Christmas Break

Not much activity on the blog this week; my schedule is upended because I’m off of work for the week, and that means I’m not waking up early enough to post (I know, tough life). Expect regular posting to resume next week, perhaps Tuesday, when work resumes. Hope everyone’s 2012 is joyous, healthy and full of love.

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Merry Xmas!

It’s probably not surprising to you that I’m not particularly agitated by the so-called War on Christmas (and the horror induced by using the ancient Christian shorthand for “Christ” is pretty funny). I think Jesus can handle it if there’s not a crèche on the courthouse lawn this year, or if the state house calls it a holiday tree instead. I think he cares much more about how we treat those around us, especially those for whom Christmas is not a gift-filled or joyous time.

That’s all I’m going to say about that. Because Christmas should be a time for unity, as we all, whether conservative or liberal, remember the birth of our king and eagerly await his return to set right everything that is wrong with our world.

A lot goes wrong on this planet every day. But one thing went right more than 2,000 years ago. And that’s the only thing that really matters. Merry Christmas, faithful readers. See you next year!

Immanuel

It’s been a rough week for God.

It’s certainly been a rough week for those of us who believe in a God who is both omnipotent and loving. For that matter, it seems like it’s been a rough year. Nevertheless, this past seven days carried with it some heartbreaking news about Liam, the 7-year-old son of one of the more frequent commenters here, Matt. For nearly two years, Liam has been battling leukemia, and despite a large amount of both prayer and medical effort, his battle appears likely to end quite soon.

That really sucks. I just don’t know how else to say it. My wife and I spent a good portion of Tuesday night crying and talking, trying to process how devastating it must be to lose a child.

Needless to say, this led us down a path many smarter, more thoughtful people have traveled many times before. The question of suffering, pain, prayer and the silence of a God we are told loves us.

I spent a lot of the early part of this blog’s life discussing prayer and questioning its usefulness. I feel I must return to it now. Because, look, there’s not much evidence it actually works, at least not in the way we traditionally think about prayer. I’ll let the late Christopher Hitchens explain it the way only a committed atheist can:

Almost all men get cancer of the prostate if they live long enough: it’s an undignified thing but quite evenly distributed among saints and sinners, believers and unbelievers. If you maintain that god awards the appropriate cancers, you must also account for the numbers of infants who contract leukemia. Devout persons have died young and in pain. Bertrand Russell and Voltaire, by contrast, remained spry until the end, as many psychopathic criminals and tyrants have also done. These visitations, then, seem awfully random. …

The Danish physicist and Nobelist Niels Bohr once hung a horseshoe over his doorway. Appalled friends exclaimed that surely he didn’t put any trust in such pathetic superstition. “No, I don’t,” he replied with composure, “but apparently it works whether you believe in it or not.” That might be the safest conclusion. The most comprehensive investigation of the subject ever conducted—the “Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer,” of 2006—could find no correlation at all between the number and regularity of prayers offered and the likelihood that the person being prayed for would have improved chances. But it did find a small but interesting negative correlation, in that some patients suffered slight additional woe when they failed to manifest any improvement. They felt that they had disappointed their devoted supporters.

Here’s the link for that study, in case you want to check out the summary for yourself. The conclusion: “Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from [coronary artery bypass graft surgery], but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.“`

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Newsflash: Christians Make Themselves Look Petty. Again.

This story grabbed my attention:

The Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing wing is recalling the pink Bibles it was selling to help fund breast cancer research.

Why, you ask? Some of the money might have gone to breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, which is pretty much an end-of-days scenario for pro-life groups given the organization’s clinics also provide abortions. …

The Tennessean reports that the pink copies of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, dubbed the “Here’s Hope Breast Cancer Bible,” went on sale at Wal-Mart and other major retailers in October, with $1 for every copy sold going to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

That was all well and good until last week, when an outcry in the conservative blogosphere led to the publisher, LifeWay Christian Resources, receiving several dozen complaints about what pro-life advocates saw as an unacceptable link to Planned Parenthood. “The sign might as well read, ‘Buy a Bible and support abortion!” read one complaint on the pro-life blog Bound4Life.

Good grief. Is there anything so damaging to our witness as creating this kind of publicity?

I want to say this very clearly: Planned Parenthood is not evil. Yes, Planned Parenthood provides abortions. Yes, I think that’s wrong. But here’s what else Planned Parenthood provides: Continue reading

What the Bible Gets Wrong … About God? Part 4

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

There’s a belief among conservative Christians that accepting the tenets of scientific study, especially concerning the origins of the world, is tantamount to rejecting the authority of scripture and, indeed, the resurrection of Christ itself. Obviously, I disagree. We’ve already discussed here the idea that an ancient, pre-scientific religious text is simply not trying to answer scientific questions about the origins of life, but rather the theological questions about how we got here. God created us in his image. That’s all the Bible is really trying to say. The exact how and when, that’s not really important to scripture’s message.

