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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Conception and the beginning of life

Abort 73 has a great presentation against abortion and for life. This essay also contains a great video about the beginning of life. It shows that pro-choice advocates can use the word "kill" for abortion as well as doctors can use it, but some Christians prefer to hide behind ignorance. Get informed. Another essay I found excellent the "threat" of back alley abortions.
The wire coat hanger has long been the prop of "choice" for those staging pro-abortion rallies or protests. You see them on signs and buttons and hanging around necks, all designed to symbolize what will happen to women if they ever lose the legal right to kill their unborn offspring. There are a couple of serious problems with this tactic and, ultimately, this line of thinking. First, the "coat hanger defense" has nothing to do with the ethics of abortion. It makes no attempt to justify the act, it simply argues that if women ever lose this right, they'll die en masse from self-induced abortions. Those who make such an argument conveniently ignore the fact that abortion, itself, kills a living human being, not by accident but by design. It is completely backwards to argue that society must "keep it safe" for one human being to kill another human being, one who is completely innocent and defenseless. It is like arguing that we should legalize armed robbery because bank robbers might die in the process of holding up a bank. Laws must protect the potential victim, not the potential assailant.
The second problem with these hysterical claims (that thousands of future women will die if abortion is outlawed) is that they have no solid historical basis. They're just an emotionally charged smokescreen to divert attention from the grim reality of abortion itself. If abortion is outlawed in the future, it is true that some women will still have abortions, but most will not. Will any of the women who do abort illegally ever die? It's possible (there are women who die each year from legal abortions), but the number of deaths will be no where near the 1.3 million people who are currently dying every year from legal abortions in the U.S....
In the year prior to Roe v. Wade (1972), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports in their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (Sept. 4, 1992, Vol. 41, No. SS-5) that 39 women died from illegal abortion in the U.S (24 more died that year from legal abortions). That is a far cry from 10,000, and 10,000 speculative deaths is farther still from the 1.3 million actual deaths that are already happening each year through legal abortion.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Wright and Black Liberation Theology (BLT)

Here is a little heat from an African-American blogger and author, Eric Redmond, on Black Liberation Theology (BLT) and Rev. Jeremiah Wright
Once BLT poured out from the pulpits and academic halls, you had at least five major results toward the African American community: 1) widespread acceptance of an egalitarian view of the family and the church, for anything short of giving women “equality” was viewed as an oppression from which African Americans needed liberation – the result being the erosion of the African American family, the creation of a female-led community, and the welcoming of homosexual practice as normal, 2) a misinterpretation of the goal of God (as stated above), 3) the increased racialization of society, because nearly everything “American” came from the (White) oppressor, so it and them had to be rejected rather than embraced, 4) a categorical rejection of Evangelical theology since it was seen as “White,” and 5) an uncritical acceptance of anything philosophical that is African American in origin as long as it was divorced from Evangelical theology and conservative social ideology. You do not have to look far to see what these results have done to the African American community. Think of how you would understand “the Gospel” if this is the version of the Gospel that had been fed to you on Sundays for two, three or four decades.

10 Commandments and Proverbs

We started the book of Proverbs today in our Bible study at work, AKA work church. It seems to me that most of the proverbs are a fleshing out of the 10 Commandments, see the series I did. Has anyone gone through the book and labeled each proverb with a corresponding commandment? Is that published or online anywhere? I think it'll be another project of mine at some point.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Book report: Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

In my vacation review on Philadelphia I noted our family's enjoyment of Curtis's book, Bud, not Buddy, while we sat in Philadelphia's inadequate highways. When we got to the library again I thought I'd find what else Mr. Curtis has written. I picked up The Watsons go to Birmingham - 1963 and Elijah of Buxton. I enjoyed both. Curtis has reconnected with his inner 11 year old and writes in that voice extremely well.

The serendipitous joy for me was learning for the first time about Buxton from the movie Race to Freedom then coming across this novel about the first free born child from Buxton Ontario. A short history can be read here. Elijah is famous in Buxton for regurgitating on the famous abolitionist Frederick Douglass who held up baby Elijah in celebration of his free birth. Elijah has a dim-witted buddy named Cooter. He also has a novel ability to fish with damaged live flies and stones. There are many laugh out loud moments, as in the other books by Curtis. But there are also very poignant moments where the injustice of humans against humans is exposed in its awful brutality. The climax is not simple or easy, but right. It's a longish book that may keep those too young but not those too precocious from reading some of the tragedy of our history. I hope Curtis keeps his novels coming.

