Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Capricorn: (Dec. 22—Jan. 19)
Stretching before exercise does not require a medieval rack and the services of two shirtless, hooded men, but that couldn't hurt.

Holy Sex
How it ravishes our souls.
by Philip Yancey | posted 09/30/2003

A PHYSICIAN FRIEND OF MINE spent two months in a remote part of the African nation Benin. The airplane on which he traveled home was showing current movies, and after two months away from all media, he found them jarring. Each movie centered on sexual intercourse, as though this were the only significant topic in the world, whereas David had just been dealing with weighty matters—disease, poverty, hunger, religion, death—while relating to colleagues in a way that had nothing to do with sexual intercourse. When the plane stopped for refueling at the Brussels airport, David saw rows of magazines for sale featuring women's breasts in various stages of exposure. That, too, seemed odd, for he had been working in an area where women commonly uncovered their breasts in public, not for sexual arousal but to feed their children. Welcome back to Western civilization, he thought to himself.

I know no clearer example of the modern, reductionistic approach to life than human sexuality. We survey people about their private sex lives, and write manuals based on data gained by watching people perform sex in a laboratory setting. To junior high students we teach details of sexuality forbidden to previous generations.

At the same time, I know of no greater failure among Christians than in presenting a persuasive approach to sexuality. Outside the church, people think of God as the great spoilsport of human sexuality, not its inventor. The pope utters pronouncements, denominations issue position papers, and many Christians ignore them and follow the lead of the rest of society. Surveys reveal little difference between church attenders and non-attenders in the rates of premarital intercourse and cohabitation. Surveys also show that many people have left their churches in disgust over hypocrisy about sex, especially when ministers fail to practice what they preach....

Sour Grapes
Why is there no such thing as a good, low-priced California wine?
By Mike Steinberger
Posted Friday, September 26, 2003, at 8:17 AM PT

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of people in the world today: those running for governor of California, and those shaking their heads in disbelief at California. I'm one of the latter, but not for the reason you might think. Forget Arnold and Arianna, the real farce is what's become of California wines. How does a place so conducive to cultivating wine grapes produce so much cheap swill and overpriced mediocrity? Why is the good stuff—what there is of it—so egregiously expensive? And why has California given rise to such an obnoxious wine culture? If Californians want to recall something, they might start with all those insipid chardonnays....

Spirit World: Lost: parrot who preaches evangelical Christian message
A fire-and-brimstone preaching parrot is on the lam and his Alberta owner is praying for the bird's return.

Dale Doell's prized African gray parrot, Solomon, has a 2,600-word vocabulary with an evangelical Christian message.

"He preaches a full-scale sermon out of the Word of God, just like John the Baptist," said Doell, who is a born-again Christian. ...

Monday, September 29, 2003

Wretched Urgency
The Grace of God or Hamsters on a Wheel?
by Michael Spencer

...I've been thinking these things for years, and they aren't shadows. What I am going to to say is real, and I am going to bet that once I let the cat out of the bag, a lot of readers will write me and say they thought it too, but were afraid to say anything because they didn't want to get in trouble or get preached at. So here we go.

I don't think Christianity is about converting people....

...This all started for me when I noticed that there was no concern for church growth in any of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Read it. Stop right now and go read it.

OK. Am I telling the truth? It says to hold fast. It encourages purity, fidelity, bravery and love. There are commendations and criticisms. But nothing about church growth. Nothing that says the agenda of Jesus for these churches was militant evangelism. I'm not saying there isn't anything in these letters about evangelism. I am NOT trying to substantiate some kind of hyper-Calvinistic anti-missions philosophy. Far from it. I'm simply saying that in these two very important chapters summarizing the message of Jesus to these seven key churches in Asia Minor, there is no wretched urgency about evangelism and witnessing.

There is urgency about holiness, truth, and responsiveness to Christ. There is urgency about the Gospel IN the church, and among those who say they believe it. There is commendation for faithfulness in living it out. There just isn't anything about church growth or aggressive personal evangelism. If you find it, you're making it up.

How about the epistles in the New Testament? In those places where Christians are addressed as Christians, where is the urgency about church growth or personal evangelism?

Yes, I know that Paul is urgent about his ministry, but I don't find his instructions for other Christians to be entirely in the same vein. I hear Christians being told to live quiet, peaceful, honest, generous lives adorned with integrity and love. Christians are told to be devoted to their families, to love fellow believers, and to live in such a way that outsiders cannot accuse or criticize. If they suffer for being a Christian, it should not be because they provoked a response through simply living the life Jesus taught.

Again and again, I look in the epistles for the kind of Christian experience that I was taught was normal, and I do not find it. The statements of urgency are not statements telling me to turn my house and life upside down in frenetic efforts to persuade people to join my religion. The urgency in Paul comes from his personal mission and his own vocation as a church planter. I can't automatically apply it all to everyone else.

...I do not find guilt-inducing, blood on your hands urgency in Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians or Thessalonians, letters that are indicative of diverse pastoral situations and relationships. Each letter is consumed almost entirely with concerns and problems within the church. The "witness" Paul is working to shape is lives submitted to Christ in matters of doctrine and discipleship. He is not organizing confrontive door-knocking expeditions....

...The Thessalonians, who had caught a bad case of "Left Behind Fever," received this admonition: "1 Thessalonians 4:10-12 But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. In fact, it is remarkable how often the advice to the Thessalonians could be paraphrases as "Calm down. Live sensibly and morally. Stand firm. Be the sort of people who have an anchor for the soul in times when anything goes."...

FBI bypasses First Amendment to nail a hacker
By Mark Rasch, SecurityFocus
Posted: 29/09/2003 at 16:35 GMT

Citing a provision of the Patriot Act, the FBI is sending letters to journalists telling them to secretly prepare to turn over their notes, e-mails and sources to the bureau. Should we throw out the First Amendment to nail a hacker, writes SecurityFocus columnist Mark Rasch.

Frequent readers of this space know that I am no apologist for hackers like Adrian Lamo, who, in the guise of protection, access others' computer systems without authorization, and then publicize these vulnerabilities.

When Lamo did this to the New York Times, he violated two of my cardinal rules: Don't make enemies with people appointed for life by the President of the United States; and don't make enemies of people who buy their ink by the gallon.

Now, in the scope of prosecuting Lamo, the FBI is doing the hacker one better by violating both of these precepts in one fell swoop.

The Bureau recently sent letters to a handful of reporters who have written stories about the Lamo case -- whether or not they have actually interviewed Lamo. The letters warn them to expect subpoenas for all documents relating to the hacker, including, apparently, their own notes, e-mails, impressions, interviews with third parties, independent investigations, privileged conversations and communications, off the record statements, and expense and travel reports related to stories about Lamo.

In short, everything.

The notices make no mention of the protections of the First Amendment, Department of Justice regulations that restrict the authority to subpoena information from journalists, or the New York law that creates a "newsman's shield" against disclosure of certain confidential information by reporters.

Instead, the FBI has threatened to put these reporters in jail unless they agree to preserve all of these records while they obtain a subpoena for them under provisions amended by the USA-PATRIOT Act.

The government also officiously informed the reporters that this is an "official criminal investigation" and asks that they not disclose the request to preserve documents, or the contents of the letter, to anyone -- presumably including their editors, directors, or lawyers -- under the implied threat of prosecution for obstruction of justice.

That's why you're reading about the letters for the first time here.

They do this despite the fact that, had they actually obtained and issued a subpoena for these documents, the federal criminal procedure rules would have prohibited the imposition of any obligation of secrecy unless the Justice Department obtained a "gag" order on the press -- a rare event indeed.

All of this began the day after the Attorney General advised all United States Attorney's Offices to prosecute each and every criminal offense with the harshest possible penalties, instead of the previous policy of prosecuting cases with the penalties that most accurately reflect the seriousness of the offense. Thus, journalists be forewarned -- your government may be seeking to throw the book at you!

Believe it or not, this isn't even the worst of it....

Joshua Harris kisses masterbation goodbye, so to speak
The secret is to marry a cute blond girl in your early 20s. I'll forgo the Craftmatic Adjustable Bed joke.

God on Their Side

APUTO, Mozambique

Mention the words "evangelical missionary," and many Americans conjure up an image of redneck zealots' forcing starving children to be baptized before they get a few crusts of bread.

In reality, the wave of activity abroad by U.S. evangelicals is one of the most important — and welcome — trends in our foreign relations. I disagree strongly with most evangelical Christians, theologically and politically. But I tip my hat to them abroad.

...But I'm convinced that we should all celebrate the big evangelical push into Africa because the bottom line is that it will mean more orphanages, more schools and, above all, more clinics and hospitals. Particularly when AIDS is ravaging Africa, those church hospitals are lifesavers.

"In most of Africa, these are the cornerstone of the health system," said Helene Gayle, who directs AIDS work for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "In some countries, they serve more people than the government health system."

