Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Compressed earth blocks diminish deforestation and energy intensive housing material (kiln fired bricks and cement). They are not a new concept but a group called Faith Tech Connect have come up with a machine that can crank out these bricks real quick. An important difference between these houses and the concrete block houses that fell down in Haiti is the addition of chicken wire on the inside and outside that provides tension to prevent shearing and a base for the stucco. Also the block in Haiti can break in your hand. It is very cheap.

Monday, October 25, 2010

mini-reviews and thoughts on this and that

Foreign movie we really liked, John Rabe (2009). A dramatic presentation of the leadership of Nazi party member and Siemens power plant manager John Rabe who helped save 200,000 Chinese lives during the Japanese "Rape of Nanking." Life is certainly complicated when the hero of the story is a Nazi party member, who does the right thing on such a large scale. We had previously enjoyed the acting of Ulrich Tuker in Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace (2000). The second movie is in English but John Rabe is primarily a German movie with English, French, Japanese, and Chinese dialog as well. My interest in the Japanese atrocity came from Iris Chang's book on the subject (my review) and a documentary made in her honor (my review).

In anticipation of the forthcoming movie, I spent this weekend re-reading the last Harry Potter book, The Deathly Hallows. It's my 3rd or 4th time through. I don't think it was her best work. It reads too much like an Inspector Gadget cartoon, when any situation calls for a convenient tool for a solution, one appears magically. I guess this is abuse of the deus ex machina. But it is a children's book, which means there are no rules. And she did make plenty of money off of it. Despite all that, I am still gripped by the impact of love in the story in the family relationships. The expressions of pride in the kids by the adults halts me every time I come to those parts. Now I am ready to see the movies, parts 1 and 2 when they hit the screen. I'm sure all the kids will re-read this last book as well, so that we can complain about what was left out and unnecessarily changed. I did understand the story better this time.

Our last family movie night was at Niantic Cinema to see Secretariat. It wasn't terribly different from Seabiscuit, but with a more family friendly rating. But I do like the true stories based on extraordinary events or freaks of nature, which Secretariat was. The record race he ran in the Belmont, that still hasn't been touched, happened in my lifetime. That intrigues me.

When I'm not reading or watching movies, I'm enjoying the autumn rituals of Connecticut, all things apples. Watching the cider press at Clyde's in Mystic, picking the apple's at Scott's in East Lyme, buying pumpkins at Holmberg's in Gales Ferry, visiting family at Aiki Farms in Ledyard. God is good to me.
From Oct 24, 2010
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Saturday, October 16, 2010


***Special message at the end for all conservative Christians reading this post. Don't freak out.***

In light of my recent reading on homosexuality, I, as a non-military person, do not see what good purpose the "don't ask, don't tell" policy accomplishes. Military policy already penalizes hetero sex within a unit (see interesting law article here). So I don't see how someone who is public about their homosexual desires, but adheres to military policy, like the heterosexuals, which prohibits intimate relations with fellow soldiers while deployed or on duty, should be drummed out of the military.

I don't see it.

I do see an issue with the potential of bullying. And I am not smart enough to solve that one, other than prohibiting teasing based on sexual desires.

****Special message here for religious conservatives like me****
This does not mean that I think homosexual expression is not a sinful act, just like I don't think any sexual act outside of marriage (hetero) is not sinful*. But the military ejects people on a confession of desire. That seems wrong to me.

*(A long discourse) Before Jesus leaves the planet, but after his resurrection, he tells the disciples, among other things, to teach disciples "to obey all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20).

Previously, Jesus taught on marriage. In the context of easy divorce, Jesus replies,
4 "Haven't you read the Scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that from the beginning 'God made them male and female.'
5 And he said, 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.'
6 Since they are no longer two but one, let no one separate them, for God has joined them together." (Matthew 19:4-6)
So this is Jesus's clear explanation of the principles of marriage. Two people, two genders, stay together. He goes onto say, if this is too hard, accept singleness (Matthew 19:12). So if we stay in the gospels, and stick with Jesus alone, he supports no-divorce marriages between men and women, and that is what he wanted his disciples to teach others who also follow Christ.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

physics, love and the soul

There are many good blog posts that come to my mind during my daily bicycle commutes, but most are lost by the time I change out of my bike clothes. On today's ride, I was admiring the beauty of the changing leaves. I know, to a certain degree, the physics and chemistry involved in the changing colors. I know, a little bit, about sight, and the biochemical reaction that turns photons striking the back of my eyeballs into a coherent sensory perception. But there is no physical explanation of why I deem a sight pleasant, or good, or nice. Those are words and feelings that do not belong to science, because there is no measurable quantity to them. Those words belong to something apart from the material world.

Love is another of those non-physical concepts. Love is a commitment and not just mushy feelings. Commitment is another, non-physical, unmeasurable concept. There is not a "love" receptor in the brain. There might be a complex, biochemical cascade in the brain that correlates with the experience of love, but there is more than the physical experience going on. We have a brain, but we also have a mind, or, a soul. It's a word to describe that non-material part of us, our essence.

