Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Mens sana in corpore sano

Don't want your kids to smoke or drink?
Then don't let them watch R-rated movies.
That's the suggestion from researchers at Dartmouth Medical School. According to the Washington Post:
Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School who surveyed 2,600 children ages 9 to 12 and their parents found that [the 45-percent of all] kids whose parents did not let them watch R-rated films were 40 percent less likely to consider using cigarettes or alcohol than those with more-permissive parents.
Researchers admit there may be all kinds of reasons for this link -- but one of the simplest is that children want to be like the adults they admire . . . and the adults in R-rated movies are more likely to smoke and drink than those in G or PG films.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

All I want for Christmas . . .

This year I’ve decided to ask for practical gifts – wool socks, not world peace.

It’s not that I’m against world peace; it’s just that asking for it is like wishing the Adventist church would come up with a leaner, flatter, more efficient organizational structure. It ain’t going to happen, so deal with it.

So . . . in the spirit of do-able giving, here’s my wish-list for Christmas 2006:

1. I’d like Pacific Press or the Review & Herald to put out a good, single-volume Bible commentary – an Adventist version of the International Bible Commentary or the Harper’s Bible Commentary . . . something I could recommend to Sabbath School teachers, college students, and the like. The SDA Bible Commentary is just too big (and expensive!) for ordinary use.

2. Next, I want the people who put together the Adult Sabbath School Quarterly to meet with Jon Paulien. “Jon,” they’d say, “the lessons you put together on the Gospel of John were outstanding; they were smart, practical, and easy to teach. What would it take for us to publish more lessons like that?”

3. Ministry magazine – just two words: advice column.

4. And could Spectrum magazine please stop publishing those long, melancholy, “coming of age” essays that describe how graduate school provoked a spiritual crisis in the author's life? (Yes, you are undoubtedly sadder but wiser for having gone through this experience. Now shut up.)

5. True fact: I’ve never met the high school student yet who didn’t prefer Guide to Insight . . . and it’s amazing how many college students are still reading Guide! What does this suggest?

6. To the art director of Adventist World: please stop using green on the cover! I don’t know what it looks like on your design-table, but in my mail-box it looks like pea soup.

7. The Adventist Review . . . sigh.

8. How about a regular column on church finances in Adventist Today – you know, one that talks about where the money actually goes, who spends the most on overhead, and why it is that every single church organization out there feels as though it needs to run its own payroll?

9. If Jan Paulsen started his own blog, I would read it. Honest.

10. And yes, wool socks are always nice.

Get me the International War Crimes Tribunal -- stat!

In a move that surely must have been foretold in the Book of Revelation, a museum will be opening soon in Sweden to honor the pop-group ABBA.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Maybe if they started offering discount exorcisms?

Lots of interest in an article in the New York Times about a recent attempt by some scientists to forge a coalition against religion -- less than a week old it's already attracted over 500 comments (as of this posting).

Unfortunately for its future as a movement, the group was not able to agree on much of anything. Thus far, as a matter of fact, its creed would consist of the following.
  • Science good.
  • Religion bad.
  • Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris should shut up and stop antagonizing the yokels.

I'll believe it when the Village People do an album of praise songs.

The YMCA began as a ministry to inner-city workers . . . but in post-war America, it became little more than a chain of health and fitness clubs. Now there's a move to "re-Christianize" the Y, with 13% now offering some kind of program in Christian spirituality.

Click on the title for the article in the Los Angeles Times.

Have they ever thought of selling indulgences?

Click on the title for a Washington Post reporter's visit to a storefront church that offers "quickie" exorcisms for the low, low price of only $33. (But wait -- you also get a rose!)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Road to Armageddon

For all the complaining and kvetching I've done about the things some people do with Adventist eschatology, I have to admit one thing: it's never killed anybody. (Well, not a lot of people, anyway.)

Unfortunately, the same thing can't be said of millennial dispensationalism -- a view of prophecy that leads some American Evangelicals to rule out any moves toward a homeland for the Palestinian people. Just how this affects American foreign policy is a matter of debate. My guess? It sure doesn't help.

Click on the title for the article in TNYT. And as you read, you might want to ponder these words from Amos 9:7 (NIV) --
"Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?" declares the LORD. "Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?"

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Peculiar Prophet

I've been a fan of William Willimon for the past couple of years -- and if you haven't read Pastor: the Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry, then drop whatever you're doing right now, and get that book!