Cinema Review: Race to Freedom: The Story of the Underground Railroad

I watched Race to Freedom with my two younger children last week and appreciated the safety of made for TV movies. It's a fictional account of the escape of 4 slaves from a North Carolina plantation making stops at Underground Railroad stations. The movie highlights the reality that some slaves were recaptured and punished and some died from the severity of travel conditions as well as the cruel irony of slaves forced to help recapture escapees. We also get to see the joys of folks as they enter the town of Buxton, Ontario, Canada, free from the reaches of American fugitive slave chasers. A liberty bell was commissioned by free blacks in Pittsburgh as a gift to the town of Buxton which was rung every time a fugitive made it to safety in Buxton. A great movie to fill in some of your historical ignorance.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Jeremiah Wright, Pat Robertson and theology

Now that the dust has settled a bit and the bandwagon has left the building I thought I would add a few thoughts. Sen. Obama asks we Amercians to consider his pastor Jeremiah Wright akin to an obnoxious uncle in the family. One loose cannon does not a family define. Volunteer defenders point out that Republicans have crazy uncles too like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, may he rest in peace. My contention is that the comparison is not one of fruitcake to fruitcake. I see superficial as well as substantial differences.

Superficially, Robertson and Falwell never counted anyone of political weight in their congregations. Robertson is not even a pastor of a local church. The closest he gets to a congregation is his audience of the 700 Club, his television show. They did work with the Republican party but were not spiritual leaders to the party’s leaders. Perhaps they considered themselves prophets to the nation and the party but they have no corner on that market. Self-appointed prophets are an abundant and politically promiscuous lot.

It’s the prophet complex that gets these fellows lumped together despite their divergent political views. The lighter skinned prophets saw the homosexual agenda in the Teletubbies. They also condemned TV sitcoms for promoting single parenthood, even though daytime soap operas contained more moral filth daily than one sitcom’s season. In apposition to Wright’s recent notorious rant, the white prophets’ proclamations regarding the attacks on September 11, 2001 are dragged out from the archives. Do they belong in the same suspect line-up?

This is where I see the substantial difference and need to bring up theology. I believe the white prophets were fools for trying to explain the problem of evil so simply as a result of abortion and gay marriage. The 100 fold devastation wrought by the tsunami in the Indian Ocean a few years later puts to shame such idle speculations. The wiser prophets who commanded smaller stages humbly asserted that we all deserve such evil, in light of our own wickedness. They saw it in terms of our own lack of merit or guarantee on tomorrow. Theologically, Falwell and Robertson shared the guilt of Job’s counselors, wrongly interpreting God and ascribing guilt from a concept of a capricious god. They forget they serve a God of grace, a scandalous grace-giving God. Jeremiah Wright however reminds me of the prophet Jonah, ever disappointed that the proclamation of judgment never comes. Is America’s racism worse than Nineveh’s wickedness? Perhaps it is. Yet what prophet of God rejoices in the evil that befalls others? The apostles of Christ were also a persecuted minority, ethnically and religiously, yet they continually advocated prayer for the leaders that God appointed over them. My contention is that Wright’s damning of white America in the name of God is a more serious error than Robertson’s and Falwell’s ignorant, knee jerk explanations of national tragedy. They believe they speak the mind of God, he believes he speaks the will of God. And Sen. Obama has sat under this teaching and discipling for many years, with discernment conveniently coming to him under the glare of the national media in a political contest.

Yes Americans deserve justice for its racism against blacks and natives and immigrants. It also deserves justice for its treatment of those millions killed in the womb. But God is longsuffering. Look at ancient Rome. Look at ancient Israel. Look at ancient Greece. Look at the Mongols. Look at the Young Turks and the Armenians. Look at Stalin’s USSR. Look at Mao’s China. Look at Japan. Look at Germany. Look at Sudan. Look at South Africa. There is none righteous, no not one. And unjust empires have thrived for generations. And wicked leaders have died peacefully in their sleep at an old age. But God is still on his throne. He commands that injustice needs to be corrected. But he doesn’t authorize anyone to damn a nation.

Christ's followers are called to warn about the wages of sin and extol the good news of Jesus Christ. Yesterday, we saw both sides of the deal in the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion to atone for sin and the resurrection as the proof of the good news. It's that simple.

update: Commenter Sue has included a link to more context of Wright's sermon. I think it is a much more agreeable sermon, theologically and socially, but I need to hear the entire sermon to actually reconsider my main issue, damning a nation. Thank you very much Sue.

The Scandal of Grace

Our church invited a repentant sinner to speak of the grace of Christ at our Easter service. Connecticut's previous governor, John Rowland, was a like rock star in the Republican party. He was young and charismatic and he was corrupted. In fact, he resigned in disgrace and spent almost a year in jail. But before he resigned, he submitted his life to Jesus. Now he tells a story he calls "a fall into grace."  His story was short. 

However, the commenters at the local newspapers' stories can't accept the scandal of grace. See them before the are taken off line at the New London Day and the Norwich Bulletin. Also notice what each reporter considered worth reporting.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Passionate Preggers Song of Songs 6:13-7:6

I am jumping ahead to chapter 7 of the Song of Songs and using the NET for the English translation. This is the series so far. It’s not a perfect translation, they don’t exist, and in fact I will disagree with a translation choice in the first verse here, but I really like their honest translation notes which reveal their limitations and the choices they had to pick from. I also appreciate their attempt to update the language to the more current vernacular. They consider their translation open source and appreciate input from other translators and interpreters.