The evangelicals abroad are mostly pragmatists, not ideologues, so they should be a good influence on the Christian Right. While fundamentalists in America blindly oppose condom distribution, evangelicals in Africa see their friends dying of AIDS. They thunder against sexual immorality — but often hand out condoms....

...Yet while it sounds strange to say so, evangelicals may be Africa's most important feminist influence today. And how can one not welcome their growing presence as Ms. Angeline tells of her rescue and cradles a lovely baby girl — not surprisingly, named Katrin.

Southern Baptists Report Donations Drop
The nation's largest Protestant denomination has been beset with internal strife for 20 years.
By the Associated Press
September 26, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)--The Southern Baptist Convention could face a financial crisis within a few years unless churchgoers start giving more money to the denomination, according to an internal report.

Giving by Southern Baptist church members decreased steadily from 1968 to 1998 as a percentage of their earnings, down to 2.03 percent, according to the Champaign, Ill.-based Christian research group empty tomb inc., which provided some of the statistics used in the report....

...However, he said that ``some of our Southern Baptist leaders, particularly in mega-churches, have developed a relationship to denominational giving that is unhealthy for them and the denomination. ... It is absolutely crucial those pastors not fail in their responsibility as leaders.''...

Private space race nears its climax
Scaled Composites, Armadillo are favorites to win $10 million prize in the next 9 to 12 months

The X Prize trophy - and $10 million - will go to the first team to send a privately developed, piloted craft to the edge of space, then do it again in two weeks' time....

Iraqi Family Ties Complicate American Efforts for Change

LEMIYA, Iraq, Sept. 27 — Iqbal Muhammad does not recall her first glimpse of her future husband, because they were both newborns at the time, but she remembers precisely when she knew he was the one. It was the afternoon her uncle walked over from his house next door and proposed that she marry his son Muhammad.

"I was a little surprised, but I knew right away it was a wise choice," she said, recalling that afternoon nine years ago, when she and Muhammad were 22. "It is safer to marry a cousin than a stranger."

Her reaction was typical in a country where nearly half of marriages are between first or second cousins, a statistic that is one of the more important and least understood differences between Iraq and America. The extraordinarily strong family bonds complicate virtually everything Americans are trying to do here, from finding Saddam Hussein to changing women's status to creating a liberal democracy.

"Americans just don't understand what a different world Iraq is because of these highly unusual cousin marriages," said Robin Fox of Rutgers University, the author of "Kinship and Marriage," a widely used anthropology textbook. "Liberal democracy is based on the Western idea of autonomous individuals committed to a public good, but that's not how members of these tight and bounded kin groups see the world. Their world is divided into two groups: kin and strangers."...

...That dichotomy remains today, said Ihsan M. al-Hassan, a sociologist at the University of Baghdad. At the local level, the clan traditions provide more support and stability than Western institutions, he said, noting that the divorce rate among married cousins is only 2 percent in Iraq, versus 30 percent for other Iraqi couples. But the local ties create national complications.

"The traditional Iraqis who marry their cousins are very suspicious of outsiders," Dr. Hassan said. "In a modern state a citizen's allegiance is to the state, but theirs is to their clan and their tribe. If one person in your clan does something wrong, you favor him anyway, and you expect others to treat their relatives the same way."

The more educated and urbanized Iraqis have become, Dr. Hassan said, the more they are likely to marry outsiders and adopt Western values. But the clan traditions have hardly disappeared in the cities, as is evident by the just-married cousins who parade Thursday evenings into the Babylon Hotel in Baghdad. Surveys in Baghdad and other Arab cities in the past two decades have found that close to half of marriages are between first or second cousins.

The prevalence of cousin marriage did not get much attention before the war from Republicans in the United States who expected a quick, orderly transition to democracy in Iraq. But one writer who investigated the practice warned fellow conservatives to stop expecting postwar Iraq to resemble postwar Germany or Japan...

Bush Aides Say They'll Cooperate With Probe Into Intelligence Leak

By Mike Allen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 29, 2003; Page A01

President Bush's aides promised yesterday to cooperate with a Justice Department inquiry into an administration leak that exposed the identity of a CIA operative, but Democrats charged that the administration cannot credibly investigate itself and called for an independent probe.

White House officials said they would turn over phone logs if the Justice Department asked them to. But the aides said Bush has no plans to ask his staff members whether they played a role in revealing the name of an undercover officer who is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, one of the most visible critics of Bush's handling of intelligence about Iraq.

An administration official told The Washington Post on Saturday that two White House officials leaked the information to selected journalists to discredit Wilson. The leak could constitute a federal crime, and intelligence officials said it might have endangered confidential sources who had aided the operative throughout her career. CIA Director George J. Tenet has asked the Justice Department to investigate how the leak occurred....

I think the level of casualties is secondary. I mean, it may sound like an odd thing to say, but all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war. . . . What we hate is not casualties but losing. And if the war goes well and if the American public has the conviction that we're being well-led and that our people are fighting well and that we're winning, I don't think casualties are going to be the issue.
-- Michael Ledeen, AEI Breakfast, March 27, 2003

How public education cripples our kids, and why
By John Taylor Gatto

...There you have it. Now you know. We don't need Karl Marx's conception of a grand warfare between the classes to see that it is in the interest of complex management, economic or political, to dumb people down, to demoralize them, to divide them from one another, and to discard them if they don't conform. Class may frame the proposition, as when Woodrow Wilson, then president of Princeton University, said the following to the New York City School Teachers Association in 1909: "We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks." But the motives behind the disgusting decisions that bring about these ends need not be class-based at all. They can stem purely from fear, or from the by now familiar belief that "efficiency" is the paramount virtue, rather than love, lib, erty, laughter, or hope. Above all, they can stem from simple greed....

...First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.


...Within the Church currently there is a strange effort to counteract this effect by bringing our pseudo-spiritual subculture around with us everywhere we go. We turn the world into a large church service full of people who believe like we do and who don’t offend our sensibilities with their sinful behaviors. Opening a phone book, I can find Christian pharmacies, Christian art framing, Christian bakeries and here in my hometown someone has created a business concept out of a cheesy Christian T-shirt. The Lord’s Gym Health And Fitness Centers are dedicated to promoting “Fitness for Body & Soul” and offer classes such as Praise Dance, Body of Armor and Chariots of Fire Spin. Now, some might argue such businesses are a good model of stretching the barriers of our spiritual activity beyond Sunday morning. However, all they are doing is adding spiritual language into things that are naturally spiritual because they are part of the human experience God has created. Taking care of your body is spiritual even if you don’t play the Newsboys while working on your biceps. These “Christian” shops are doing what all the “secular” shops are doing, but to the exclusion of non-believers. Creating places like this completely removes God’s disciples from the world, which doesn’t bode well for the world, and I daresay, ends up hurting the Church as well.

What’s occurring is the creation of a ghetto. The word has long since been associated with inner city housing projects and Elvis’s worst song ever, but the ghettos have been around since the middle ages. Then they were walled sections of a city that a religious group (usually Jews) was forced to occupy as a way of keeping them from the rest of the population. Christians appear to be doing it to themselves. And within the walls of this Christian ghetto we’re not only experiencing death in the Church but in the arts as well. Go to a Christian bookstore. As you walk the aisles you’ll see shelf after shelf of Christians toys (usually of poor quality), Christians music (usually a little worse than the toys) and over on the right side, by the Christian coffee shop called “Jesus Java” you’ll see a shelf labeled “Art.” This shelf consists of a Thomas Kinkade painting, and two photo landscapes all with Bible verses or Oswald Chambers quotations emblazoned across the top right corner. Here we are, the group of people that claims to have the corner market on understanding the First and Greatest Artist and we can’t even imitate His creative nature as effectively as a world that doesn’t know Him.


Again, the problem is categories. We have categorized ourselves out of the world. Life is one category. Good music, good art, good health and good prescription drugs are innately spiritual if they are in fact good. We don’t need to label something Christian to the exclusion of the rest of the world for it to be good and pure. Because all things that are good and pure are of God, whether the name on it is Rich Mullins or David Gray. All truth is God’s truth. If we are seeking God out in everything we do He will inevitably show up. He doesn’t need labels or categories to find us and we shouldn’t need them to find Him. Sure, there are experiences you should stay away from, but He has given us a mind, a body of believers and the Holy Spirit to help us decipher what is of Him and what is not. Our categories have become the lazy Christian’s guide to prudence. “I don’t have to worry about what messages are in this movie, it’s Christian.” Not only is that argument a dangerous fallacy, but it also leads to the exclusion of truth God is revealing to us through “non-Christian” sources. In God’s cosmic video store there is one category: Truth. It’s not supposed to be easy. Every experience, every person you meet and every choice you make is a part of the walk. It takes a lot more work and thinking on our part, but we must at least read the back of every video before determining its worth. The good news is there are no late fees. You don’t have to have all the answers. We’ll have the answers someday, but for now look for God everywhere. And yes, He might even be found in that stupid Elvis song.