Anyway, he's moved from Duke University (where he was the chaplain) to the wilds of Alabama (where he serves as the Methodist bishop of a couple hundred churches). And as part of his job, he blogs!
  • The audience? His pastors.
  • The format? One-part pep talk, one-part kick in the pants, one-part wondering out loud "just what the heck are we doing here anyway?"
  • The reason why every Adventist pastor should read his blog? Ummmm . . . maybe we could learn something from his efforts to turn a hidebound and moribund bureaucracy into something that actually serves the Body of Christ?
Click on the title for a link to his blog.

Couldn't they just run DVDs of his old sermons?

Q: With Haggard out, what happens to the megachurch he pastored?
A: Nobody knows -- and if the truth be known, that's the question that dogs just about every megachurch out there. Scandal aside, it won't be too long before some of these guys start retiring . . . and the transfer of power from one pastor to another is tricky enough without the "cult of personality" that surrounds some of them.

Click on the title for the article in Yahoo! News.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Now if anybody wants to send ME a set of White House cufflinks, I wouldn't mind.

Q&A in Salon with Richard Cizik -- the guy in charge of politics at the National Association of Evangelicals. The big news: Evangelicals went 90% for the GOP in the last election; in this one, "only" 66%. The reason: They're mad about corruption -- and even though Cizik doesn't say it, I'll bet they're none too happy about Iraq and the economy.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

It's a control issue

Full disclosure: many of my friends in high school were charismatics -- and they were continually after me to "speak in tongues." Never did . . . but I've always been curious as to just exactly what is going on here.

Turns out I'm not the only one. Studies have already shown that people who speak in tongues are emotionally and mentally more stable than the average person who doesn't. And recently, researchers at the University of Pennysylvania did brain scans of five women while they were speaking in tongues; what they found is:
their frontal lobes — the thinking, willful part of the brain through which people control what they do — were relatively quiet, as were the language centers. The regions involved in maintaining self-consciousness were active. The women were not in blind trances, and it was unclear which region was driving the behavior. . . .

The scans also showed a dip in the activity of a region called the left caudate. . . . [which is] involved in motor and emotional control . . . so it may be that practitioners, while mindful of their circumstances, nonetheless cede some control over their bodies and emotions.

Update: check this article in Slate for a somewhat skeptical view of this experiment.

Click on the title for the article in the NYT.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Remember: vote early and often!

Q & A with John Green, a Senior Fellow with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, answering questions from readers of the Washington Post about the impact of religion on this year's election. Bottom line: Catholics and white Evangelicals may be giving the Democratic Party another look -- but they still ain't happy with what they see.

Why is it the Navy and the Air Force that continually hassles with this, and not the Army?

Okay, so you're a military chaplain who's supposed to minister to the religious needs of everyone in your unit . . . but you really, truly believe that the best way to do this is to make them all Christians who believe the same way that you do. What to do? (Click on the title for an update in The Washington Poston the legal challenges posed by this issue.)

That "whirring" noise you hear is Jesse Helms, spinning in his grave.

Evangelical (read "Pentecostal") Christians make up 20-30% of Nicaragua's voters -- and that makes them the "swing voters" in that country's upcoming Presidential election. As a result, Nicaragua's politics now feature alliances that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
  • Evangelicals with Catholics.
  • And yes, Evangelical's with Sandinistas!
And by the way -- one of the trends we're seeing in Latin America is the rise of Evangelical political parties. Does this augur a new "middle force" in regional politics . . . or the Latin American equivalent of the Thirty Years War?

Click on the title for the article in The Christian Science Monitor.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Thou shalt not be afraid . . .

The New York Times just ran an impressionistic interview with a Marine medic in Iraq (and yes, I know that he's actually a petty officer in the U.S. Navy, but it would take too long to explain why the Marines use Naval personnel for medics and chaplains, so give me a break -- okay?)

Anyway . . . read the article. Say a prayer. And read Psalm 91 with a whole new appreciation for what it can mean to those who serve.

I admire what they're doing -- so why does this make me uneasy?

Article in The Washington Post about the efforts of Christian groups to reach Chinese students who study here in the US -- an article that makes me wonder just exactly when it is that "showing Christ's love in a helpful way" crosses the line and becomes "manipulating people when they are vulnerable."