Not unlike a few commentators I see the progression of this epic poem as a lifetime of love with snapshots from different periods in the relationship. I don’t believe this is one week or month of passion but glimpses at the courtship, the wedding, the honeymoon, the fights and starting here at 7 and finishing in 8, the natural outcome of such passion. First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. I readily accept any charge that I read too much into the poem but a poet only gives clues. The author of prose can paint a picture of words, but a poet is an impressionist. This poet, Solomon, writes like an impressionist, like most of the Bible’s writers, who writes in layers. The reader of the Bible is always peeling back another layer and finding another nuance. The book is intended to be read again and again over a lifetime. At this stage in my life I’m finding some layers I never saw before. My context is a marriage of nearly 14 years with three children approaching adolescence. My other intentional bias is to acknowledge that I want to see myself as the hero in all the stories therefore I need to look for myself in the villain and seek Jesus in the righteous characters, which is why I frequently see Jesus in the woman in this poem. Historically, the church has seen Jesus as Solomon and the church or the individual believer as Beloved. In this chapter, I tend to agree with the historical views.

The Lover to His Beloved:
6:13 (7:1) Turn, turn, O Perfect One! Turn, turn, that I may stare at you! The Beloved to Her Lover: Why do you gaze upon the Perfect One like the dance of the Mahanaim?

As the NET notes, the Hebrew Bible starts chapter 7 at this verse. So will I. I prefer that the translation “Perfect One” had been left Shulammite from which all the different layers to the name could be unpacked. “Perfect” or “Unblemished” are possible. But so is “Peaceful” as well as my favorite “Solomoness.” The consonants of the Hebrew are almost identical with Solomon’s name. His name is related to Shalom, which brings us full circle back to peace. In his eyes she is perfect, unblemished, peaceful, and one with him. He has given her his name. When we believe in Jesus we are covered by his sacrifice, all our sins are washed away, and we wear his perfection and righteousness. One of my favorite Luther analogies is that we are like dung piles covered in fresh snow. The dung is there but it is covered. When we are covered by Jesus, we are at peace with the Father and are no longer condemned to an eternity in hell. We can call ourselves Christians, Christ-ones. Peter tells us to rejoice when we suffer for having this name (1 Peter 4:16). Jesus enjoys fellowship with us. When we turn our backs on him he only desires that we turn back to him. Like Beloved we ask, why do you want to gaze on me? Which brings me back to the marital advice level. Husbands tend to forget that they used to ogle their wives. Familiarity replaces novelty and what came so natural is now neglected. When husbands make the effort to once again gaze at their wives, who are self-conscious of what time and age have done to her he affirms to her that she is still a source of his pleasure and delight. Therefore men, do not neglect to gaze on your wife and affirm her beauty. Calling her “Perfect One” might be too much, but “hot stuff” might not.

Of course, she responds, blushing, with an analogy that makes no sense. Mahanaim literally means “like the dance of the two armies/camps.” In the same verse, the NET decided to make a translation choice and not make one. Do Solomon’s eyes light up when he sees two camps of armies? We know that he is someone who always wanted a little more. He found it impossible to deny himself (see Ecclesiastes 2:10). Perhaps he has the same glint in his eye for her that he gets when he sees a new toy to add to his collection. But, he already has her, yet she still lights a fire in his heart. I also think she is insecure for another reason in addition to competition from the latest maidens in the harem and maybe some aging. I think there is a clue in verse 2 of chapter 7. Before I proceed I want to toss out one possibility for applying this typology to Christ and the church. The church is the bride of Christ. The Apocalypse of John describes a wedding feast in heaven for the union of the bride and the bridegroom. Jesus uses a metaphor of the bridegroom coming in the middle of the night to snatch his bride away in the parable of the ten virgins. We also know that the church is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham that all nations will be blessed through him. The saga of the nations of Israel and Judah were preparation for Jesus and his church. We know from Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel the metaphors God used for Israel as a bride also who rejected him but that he would bring back. I don’t feel this conjecture is worth much but the insecure bride that Jesus smiles on recognizes the smile he had for the twin camps of Israel and Judah, when they were in exile or about to head there. He loved them enough to warn them repeatedly. We know, as a church, we are so imperfect. We are supposed to be characterized by our love for each other yet we are also known for our sniping at each other too. We are so imperfect, yet he loves us and is coming back for us.

The Lover to His Beloved:
7:1 (7:2) How beautiful are your sandaled feet, O nobleman’s daughter! The curves of your thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a master craftsman.

Lover’s travels of affection usually start at the top of her head and work down. This time he starts from the ground up. According to the NET notes, sandals were the privilege of the wealthy. Now that she is part of his royal court she has access to sandals.
Believers are also shod with the gospel of peace. Without belief we are paupers without good news that prepares us for any situation by protecting us with peaceful assurance.

I don’t know how to clarify the concept of curvy thighs in a classy way. I think there is something new about her that he is describing, and he is not complaining of recent weight gain. Neither is he saying her thighs are hard as rocks or shiny like gems. A master craftsmen has done something to her thighs. We can gather the most important clue in the next verse.