Leaked report rejects Iraqi al-Qaeda link

There are no current links between the Iraqi regime and the al-Qaeda network, according to an official British intelligence report seen by BBC News.

The classified document, written by defence intelligence staff three weeks ago, says there has been contact between the two in the past.

But it assessed that any fledgling relationship foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies....

...The defence intelligence staff document, seen by BBC defence correspondent Andrew Gilligan, is classified Top Secret and was sent to UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and other senior members of the government.

It says al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden views Iraq's ruling Ba'ath party as running contrary to his religion, calling it an "apostate regime".

"His aims are in ideological conflict with present day Iraq," it says.

Gilligan says that in recent days intelligence sources have told the BBC there is growing disquiet at the way their work is being politicised to support the case for war on Iraq....

In GOP, Concern Over Iraq Price Tag
Some Doubt Need For $20.3 Billion For Rebuilding

By Jonathan Weisman and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 26, 2003; Page A01

A new curriculum for training an Iraqi army for $164 million. Five hundred experts, at $200,000 each, to investigate crimes against humanity. A witness protection program for $200,000 per Iraqi participant. A computer study for the Iraqi postal service: $54 million....

...$100 million to build seven planned communities with a total of 3,258 houses, plus roads, an elementary school, two high schools, a clinic, a place of worship and a market for each; $10 million to finance 100 prison-building experts for six months, at $100,000 an expert; 40 garbage trucks at $50,000 each; $900 million to import petroleum products such as kerosene and diesel to a country with the world's second-largest oil reserves; and $20 million for a four-week business course, at $10,000 per student....

..."We're not talking sanity here," Dyer said. "The world's second-largest oil country is importing oil, and a country full of concrete is importing concrete." ...

...Some Republican aides say the numbers may be more defensible than they sound because the budget is not quite real. They suggest the administration has inflated costs, in part to avoid having to come back next year for a new emergency spending bill, and in part so they can skim some of the money for classified military efforts....

By Chris Mclaughlin

MARGARET Thatcher has savagely undermined Tony Blair's case for war against Iraq.

In her first reported comment on the conflict, the Tory leader who took Britain to victory in the 1982 Falkland Conflict, has told friends that the war against Iraq was a "mistake"....

Sunday, September 28, 2003

In Praise Of The Shattered Society

...The illusion which we called 'society' is coming to an end. I'd say the inevitability factor here is so high that we might as well admit it has ended already, and get on with the new twenty cents...er...paradigm. What is coming now, what is effectively here already, is the next phase in human societal evolution -- beyond family, beyond tribe, beyond nation -- we are forming societies based on common interest, communities based not on where we live but on who we are. These societies have their own customs, their own rules, their own ambassadors to other such societies. These are not societies formed to fight the sabretooth tiger or pave the streets. These are societies formed to fulfill the actual needs of the individuals who compose them. In these societies, the needs of the individual and the good of society are one, because the society exists solely as a consensual entity. You aren't born into these societies, you join them.

Why does this scare the sort of people who write for Atlantic and have letters printed in the New York Times? Because it means the end of their power. It means the end of artificial consensus, it means the end of leaders who set the pace and followers who follow. It means the end of the sanctioning of art, literature, or opinion as 'mainstream' or 'fringe'. It means that everyone is creator and critic, where every individual decides whose opinions matter to him and whose do not. The movie critic is replaced by the rec.arts.movies.reviews newsgroup, and ten thousand threads in a hundred thousand forums replace the editorial pages. When it is as easy to reach one page on the Web as it is to reach another, when every opinion is an equal click away, then there is no creation of 'proper' and 'improper' opinions. It will no longer be the case that the 'mainstream' opinions get slick coverage in TIME and the 'fringe' gets mimeographed handouts. There will be no way to zone ideas where they will not be seen by the rank-and-file, no way to proclaim the 'correct' range of opinions.

No more consensus. And with it, no more of the sick joke we call Democracy. How much longer can the government continue to claim legitimacy when it represents an ever dwindling percentage of the population? How can the government even function, when decisions cannot be reduced to a binary 'yes/no', but instead must account for a thousand variations of opinion? Even the 'mass' media is no longer so massive....from three networks to a hundred cable channels, to a million Webcasts. What would once have been isolated incidents or local outrages become national, even international, outcries. The Church of Scientology is fighting a hydra distributing its 'secret' documents, and it is draining itself in lawsuits faster than it can drain its foes. Cybersitters' fascism, which would once have been unrevealed for fear of losing an advertiser, is now front-page news -- because the net never lets a story die. There is no sweeping a scandal, real or imagined, under the rug, because there will always be someone with a gripe and a modem to keep it alive.

...Nations and tribes need leaders. Individuals in full control of their own environment do not. This is what scares the powers-that-won't-be-for-much-longer. This is why they decry the 'breakdown' of society -- when what is happening is the creation of the only society that has any moral right to exist, the consensual society of mind. They are Neanderthals, listening to their Cro-Magnon children talk, and realizing that the world has passed them by. They'll fight back as Neanderthals do -- with clubs and fire and hoarse, inarticulate imitation of the language of their evolved progeny. And then they'll die, destroyed by those they fathered. ...

Friday, September 26, 2003

Stink Of Hypocrisy
Saddam is seemingly not the only advocate of weapons of mass destruction. Winston Churchill was on the verge of 'drenching' Germany with poison gas before the war turned in Britain's favour, reveals George Rosie

EVER since Hans Blix and his team of UN inspectors began rummaging for Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction' our own political leaders have been sounding pious notes from the moral high ground. We're constantly told that Saddam's 'rogue state' is a menace to mankind. Which may be true, but Tony Blair and Jack Straw might be advised to be a little less indignant. Most countries have traces of chemicals on their hands. Britain certainly has. Buried in the Public Record Office in London are a series of documents that reveal how we, the British, continued to develop and stockpile chemical weapons in secret long after signing a treaty in 1925 forbidding their use.

Towards the end of the second world war, when the threat of a German invasion was over and the war was being won, Winston Churchill was planning a chemical holocaust. He wanted to 'drench' the cities of Germany with poison gas so that 'most of the population would be requiring constant medical attention'. Only the stubborn resistance of Britain's military commanders saved the people of Germany from mass contamination. If Churchill had won the argument, he may have gone down in history, not as a hero, but as one of its worst war criminals, on a moral par, seemingly, with Saddam Hussein. ...


...After a wholesome scriptural breakfast of unsweetened wholegrain cereal, I start my morning with a holy workout based on a chapter from Dr. Colbert's book, "Did Jesus Exercise?" It's a question I never would have thought to ask, but in Ark culture there's a fundamental presumption that if one squeezes the Bible hard enough it will yield practical guidance on any topic, from personal finance to toilet training. And lo, it appears that the Lord did have a fitness program...

...The sound track includes a range of acts-Audio Adrenaline, P.O.D., PAX217--from the born-again-rock scene's "alternative" department. They're not that bad. They're not bad at all, in fact. Because their lyrics are mostly unintelligible, there's no way to know they're even Christian, really. And yet, in the same way one sensed that groups like Abba were singing in a language they didn't speak, one detects a certain falseness in these bands' sound. They're trying too hard, somehow. They have the formula but lack the flair. They're straining at carelessness, but deep in their hearts they do care, one suspects--about their fans, their message, their authenticity. Bottom line: They sound a bit like foreigners--highly talented Asian prodigies whose governments have equipped them with guitars and trained them in some elite punk-rock academy.

These new Christian bands rock like Americans play soccer: skillfully but somehow not convincingly.

Or maybe it's the power of suggestion that makes the stuff seem counterfeit to me. At the Family Christian Store in Bozeman, Montana, the multimedia spiritual emporium where I bought the CD and my other Ark supplies, a poster above the music racks matches name-brand acts from secular radio with their closest sanctified equivalents. For the atheist teen who has suddenly been converted and wants to carry into his new life as many of his old attitudes and tastes as he can safely manage, such a chart would prove helpful, I imagine, much as a cookbook of sugar-free recipes might help a chocoholic with diabetes. For me, though, the chart confirmed a preconception that Christian rock is a cultural oxymorona calculated, systematic rip-off, not a genuine surge of inspired energy....

...I sit in an armchair and open Desecration (subtitled Antichrist Takes the Throne). What I don't understand about these Left Behind books is how there can be so f--ing many of them, given that their subject is Armageddon. How long can a writer drag out the Second Coming? Even a trilogy would be a stretch, but ten novels going on eleven, all huge sellers, with no final volume in sight? I smell a con.

But that's because I've failed to realize this: On the Ark, the End of the World is never ending, because it's the only dramatic game in town. Drop the curtain on the Apocalypse and there are no more stories--the party's over. Which means the art of Desecration, and of the Christian thriller in general, is the art of the stall--of giving the reader a sense of forward motion without moving things any closer to a conclusion. This task is complicated by the fact that the genre's basic principles rule out new suspense. Since the heroes are assured of going to Heaven, it doesn't really matter if they die, and since the villains are bound to bum in hell, it doesn't matter if they win. Which they won't, of course. The Bible tells us so.

