - in a kid's movie.

The movie starts with a bleak look at the future of earth. The camera flies over a city overrun with garbage, piles of compacted trash reaching higher than the surrounding skyscrapers, and every thing in sight is produced by the same conglomerate - "Buy N Large". This wretched landscape stands in very stark contrast to the cheerful music playing behind it. Our hero, a trash compacting robot with a pet cockroach, triggers adds as he walks by, and we discover through fading holographic videos that humanity left earth because we had so completely poisoned it.

So it goes that WALL E works day in and day out to clean up, saving little pieces of trash - a spork here, a light bulb there. But here's where Pixar shows their true brilliance. This movie is not just an environmentalist critique of our culture. WALL E is Charlie Chaplin. NPR had this to say in their review:
There's actually a nice parallel between this largely silent film and Chaplin's first sound film, Modern Times. In that one, the silent clown used the soundtrack mostly for music and effects, not for speech, just as Pixar does here. Chaplin only let you hear a human voice a couple of times, and only on some sort of mechanical contraption — say a closed-circuit TV screen — to emphasize its artificiality. It was his way of saying to the sound world, "OK, everybody's doing this talking thing now, but look how much more expressive our silent world is."
Humans are left out, except as videos, until nearly halfway through the movie. When humans do appear, they are lazy and overweight. It seems that life in space is everything it promised to be - with hover chairs, nobody moves; with video screens built into these chairs, nobody has face-to-face conversations anymore; having never seen the earth, nobody knows what "dirt" is. The film-makers took The Jetsons and decided to show what life would really be like in a world where nothing was more than a button away.

On top of the scathing critique of consumerist culture, WALL E is full of allusions to other movies. Of course, Charlie Chaplin is the inspiration for WALL E, but he looks an awful lot like Number 5 from Short Circuit. Auto, the ship's autopilot, is H.A.L. 9000 (Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey) - right down to the glowing red dot. And continuing the ode to 2001, Johann Strauss's "On der schoenen blauen Donau" and Richard Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" both recieve their moments of glory in the film. Life on board the ship is somewhere between The Jetsons and Star Trek. Even the animated short (a Pixar tradition) gives a wink and a nod; the entirety of Presto is reminiscient of Bugs Bunny and a Merrie Melodies short, though Presto's magic hat resembles more closely that of the sorcerer from Fantasia.

As the credits role, we are treated to the evolution of art - from cave paintings to post-impressionist, van Gogh-esque scenes, the credits continue to show Pixar's brilliance and finish the story; the credits are a well-animated post script in a culture that walks out as soon as the credits roll.

One of the more interesting aspects is the importance of touch in this movie. WALL E spends most of the movie trying to hold EVE's hand. The humans afloat in space have become so dependent on technology that they no longer even converse face-to-face. As such, two humans (one voiced by Pixar's favorite actor, Cliff the Mailman) begin a relationship at first touch, and later rediscover the ship's pool and the joy of splashing water.

WALL E also serves as what one of my professors would call a "chaos monster". For the humans of the film, everything seems to be going fine. Not that things are fine, but nobody realizes how completely screwy things have become. Enter WALL E, who upsets the status quo - first, with the other robots, and then with the humans. As he roams the ship, everywhere he goes becomes a site of change. Like the children in Narnia, WALL E's presence disturbs those around him, awakening them from the trance-like assistance that has become life.

Pixar has a long tradition of telling stores with the lessons that need to be told - rites of passage, acceptance of yourself and others, courage, and the importance of remembering your past (seriously, who didn't get that from watching Toy Story 2?). With WALL E, Pixar has set a new standard for not only artistry, but themes in children's movies. Hopefully, other production companies will follow this shining example.

Rock on.

Powell Endorses Obama

This is just to interesting to not pass on.

I wish I could say I have eagerly awaited Powell's endorsement, but truth be told, I nearly forgot about him.

I wonder what this will do to poll numbers.

Prediction: Obama's lead will grow in Pennsylvania and he will gain a lead in both Ohio and Florida. Don't know about Nevada, Colorado, or North Carolina.

Time will tell.

Rock on.

18 October 2008

The Dog Ate the Sourdough!!!

I love my dog. But she has incredible ups for an eleven year old Lab. With the ability to mount tall counters in a single bound, she ate my fresh loaf of sourdough (she's done the same with bagels on multiple occasions).

But it's alright. I have fresh bagels, a new loaf of sourdough, and half a Reuben to make up for the loss.

And you may or may not have noticed, but I haven't exactly posted anything. The week was a little more hectic than I thought.


11 October 2008

Of Sourdough and New Posts

This just in: I have a fresh loaf of San Francisco sour dough. Thanks, Kroger!

I also have three new posts in the wings. I just need to get around to typing them. And my editor's in the middle of midterms. Expect something next week, though.


27 September 2008

Simone White

College towns - not only do they offer interesting programming on NPR, but they also usually have a student-run station. In Athens, we have WUOG, which features music of every genre, most of it "underground" or "indie".

On Tuesday, they played White's song "Roses Are Not Red", a moody little piece that would seem at home in a smokey blues lounge. Unfortunately, there is no official video for this song, so I have linked to the Last.FM page.

White does, though, have a YouTube page. Her music videos are low-budget and minimalistic - a nice change of pace, if I do say so myself. Below is the title track from her new album I Am the Man.

Rock on.

24 September 2008

Sin Boldly (But Believe in Christ More Boldly Still): Thoughts on Evangelism

I regret to inform you of an unfortunate truth: Many Christians attempt to use guilt as an evangelical tool. Notably, UGA's "Tate preachers" stand in the courtyard of the student center and announce to the campus God's hatred of drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and, in some of the more entertaining cases, "weak-kneed pencil-necked men" and educated women.

Many lower-key evangelism styles operate under the same methods. While never explicitly stated, the logical conclusion of this style, even sans-picket-signs, is, "If you have doubt or still sin, then you are obviously not a good enough Christian to earn God's grace."

Which is absolutely ludicrous.

First, we do not "earn God's grace". It is grace because it impossible to earn. Our sins were paid for by the death of the Son of God. You can never earn something bought at so high a cost. Yes, the acceptance of grace costs us our lives, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us. But even this surrender does not "earn" grace, but instead helps us to fully embrace it. Likewise, Bonhoeffer also reminds us of Luther's famous saying, "Sin, and sin boldly; but more boldly still believe in Christ and rejoice in him." Bonhoeffer cautions us, "[D]on't try to become what you are not." For the very second we try to claim that we can achieve perfection on our own accord, we instead claim a state of arrogance and, in this state of arrogance, reject the very grace that makes us perfect.