7:2 Your navel is a round mixing bowl – may it never lack mixed wine! Your belly is a mound of wheat, encircled by lilies.

Something is being mixed up in her navel. Two wines are being blended and something is growing in her belly which is not unlike a mound of harvested wheat. She is pregnant. Her body is changing and she might be insecure. Yet Solomon affirms her by asking to turn so he may stare at her. Her thighs have grown as well as her belly. Their sowing has produced fruit that will soon come to harvest. Lilies serve as a metaphor for the passion of their marriage. Her enlarged belly is not a negative but actually a stimulant to his passion. Their lovemaking will not suffer because of her pregnancy but is enhanced by it.


7:3 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

As he moves up her body he hearkens back to a metaphor from earlier in their marriage (4:5). She still has what it takes to awaken his passion as far as he is concerned. He is surrounded by many other options for his passion, who aren’t pregnant, yet he returns to her.

7:4 Your neck is like a tower made of ivory. Your eyes are the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath-Rabbim. Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon overlooking Damascus.

I find it curious that she acknowledges her darkness (1:5) yet he compares her neck to ivory. I understand it as a Christian that Christ only sees me as cleansed when I acknowledge my filthiness. When I falsely claim my purity, he sees my hubris, a very serious sin. A tower of ivory is impossible. His throne was made with ivory and gold. But a tower of ivory is fantastical. Likewise her neck is unlike any known in the universe and her eyes are like famous twin pools in the city of Heshbon. Heshbon was made famous in Hebrew poetry after the Israelites defeated its king, Sihon, before their entrance to the promised land (Numbers 21:23-30). Her eyes alone are as significant as that famous city with some famous pools. Her nose’s size is not his concern but rather like the lush and fertile Damascus area is the view down her body.
7:5 Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel. The locks of your hair are like royal tapestries – the king is held captive in its tresses!

Likewise, Mount Carmel has a view to the Mediterranean. It overlooks a fertile plain. Her head is like the majestic mountain that oversees so much beauty and produces fruit.

Her hair is literally, "like purple fabric", something only royalty can afford. She is wealthy in her endowment from her skilled craftsmen, the Creator. Solomon is smitten and outdid anything Shakespeare could attempt poetically 3000 years later. All us budding romantic men can only carry Solomon’s water. The most powerful king in the world considers himself captive to her.

The nails didn’t hold Jesus to the cross. His love for us, his church, kept him there. We look at ourselves and cry, “Unclean! Unworthy!” He answers, “Forgive them.” Solomon can only carry Christ’s water. His love is only a puddle on the asphalt in July compared to the Christ’s ocean of love for us. Jesus is passionate for us. He’s not waiting at every temptation to catch us and discipline us, but strengthening us and helping us through the agency of his Holy Spirit.

7:6 How beautiful you are! How lovely, O love, with your delights!

He sums up his delight in her. He restates a line from 4:10, “How delightful is your love…” He enjoys her.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Top 10 posts 2nd week March '08

A dose of great links this week from posts of interest around blogdom. The links I point to throughout the week are here and can be subscribed to here.

Abortion
1-Mark's blog about late term abortion.
...more than 300 second and third trimester babies butchered every day in the U.S. Further, virtually all of these abortions are carried out for no medically indicated reason and involve healthy babies being carried by healthy moms...he even admitted that as the abortions got later, the percentage that was “elective” went up, with 28-week and later abortions being virtually 100% elective... Our enemies say that late-term abortion is a non-issue but, from a numbers standpoint, 300 dead babies is equivalent to a fully loaded jetliner crashing somewhere in America every single day.
2- At Pro-Life with Christ.
Results of a forensic pathologist's review of documents and slides related to the autopsy of a baby born alive during an abortion at a Hialeah clinic in 2006, reveal that non-medical workers may have committed manslaughter when they shoved the struggling baby girl into a biohazard bag and tossed her on the roof of the clinic to die.
3-At Parchment and Pen, the consequences of arguing while babies are aborted. T
hose who support abortion rights and those who would turn a blind eye to it including, sadly, many who name the name of Christ don’t deal with the reality of abortion. They’ll discuss women’s rights, Middle Assyrian Laws, poverty, Old Testament penalties for causing a miscarriage, population control and on. All worthy topics in and of themselves. But they don’t want to address what abortion is and what it does . . . the dismemberment and killing of an innocent human being. Indeed, how can one defend this?
Pictures of those dismembered babies are included.