So why am I still reading? It's a mystery. Desecration's dialogue is preposterous ("In all candor, Anika, our intelligence reports indicated that we might face more opposition here, in the traditional homeland of several obsolete religions"), and its situations; and episodes develop in a pell-mell, miscellaneous cascade, careening from Jerusalem holy sites, where Ultimate Evil haunts the ancient shadows, to the family rooms of average midwestern homes, where true-blue Americans with names like Ray battle the Beast using laptops and ham radios. No, it must be the freakish tone that holds me: part Marvel Comics ("Mac jumped out and realized his front tires were on the edge of the gigantic crevasse") and part Sunday sermon ("We often wonder, when the truth is now so clear, why not everyone comes to Christ"). Who'd have thought such styles could ever be united? It's the prose equivalent of a sideshow monster: a snake with fur or a dolphin-flippered lady, unbearable, repulsive, yet irresistible. I decide to make this an all Armageddon day, so I pop in a tape of Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, starring Michael York as Stone Alexander, the Antichrist, and Michael Biehn as David Alexander, the straitlaced American president who opposes him and also happens to be his brother--a touch that suggests that Doomsday by itself is not sufficient but needs a soap-opera family angle too. After a brief intro by Hal Lindsay, a leading doomsayer from the 1970s and proof that a Christian can cry wolf for decades on end and still not lose his audience, the movie deals its familiar hand of cards. As in the Left Behind books, the Antichrist is an oily Eurotrash bureaucrat whose globalist rhetoric masks his raw ambition. His cosmopolitanism marks him as the Evil One as surely as David Alexander's Yankee bluntness shows he's a born lieutenant of the Lord. Does this come from the Book of Revelation? Of course not. The folks behind Megiddo and Desecration may pose as scholars of biblical prophecy, loading their products with murky sacred symbols and fancy numerological allusions, but at heart they're cornpone vaudevillians....

...Secular radio, with its sports and weather, grounds one in a specific time and place — it's rush hour, the Vikings play the Rams tonight, tomorrow it will be fair to partly cloudy —but Christian radio bypasses such trivia, conjuring up a vast eternal void in which titanic forces of good and evil struggle over man's immortal soul. Who cares if it's sunny or rainy? Details, details. Who cares about traffic conditions? The Lord is coming!

I'm amazed that regular listeners can bear such weight, yet I've spoken to some who find it soothing. They say Christian radio makes them feel cocooned, particularly when they play it in the car. It's Babylon out there, corrupt and dangerous, but they drive right on past in their little rolling tabernacles....

...Ark culture is mall Christianity. It's been malled. It's the upshot of some dumb decision that to compete with them–to compete with N'Sync and Friends and Stephen King and Matt and Katie and Abercrombie & Fitch and Jackie Chan and AOL and Sesame Street–the faithful should turn from their centuries-old tradition of fashioning transcendent art and literature and passionate folk forms such as gospel music and those outsider paintings in which Jesus has lime green bat wings and is hovering lovingly above the Pentagon flanked by exactly thirteen flying saucers, and instead of all that head down to Tower or Blockbuster and check out what's selling, then try to rip it off on a budget if possible and by employing artists who are either so devout or so plain desperate that they'll work for scale.

What makes the stuff so half-assed, so thin, so weak and cumulatively so demoralizing (even to me, a sympathetic journalist who'd secretly love to play the brash contrarian and rate the Left Behind books above Tom Clancy) has nothing to do with faith. The problem is lack of faith. Ark culture is a bad Xerox of the mainstream, not a truly distinctive or separate achievement. Without the courage to lead, it numbly follows, picking up the major media's scraps and gluing them back together with a cross on top. You like this magazine--you like GQ Then check out New Man, "America's #1 Christian Men's Magazine." Subscribe to Time, you say? Give World a chance. The covers are almost identical.

Bibleman, however, stands alone-a pearl in this vast pile of lukewarm mud. Maisie and I finally watched it together, father and daughter, the way it was meant to be, and damn it if Willie Aames of Eight Is Enough hasn't pulled off a wily deconstruction, as clever in its way as Rocky and Bullwuinkle, of all the clunky old superhero clichés. He's a guy in a mask who instead of socking people stands stock-still with his slushy gut sucked in, squares his not-broad shoulders, faces the evildoer and bores him into submission by quoting Isaiah. That's it. That's his superpower: the ability to compose at will tidy chapter-and-verse-packed sermonettes that send the villains into instant comas and, if you think like a college professor, subtly parody piety itself while also signaling to Willie's old mainstream costars that though he's doing Christian stuff these days, he's smarter than all of them and he'll be back. I'm serious: This Bibleman show has layers....

The hunt for weapons of mass destruction yields - nothing
Intelligence claims of huge Iraqi stockpiles were wrong, says report

Julian Borger in Washington, Ewen MacAskill and Patrick Wintour
Thursday September 25, 2003
The Guardian

An intensive six-month search of Iraq for weapons of mass destruction has failed to discover a single trace of an illegal arsenal, according to accounts of a report circulating in Washington and London.

The interim report, compiled by the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group (ISG) of 1,400 weapons experts and support staff, will instead focus on Saddam Hussein's capacity and intentions to build banned weapons.

A draft of the report has been sent to the White House, the Pentagon and Downing Street, a US intelligence source said. It has caused such disappointment that there is now a debate over whether it should be released to Congress over the next fortnight, as had been widely expected....

directed by Eric Till

Before the Reformation, the meaning of life came highly structured from the hierarchy of the Church. One didn't ask questions. One didn't need to.

Many believers, perhaps most, experienced Truth through relics, images, and rituals—not as oppression but as comfort. To be sure, one did not meet God face to face. But one did not want to! For the late-medieval rank and file, assurance of salvation came not from bold access to the throne of God, but from the myriad mediating practices of penance and devotion.

In Luther, one scene in particular brings home this historical reality. Glowing with joy, a young mother who has purchased an indulgence (a remission of temporal punishment) for her crippled daughter holds it out to a gaunt Martin Luther: "Look what I bought for Greta!" She has been gulled by the rhetoric of the charlatan indulgence-seller, Johann Tetzel (Alfred Molina).

Luther (Joseph Fiennes) takes the paper and reads it. His anger at the corrupt establishment rises and boils over. He forgets the gentleness he has displayed toward her. "This is worthless," he says, crumpling it in his fist. "You must rely on God's love." Crestfallen, she turns and walks disconsolately away.

At several key moments in the movie, Luther faces the charge that he is tearing apart the church. He grapples repeatedly with the possibility that he is destroying, rather than building, God's kingdom. To their credit, though, the filmmakers resist the temptation of portraying a Lone Ranger Reformer against a thoroughly evil Church. There are enough sympathetic figures in the Catholic establishment (Matthieu Carriere's Cardinal Cajetan chief among them) to create some sense of historical nuance.

Moreover, we get to see some warts of the Reformation. Andreas Karlstadt (Jochen Horst) takes Luther's teachings to their extreme, announcing that the day of the great leveling has arrived. Soon we see townspeople dragging the monks who have cared for them out of their church and pummeling them. Rocks crash through stained-glass windows. A crucifix is knocked to the floor. (The scene involves a bit of historical sleight-of-hand: the real Karlstadt, advocating nonviolence, had refused to join the militant radical reformer Thomas Müntzer.)

Luther is still a medieval man; this anarchic attack on authority is too much for him. He appeals to the princes, demanding the peasant revolt be put down. Soon the blood of the peasants runs on the floor of the ruined church.

Surveying the carnage, Luther agonizes: "I have torn the world apart." He begins to slide into depression. He must force himself out of bed each morning. Until, that is—in a moment befitting Hollywood—he meets the escaped nun Katerina (Claire Cox). Sunny but steel-willed, Katerina leads Luther from the dark tunnel and into the summer of the loving marriage he has long denied himself....

But Foreign Aid Is Bribery!
And Blackmail, Extortion, and Theft Too!
by Jacob G. Hornberger, September 26, 2003

Horrors! Sen. Edward Kennedy has thrown the Washington establishment into turmoil by making the shocking observation that the Bush administration is using U.S. foreign aid to bribe foreign governments to support its occupation of Iraq. "My belief is this money is being shuffled all around to these political leaders in all parts of the world, bribing them to send in troops," Kennedy said, causing Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to describe the accusation as "disgusting" and "false."

The real reason that everyone is so upset is that Kennedy has spoken the truth. The plain and simple truth is that foreign aid is nothing more than an integral and perverse part of the U.S. government's morally bankrupt foreign policy, not only because its primary purpose is to bribe, blackmail, and extort foreign regimes into doing Washington's bidding, but also because of the enormously destructive consequences it has. ...