For example, if I claim that, after becoming a Christian, I ceased to ever give in to angry thoughts, I would be a liar and a braggart. Granted, acceptance of and discipleship to the Risen Christ will lead to a more peaceful state of mind. Over time, as I begin to walk with the Lord and draw more closely to Him, my mindset is changed. But, to be blatantly (and boldly) honest, I still get angry over small things. At my worst, I am an angry person - at my best, I am a sinner redeemed through the blood shed on the Cross.

And I would go so far as to state that only through openness about our shortcomings that Christians will ever shed the image of hypocrisy that so plagues us today.

Secondly, doubt does not negate faith. Only through doubt is faith truly faith. For the very instant you remove all doubt, faith - the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1) – is no longer faith and enters the realm of the empirical. People do not have faith in the existence of coffee cups*; cups are proven daily to exist through direct observation and interaction. God, though, exists beyond our senses and our understanding, known only through faith. To claim a complete understanding and knowledge of God either A) claims the impossible - a finite being understanding an infinite deity, or B) limits God. Christians should do neither. Indeed, doubt strengthens faith. Instead of dismissing doubts as unfounded or false, true faith confronts doubts; it struggles with them and forces the faithful to depend more heavily on God.

In order to encourage and cultivate faith, we must also radically change the field of apologetics, as well as recognize that the sole use of apologetic arguments do not constitute evangelism. As I was once told at an FCA camp, "You cannot argue someone to Christ. If someone is convinced by scientific arguments alone, they can just as easily be convinced by counter-arguments." We can no longer devote ourselves to "proving God". Instead, we should focus on finding Him, walking with Him, and loving Him.

Love - now there's a concept. If instead of making everyone feel guilty about not being perfect, perhaps we could show them God's love. If God is love, then to show love is to show God. If we were to focus on relationships and servanthood, if we were to relate our own stories of God's love...well, wouldn't that be something?

Rock on.

*Even David Hume, the father of modern skepticism, was willing to accept empirical evidence - though he did acknowledge a faith in empiricism. This, though, is better suited for discourse concerning the "New Atheism".

Post Script: I owe a tremendous amount of thanks to my friend Suzanne. Without her editing...well, something about weak verbs, "this" not modifying anything, and comma splices.

15 September 2008

Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman is incredibly well-known, even if you don't know him by name. He's most famous for his work with Tim Burton. Elfman has, to the best of my knowledge, scored every Burton movie with the exceptions of Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd.

Elfman is also responsible for the now-famous opening piece on The Simpsons.

His filmography is extensive and includes work with Sam Raimi and, alledgedly, the forthcoming remake of horror-classic The Wolf-Man.

Elfman's music can best be summed up as a season - Autumn. The dark nature is best accompanied by a chilly, clear night with light cloud cover and a deep, misty wood.

To hear one of his lesser-known compositions, check out the video in this post, featuring the score from Black Beauty.

In 2006, Elfman branched out from movies, penning Serenada Schizophrana, his first major compostion not to be written as a soundtrack, though it was later featured in the IMAX movie Deep Sea 3D. Below is the track "I Forget" - the only track with vocals, all of which are in Spanish.

Rock on.

Danse Macabre and the Beauty of the Resurrection

When I lived in Germany, my parents took me to some of the most famous cathedrals of western Europe - Notre-Dame de Paris, Koelner Dom, and St. Peter's Basilica to name a few. Many of the late gothic cathedrals featured scenes of the final judgment above the doors, and skulls and skeletons were common inside the sanctuary. It was this dark imagery that kept my elementary-schooler self entertained (it was also at this point that I loved Vincent van Gogh because he cut off his ear). I can proudly say that I now find the beauty of these cathedrals outside of their grotesque nature, but the scenes have stayed with me over the past ten to fourteen years.

One of the more interesting things about both judgment scenes ad the medieval "danse macabre" is its reflection of the basic aspect of life: All are alike in death. Kings, bishops, and peasants - all will die. The lifecycle - birth and death - is perhaps the one thing that unites all of humanity. It is the one thing that you cannot forget. God tells Ezekiel to go before the King of Tyre and say,
Will you then say, 'I am a god,'
in the presence of those who will kill you?
You will be but a man, not a god,
in the hands of those who slay you. - Ezekiel 28:9*

No matter how important you are, no matter what you do, you will die. It is part of being human. No matter how famous or plain you are, you are still all too human.

It is in this, the most basic aspect of life, then, that we see something truly extraordinary in the person of Christ - something that allows him to, in the hands of those who slay him, say "I am." As a man, Jesus both was born and died, but not under normal circumstances, for Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, thereby born of a virgin, and was resurrected from the dead. And it is in these two exceptional claims that we see something interesting about Christ - he is most obviously human, if he can be born and killed, but he is so much more. The biological laws, in the end, fail to constrain his divinity.

And it is by clinging to the risen Christ, Son of the Living God, that when it comes time for us to dance with Death, that we can go willingly and secure in the faith that we to will be risen by the One who beat Death. It is by accepting Christ's victory over the physical that Death no longer becomes an end to be feared, but instead is a beginning to be embraced. It is security in the goodness of God that allows us to celebrate at a funeral. it is the knowledge that a better world is on the other side that gives us the courage to follow the example of our Lord and willingly lay down our lives for those around us.

But most of all, it is this very trait that separates Christ from the rest of us, but that allows us to draw close to him.

Rock on.

*Perhaps it is a sign of my short attention span and tendency to ramble, but this post was inspired by reading Ezekiel 27 and 28.

Photo: From Hans Holbein the Younger's woodcut series The Dance of Death. Retrieved on Wikimedia Commons.

A Problem from Hell: A Brief History of Genocide in the Twentieth Century

In light of recent events in Sudan, I thought it might be fitting to take a look back at all of the times the US and other western nations vowed "Never Again" only to turn our backs as soon as the promise required any real action.

It was my freshman year of college and I had just finished reading An Ordinary Man, Paul Rusesabagina's autobiography. Sitting in my dorm lobby, I flipped through his list of recommended books - when the man who saved over a thousand lives during one of the most violent massacres of our time tells you to look into a book, you listen. In this list, Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell: America in the Age of Genocide is called "an indictment of the West's tendency to fold in the face of evil."

Without hesitation, I went to a bookstore and grabbed a copy. Decade by decade, Powers lists the genocides of the twentieth century, charting the complacency of the US throughout, citing government memos, many of which urge a willful ignorance of the slaughters.