4-McCain and pro-lifers
He supports reversal of Roe v. Wade.
He opposes funding for pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood.
He has supported the Hyde Amendment to prevent taxpayers' funds from being used to pay for abortions.
He has supported the Mexico City Policy as applied to preventing pro-abortion groups from using federal funds overseas to promote abortion.
He supported and recently co-sponsored an amendment to a Senate health bill to permanently prevent federal funds from being used to perform abortions in Indian hospitals. This amendment recently passed the Senate 52-42.
He supported the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.
He voted for and co-sponsored the Federal Abortion Ban.
He voted in support of parental consent and notification laws.
He voted in favor of Supreme Court and appellate court judges who would view the Constitution as respecting the right to life.
He has repeatedly voted to prohibit the District of Columbia from using federal funds or any taxpayer funds to provide abortion services.
These are just some of the major points in his 24 year record. McCain is also on record as voting to save the life of Terri Schiavo, a vote Barack Obama has publicly regretted. I will speak to that comment on another message.
The National Abortion Rights League has given McCain a 0% rating. They refer to his voting record as "solidly anti-choice." In fact when you read what NARAL has to say, you ask why is there any controversy on the pro-life side. Would that the rest of the Senate would vote this way on pro-life issues.

The U.S. Supreme Court will have at least one and probably three vacancies during the next president's term of office. IF WE CARE about who will sit on the Supreme Court AND the courts of appeals throughout the country, we must work for the election of John McCain.

In the end, we have two choices. One of them may not result in everything we want in a president (although he may surprise you), the other will insure the death of children and the end of much of what we have accomplished over these last 35 years.
5-Jill Stanek on what the last Democratic president did to assist the abortion industry, remember "safe, legal, and rare." It seems "legal" is the only priority to most Democrats.

6-Melissa at Stand to Reason writes
A recent study indicated that young Christians are interested in a broader array of social issues and ending abortion has become a lower priority. Some theologians and social activists encourage us to broaden our agenda, but somehow in that broader agenda abortion is not usually mentioned, and ending it is not a goal. There are a number of important concerns wrapped up in "social justice," but abortion always has to be a high priority because it has tremendous ramifications on our view of humanity, and that in turn results in further social injustices.
She quotes this information regarding medical infanticide.
And now in "Ending the Life of a Newborn," the Hastings Center Report —the most important bioethics journal in the world—has just published another pro Groningen Protocol article, granting even greater support for Dutch infanticide among the bioethics intelligentsia. Not only do the authors, a Dutch and an American bioethicist, support lethally injecting dying babies, but also those who are disabled, writing, "Critics charge that the protocol does not successfully identify which babies will die. But it is precisely those babies who could continue to live, but whose lives would be wretched in the extreme, who stand in most need of the interventions for which the protocol offers guidance."
7-Randy Alcorn quotes a talk by the Russian Orthodox Bishop of Vienna and Austria on the opening day of the World Council of Churches Central Committee last month.
“We are being told that human life is no longer an unquestionable value, that it can be summarily aborted in the womb … and that Christian 'traditionalists' should reconsider their standpoints in order to be in tune with modern developments. We are being told that abortion is acceptable … and that the church must accommodate all these 'values' in the name of human rights.”

“…What, then, is left of Christianity? In the confusing and disoriented world in which we live, where is the prophetic voice of Christians? What can we offer, or can we offer anything at all to the secular world, apart from what the secular world will offer to itself as a value system on which society should be built? Do we have our own value system which we should preach, or should we simply applaud every novelty in public morality which becomes fashionable in the secular society?”
8-Slate magazine is aghast that some Pro-Lifers are using the movie, Horton hears a Who! to remind people that "A person's a person, no matter how small."

Marriage
9-The church still needs to proclaim God's plan for cohabitation, marriage, holy matrimony.

Love
10-John Mark Reynolds tries to remind this cynical generation that there is a true love of deep passion. The poets of old weren't making things up.

p.s. Speaking of love, I hope to resume the Song of Songs series this week. I have no book to read, no vacation to endure, no new ways to declaim abortion to Christians...

Book report: The Day of Battle by Rick Atkinson

Last night I finished the 2nd book in Rick Atkinson's proposed Liberation Trilogy on WW2. The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 is as compelling and informative read as his first book, An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, it took five years between books. The facts are en-fleshed with sights and smells and ancient history and personal tics and diary entries and letters home and official euphemisms. I felt he pulled on threads in this history that were then not woven back into the story. For example, towards the end of the campaign to Rome, he writes about General Clark's controversial decision to press West instead of North in an attempt to inflict more damage on Kesselring's retreating armies. I'm still not sure of the controversy. He detailed Clark's self-defense over the next 25 years and official British statements on his decision, but what was the problem?

He included interesting backgrounds on privates, lieutenants, majors, and generals. He mentioned the first major contribution of the Tuskegee airmen in the skies over Italy as well as the racism they were facing as they helped. He creates tension in the story despite the overwhelming odds (men, materiel, local support, broken codes) in the Allies favor.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Vacation Review – Philadelphia

In this review you will find reports on locations, hotels, restaurants, books, movies and history from a parent's perspective. You will find some of our trip photos towards the end when camera had working batteries.

Philadelphia is an essential visit for the history and civics student. Although I was deprived of a visit there in my childhood, my children wouldn’t be. However, I wish I was a child visiting, because as an adult driving there, I found it was a city easy to enter but almost Sisyphean to exit. You can get in but you can’t get out.