...For example, when Yemen voted against a UN resolution authorizing United States to use force against Iraq in 1990, UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering walked over to the Yemeni ambassador and said, "That’s the most expensive No vote you ever cast." According to writer John Pilger, "Within three days, a U.S aid program to one of the world’s poorest countries was stopped. Yemen suddenly had problems with the World Bank and the IMF; and 800,000 Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia."...

Warrant mix-up leads police to wrong house
Couple shocked by officers' behavior, damage

Tribune Staff Writer

David Dance stands in front of his home at 1909 E. Donald St. in South Bend where he was awakened about 3 a.m. Thursday by police officers who were attempting to serve an arrest warrant for someone who apparently lives in a neighboring home.

Tribune Photo/JASON MILLER

SOUTH BEND -- South Bend police apparently were at the wrong house early Thursday when they tried to serve a warrant to arrest a man wanted on drug charges.

The residents they awakened said they were traumatized by the police conduct and upset about the damage they said was done by the officers.

"Those idiots went to the wrong house and then tried to cover it up," David Dance said....

...He said he opened the door and turned on a light but didn't see anybody. He noticed that his motion-sensitive security system was not on.

Then "a flashlight was shined in my face through our glass porch door and I was ordered to open the door,'' Dance said.

"I asked, 'Who are you?' and 'What is this about?' '' Dance said. "I was again ordered to open the glass porch door. I repeated, 'Who are you?' and 'What is this about?' ''

None of the officers identified themselves as the police, Dance said.

"That's not how we should do business," Fautz said.

He added, however, that the light-in-the-eyes tactic sometimes is used for officer safety.

Dance said he didn't know if he was going to be robbed or if the man outside was really a police officer.

"It was my fiancee who saw the officers standing there in the flanking positions with their guns drawn,'' he said. "We thought we were dead."

He said the officer moved down to the sidewalk, "again instructed me to open the door, failing to identify himself or his reason for being there, but I could now see he had his gun drawn as well.''

Only when the officer lowered the flashlight was Dance able to see the police uniform. He said four officers were surrounding his home....

The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorize himself.
-- President George W. Bush, The Boston Globe, January 30

Rumors of Another World
Christian writer Philip Yancey says we need to get better at reading the signs of God's presence.
Interview by Paul O'Donnell

Reviewers have called this "another dark book from Philip Yancey." Do you think you've become darker?
No. [Laughs.] Actually, I hope the opposite. The church has not handled this whole idea of two worlds very well, historically. It often rejects the visible world as full of danger. So you have hermits who go into the desert, and you have the church's reputation as being anti-sex--about which you can make a good case.

What I'm trying to do is bring those two worlds together in a little more healthy way. If you look at sex in a different way, as God's creation, as a gift that he has given us, but one that is best used in a way that he describes, it can be a very powerful rumor of what God is like, what the world should be like. So I'm trying to move toward a more positive embrace of the good things of this world--these gifts of God. That's what we are here to explore and to enjoy--not to exploit, but to explore and enjoy not as ends in themselves, but as pointers, rumors toward what God is really like.

But you do seem somewhat pessimistic about our society.
Jacques Ellul said, isn't it odd that the nations that are most penetrated by the gospel tend to produce societies which are least like the gospel—that's my paraphrase. I travel a lot internationally, about four trips a year, and from the standpoint of the rest of the world, it's seems to be true. What describes America? Well, what describes America is wealth, military might, power, and sexual license. All those would be very different from the kind of values that Jesus spent his life talking about. And yet they would also say America is the most Christian nation on Earth....

But don't Christians often say, "This isn't the real plane of existence, and therefore, I'm not going to invest in it?" Isn't that a danger of belief in general?
That's a huge danger. The church has tilted in that direction a lot. I wrote this book to bring us back to reclaim the world. The church has pretty well given up on the natural world. They no longer even point to it as a rumor, or as an expression of God's creativity. To me the most obvious thing about God is his creativity, his love of beauty. Hiking in the Rocky Mountains, you come across meadows just full of wildflowers that no one has seen for thousands of years. There are the beauties of the Great Barrier Reef. The world is spangled with beauty.

That's the most obvious thing we can learn about God. He is a creative being who honors beauty. That is a loud rumor, and just to give that away to the scientists and let that be their realm to me is to have blinders on.

French card deck names 'most dangerous' U.S. leaders

PARIS, France (AP) -- The ace of spades? Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gets the honor in a new French deck of cards. President Bush is the king of diamonds and Osama bin Laden the joker.

The game takes a jab at the famous deck of cards created for U.S. soldiers hunting down ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and other leaders from the deposed regime.

"I found it completely indecent to present a manhunt as a game," said Thierry Meyssan, the man behind the French deck. "We thought this card game would allow us to ... explain why we consider the government of George Bush a threat to international security." ...

New Bridge Strategies, LLC is a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Its activities will seek to expedite the creation of free and fair markets and new economic growth in Iraq, consistent with the policies of the Bush Administration. The opportunities evolving in Iraq today are of such an unprecedented nature and scope that no other existing firm has the necessary skills and experience to be effective both in Washington, D.C. and on the ground in Iraq. It is for this reason that we have created New Bridge Strategies and brought together the knowledge of American business professionals with over 25 years of experience in Iraq and throughout the Middle East and the political experience of some of the most successful governmental and political professionals in Washington, D.C., and London to provide a complete package of business services offering:

* Assistance to companies engaging the U.S. Government process to develop post war opportunities

* Identification of market opportunities and potential partners

* On-the-ground support in Iraq

* Legal, technical, cultural and potentially financial support for ventures

New Bridge Strategies maintains a physical presence with staff on the ground in Beirut, Damascus, Geneva, Houston and Washington, D.C., and it has plans to expand into Iraq as soon as is possible....

How to ruin a great army? See Donald Rumsfeld

Knight Ridder Newspapers

Armies are fragile institutions, and for all their might, easily broken.

It took the better part of 20 years to rebuild the Army from the wreckage of Vietnam. With the hard work of a generation of young officers, blooded in Vietnam and determined that the mistake would never be repeated, a new Army rose Phoenix-like from the ashes of the old, now perhaps the finest Army in history.

In just over two years, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his civilian aides have done just about everything they could to destroy that Army....

Wait a second. I want to gripe about worship music :-/

In today's selection of contemporary "I'm gonna Praise and Worship" songs, there was a generous sprinkling of references to 'Your presence." We seek Your presence. Your presence is a treasure. We've come into your presence. Show us your presence and so on.

I sat there wondering if this is the modern "I'm gonna Praise and Worship" movement chasing its own tail? Is the "presence" of God mentioned in these songs largely a code word for the experience called "feeling God's presence" that is roughly the equal of having a really good band/group lead in some highly emotive praise choruses? In other words, are the songs saying "We are really excited about getting the feeling that God is around, and the best way to get that feeling is these songs."?

Breaking up isn't hard to do: Hit 'send'
By Chris Gray
Inquirer Staff Writer

Dawn Capone thought instant-messaging would be a good way to "talk" with her boyfriend of six months when his cell-phone battery died.

Wrong. On their first IM "date," the man - a 36-year-old computer consultant from West Philadelphia - made Capone a victim of the latest form of commitment-phobia haunting singles: the Internet dump.

"I am breaking up with you," the boyfriend typed, as Capone watched aghast at the keyboard at her home in Blackwood.

"We are no longer a couple."

"I am logging off" - and he was gone....

The Commercialization of Intimate Life (The Atlantic Monthly | October 2003)
by Arlie Russell Hochschild
University of California Press

....Feminism is to the commercial spirit of intimate life as Protestantism is to the spirit of capitalism. The first legitimates the second. The second borrows from but also transforms the first.... Especially in their more recent incarnation, the commercial substitutes for family activities often turn out to be better than the real thing. Just as the French bakery often makes better bread than mother ever did, and the cleaning service cleans the house more thoroughly, so therapists may recognize feelings more accurately, and childcare workers prove more even-tempered than parents. In a sense, capitalism isn't competing with itself, one company against another, but with the family, and particularly with the role of wife and mother....

...When in the mid-nineteenth century, men were drawn into market life and women remained outside it, female homemakers formed a moral brake on capitalism. Now American women are its latest recruits, offered membership in the public side of market society on the same harsh terms as those offered to American men. The result makes for a harshness of life that seems so normal to us we don't see it....

Under the Tuscan Sun
...While real peoples' divorce recovery plans typically entail curling up on the kitchen in pools of their own urine for several days, Frances takes a trip to Tuscany, where she purchases an old house and begins that journey back toward the realization that life is beautiful. This whole "life is beautiful" epiphany comes surprisingly easily when one is staring out at the Tuscan countryside and looks like Diane Lane....

It may be in poor taste to say "I told you so!" – but it cannot be said enough to those who won't recant their support of this rotten, failing, morally indefensible war. Didn't we tell them that each and every rationale for war was a brazen lie, most especially the alleged Iraqi "link" to Al Qaeda? The visit of 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague never happened. The mysterious terrorist training camp in Iraq supposedly utilized by Al Qaeda somehow never turned up. Out of all those documents that the London Telegraph "found" in the rubble, all those tall tales of secret messages passed back and forth between the Iraqi dictator and agents of Osama bin Forgotten, all those thousands of words written by Laurie Mylroie and other fantasists "proving" Iraqi complicity with Al Qaeda – nothing! Vanished, along with those infamous weapons of mass destruction, in the fog of war. ...