So, with great gratitude to Ms. Power, here is a list of six distinct cases of genocide and six distinct failures of humanity.
  1. Armenia - During the early days of the First World War, the Ottoman Empire faced both enemies on the front lines and from abroad. Within the Armenian population, a small group of rebels, backed by czarist Russia, began fighting against the Ottoman government. As tends to happen in these situations, the government turned on the entire group of people, forcibly evicting Armenians from their homes and sending them, on foot, into the deserts of the Middle East. During this forced exodus, women were raped and entire families were killed. Notably, the Allies did condemn these "crimes against humanity and civilization" and the concept of "race murder" first came into being. To this day, the Turkish government refuses to recognize the Ottoman massacre of the Armenian population as "genocide".
  2. The Holocaust - World War II is the defining event of the twentieth century. And during Hitler's campaign of destruction, the world would not (and perhaps could not) bring itself to the realization that the Nazi government was leading a mass extermination of Jews, Africans, the Roma people, the handicapped, and anyone deemed to be a lower class of human. Given the tremendous amount of study devoted to this bleak period of history, I will cut discussion of this event short.* The resulting Nuremberg Trials came to set the path for acting on genocide: Wait until after the fact, then arrest a few perpetrators for show.
  3. Cambodia - Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge led a campaign of extermination against their own culture. Targeting all who were educated, wealthy, or connected in anyway to the pre-communist government, "reeducation" (read: torture) and mass killings were used to return the nation to an agrarian society. The US, in an attempt to maintain relations with China, was soft on the Cambodian government. Just as the US started to put pressure on the Khmer Rouge to stop the killing, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The West immediately condemned the invasion and sided with Cambodia. Noam Chomsky has stated that the reports of "killing fields" are anti-communist propaganda.
  4. Iraq - During the war with Iran and before the war with Kuwait, Saddam Hussein targeted the whipping boy of the Middle East - the Kurds. The Kurds, allegedly supported by the Iranian government, used the war as a distraction and attempted to gain independence from the Ba'athist government of Iraq. Saddam Hussein, along with other top officials, ordered attacks using chemical and conventional weapons on Kurdish villages, arrests and torture, and mass deportations. Following the invasion of Kuwait, the Kurds once again used the resulting war as a distraction, and were once again put down brutally. The Ba'athist regime also targeted other non-Sunni non-Arabic populations for oppression.
  5. Serbia/Bosnia/Kosovo** - Following Bosnian independence, Serbs living in Bosnia, backed by the Serbian government, took up arms and attempted to gain control of the new state. In so doing, the targeted Bosnian Muslims, deporting families, indiscriminatly bombing villages, raping women, and butchering men. After NATO and UN intervention, the Serbian government began to target ethnic Albanian seperatists in the region of Kosovo, using the same tactics used in Bosnia. It is worth noting that even with the UN and NATO presence, the war in Bosnia did not immediately cease - 1995 saw the massacre of Srebrenica. Many of the perpetrators remain at large and the region remains volatile today.
  6. Rwanda - Following years of Hutu rule and Tutsi rebellion (the distinction between the two "races" was made by Belgium colonists), the assassination of the Hutu president*** plunged the nation into a power vacuum in which Tutsis and "moderate" Hutus were killed. Within a hundred days, between 800,000 and one million people were killed. Europeans in the country were evacuated. After ten UN peacekeepers were killed, the UN mission was drastically downsized. The US avoided involvment by claiming that the goings-on were only "acts of genocide", not genocide itself. France sided with the perpetrators. The rest of the world ignored it.
This list fails to completely describe the attrocities of the twentieth century - a total number of lives lost to genocide is impossible to give. Many of the names of those killed are lost to history, known only but to God. And of the small number of people who stood up to do something, an even smaller number are named in the history books.

And it is because of these people that we do not know that we must act. It is because of these people that we will never know that we must act. It is because of these people that we were not allowed to know that we must act.

Never again will we watch Armenians die. Never again will we watch the "non-Aryan" die. Never again will we watch the Cambodians die. Never again will we watch the Kurds die. Never again will we watch the Bosnians and Albanians die. Never again will be watch the Rwandans die.

Never again will we say "Never again" only to never act.

Rock on.

*It is worth noting that while Power does not mention it, there is a very strong case for applying the term "genocide" to the Japanese action in the Pacific; namely, the attempt to destroy the native cultures of any and all conquered lands, most famously Korea and China, but let us also not forget the plight of the people of the Philippines and Pacific islands. Much like the government of Turkey, the Japanese government still refuses to admit any wrongdoing during this time.

**The situation in the Balkans is so incredibly complex and took place over such a long period of time (nearly a decade) that it recieves three fully devoted chapters in A Problem from Hell.

***The president was negotiating an end to the war with Tutsi RPF rebels. The assassination was blamed on the Tutsi, but some believe it was done by Hutu nationalists angry with the president and aiming to start a massacre.

Post Script: There are many excellent books about the problem of genocide, and I encourage you to do further research. But beyond that, I ask that you write your Representatives, Senators, and the President and encourage them to do research as well, looking not only into the problems in Sudan, but the Congo as well.

Photo: Poster distributed by the American Committee for Relief in the Near East during the Armenian genocide. Retrieved on Wikimedia Commons.

12 September 2008

New Discovery from the Depths of the Interweb Tubes!

I recently found out about a photographer in Antartica who has been doing time-lapse work. And setting most of it to Danny Elfman.


He also keeps a blog and has managed to, in only six videos, ignite my oft-hidden desire to visit Antarctica. He also-also posts his pictures to another website (and it has some great shots of the Southern Lights).

So my real question is: How do I get to spend a winter in Antarctica? Well, summer, but there it's winter...you know, that little opposite season thing. Or maybe I could just settle for Alaska?

Rock on.

11 September 2008

It's Official

I, as of thirty seconds ago, have a new fear.


Because 18-wheelers weren't scary enough already.

Of course, I also have a fear that I won't finish my pape - I mean "In-Class Assessment" - on time. Which raises questions about why I'm checking the news and posting to my blog instead of writing about Alice Walker.

And perhaps further questions can be raised about why my first post in a week is so short - though this question has an answer: I'm still trying to find my pace for the semester. Balancing class, CCF, IC, and homework has left me exhausted. At some point, I hope to actually follow through on my resolutions for the blog.

Weekends maybe?

Anyway, back to my writing...class writing...assessment.


01 September 2008


An anonymous tipster has pointed out that Alu (mentioned in my last post) is now on YouTube.


The best way I can think of to describe Alu is some combination of gypsy alt rock. Or, as mentioned in my previous post, "Alice in Wonderland in hell".
This is "Circus Cosmos" off her album Lobotomy Sessions.

Rock on.

Post Script: NPR's Echoes is one of the best programs on radio today. I've been turned on to several groups, including Alu, through them. Check your local affiliate's listings.

27 August 2008

Regina Spektor

Over the summer, I lived with my friend Evander. Evander has weird taste in music.

By weird, I mean he listens to a lot of jazz. And video game music. And N*Sync. And Christmas music. Oh, and choral pieces. As I said, weird - or, at least, unexpected.

Anyway, he and I usually end up either reminiscing about 90s one-hit-wonder alt-rock bands or giving each other new CDs to listen to.

I introduced him to piano-rock group Mae. He introduced me to Regina Spektor.