Meanwhile, there’s a tendency among theistic evolutionists to say something similar in the opposite direction, that science doesn’t have anything to say about matters of faith. That these worlds are “nonoverlapping magisteria” to use a fairly popular phrase (hey, I’d heard of it before!). I don’t think this is quite right either. It’s true that science itself does not make theological or moral conclusions, but we’d be remiss as Christians if we did not view our theology in light of what we discovered about the world God chose to create.

As RJS, summarizing John Polkinghorne, says at Jesus Creed:

Science is not the religion of the 21st century – but a theology that ignores, or even worse denies, the revelations of modern science will fall short in its attempt to understand and explore the nature of God.

I’d go further and say the revelations of modern science, thus informing our view of God’s nature, must therefore influence our view of God’s word – not just in areas where the text “contradicts” the scientific evidence but in its entirety.

I’m speaking specifically of how we view the God who would decide to create a species in which he would place his image and then uses the incredibly slow process of evolution to do it.

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How Gay Uncles Can Help Love Win

In his book Love Wins, Rob Bell speaks a little about his childhood conversion story, which is traditional by any definition of the word: on his knees, beside his bed, saying the sinner’s prayer. In a postmodern world, he writes, it can be easy to be embarrassed by stories like that. No child making that decision is really doing so of his or her own free will, but rather through the influence of environmental factors that, once loosened in teenage and college years, might ultimately lead to a far different choice.

“With very little effort,” Bell writes, “a person can deconstruct an experience like that by pointing out all of the other things going on in that prayer, like the desire to please one’s parents and the power of religion to shape a child.”

Bell argues we should embrace our pasts, despite the “temptation at times to become hostile to our earlier understandings, feeling embarrassed we were so ‘simple’ or ‘naive’ or ‘brainwashed’ or whatever terms arrive when we haven’t come to terms with our own story.”

In short, “That’s where we were at that point in our life, and God met us there. Those moments were necessary for us to arrive here, at this place at this time, as we are. Love frees us to embrace all of our history, the history in which all things are being made new.”

Though I’ve never felt embarrassed by my (first) conversion story (I was 4, and I tacked the sinner’s prayer onto the end of praying for dinner), there are plenty of things in my earlier life about which I do feel a little uneasy, mostly my very opinionated high school career as a “song” and column writer.

Yes, I wrote columns, some of them for assignments in our Government class, others just for fun – the doctors tell me the dorkiness is incurable; it’s certainly been a lifelong affliction. Though perhaps that should be the embarrassing part, it’s not. Rather, the content is something just short of horrifying to me now. And my words, especially about homosexuality, still haunt me today.

Like Bell, it’s easy to see now the source of what I wrote (I won’t be quoting anything; it is that revolting to me). There were ultraconservative influences at home and at school. There literally were no voices of moderation in my life, and that includes the textbooks from which I was taught and the radio I listened to. I was a product of my environment.

My opinions, at least on homosexuality, started to change when I learned my favorite uncle is gay. Continue reading

Being Truly Pro-Life

One of the highlights – if not the highlight – of my journalism career was being asked to help our sister newspaper, the Rocky Mountain News, cover the Democratic National Convention in August 2008. I was mostly asked to liveblog and tweet (not so fun when all you have is a number keypad for texting in those Dark Ages), but I got a couple of bylines in the dead-tree version and got to be in the same city as Barack Obama became the first black major-party presidential nominee in our nation’s history. Pretty cool stuff.

Six months later, the Rocky was shuttered, and I left for better-paying writing jobs in non-imploding industries.

But covering the convention had a lasting, transformative effect on me, and it started at the very first event I covered, the convention’s opening interfaith prayer gathering.Bishop Charles E. Blake, presiding bishop of Denver’s Church of God in Christ, broke from the party to criticize abortion but aimed his most withering fire on pro-life Republicans and conservatives, some of whom had disrupted the gathering by shouting that Obama was a “baby killer”:

Others loudly proclaim their advocacy for the unborn, but they refuse to recognize their responsibility and the responsibility of our nation to those who have been born. They are presently and historically silent, if not indifferent to the suffering of our inner cities.

Further research led me to believe that Obama’s ideas for reducing the number of abortions would likely prove more effective than those of the Republican Party, whose quest to slash family-planning budgets and promote abstinence-only education has led to an information deficit, especially among poor girls and women, that increases, rather than reduces, the number of unplanned pregnancies and, therefore, the number of abortions.

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