Guards allegedly set up man's prison rape
Associated Press
Sept. 24, 2003 02:25 PM

FRESNO, Calif. - In a lawsuit set to go to trial Wednesday, an inmate claims prison guards punished him by setting up his rape by a convicted murderer who was so notorious for abuse that he was known as the "Booty Bandit."

Scheduled witnesses at the federal trial include Wayne Robertson, who has acknowledged raping and torturing Eddie Webb Dillard and said the guards intentionally put Dillard in his cell.....

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Wal-Mart wedding draws crowd to garden center
For the Courier

Newlyweds Mary Halford and Lloyd Forsythe walk down the aisle of the east Houma Wal-Mart after they exchanged vows in the store’s garden center Saturday.

HOUMA -- Marriages are made in heaven, but sometimes they are assembled at Wal-Mart.

Lloyd Forsythe, 41, and east-Houma Wal-Mart employee Mary Halford, 47, are now planning their honeymoon following a packed wedding ceremony Saturday in the garden center of the Grand Caillou Road superstore, the place where they met and became engaged. ...

Concerns about citizen privacy grow as states create 'Matrix' database

By Jim Krane, Associated Press, 9/24/2003

NEW YORK -- While privacy worries are frustrating the Pentagon's plans for a far-reaching database to combat terrorism, a similar project is quietly taking shape with the participation of more than a dozen states -- and $12 million in federal funds. The database project, created so states and local authorities can track would-be terrorists as well as criminal fugitives, is being built and housed in the offices of a private company but will be open to some federal law enforcers and perhaps even US intelligence agencies.

Dubbed Matrix, the database has been in use for a year and a half in Florida, where police praise the crime-fighting tool as nimble and exhaustive. It cross-references the state's driving records and restricted police files with billions of pieces of public and private data, including credit and property records.

But privacy advocates, officials in two states, and a competing data vendor have branded Matrix as playing fast and loose with Americans' private details.

They say that Matrix houses restricted police and government files on colossal databases that sit in the offices of Seisint Inc., a Boca Raton, Fla., company founded by a millionaire who police say flew planeloads of drugs into the country in the early 1980s....

Liquid Church by Pete Ward

Liquid Church by Pete Ward is a book that I have been meaning to review for many months. At first glance you look at its hundred and eight pages and you think, "no problem". The book is not a book of practices of a parish called Liquid Church but rather a collection of theories and ideas and each one of them must be thought about and mulled over in the context of you local church. On top of that, the book is visionary and gives a picture of a church that is not here or is only in its infancies.

What is Liquid Church? Liquid Church is a response to our rapidly changing society. Where the local parish at one time was built by farmers and manufacturers who were geographically stable. As we move to a geographically and culturally fluid culture where change comes in many shapes, ways and sizes, the church needs to be more flexible to move through, around, and in amongst today's culture.....

...Solid modernity is based on our victory of the settled over the nomad; it is a culture of production rather then consumption and above all is linked to ways of organizing production that were first developed by the car maker Henry Ford. Modernity was shaped by the Fordist principles of expansion, size, plant, boundaries, norms, rules, and class orientated affinities and identities. - 16

The local church may support many good and important activities, including mission trips, evangelism, youth ministry, social projects, and so on, but they are all assessed in terms of their effect or otherwise on regular Sunday attendance. People may turn to Christ through the youth mission or Alpha course, and this is good, but they are not banked, they really don't count, until they start to attend Sunday services. - 17

I have sometimes felt that the real purpose of the church services is to enable clergy to count the congregation. This is probably a little cynical, but solid church finds its main sense of success in the number of people who attend on a Sunday. Regular church attendance is seen as being a significant test of spiritual health, and church growth is measured in size of congregations. The importance of Sunday attendance and congregational size can never be underestimated for solid church. - 18

The emphasis upon attendance at one central service enables ministers to see easily if people are starting to flag in their spiritual lives. We might attend to hear the preacher, but clergy often attend because they want to see us there. The system of counting sheep and making sure they attend can lead us into unhealthy relationships pf surveillance and control. Ministers sometimes express frustration with the way that a central service restricts their ability to experiment and be creative, and the weight of being responsible for the regular attendance of members can be intolerable. As a youth minister in a church I felt something of this pressure. When the numbers of young people sitting in the back pew increased, I was doing well, but if they started to decrease, questions were asked. The implication was that it was my job to look after their spiritual health, and this was assessed in terms of their regular attendance on Sunday mornings. - 19

In solid modernity the size of the factory building was a major sign of success. Extending the production facility was the aim of the business. Similarly sold church focus on buildings to hold more people and process more activities - 19

Solid church is built on the assumption that it is good for large numbers of very different people to meet in the same room and do the same sort of thing together. Worship therefore becomes a one-size-fits-all environment. The result is that we provide a rather bland and inoffensive diet of middle of the road music and safe spirituality. Variety in what we have to offer is severely limited by the tastes and prejudices of those who attend. Extremes are tempered because one of the key values is that we do not offend anyone who comes to church regularly. - 19

One size fits all is made into a virtue by those who run solid church. Everything about regular Sunday worship is designed to make us feel that even if we don't like it, we should still attend because it is good for us. As with cough medicine, we endure the bad taste because we are told that it is doing us good. - 20

Solid church does not disappear in liquid modernity; rather, it experiences a subtle mutation. Just as in modernity the premodern aspects of church continued, so in liquid modernity the premodern, parish-based church and the modern congregation or gathered church also continue. But while they may exist, they do not remain unchanged by the fluidity of people's lives and the surrounding culture. Liquid modernity brings out the mutation in the parish and in the congregation. These changes have emerged almost imperceptibly, so much so that many church leaders may not have noticed what has happened. Those running parishes and congregations think that they are doing what the church has always done. Unfortunately neither the congregation nor the people in the wider parish have stood still. Liquid modernity has seeped under the church door and into the sanctuary. - 25...

Bad Moon on the rise
Overcoming his church's bizarre reputation and his own criminal record, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has cemented ties with the Bush administration -- and gained government funding for his closest disciples....

Why Liberals Should Read the Bible
The Bible doesn't go away if we don't read it. Others just tell us what it says.
By John A. Buehrens
Today many otherwise well-informed, intelligent people--religious liberals, seekers after wisdom and justice, even skeptics and the news media--often speak as though the Bible says and means only what fundamentalists say it says and means.

This shows not only a lack of understanding but also a failure of maturity and wisdom. Those who reject or neglect the Bible fail to recognize that to "throw the Bible out" because others have turned it into an idol, or because you don't accept what you take to be the conventional understanding of its teachings, doesn't mean that it ever goes away. Rather, it simply means that it ends up only in the hands and on the lips of others--often reactionary others--where it can and will be used against you.

How did we happen to give away our right to question religious authority and to interpret the Bible for ourselves?...

...But now we come to the third and most personal reason: You also can't be spiritually mature or wise by simply rejecting the Bible as oppressive. The oppressive uses of the Bible are real, but unless you learn to understand that there are other readings possible, the Bible will, indeed, simply continue to be a source of oppression for you, and not a source of inspiration, liberation, creation, and even exultation as you understand it anew for yourself, at a deeper and less literal level.

Why the myth of Republican competence persists, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
By Joshua Micah Marshall

Let's be honest. As upset as you may have been in January 2001 that George W. Bush was going to be president, you had to admit he had a pretty impressive team. They had beaten a sitting vice president with seemingly every advantage; they outmuscled and outmaneuvered the Gore camp during the Florida recount; and despite the abbreviated transition, they quickly and smoothly assembled a seasoned White House staff. Many top appointees were in their second or third tour of government service; they exuded experience and know-how--and not just in the splendid isolation of academia or the permissive chaos of campaign work, but in the rugged practicalities of commanding American industry. Dick Cheney was the signature figure: a former White House chief of staff, congressman, and wartime defense secretary, whose vaunted government savvy had been validated in the private sector as CEO of the energy giant Halliburton. Like the administration, Cheney was right-wing, but in a way that was at once daunting and oddly reassuring. You may not have liked what he was doing. But you had little doubt that he knew what he was doing.

Today, that record doesn't look nearly so impressive. ...


EXACTLY one year ago, Tony Blair told Parliament: "Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing.

"The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down. It is up and running now."

Not only was every word of this false, it was part of a big lie invented in Washington within hours of the attacks of September 11 2001 and used to hoodwink the American public and distract the media from the real reason for attacking Iraq. "It was 95 per cent charade," a former senior CIA analyst told me.

An investigation of files and archive film for my TV documentary Breaking The Silence, together with interviews with former intelligence officers and senior Bush officials have revealed that Bush and Blair knew all along that Saddam Hussein was effectively disarmed.