He let me borrow her first CD, and I listened to it at least every day for two weeks. So now, I pass this musical addiction on to you:

This is her song "Samson"

And this is one of my favorite music videos ever, "Us"

Rock on.

Post Script: I was going to write about a artist I discovered on NPR's Echoes about a month a go. The artist's name is Alu, and while she was introduced to me as "Alice in Wonderland in hell", she manages to avoid YouTube - an impressive feat. Anyway, check her out at www.alumusic.com

26 August 2008

Donald Miller Prays at the DNC

As I've mentioned before, I like Donald Miller. Perhaps it's because I agree with him more than I do with Rob Bell (no offense to Mr. Bell). Maybe it's his writing style. Maybe it's because he lives in Portland. Or some combination of the three.

Regardless, I was pleased to see* that Miller had been invited to say the benediction at the Democratic National Convention's opening night. For those who haven't heard and don't want to click on the link, the founder of Relevant, Cameron Strang, was invited to say the benediction, but turned down the opportunity in the interest of staying neutral and not showing favoritism. According to one source, Strang also changed his political affiliation - from Republican to independent.

Miller, a registered Democrat and the man I consider to be the leading voice of 21st century Christianity, was asked to take Strang's place. And, as tends to happen with these things, it was put up on YouTube. So without further ado, the prayer:

Rock on.
*This link also includes an interesting interview with Miller concerning his political views.

Edit: ThinkChristian has posted the transcript.

20 August 2008

Qinsoc's Miniluv Declares Unyoung Women Doubleplusungood

For those not fluent in Newspeak, the People's Republic of China's police force has arrested two elderly women and sentenced them to "reeducation by labor". The two women, both approaching eighty, applied for a permit to protest during the Olympics - in zones set up for just such events.

The Chinese government has received more than seventy applications and approved exactly none.

Read more about this and several other attempts to make crimethinkers regood in this article.

Rock on.

*Interested in Newspeak? Read the Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four and sound like an arrogant conspiracy theorist today!

18 August 2008

Saint-Saëns and Babe

Last semester, I discovered French composer Saint-Saëns' piece "Danse Macabre" - a wonderfully dark tune that reminds me of the large carvings in medieval cathedrals. This piece was the first I had ever heard of Saint-Saëns, and my immediate reaction was one of wonder - mostly wondering about why nobody had introduced me to the "French Beethoven" before college.

Luckily for me, NPR was on the ball - about a week after my discovery, the UGA NPR affiliate was broadcasting a special from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. One of the pieces performed was
Saint-Saëns' third symphony, the "Organ Symphony". But before the orhcestra performed, the commentator mentioned one of the defining movies of my childhood - Babe. In the scene, Farmer Hoggett* sings to Babe, then does a little dance.

Of course, this scene was mentioned because the tune comes from one of the greatest parts of the third symphony - the performing organist that night said he loves playing this opus because it gives him a chance to play without holding back. To see just what in the world I'm talking about, just click the video link.

That'll do, reader. That'll do.
Rock on.

*Arthur Hoggett is played by professional Hollywood "That Guy" James Cromwell, perhaps better known to Trekkies as Zephraim Chochrane. Or to Aasimov fans as Dr. Robert Lanning. Or to Oliver Stone fans for his upcoming role as George H. W. Bush. Or...yeah. That Guy.

17 August 2008

New Academic Year Resolutions

I think I may have made some promises to myself back in January. Though, as I cannot clearly recall these promises, it should be understood that, if I had made a resolution or two, I didn't keep up with it very well.

But tomorrow marks the start of a new semester and my third year in college (Ich bin sehr alt!). I'll be taking some interesting classes (two of which will focus on feminism and music in religious culture - I cannot begin to express the eagerness with which I anticipate these classes). Anyway, along with resolving to spend more time doing the assigned reading and working on my German vocabulary, while balancing this with involvment in the tutoring program and campus minstries in which I participate, I've decided that I should also make some changes to the way I blog.

So, to you, my loyal reader(s?), here are my promises.
  1. I will devote more time to writing and editing posts. I usually hear something in class or on the radio, jump on the computer, and give the post thirty minutes of my time. Which works well for some things. But there are some topics - especially in an election year - that deserve more thought.
  2. In that same line of though, I promise to use sources other than Wikipedia. When I was in elementary school, my teachers spoke as if the Internet would give every person access to every resource one would ever need. Instead, we got Wikipedia. I live within walking distance of the UGA Main Library. The sixth floor (home of the religion and philsophy texts) is one of my best friends. I should really visit it more.
  3. In my attempt to spend more time editing, I also hope to improve my grammar. It'll be awkward at first. That's about it.
  4. More music! I discovered some of my favorite bands because of hours of aimless wandering through the Internet. I should share the wealth.
  5. More Bible! Shortly after I started this blog, I decided that I was going to use it as a means of making sure that I was reading the Bible and thinking about what I read. It went really well for a while, but slowly died off. In response to my spiritual complacency, I will start using that format again. It worked pretty well in high school; I can only hope that it will be better in college. Wow. I just realized that was almost three years ago. Once again, ich bin alt.
So. Yeah. There's that.

Did I mention I'm taking a course on music in religious culture? Awesome.


08 August 2008

Fundamental Principles of the Olympiad

2. The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.

5. Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement.
As found in the IOC Charter; emphasis mine. Read the entire document here.

22 July 2008

"Second Life Wife": Real People, Real Emotions, Simulated World

It's been a while since I've written about Second Life. Like, over a year and a half. I think.

It's not that I've forgotten. It's a hot topic on many of the Methodists blogs I read. And I like what they have to say. As long as there is a community, online or in the physical world, there is a need for a Christian presence.

But I heard something that took me back to some of my earlier discussions (leave it to NPR). In a discussion of the "virtual world", the issue of marriage in Second Life was brought up. People, some married in the real world, others single, are getting married.

One of the arguments for this is that on the site, you get to know people for who they are. Thus, love in SL is somehow more real than love in the real world. No distractions of race, age, gender, disability, etc. At the same time, though, and what the piece failed to mention, is the ease with which you can claim to be someone else in this virtual world (or any, be it a message board, World of Warcraft, etc.). All it takes is a little imagination and a descent memory. Which isn't entirely bad. It can be fun to be somebody else.

But then comes the other person, who falls in "love" with this fake person. Those emotions can be very real and very hurt.

And then there are the married people. Who get married to someone other than their real spouse in SL. The emotional investment inherent in a marriage, even a virtual one, can be just as damaging to a relationship as adultery. Some might even call it adultery.

Don't get me wrong. I know that there are people who take all forms of social interaction, be it a coffee date or Second Life, too seriously (or not seriously enough). And I know I shouldn't let those people ruin the form of interaction.

Which is probably why the presence of Christian churches in SL are so important - the emotions are real, the relationships are real, and the grace of Christ is real.