Where does this immaterial essence come from? How can the physical produce the non-physical? It can't. We come to a philosophical wall, something science can't ascend, because the topic has left the realm of the material. Good. Love. Beauty. These things do not belong to science, because these belong to the mind, the soul, the spirit, that part of us that is not physical. And since we know these things, then we know something about the existence of that which is spiritual. If love is a spiritual concept, understood by spiritual beings, then we need to turn to someone other than the scientist to explain these experiences, if one is interested in explanations. This brings us to philosophers, of whom theologians are a sub-discipline. I bring up theologians, because of my following assertion.
Because we know of love, we know that God exists.
I did not say we all have experienced love. Some of us know the lack of love, or neglect, and crave love. Somehow we know it's shape, spiritually. We can respond to love. We also respond to its lack, which can undo all satisfied physical needs. People do seem to die of broken hearts, despite physical health.

The Bible tells us God is love, 1 John 4:8. This seems to be unique to Christianity compared to other philosophies that try to explain our souls. This concept is compelling to me. It might not be to those who read this, but I feel, having a soul experience here, that cracking open that door of thinking, leads to a flood of thoughts, that I can't possibly put down with any coherence in one evening's blog post. But the beloved apostle, John, did write some great stuff in his first epistle.

Ladies and gentlemen, I recommend 1 John, all 5 chapters, to learn about love and light and truth, and those things that we scientists can't explain scientifically.
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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

on heretics and the Bible

Back to a book I am not reading for review but for my own education, Jaroslav Pelikan's The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, book 1 in his series The Christian Tradition. The first chapter discusses the interaction of Greek philosophy and Christian theology. But I enjoyed this quote he used from Tertullian.
In this manner heretics either wrest plain and simple words to any sense they choose by their conjectures, or else they violently resolve by a literal interpretation words which imply a conditional sense and are incapable of a simple solution, as in this passage. Against Marcion 4.19.6b.
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Monday, October 04, 2010

book report: Homosexuality and the Christian (2010) by Mark Yarhouse

Is there another way for conservative Christians to respond to fellow believers who are homosexually oriented, other than insist they change into heterosexuals through prayer and counseling? Can we tell our gay brothers and sisters to do something other than "pray the gay away"? Do we have to reject the church's historical and traditional understanding of homosexuality to exhibit grace to our gay brothers and sisters? I found Mark Yarhouse's book Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends a breath of fresh air on the conversation, blowing the smoke and stink away for a moment.

Bethany House offered me a selection of books for review, and this one was exactly what I've been looking for. I think I have practiced this approach, but was insecure, because I felt it was right without a defense for it. It just felt right. I can be open with my gay friends without affirming their expression. Yarhouse's research and experience as a psychologist and professor of psychology gave him insight into a segmentation of the development of homosexual identity and also exposure to gay Christians who have chosen chastity.

His three tiers of homosexuality are same-sex attraction, homosexual orientation, and gay identity. He summarizes this at the end of the book in terms of a psychological development path. In his words,
There is a kind of developmental path toward forming a gay identity that typically involves three broad stages: identity dilemma, identity development, and identity synthesis. Our understanding today is that sexual identity development begins with sexual attraction starting around ten or twelve, and may involve same-sex behaviors around the ages of thirteen to fourteen for those who engage in same-sex behavior. Same-sex behavior may be followed by a questioning of identity and then, for some, labeling of themselves as gay at around fifteen. p. 202

But the last step between development and synthesis is heavily influenced by four main sources of authority in the believer's world: scripture, faith tradition, reason, and personal experience. Yarhouse says, "all believers are encouraged to reflect on the relative weight they give to these different sources of information or authority. Everyone with an opinion on the matter should be able to identify which source or sources of authority are trump for them in these discussions: the Bible, Christian tradition, reason, or personal experience. Everyone favors one or two sources of authority over the others." p.201

He then talks about two scripts for the gay Christian deciding on their identity.
The gay script relies heavily on the discovery metaphor by emphasizing the fact that same-sex attractions signal who a person really is. By doing this, the script categorizes people based on their sexual attractions. In other words, people are defined by who they are attracted to and do not have any choices in the matter.

Alternative scripts focus on the metaphor of "integration" and emphasize the fact that people can choose their identities, regardless of their same-sex attractions. One such alternative is an "identity in Christ" script.

Yarhouse presents the data on the prevalence of homosexuality (single digit percentages) as well as therapy to change orientation (not very successful). Although therapy for change is an option, he cautions us to keep our expectations low. Let God surprise us, not demand a miracle. Finally, he wants us to embrace our family members who are sexual minorities instead of ostracizing them. He exhorts us, "We can support efforts to change sexual orientation, but we can also make sure we communicate to our people that their walk with God, their spiritual maturity, their depth of character is not contingent on the degree of change of sexual orientation they experience. They can pursue a life in Christ, an identity that is central to who they are and is common with all believers." p.217

I know this book does not satisfy gay believers who have reconciled their homosexuality with the Bible and tradition. He is not trying to appease this segment in the church. His appeal is to the friend, parent, spouse, or pastor of a believer who is gay, to one degree or another. He calls us to compassion, which means to "suffer with," rather than add to their suffering by telling them to choose to be straight and stop being gay. Just as we want others to get out of God's way in our lives, so also we should treat others the way we want to be treated, with love.

Yarhouse is not alone in this approach. I have also seen it used in Bill Henson's ministry, Fish on the Other Side. I am happy to see this type of ministry modeled.