We entered the city shortly before noon over the Ben Franklin Bridge and took the first exit which dumped us right in the middle of history. We were warned in the guidebook to avoid driving and parking in the city but we chose the foolish path. We parked in the Constitution Park’s parking garage for too much money. We decided our first stop would be the U.S. Mint which was across the street. It was a good thing it was so close as the mint does not permit cameras, so I had to walk back to my car, 3 stories underground to stow it, as the Mint has no facilities to accommodate honest patrons. I find it hard to believe the school groups that came through also left their cameras and cell phones with cameras on the bus. While I retraced our steps my family checked out the Free Quaker Meeting House on the corner, with an historic re-enactor as docent. Free Quakers were excommunicated Quakers who joined the American Revolution but wanted to continue worshiping as Quakers, the “New Coke” of Quakers.
After I partook of the FQM we all went back to the Mint. It has some historic exhibits in between the windows peering down onto the artists who design medals and coins as well as the machines that turn copper into pennies. I’m sure silver coins were made there but we mostly saw pennies.

Again I ran to the basement of the parking garage to retrieve our camera and cell phone then we ate lunch at the Independence Visitor Center. Did you realize that these free parks appreciate when you buy their $4 hot dogs? They need the money. We then crossed the street to enter the Liberty Bell exhibit. I think the tail wagged the dog in this building. If you build something 25 times bigger than the item you need to fill it with trivial exhibits that include some real history as well as children’s drawings and pictures of the rich and famous who posed next to the bell. But the bell was interesting until the camera batteries die.

Then we crossed the street to take a tour of Independence Hall, where the law was adjudicated and rebellion was decided politically. I appreciated the docent’s admission that it was rebellion, and her explanation of England’s point of view, and the considered bravery of signers of the Declaration of Independence who would be executed for treason if the American army could not prevail.

We reviewed the Liberty Bell a second time then headed down the depths of the parking garage to retrieve our vehicle, our metal sarcophagus for the next 90 minutes. We rented a hotel room near Valley Forge where an indoor pool could be had for a affordable rate, the Sleep Inn of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, a mere 15 miles outside of Philadelphia. I intentionally tried to head out of town, 3, before a typical rush hour began, 5. Apparently 100,000 others thought the same thing. An interstate leads out of Philadelphia. It is not large enough for the city, but no one perceives the need to widen it. So we watched the Schuylkill River as we crawled up the I-76.

Fortunately, my wife, the Smart Mom, remembered to borrow a book on tape from our library, Bud, not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, about an orphaned African-American boy looking for his jazz artist father in Michigan during the depression. It was compelling and excellent. It almost made the children forget about the promised indoor pool at the hotel. The story made us laugh out loud. The mystery in it kept us all quiet. The characters were engaging. We find out at the end of the tapes when the author speaks that many of the characters were based on his grandparents and their friends. The wacky thought processes of a child were wonderfully described within the logic of a 10 year old. Hence I strongly commend this book to all children and adults who aren’t ashamed of enjoying a simple mystery. It’s a wonderfully optimistic story.

When we found the Sleep Inn, not far from the largest mall east of the Mississippi, we had nearly driven around the mall a few times. I was so desperate to get off the highway that I took an early exit which dumped me into local mall traffic, out of the frying pan and into the fire. It was dinner time when we checked in so we decided to order a pizza. Unfortunately, it was Friday night and many people were ordering pizza and the deliveryman had to drive through all the mall traffic also. The 30 minute wait turned into an hour. That would have been fine except we had to attend a meeting with the Smart Mom for Discovery Toys consultants. We were not eager to jump back on the highway so we used Mapquest to find a local road escape, which would have worked well if not for the mall traffic. Eventually we escaped the black hole of the mall and made it to the reception hall.

We made it back to the hotel without traffic with enough time to get in a short swim. The next morning we enjoyed our buffet breakfast at the hotel, the kids made waffles bigger than their heads. We took the Smart Mom to her Toy Meeting then returned to our pool for the entire day. We swam for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. In between we watched Akeelah and the Bee. Again the Smart Mom came through with an excellent movie selection except for one use of the “s” word and a couple homophobic insults, otherwise new material for the home-schooled children. The movie also featured African Americans who overcome difficulty and prevail. The themes of death in the family and fractured families, who find redemption, as in Bud, not Buddy, presented themselves again to us, as well as delightful optimism. It rained hard all day in the Northeast. So hard in fact that our house/pet sitter called us to ask us how to turn on the sump pump since we had 2 inches of water on our basement floor.

We picked up the Smart Mom and took her to dinner at Flanigan’s Boat House in Conshohocken, Pa where I ate a great grilled salmon wrap. The children enjoyed turkey wraps, a 250 gallon fish tank near our table packed with fish, and the nautical displays, model ships, giant lures, photos, nets, and mounted trophy fish. I also appreciated the multiple televised NCAA men’s basketball games and the extensive beer list. I played it safe and enjoyed Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout.