Rock on.

21 July 2008

Monday Graph Jam # 4 - I'm Finally On Time

Yeah, I know, I can hardly believe it.

On to the graphs.
If you don't know what a furry is, don't find out.My friend has an idea for units in which scientists can objectively rate human lives. Introducing - the Hilton (Hi). The Hilton is represented on this graph at the x value where the blue line reaches its lowest possible point, while the red line reaches its highest possible point.


Legal Notice and Disclaimer: I didn't make the graphs. I don't own Linux, nor do I hate people who like Linux. I just like laughing at Penguicon, which I don't own either. And if the word "Hilton" appears anywhere in your name, the similarity between you and the unit, Hi, is a complete coincidence.

The Dark Knight and the New Trend in Comic Book Movies

I like Batman. As evidenced by the fact that I saw The Dark Knight at the midnight release in Athens, and then again Saturday when I went to visit my sister in Atlanta.

I grew up watching Batman: The Animated Series.

I used to have the Wayne Manor play-set.
I wish I still did.

So when I found out Heath Ledger was going to be playing the Joker, I was nervous, but gave him the benefit of the doubt - mostly because of how much enjoyed Batman Begins. Honestly, I've been waiting for this movie since the Joker card was flipped over at the end of BB.

And he/it did not disappoint.

But that's not what I want to talk about.

The Dark Knight is one of those rare movies that has the witty dialogue and the traditional dramatic speeches that make comic book/graphic novel movies hard to swallow sometimes, but sill finds a way to make it work. Really well.

But that's not what I want to talk about, either.

The Dark Knight is not for kids. Or for people who are easily disturbed. While trying not to give too much away, this movie is dark, creepy, and - well, disturbing. It dives into the mind of a depraved, psychotic criminal. It's not a fun around, especially since, like all Batman villains, the Joker is based, in part, on something inside of everybody. It's what you don't see or hear - what you have to fill in for yourself - that really gets to you.

But at the same time, this film is masterful in exploring the mind of the hero as well. Again, while trying not ruin the movie for those who have yet to see it, The Dark Knight is also about people who do the right thing, the price they pay, the guilt they feel, and the temptation to give in to the baser instincts. What happens when chaos is introduced into the system? Can society cope? Can an individual? At the end of the movie, you find yourself filled with both hope and despair.*

Rock on.

*ThinkChristian offers their review here; but be warned, it contains a few spoilers - not enough to completely ruin the movie, but those wishing to experience the full effect should stay away until after seeing it.

15 July 2008

Monday Graph Jam #3 - Ruby Tusedsay II - Now with 100% more Tuesday

I suck at getting posts up on time.

Make with the graphs....and we are all together.

Disclaimer: I don't own Graph Jam. I own neither Simon nor Garfunkel. And I especially don't own the Beatles, lest I earn the wrath of Yoko.

12 July 2008

China - How Deep of a Whole Can They Dig?

One reason I support a full boycott of the Beijing Olympics is Chinese involvement with, shall we say "shady" African regimes, such as Sudan.

And Zimbabwe. And just as most European nations are calling for sanctions against Mugabe's regime, Russia and China have decided to veto the measure.

Chinese Foreign Policy - Because Oppressing Our Own People Just Isn't Enough

Now, I know, Russia is at fault here, too. And either one of them could have vetoed the measure and the effect would have been exactly the same. But Russia did not win the Olympic games by promising to clean up its act (though not an entirely bad idea).

Rock on.

10 July 2008

Adam Hamilton on Worship

For those who are unfamiliar with Rev. Adam Hamilton, he's the head pastor at Church of the Resurrection UMC in Kansas City (technically, it's not quite in Kansas City, but instead, in Leawood, KS, but oh well).

When I attended the Maundy Thursday/Tenebrae service at CoR, I was at a point in my life where I was deciding between contemporary and traditional worship styles and starting to question the idea of mass-market mega-churches, and attending the service had a tremendous impact on me.

So, more than two years later, I was quite happy to find Rev. Hamilton's thoughts on worship bosted on his blog, Seeing Gray. For those interested, here's the link.

Rock on.

08 July 2008

Monday Graph Jam #2 - Ruby Tuesday

Today's post doesn't have anything to do with the Rolling Stones. Or the restaurant. I was trying to make a pun about being a day late. Kind of like a bad action movie title. I know, I'm a dork.

Anyway, on to the graphs.
And for fans of Stuff Christians Like, don't be this guy.

Rock on.

*Disclaimer: Once again, I don't own Grap Jam. I didn't make the graphs. Or the movies mentioned in the graphs. Nor do I write the SCL blog. I'm not "that dude", Tyler Durden, or Steve McRoskey. I'm not Keyser Soze either, but that's a different story.

05 July 2008

I Don't Want To Face the Truth, And You Can't Make Me

Although I probably should.

Following the posting of my grade for RELI2004, I am officially half way through my junior year.

Holy crap.

And what makes it weirder is that I've only been in college for two years.


Anyway, at this point, it's time to start looking at what I'm going to do after graduation (my word, I shouldn't be talking like that - I'm too young!). Since ninth grade, I've been saying that I'll go to seminary. But it wasn't until my dad, in his usual fashion, made me face reality a year ago and asked, "Which seminaries are you looking at?"

What do you mean I have to choose? Can't going to seminary be like going to college? Why don't I just apply to the schools that all of my friends are going to and the one that give me free tuition?

Which is about where I am today. I've sent out for some information to a few schools and gotten information back from even fewer. Those schools are: Asbury Theological, Regent College, Fuller Theological, Duke Divinity, and Wesley Theological. I sent out to Candler (Emory), but they haven't sent me anything yet. (Edit: Actually, it just came in the mail today.)

I like Regent - mostly because it's in the Pacific Northwest. I like Asbury because, well, it might mean financial support from the UMC. Fuller has a lot of different campuses - campi? - which is always nice. Duke is...well, it's Duke. It wouldn't be much of a move from Athens.

Which brings me to why I'm posting this on teh Interwebs*. I need help/advice. If you're a pastor or seminary student who just happened to stop by, please, leave a comment. I'm always open to suggestions. Of course, I'm going to talk to my pastor and my campus minister and a few of my professors as well, but every little bit of input helps. And please, direct other people this way - as I said, I'm always open to suggestions. And who better to seek it from than people who've been in this place before?

Rock on.
*Oddly enough, "Asbury" is marked as wrong by the Firefox spell check, but "teh Interwebs" is not. Go figure.

03 July 2008

Sudan's One-Sided Trials

The Sudanese government started the trials last month for members of a rebel army fighting in Darfur.

They have not, however, attempted to so much as restrain members of the Janjaweed militia.

Can't say I'm surprised. Just disappointed.

Rock on.