Both Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, and Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's closest adviser, made clear before September 11 2001 that Saddam Hussein was no threat - to America, Europe or the Middle East.

In Cairo, on February 24 2001, Powell said: "He (Saddam Hussein) has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbours."

This is the very opposite of what Bush and Blair said in public.

Powell even boasted that it was the US policy of "containment" that had effectively disarmed the Iraqi dictator - again the very opposite of what Blair said time and again. On May 15 2001, Powell went further and said that Saddam Hussein had not been able to "build his military back up or to develop weapons of mass destruction" for "the last 10 years". America, he said, had been successful in keeping him "in a box".

Two months later, Condoleezza Rice also described a weak, divided and militarily defenceless Iraq. "Saddam does not control the northern part of the country," she said. "We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt."...

Let the neo-cons bellow, just bring the troops home

George, here's what to do in Iraq: Declare victory and bring the troops home. ...

...The warrior intellectuals — the neoconservatives — will bellow. Let them. They don't have any electoral votes. The American people never bought their "neo-Wilsonian" fantasies of empire. Asserting American dominance was never your argument for war. You said Americans had to depose Saddam Hussein in order to protect themselves.

That's done.

Our occupation of Iraq is not yet six months old and already Iraqis are making sure that we tire of it. This will not tend to get better. An antiwar feeling has arisen in the United States, and Howard Dean, a nobody from a small state, has ridden it to the head of the pack. Dean says he wouldn't have gone to war in the first place. Few notice that Dean also says we ought to stay in Iraq to do nation-building.

"Well, Howard," you can say, "I'm bringing the troops home. If you're elected, you can send them back." ...

An open invitation to election fraud
Not only is the country's leading touch-screen voting system so badly designed that votes can be easily changed, but its manufacturer is run by a die-hard GOP donor who vowed to deliver his state for Bush next year....

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Bush's Latest UN Visit: More Misleading
09/23/2003 @ 8:56pm

Once more, George W. Bush has assaulted the truth in front of the United Nations. A year ago, he launched his push for war with a speech before the General Assembly that was filled with distortions to set the stage for the invasion to come. (See here.) This time around, Bush was defending his war against Saddam Hussein and the occupation and again relied on misrepresentations. "The regime of Saddam Hussein," he claimed, "cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder." This is a slippery rendition of what's known. Hussein may have "cultivated" contacts with terrorists, but the Bush administration has yet to demonstrate he had developed any operational ties to al Qaeda. And built WMDs? Certainly, he did so in the past--before UN inspectors in the mid-1990s reported that they had destroyed most of his WMDs. But there's no undeniable proof he was manufacturing WMDs more recently. In fact, a classified Defense Intelligence Agency analysis produced in October 2002 noted that there was no reliable evidence that Hussein was n=making chemical weapons. ...

Press Remarks with Foreign Minister of Egypt Amre Moussa

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Cairo, Egypt (Ittihadiya Palace)
February 24, 2001

...QUESTION: The Egyptian press editorial commentary that we have seen here has been bitterly aggressive in denouncing the U.S. role and not welcoming you. I am wondering whether you believe you accomplished anything during your meetings to assuage concerns about the air strikes against Iraq and the continuing sanctions?

SECRETARY POWELL: I received a very warm welcome from the leaders and I know there is some unhappiness as expressed in the Egyptian press. I understand that, but at the same time, with respect to the no-fly zones and the air strikes that we from time to time must conduct to defend our pilots, I just want to remind everybody that the purpose of those no-fly zones and the purpose of those occasional strikes to protect our pilots, is not to pursue an aggressive stance toward Iraq, but to defend the people that the no-fly zones are put in to defend. The people in the southern part of Iraq and the people in the northern part of Iraq, and these zones have a purpose, and their purpose is to protect people -- protect Arabs -- not to affect anything else in the region. And we have to defend ourselves.

We will always try to consult with our friends in the region so that they are not surprised and do everything we can to explain the purpose of our responses. We had a good discussion, the Foreign Minister and I and the President and I, had a good discussion about the nature of the sanctions -- the fact that the sanctions exist -- not for the purpose of hurting the Iraqi people, but for the purpose of keeping in check Saddam Hussein's ambitions toward developing weapons of mass destruction. We should constantly be reviewing our policies, constantly be looking at those sanctions to make sure that they are directed toward that purpose. That purpose is every bit as important now as it was ten years ago when we began it. And frankly they have worked. He has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors. So in effect, our policies have strengthened the security of the neighbors of Iraq, and these are policies that we are going to keep in place, but we are always willing to review them to make sure that they are being carried out in a way that does not affect the Iraqi people but does affect the Iraqi regime's ambitions and the ability to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and we had a good conversation on this issue....

Pride and Prejudices
How Americans have fooled themselves about the war in Iraq, and why they've had to

Sept. 19 - A sturdy-looking American matron in the audience at the American University of Paris grew redder by the second. She was listening to a panel talking about the Iraq war and its effect on U.S.-French relations, and she kept nodding her head like a pump building emotional pressure....

...Then she listened as another panelist and I went through the now-familiar recitation of Washington's claims before the war, and the too-familiar realities since: the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the inevitable conclusion that Saddam Hussein was not the threat he was cracked up to be, the fantasy that this war could be waged on the cheap rather than the $1 billion per week American taxpayers are now spending, the claim that occupation - called"liberation" - would be short and sweet, when in fact American men and women continue to be shot and blown up every day with no end in sight.

As we went down the list, I could see the Nodding Woman's problem was not that she didn't believe us, it was that she did. She just desperately wanted other reasons, better reasons, some she could consider valid reasons for the price that Americans are paying in blood and treasure.

It's not the first time I've come across this reaction. I just spent a month in the States and met a lot of angry people. A few claim the press is not reporting "the good things in Iraq," although it's very hard to see what's good for Americans there. Many more say, "Why didn't the press warn us?"

We did, of course. Many of us who cover the region - along with the CIA and the State Department and the uniformed military - have been warning for at least a year that occupying Iraq would be a dirty, costly, long and dangerous job.

The problem is not really that the public was misinformed by the press before the war, or somehow denied the truth afterward. The problem is that Americans just can't believe their eyes. They cannot fathom the combination of cynicism, naivete', arrogance and ignorance that dragged us into this quagmire, and they're in a deep state of denial about it.

Again and again, you hear people offering their own "real" reasons for invading Iraq - conspiracy theories spun not to condemn, but to condone the administration's actions. Thus the "real" reason for taking out Saddam Hussein, some say, was to eliminate this man who rewarded the families of suicide bombers and posed as an implacable enemy of Israel. (Yet the bombings go on there, and surely the chaos in Iraq does nothing for the long-term security of the Jewish state.) Or the "real" reason for invading Iraq was to intimidate Syria and Iran. Yet Tehran, if anything, has grown more aggressive, and may actually have stepped up its nuclear weapons program to deter the United States. (After all, that strategy worked for North Korea.) Or the "real" reason was to secure America's long-term supply of oil, but the destabilization of the region, again, may make that more tenuous, not less....

Bush begs at "irrelevant" UN
How irrelevant is an organization if you go before it and grovel?

Bush spoke at the United Nations today. Of course he didn't apologize for the mess he created. Of course he didn't apologize for the middle finger he gave the world body. Of course he didn't apologize for lying to get his war on.
"The regime of Saddam Hussein cultivated ties to terror while it built weapons of mass destruction. It used those weapons in acts of mass murder, and refused to account for them when confronted by the world," Bush said.

What's funny is he trots out these same tired old lines, knowing darn well everyone knows they are lies and exaggerations.

Ties to terror? Weapons of mass destruction? This has all been disproven time and time again, and the diplomats at the UN aren't idiots. They know what the real evidence shows. They know that Blair is under intense pressure in the UK for his lies. They know the US public is abandoning Bush in droves.

And all Bush can say is, "I told you so! Now line up behind me!" It's bizarre.

But not surprising. Bush himself told Fox that he "insulates" himself from the world outside, and only listens to news filtered by his own staff.

Bush said he insulates himself from the "opinions" that seep into news coverage by getting his news from his own aides. He said he scans headlines, but rarely reads news stories.

"I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news," the president said. "And the best way to get the news is from objective sources, and the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

And what is more objective than the words given by Wolfowitz, Perle, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the rest of the Chickenhawk Cabal?...

Is a Partial Gospel Really Good News? by Joel McClure

I wonder what Paul would say were he to sit in on much of what is called ‘evangelism’ in America. Would Paul point out inadequacies with what passes for ‘good news’ in contemporary communities of Jesus’ disciples? From what he wrote in his letters and from what Luke records of his activities, it is quite probable that Paul would take issue with the presentation of today’s version of ‘good news.’ What might Paul of Tarsus say is wrong with ‘evangelism’ in its early 21st century American ‘evangelical’ incarnation? What corrections might need to be made to our message and, in light of that, our methods?