On our penultimate day of vacation I figured I needed to confront Philadelphia again and drove in to the Franklin Institute Science Museum. We again parked in the overpriced parking garage. We also paid extra for an Imax movie on ancient ocean dinosaurs. The evolution propaganda came on strong early. Somehow the early seas suddenly teemed with single celled creatures which became dinosaurs. But the kids are already skeptical of such extravagant claims. Nevertheless, the museum was a hit and we spent the entire day there. We brought lunches that we ate in the basement parking garage in our car. Again traffic out of Phila. conspired against us, but I tried another way out to lessen my pain traveling up the Northern side of the Schuylkill river. We stopped at Peace of Pizza on our way home for a great Nutty goat salad with goat cheese, candy pecans and dried cranberries.

We swam before we went to bed.

On out last full day we explored Valley Forge. Like most of our destinations on this trip, March is not the season for large crowds so we were able to ask many questions and have solitude for most stops on the tour around the park. We looked into reproduction cabins that George Washington’s troops built from site-cut lumber. We strolled under the commemorative arch restored by gifts from the Freemasons, who were proud of Washington remained a Lodge leader while president of the new country.
Washington’s Continental Army was on its heels that winter when they tried to keep the English army in site after Philadelphia was captured. Into this desperate army a Prussian officer, Baron von Stueben, inserted a spine of discipline and tactics. I found the location of Connecticut's encampment.

In the afternoon we swam.

We ate dinner at Kildare’s Authentic Irish Pub outside the largest mall east of the Mississippi. We never set foot in the largest mall east of the Mississippi while we there. This pub trained its staff in Ireland and imported most of its furniture from Ireland. One thing I never got use to in Pennsylvania is the smoking section of restaurants. In my socialist state of Connecticut we banned all indoor smoking and I can’t say I miss smoking sections. I enjoyed a fantastic plate of goat cheese encrusted salmon with a pint of Guinness. With our hotel key we also received a 25% discount.

In the evening the kids broke out in hives from too much chlorine exposure. Seriously. Two of the kids took Benadryls to diminish the itching as well as knock them out.

On our last day we drove home but took a detour to Washington Crossing Historic Park where earlier in the war Washington and his troops surprised the Hessian mercenary army on Christmas Day 1776. This early victory was long forgotten by Valley Forge two years later. The Delaware River was running high, fast, and muddy. The historic houses would not have been open to us if a school field trip had not also been there. There is another part of the park 3 miles upriver, but nothing was open there, nor anyone to greet us except the herd of sheep on site.


I’m eager to learn some more Revolutionary War history after this trip, and perhaps my children will have better pictures in their minds as they read and learn themselves.

a home round and concrete

This guy built a roundhouse in nearby Rhode Island out of ICF's. He also gets his electricity from the sun. Maybe I'll go visit him.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Open Letter to Obama

Sherif Girgis of Dover, Del., is a senior philosophy major at Princeton University and a 2008 Rhodes Scholar. His parents are also from Africa, like Obama's father. The crux of his open letter
If the stopped heart is a human heart, if the torn limbs are human limbs, if the spilled blood is human blood, can there be any denying that what is killed in an abortion is a human being? In your vision for America, the license to kill that human being is a right. You have worked to protect that “right” at every turn. But can there be a right to deny some human beings life or the equal protection of the law?

Of course, some do deny that every human being has a right to life. They say that size or degree of development or dependence can make a difference. But the same was once said of color. Some say that abortion is a “necessary evil.” But the same was once said of slavery. Some say that prohibiting abortion would only harm women by driving it underground. But to assume so is truly to play the politics of fear. A compassionate society would never accept these false alternatives. A compassionate society would protect both mother and child, coming to the aid of women in need rather than calling violence against their children the answer to their problems.
HT: Justin Taylor.
One place to read Christians defending abortions and pro-choice politicians is at the Reclaiming the Mind blog. The comments, to which I contributed early on, are lengthy, as the "dialog" never ends.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Top 10 posts last week of Feb '08

A dose of great links this week from posts of interest around blogdom. The links I point to throughout the week are here and can be subscribed too here.

1-Melinda at Stand to Reason writes
The problem with those who want to reduce the number of abortions is that they continue to accept what is the core injustice of abortion rights - that the unborn are not fully human deserving of protection under the law, that there is a class of innocent human beings whose lives can be taken from them, that unborn babies are just part of the mother's body and not a separate precious unborn human person, that the Constitution protects a woman's right to kill her unborn child. The reduction position doesn't seek to undo these unjust and tragic presumptions built into our current law. It's the status of the unborn under the law that is the heart of the concern and reducing abortions doesn't address that injustice.
2-Pyromanaic Dan Phillips writes
Now, had the writers really wanted to stretch themselves and defy convention, they could have made the doctor an abortionist. For instance, he could have been one of the sorts of doctors who recently advised a British couple to abort their baby because the unborn child was diagnosed with rhomboencephalosynapsis, would be born deaf and blind, and would only live an hour or two.

In the actual case, the parents rejected the counsel, and the child was born perfectly healthy, in spite of the assured diagnosis his parents had received. But how many such children have been actually aborted, on the basis of equally flawed diagnoses? I know of another similar case myself.