30 June 2008

Mendel's Legacy

One of the things that people don't consider when they argue about science and religion is the history of science. Science and religion, were from the start, the same thing. If you were to ask an ancient Greek to explain lightening, you would learn about Zeus. By the time Christianity had been fully accepted, science was starting to come into its own, but was still not separated from the Church. Traveling through history, you would arrive at the Renaissance and meet several astronomers, all devoted Christians. Chief among them is Copernicus, both a cleric and the father of modern astronomy. At the start of the Enlightenment, there's Newton, the Christian alchemist and physicist, but also theologian and biblical scholar. Leeuvenhoek is an influential figure in microbiology and was a Dutch Calvinist.

By the nineteenth century, Christianity was...unpopular. Many philosophers and scientists saw it as a crutch for the weak. But the foundation of genetics studies was put in place by Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk.

Enter: This article from the Associated Press

I, for one, am glad to see people refusing to make science and religion mutually exclusive.

On an unrelated note, I'm not quite sure how to feel about this. Maybe I'll right more about this later.

Rock on.

Monday Graph Jam #1

I started this summer with a goal. Even though my class doesn't start until 2:15 in the afternoons, I wanted to wake up around eight to start the day off well - coffee, bagels, Bible - the usual Christian college kid gig.

This plan was derailed by day one by the internet and a roommate who has a near-obsession with internet memes. Seriously, for a while he carried around pictures of his favorite lolcats. So one night a few weeks ago, when he found a lolcat-related blog called Graph Jam, he showed me. And given my love of The Princess Bride and music, the site was an instant hit. I stayed up for two more hours going through the archives. And saving pictures.

I've got...ten, I think.

Here are the first two.
Disclaimer: I don't own these images. GraphJam does. Please don't sue.

29 June 2008

About Time

Just as President Bush is moving to have North Korea removed from the list of nations that support terrorism, Congress is working to remove Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress from the terror watch list.

Mandela's ANC party has been on the list for longer than I've been alive, being put on it during the Reagan administration, a decade before apartheid officially ended.

I can think of no reason that the US ever should have labeled the ANC, militant though it was, as a terrorist organization at the same time we were supporting the Iraqi Ba'ath regime and the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

Just something to think about.

Rock on.

28 June 2008

I'd Pay To See This Movie

Coming soon...

Cracked.com Presents a Burton/Schumacher/Nolan Film

My money's on BatBale.

26 June 2008

Somebody Please Tell Me...

...why we're leveling sanctions against Iran as we lift sanctions against North Korea.

Yes, Iran has nuclear ambitions. Yes, Iran sponsors terrorist groups. No, Iran is not our ally.

But North Korea claims to have detonated nuclear weapons. The Kim regime has been engaged in a reign of terror since it took power. And North Korea is still at war with one of our allies.

I know, I know - North Korea is taking great steps towards ending its nuclear program. Just like they've done in the past.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad North Korea is dismantling its nuclear program. But should a regime that has kidnapped and murdered people, both in North Korea and elsewhere, really be taken off of the terrorism blacklist?

Rock on.

23 June 2008

The Difference Between Interpreting and Picking (and Other Thoughts on Dawkins on NPR)

Today, I listened to Richard Dawkins on NPR during an episode of To the Best of our Knowledge entitled "Atheism & Its Critics".

The program opened with a discussion on faith. See my thoughts here.

One of the fundamental allegations Richard Dawkins levels against Christianity is that we (we being believers) pick and choose what we will accept as true from the Bible - Cafeteria Chrisitans, to borrow an old term. But I disagree with him on this. There is a fundamental difference between interpreting what you read and choosing what you read. Yes, some Christians avoid the more troubling part of the Bible. But many of the most sincere Christians are the same ones who take what they read and truly struggle with it. Yes, it bothers me to read about the mass killings committed in the Old Testament. But I have not rejected these stories. Instead, I have taken them as how the ancient Israelites saw God - as a god who loves his people and wants to protect them. Which is one of the recurring themes of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. On the other hand, if an atheist is to go through and reject the teachings of love in the Bible - to say that these are present in all cultures and therefore not relevant to the Bible - and focus purely on the violent stories of the Tanakh, then that might just qualify as "picking and choosing".

Of course, Dawkins also has a fundamental misunderstanding of the sacrifice of Christ, claiming the crucifixion is a bloody sacrifice of an innocent man to satisfy God for the sins of Adam, a man who never existed. To this, I say he's half - no, a quarter - of the way there. Yes, the crucifixion was a bloody sacrifice of an innocent man. But it was also a self-sacrifice - God himself dying for our sins. And that's the point we should take - the love inherent in the self-sacrifice, not the gruesomeness of the act. Secondly, and one of the largest misunderstandings Dawkisn makes is to assume that the crucifixion was about Original Sin. And while this may be up to debate among theologians*, by no means should it be taken as the belief of all Christians. It is my belief that Christ died for the sins of all people, not for Original Sin.

"I am in favor of goodness," says Dawkins. He claims that he stands against the claim that you don't need religion to be good. To this, I say, define "good". If "good" is doing good things - feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and such - then yes, you can be good without religion. If "good" means never doing bad, if it means living a perfect utilitarian lifestyle - always causing more utility than harm - then we're in trouble. Because nobody can ever be good in this sense.

Oh, and if you get a chance, read what Brad Hirschfield has to say - "faith without fanaticism."

Rock on.

*Though I can't think of any groups that hold this belief. Perhaps someone can provide an example.

22 June 2008

Sobald der Gülden im Becken klingt / im huy die Seel im Himmel springt

"Metal bottom makes taking of offering NOISY! Listen to the change rattle in the pot and watch the giving momentum grow!"

I found this in a Christian resource magazine. A modern Christian resource magazine. And I very nearly died laughing.

Of course, this is not a new phenomenon. It's been happening for quite some time. A few examples:

The first is the reason we are all Roman Catholic. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, a Christian could give money to the Roman church and either earn a few years off of their own stay in Purgatory or free a deceased relative from the same. For those unfamiliar with European High Medieval/Renaissance history, this was the practice of selling Indulgences. It was based off of the theory that "the merits" of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and the saints were stored up and that the papacy had the authority to distribute them. For a generous donation, that is. One German monk, of the Augustinian order, took issue with this unfounded practice. He wrote on it and ended up changing the world. Forever. He challenged the pope, asking, if this unfounded teaching is true, why are the "merits" not given freely to all? His name was Martin Luther, and if you want to more, I would encourage you to watch the movie Luther. It's not the most accurate depiction in the world, but it does a great job of discussing the issue of indulgences.

But don't take my word for it...

Ok. Moving on after a delightful little flashback.