Extracted from the full, rich, and enculturated writings of the New Testament authors, distilled down to palatable and marketable ‘timeless truths’, and compressed into short pithy statements, the ‘evangelistic’ message today presents itself in roughly the following formula: You are a sinner. Sinners go to hell. Believe that Jesus died for your sins and ‘paid the price’ for you. (Perhaps) be baptized—depending on your particular denominational affiliation. Publicly profess your agreement with a certain list of doctrinal statements. So that you can have assurance that you will go to heaven when you die. ...

... We need to stop trying to fit the gospel onto bumper stickers. Todd Hunter’s hypothesis that “something went drastically wrong when a reductionistic rendering of the Gospel got married to the American marketing machine” suggests that minimalization, while perhaps expedient, is not helpful in the long run. This is a big story and it takes time to get your mind around. It also takes more than words to understand it. We can be honest with people and say, “This story is too big for me to tell you in four sentences. Can we walk together for a few years so you can see it properly?”

We need to stop thinking in terms of converting people in one conversation, and start thinking of discipling people in terms of years (with conversion perhaps taking place somewhere along the way). This will not necessarily take place in formal contexts. It may even take place without people knowing it at first. ...

Prosecutors withheld evidence to obtain death sentence, said defense
By Kara Covington - Sierra Times.com

KNOXVILLE, TENN- Imagine being convicted and sentenced to death for a murder you knew nothing about and were not even in the same county when the crime took place— that is exactly what death row inmate, Olen Hutchison, claimed he has been coping with since his conviction in 1990. ...

...According to Dana Hansen, an attorney with Federal Defender Services, prosecutors informed the jury that Hutchison knew about the murder in advance and helped to plan it because Huddleston owed him a large amount of money. However, Hansen said this was a false statement and the prosecution knew it at the time they presented the argument.

Hutchison had loaned Huddleston money but the date had not passed for the money to be returned, therefore Huddleston was not late on his payments to Hutchison and Hansen said prosectors knew this and withheld the evidence.

“Prosecutors have twice manipulated and withheld evidence, first to convict Hutchison, then to deny him his right to appeal,” said Hansen. ...

Do Poor Fathers Deserve Debtors' Prison?

This Thursday, Sept. 25, 16 fathers (at last count) will begin a hunger strike to draw media attention to issues like the imprisonment of "deadbeat dads."

The group, Hunger Strike for Justice, estimates the total number of fathers incarcerated in the U.S. for failure to pay child support is 250,000.

This estimate seems high given that the entire prison population is somewhat over two million, but it is difficult to argue because no official statistics exist.

A more useful question to ask, however, is: What does throwing a "deadbeat dad" in jail accomplish?

That's the question recently asked by a Texas judge who recommended releasing from jail 112 men who were behind county bars because they hadn't paid child support. (No women were imprisoned on the charge.) The judge doubted the wisdom of throwing non-violent parents into a badly overcrowded jail system because they were in debt. After all, there is no statistical proof that imprisonment motivates a father who can pay court-ordered child support to do so; imprisonment prevents those unable to pay from earning money....

..."Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths" (1998) remains the most extensive federally funded study on divorced fathers. Conducted by Dr. Sanford Braver of Arizona State University, it found that the stereotypical deadbeat dad "does not exist in significant numbers." Many if not most of delinquent fathers are unable to pay their child support, especially when it is coupled with steep interest charges for falling behind....

Ten Myths About Church Leavers

Alan Jaimieson

Despite the almost mantra-like status of the statement "people are leaving the church" there still appears to be little understanding about who is leaving, when they leave, why they leave, and what happens to them and their faith after they leave. Of course everyone has their own view on these issues but few, especially our church leaders, have taken the time to sit down and talk with an actual leaver or two.

It is much easier dealing with stereotypes than actual people, even if the stereotypes don't help us understand what is really going on. For those interested in moving beyond the stereotypes and asking: "Who are these people who are leaving our churches?" an examination of some myths about church leavers may prove helpful....

Emerging Values
The next generation is redefining spiritual formation, community, and mission.
Brian D. McLaren

I snuck into pastoral ministry via the English department rather than the theology department. I wasn't planning on being a pastor, but you know how these things go.

There was a moment in graduate school (it was the late '70s) that I won't forget. Not the moment one of my freshman comp students (I had a teaching fellowship) told me he had trouble with spelling, so he wanted to turn in his composition assignments on cassette tape instead of on paper.

No, it was the moment I "got it" regarding a strange new school of literary theory, then associated with the terms "post-structuralism" and "deconstruction." A chill ran up my neck, and two thoughts seized me:

1. If this way of thinking catches on, the whole world will change.

2. If this way of thinking catches on, the Christian faith as we know it is in a heap of trouble.

I couldn't have articulated why these thoughts so gripped me back then, but my intuition was right, I think. I was "getting" some facet of what we now term "postmodernism," a way of thinking that has both continuities and discontinuities with the modernity from which it grows, in which it is rooted, and against which (perhaps like a teenager coming of age) it reacts.

Another moment came in the early '90s. I had left college teaching to pastor a church. A newcomer to our church, a spiritual seeker, highly educated, highly motivated, and highly skeptical of easy answers was asking tough questions, I was giving (thanks to C. S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, and Josh McDowell) my best apologetics-informed replies, and I wasn't getting through.

My linear Liar-Lunatic-or-Lord arguments, either-or propositions, and watertight belief system didn't enhance the credibility of the gospel for my new friend; rather, they made the gospel seem less credible, maybe even a little cheap and shallow....

... Compare modern Christianity's quest for the perfect belief system to medieval church architecture. Christians in the emerging culture may look back on our doctrinal structures (statements of faith, systematic theologies) as we look back on medieval cathedrals: possessing a real beauty that should be preserved, but now largely vacant, not inhabited or used much anymore, more tourist attraction than holy place.

Many of us can't imagine this.

If Christianity isn't the quest for (or defense of) the perfect belief system ("the church of the last detail"), then what's left? In the emerging culture, I believe it will be "Christianity as a way of life," or "Christianity as a path of spiritual formation."

The switch suggests a change in the questions people are asking. Instead of "How can I be right in my belief so I can go to heaven?" the new question seems to be, "How can we live life to the full so God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven?"

Instead of "If you were to die tonight, do you know for certain that you would spend eternity with God in heaven?" the new question seems to be, "If you live for another thirty years, what kind of person will you become?"

I'm not certain any postmodern churches exist quite yet. But even in modern churches we can feel a rising tension, a fomenting discontent: why aren't we making better disciples? Why aren't people becoming more holy, joyful, peaceful, content, and Christ-like?

Why, in a Christian subculture served by 24-hour Christian radio-TV, bathed in books and periodicals of unparalleled quality and quantity, instructed by a state-of-the-art seminary system, and inspired by a state-of-the-heart worship music industry … why are so few of our good Christian people good Christians?

Why is Prozac needed by so many? Why are the most biblically-knowledgeable so often so mean-spirited? Why are our pastors dejected so often? Why do our speakers (both human and electronic) have to blare so loudly to get a response, and even then, why is the response so shallow or temporary?

That discontent may be the ending point for many of us, but it is the starting point for our brothers and sisters of the emerging culture. If Christianity doesn't bear fruit in a way or rhythm or pattern of life that yields Christ-likeness in real measure, they aren't interested. Being "saved" is suspect if people aren't being transformed.

That's why, I believe, we see such a resurgence of interest in Roman Catholic and Orthodox writers, especially pre-modern ones. To find this emphasis on the "renovation of the heart," we have to go back (with few exceptions), way back, to St. John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Benedict, Ignatius, the Fathers. That's why good Baptists and Presbyterians find themselves signing up for spiritual direction at a local Catholic monastery. ...

...I'm not surprised that megachurches developed in late modernity. In a culture that believed secular science and secular government could solve most of our problems, a culture that assumed religion in general and the church in particular were declining industries, it made sense that Christians would find comfort and confidence in large herds.

"See? We're significant! We're big and strong!" our large numbers said to an unbelieving culture that tried to dismiss us. (I am not "against" megachurches. They have and will have many advantages, but ironically, their size may become an increasing disadvantage.)

What happens when the climate changes, when "post-secular" is an accepted term to describe our times, when ivory tower intellectuals join pierced-and-tattooed teenagers in saying, "I'm not religious, but I am spiritual"?

Now large numbers become less important: quantity of people becomes less important than quality of relationships. So the "church growth" of the '80s and '90s has given way to the quest for community. This quest is essential, but it's also risky and hard....

...It's no surprise that in this fragmented world, community becomes a higher value, even though it is so darned hard to achieve and sustain. It's no surprise that interest in house churches increases in these times, where the shared life of a few is so important that even bothering with public worship is optional.

Throwing a small-groups program at this hunger for community is like feeding an elephant Cheerios, one by one. What's needed is a profound reorganization of our way of life, not a squeeze-another-hour-for-"community" into the week....