The fictional doctor could have actually succeeded in convincing the couple to kill the child, and then discovered his error. That, or countless other of the living nightmares by which abortionists could rightly find themselves gripped when they paint a bull's-eye on a baby. Then we would have had a case of real guilt over a real moral wrong.
3-The Humane Society and downer cattle and abortion;
What's wrong with these Humane Society people? Don't they have better things to do with their time? Perhaps they could alleviate this problem, if there really is a problem, by pasturing their own cow herds if they really cared. Anyway, I'm quite sure this video is a fake. And even if not, I don't believe cows feel pain when being plowed by forklifts. No one can prove to me that they do. Flinching when prodded with pokers is a visceral response.
4-Abortion and African-American genocide
In America today, almost as many African-American children
are aborted as are born.
A black baby is three times more likely to be
murdered in the womb than a white baby.

Since 1973, abortion has reduced the black population by over 25 percent.

Twice as many African-Americans have died from abortion than have died from
AIDS, accidents, violent crimes, cancer, and heart disease combined.

Every three days, more African-Americans are killed by abortion than
have been killed by the Ku Klux Klan in its entire history.

Planned Parenthood operates the nation's largest chain of abortion clinics and
almost 80 percent of its facilities are located in minority neighborhoods.

About 13 percent of American women are black, but they
submit to over 35 percent of the abortions.
5-Francis Beckwith on Defending Life, an interview.
6-Do Emerging Christians find it hard to condemn abortion?
Beckwith expressed concern about what he believes to be the emerging/Emergent church’s “downplaying” or minimizing of the issue of abortion.

I found this question important and one that need some conversation. While I been involved with all things emerging for some time, I have found this lack of engagement disturbing and inconsistent, to say the least.
I added a comment to this discussion.
7-Chuck Colson announces that the demise of Pro-Life politics has been greatly exaggerated.
What is it that makes us evangelical? Our commitments to orthodox biblical Christianity, spreading the gospel, and promoting righteousness in all spheres of life. To be an evangelical is to defend life at every stage, help the poor, and strive for justice.

8-Doug Groothius talks about Obama's "repentance," voting to save Terri Schiavo's life.
9-Darwin, Hitler, Singer, the disabled and the unborn.
Also, I should mention that Haeckel was also the first person in German history to advance the idea that disabled people should be killed, a program the Nazis carried out. Most of the eugenicists and physicians who promoted "euthanasia" for the disabled—and most of those who carried it out under Nazism—used overtly Darwinian justifications for it.

Now, Ruse is right that Darwinism has been used by many people to advance a variety of positions, some of which are antithetical. I am not saying that Darwinism leads inevitably to Nazism. However, as I point out in my article "Does Darwinism Devalue Human Life," many Darwinists have admitted that Darwinism does have philosophical implications that impinge on the value of human life.

Peter Singer, the bioethicist at Princeton University who supports infanticide and euthanasia for the disabled, for instance, admits that Darwinism underpins his dismissal of the sanctity of human life. Richard Dawkins likewise claims Darwinian support for euthanasia.
10-Something not abortion related...building homes with local clay and sand for a cheaper house, Compressed Earth Blocks.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Kings who called evil good

Another Christian wrestles with the appeal of Obama and the abhorrence of his pro-abortion stance. Julie Lyons of the Dallas Observer writes
Is there ever an occasion when a Christian should support a pro-abortion candidate?

Is abortion really that important? Have I become just another one of those single-issue white evangelicals who ignores equally important matters of morality such as racial justice?

Can a candidate be wrong in so many ways and still be right?

No matter how I tried, I couldn’t suppress the questions. Every time I arrived at a semblance of peace about voting for Obama, words from the Bible resounded in my brain. I had been studying the books of I and II Kings, which chronicle the leaders of Israel and Judah in the days of the monarchy as well as the prophets God sent to be their counterbalance. Israel’s concept of kingship was different from any other nation’s; the kings were bound to uphold the covenant God had made with his people, and whenever a crisis of faithfulness to that law or covenant arose, the prophets stepped in on behalf of God to set the king straight. Or at least tried.

A couple things become numbingly clear in the books of Kings. For every king of Israel and Judah, the Scriptures offer a final assessment, and it usually goes like this: “So-and-so did evil in the eyes of the Lord. During his entire reign he did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit.” (The bad kings far outnumbered the good kings.)

She concludes
I, for one, am disappointed with white evangelicals’ apathy about racial justice and could never ally myself with the Republican Party until they take seriously the issues Braden points out, such as equal access to housing and employment for minorities, and one I’ll add: fair treatment in our legal system.
Yet I can’t escape the words of Kings. God will judge a leader by one thing: his faithfulness to God’s Word on matters for which the Christian position is clear.

No, that’s not a fashionable concept these days. It won’t win me many friends in the circles I travel. I do understand that we don’t live in a theocracy; our nation is governed by a constitution. As voters, we deal in a continuum of hope and reality. We don’t get everything we want.

Well, whoever said the world would understand or approve of followers of Jesus Christ?

HT: Get Religion