Another prime example comes from the Christ, and you probably already know where I'm going with this. In one of the stories mentioned in all four Gospels, Jesus goes into the Temple and drives out the money changers and those selling animals to be sacrificed - in other words, those trying to make money off of God. And it's not like when he drove out demons, where Christ simply commanded it and it happened. No, it's significantly more dramatic than that. Making a whip out of reeds and turning over tables - this is the stuff Indiana Jones was made for. As Jesus said, the Temple had been made "a den of thieves".

And today we have much the same thing going on. First and foremost, I think of the massive market of Christian books. And here I must be careful, because there are a lot of authors that I respect and admire. But at the same time, there are people selling "special editions" of books and Bibles, trying to come up with any reason for a new volume. The Five Languages of Love...for Young Men Between the Ages of 20 and 30 Who Enjoy Watching Men's Double Tennis During the British Open. Today's New International Version for Housewives Who Just Sent Their Fourth Child to Kindergarten for the First Day - Study Edition. Don't get me wrong. I understand books aimed at special audiences. But when you get tot he point of having five or more editions of the same book, something's gone horribly awry. CS Lewis, arguably one of the best Christian authors of the twentieth century, did not have Mere Christianity - For Singles. And yet Lee Strobel feels that if he doesn't publish seperate copies of The Case for... series for both teens and kids - well, I don't really know what will happen. Will the kids not understand the deep thoughts of the teen version? Will the younger half of a generation not fully love God? Will they be converted to atheism before the age of thirteen, never to go to church again?

And then there are the bullet point books. Joel Osteen guarantees that if you read his book, he can give you seven principles to being blessed by God. I'll hold my criticism of prosperity preachers for another day and focus more on the flawed idea of preaching that bullet points can change your life. First, I'll let Donald Miller explain it.

Second, I'll continue Luther's challenge. If the secret to living a better life is seven simple steps, why are these not given out freely? If everything can be reduced to a point-by-point list, why does it have to be bound and sold for $22 ($15 on Amazon)? Why not publish it on a website? Now, I know that this same argument applies to all books, and CDs, and movies, but how much more, then, does it apply to lists?

Yes, yes, I know it all comes down to money. I know that money drives people, even Christians.

But I also know one thing: God is not for sale.

We cannot sale religion. We cannot sale salvation. We cannot sale a better relationship with God.

And Christianity is not the only religion with this problem.

I'm currently in "Introduction to Religion in Native American Cultures". And the first thing we talked about in this class was the New Age attempt to mix Eastern and Native American religious traditions and sell them. Which is why you have wealthy fifty year old white men smoking "peace pipes" and going on "vision quests" and teaching that we are all one with Mother Earth and the Great Spirit*. This abduction of culture has driven some Native Americans to "declare war" on the perpetrators, boycotting bookstores and New Age shops.

Which makes me wonder.

If native people are offended by cultural/religious theft and are willing to protest the offenders, why are Christians so willing to let our faith be packaged and sold for twenty dollars per mountaintop experience? Why do we stand by as "Christian" toys (BibleMan would pwn Psalty in a cage match), "Christian" financial guides, and, among the more troubling, "Christian" patriotic clothing, continue to commercialize Christianity?

And even more important, once we've had enough, what do we do about it?

Rock on.

*The "peace pipe" comes from various traditions of the Sacred Pipe. Vision quests are not practiced by all cultures. Mother Earth is a Greek concept. And the Great Spirit is a translation of an Oglala Lakota (think Black Elk) belief used to make monotheistic Westerners more comfortable with polytheistic native beliefs.

Post Script: The title is Johann Tetzel's famous rhyme. Translated , it means "As soon as the gold in the pan rings, the soul in [to] Heaven jumps," or more commonly translated, "As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul to Heaven springs." Or, depending on the source, it could be "Die Seel aus dem Fegefeuer springt", which is, "the soul from Purgatory springs." There are a few other variations, but I won't go into them.

Updated: 28 June 2008

11 June 2008

Jean Valjean, my brother...

...you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God."

So spoke Bishoph Myriel to Jean Valijean, and this after Jean had robbed the bishop.

Likewise, Kinetic Church in North Carolina was robbed. And by robbed, I don't mean a thief made off with the church silverware. They lost almost everything. And their response? They tried to get the thief's attention with billboards and then released a video on YouTube offering the thief a chance to go get lunch with the pastor.

Really. You can watch the video.

I...am in awe. I see this video and I see Christ, on the cross, saying, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."
I see this video and I see Christ saying, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."
I see this video, and above all else, I see Christ. I see his Church. I see what true belief really looks like.

And I pray that if I ever find myself in such a situation, that through the grace of God alone, I am able to put forth a response such as this.

Rock on.

Tip o' th' Hat: Stuff Christians Like

27 May 2008

A Brief Look at Alternative Fuels

About a week ago, I was driving from Athens to Atlanta down 316. I don't like driving. I don't like 316. I don't like Atlanta. I always feel guilty about the drive - it's well over 100 miles round-trip. And though my little Toyota Echo is very fuel efficient, rising gas prices make the trip pricey. Not to mention that the horizon around Atlanta has a very sickly brown color. It's just not a good experience.

This trip, though, was made better by NPR. I like NPR, even if they are viewed by some to be nothing more than a bunch of hippies/liberals/communists/feminists/etc. Even if they present a skewed view (which, to be honest, is not as true as other sources of media), they can at least be polite about the hole thing. I've been listening to NPR since I was a child, and not once have I heard the hosts get into shouting matches with their guests, which is more than can be said for cable news programs. But I digress. NPR was broadcasting The Commonwealth Club, a California organization that invites speakers to present their views on varying topics. This particular speech was given by the CEO of GM, G. Richard Wagoner. And what he had to say surprised me - he dedicated the better part of the speech to the development of more fuel efficient vehicles and alternative forms of energy.

It doesn't matter if you believe in global warming or not. It doesn't matter if you think recent high gas prices will go down or not. All that matters is that the current world economy is dependent on transportation, which is dependent on a finite resource. At some point in the near future, we will run out of fuel. Before that time, we need to find a new source and adapt the infrastructure to fit the source. And better sooner than later.

So, with this in mind, here's a quick view of the common alternatives.

Bio-Diesel and Griesel/Straight Vegetable Oil (SVO)
First, watch this interview with Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou. Great band, great guy, and interesting bus.

I have long supported the use of SVO. You can run a traditional diesel motor with it (at the cost of fuel efficiency). And in warmer climates, it works pretty well. But the problem is that the restaurants don't use oil to sustain a large economy. So instead, we end up using "virgin" SVO, which is slightly wasteful. The main advantage of SVO is that it recycles this oil that we don't need. And, as addressed in the video, cooler temperatures can cause problems for running a griesel engine. Bio-diesel runs into a similar problem. Diesel ignites at a higher temperature than gasoline*.

Of course, we should not be too hasty in ruling out bio-diesel and griesel entirely. UGA runs their bus system off of used grease from the dinning halls (I may be mistaken, but I believe we use a B20 mixture, meaning that it is 20% bio-diesel). Diesel has long been used to run heavier vehicles, namely farm equipment and eighteen wheelers. Diesel engines were developed so that farmers could dedicate crops to fuel production.

My friends and I joke about cars that run on Everclear and Golden Grain. Mostly because we're college students. But the use of ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is rather promising. Corn and soybeans produce large amounts of ethanol, which burns cooler, reducing the size of the cooling unit needed. So while ethanol is not as efficient as regular gasoline, the resulting reduction in vehicle weight makes up some ground.

Ethanol has some special sources, as well. Last April, I attended a symposium hosted by the UGA chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a national student think tank. One policy proposal was the development of cellulose-based ethanol. In short, with the development of a certain enzyme, pulp derived from recycled paper products can be converted into ethanol. The two flaws in this plan: 1. The enzyme has yet to be found. 2. Diverting paper products from regular recycling to fuel development requires more trees to be cut down. Careful attention would have to be used in deciding which paper products are used to make recycled paper and which are used to make fuels.

The other source is hemp. While certain types of cannabis plants are used as drugs, hemp does not contain sufficient amounts of THC to produce a "high". Hemp produces, among many things, to include durable fabrics and robes (the oldest piece of fabric ever found is made of hemp), paper (it contains longer strains and is lighter in shade, meaning it can be recycled more and does not need to be bleached), food (hemp is high in fiber and other proteins, and to consume enough hemp to get a moderate buzz is the equivalent of taking two or three high fiber laxatives), and ethanol. Because hemp can be grown closer together, it produces more ethanol per acre than soy or corn, and more paper per acre than any type of tree. Hemp is grown in nearly every part of the world, except for the US, where legal regulations on every variety of cannabis makes production cost-prohibitive.

The downside of ethanol is that while it may burn cleaner than fossil fuels, there is question on how clean.

The Problem of Food Prices
The largest argument against non-celluslosic based ethanol is that it is driving food prices up. Which might be true. But it doesn't have to be. Because corn and soy are so heavily subsidized sold at such a low cost, farmers do not meet their full potential for production. Crops are either left to rot, burned, or not planted - it's just not worth it. The problem isn't that we can't produce enough crops to feed the world and produce fuel, it's that we don't get the food to where it needs to go. To compound this, Americans are affluent. We throwout food that is only a day past the sell-by date. If we were to take only what we planned on eating, and not what "might be nice to have at some point next week", we wouldn't have as much of a problem. We buy in bulk, eat about half of it, and throw the rest out. I'm not saying that, by changing our shopping habits and subsidies, we can completely alleviate world hunger, but we can take steps in the right direction WITHOUT getting rid of biofuels.

Electric Engines
Electric engines are great. They have been in development for a while, so they are getting to the point where they can actually compete with traditional internal-combustion-based vehicles. The problem is that the electricity has to come from somewhere. Which means that fossil-fuels are indirectly used to power many electric cars. The advantage is that when the energy market as a whole changes formats (from coal or oil based to hydro, wind, or geothermal based), the electric car will still be able to operate. The other problem is battery power - the technology for the batteries has a long way to go.

The hydrogen fuel cell is an electric car that runs on hydrogen. I'm not smart enough to explain how it gets electricity from hydrogen, but it does. And it's exhaust? Water.

There are a few problems, though. Cost is a big part of it. Another part is compression - hydrogen has severe limitations in how much can be stored in a fuel cell. But the biggest problem is efficiency. It takes a lot of energy to produce the hydrogen to produce the electricity. Take a look at this chart.
It would be much more effective to use a traditional battery.

One of the great things that Mr. Wagoner said is that alternative fuels have to fit the area in which they are used. The alternative fuel for the US doesn't have to be the same as the alternative fuel for Europe. Which is why Brazil's FlexCar is such a great technology.


Rock on.

*Anecdote time! When I was in high school, my JROTC Ranger team trained in fire suppression. We trained using diesel fires contained in pans. In order to ignite, the diesel had to be mixed with gasoline. The gasoline was lit, and as it burned, it, in turn, ignited the diesel.

Update (22 June 2008) - About two weeks ago, GM announced that they would be reevaluating several of their lines, to include the Hummer and other SUVs. Granted, this doesn't mean that they will discontinue the Hummer, but even making it a few miles to the gallon more efficient is a step in the right direction.

20 May 2008

In What Do You Have Faith?

I have previously written on proponents of fundamental atheism who argue that religion is inherently a bad thing. Part of their argument depends on faith: If we can will ourselves to have faith in a god that cannot be proven, this faith can be used and/or manipulated to drive us to commit horrible atrocities.

To this, I say that their basic premise is correct: Faith in the divine can be manipulated, and it has been in the past.

But does this mean that the problem is the faith or the manipulator? And what does the manipulator have faith in?

The Crusades are a dark, dark period in the history of the Church. Especially for Catholics. And they were fought over faith - faith in Christianity and the Church, faith in the Pope, faith in God. Many of the soldiers had faith that they were doing the right thing - delivering the Holy Land from Muslim conquerors. But what did the leaders have faith in? I would suggest they had faith in the money they could earn by capturing artifacts and royalty, faith in the ransom they would be paid, faith in the power they could gain by controlling the land, faith in themselves. This same theme pops up in many acts of religious violence: the Crusades, the Inquisitions, the sale of Indulgences, the wars of the Reformation, the White Power movement, the Wahhabi extremist movement, the Lord's Resistance Army, and many more.

Likewise, let's look at the Khmer Rouge, the perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide. What did the soldiers have faith in? I would imagine that they had faith in the world they were fighting for, faith in the Revolution and the liberation of the workers, faith in Pol Pot. This faith in a cause, leader, and higher power - the same faith held by the Crusaders, though placed in a different cause - Communism, not Christianity - a different leader - Pol Pot, not the Pope - and a different higher power - the Government, not God - manifest itself in the same way. That is to say, it lead to violence and genocide, to the loss of life, and the murder of the innocent. And why did it reach this level? Because Pol Pot had faith as well. Faith that he would be rewarded for his trouble, faith that he could take power, faith in himself. And like the violence committed by those who have faith in God, those who have faith in humans and ideas have the same theme: the purges of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and Kim Il-Sung, the genocide in Nazi Germany, the race-fueled violence in the Sudan, Rwanda, and South Africa, the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, and many more.

Faith can be dangerous. It must be taken with a grain of salt. Faith in most things can be manipulated. Believers in both God and Freedom must take into consideration what they are being told. They must think about the end results; they must think about whether or not their leader has faith in the cause or faith in the power delivered by the cause.

But faith can also offer hope of a better world. It can offer more than skepticism and rationality ever will. Faith has brought freedom, charity, love. Faith has brought peace. Faith has brought as much good as it has bad. And it is not worth abandoning.

Rock on.