August 2007

I wrote about this last month, and it is still absolutely inexplicable to me how an Israeli government can allow this to happen:

A month-old Islamic dig on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount to replace faulty electrical cables has damaged an ancient wall that is likely a remnant of the Second Temple, Israeli archaeologists said Thursday.

The work, which is being carried out with the approval of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the state-run Antiquities Authority, has been repeatedly condemned by independent Israeli archaeologists, who are calling for its immediate halt.

“The Israeli Government is lending a hand to the destruction of one of the most important archaeological sites in the world,” said Bar-Ilan University archaeologist Dr. Gabriel Barkai at a Jerusalem press conference.

Barkai said the dig, which involves tractors and other heavy construction equipment, has created a 400-meter-long and 1.5-meter-deep trench on the site, destroying layers of ancient remains.

Among the antiquities that have been damaged are a 7-meter-wide wall that apparently dates back to Second-Temple times and was likely part of the Temple courts, according to Israeli archaeologists from the nonpartisan Committee Against the Destruction of Antiquities on the Temple Mount.

Hebrew University archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar said that the Temple Mount had become “one big construction site,” and blasted the government for authorizing “rampant barbarism and vandalism” there.

You can let the Israeli Antiquities Authority (which according to the article has turned a deaf ear to the protest of people who should know what’s going on, namely archaeologists) know what you think of this historical, scientific, and religious vandalism by going to the web site and giving them a piece of your mind. If you do, remember to be polite, respectful, and cognizant that this is Israeli and Jewish history we’re talking about. References to rebuilding the Temple and the Second Coming won’t get you anywhere, even if they had anything to do with the subject at hand. Let them know that as one who values the history of Jerusalem and the Jewish people, you urge them to stop the Islamic authorities (the Waqf, who deny that anything has been damaged) from destroying antiquities valued the world over.

From Ethics Daily comes the latest evidence that the environmental movement is developing into a new religion:

Visitors to East Anglia’s annual Greenpeace fair in England on Sunday will be able to confess their sins against the environment to a Catholic priest.

But the Rev. Antony Sutch, who will be hearing people’s eco-confessions, said it would be a question of secular rather than sacramental confession.

“I am going along because I am someone conscious of the need to look at our consumption and greed and what this is doing to the world God gave us to live on,” he said.

So does that mean he’s going to do secular absolutions, too?

The fair is taking place just outside Bungay, 100 miles northeast of London, and is the biggest fund-raising event organized by members of Greenpeace, the environmental organization founded in 1971. They hope to raise more than $30,000. This year the sound system at one music stage will be powered by a member of the audience riding an exercise bicycle.

Now, what would really be neat is if they could get the Rolling Stones to play at their event. If they can work that out, this would be the most appropriate cyclist to give the Stones their juice, given their, uh, advanced ages:


(Via T19.)

I’m going to miss Bob Edgar. The general secretary of the National Council of Churches has given me a lot of laughs over the years, and as he heads off to Common Cause (doing essentially the same work he’s done at the NCC, except in Washington instead of New York), he’s going to leave behind a legacy of overt political activism and nonsensical rhetoric that’s going to be hard to top. By way of reminding us that he’s also a preacher (of the United Methodist variety), he’s leaving us with one of his famous expository biblical theological political sermons, which can be found at Day 1. The “text” for this opus is 1 Corinthians 12:

We have the Apostle Paul to thank for the image of the Body of Christ. In this particular passage, he was addressing the quarreling followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul had established this Christian community only a few years earlier, and he was writing because he had heard they couldn’t agree on leadership. Sound familiar? So they were arguing amongst themselves. Paul is trying to tell them in this letter-you’re missing the point. Spend your energy on what Jesus taught us. Respect the gifts in each other. And it doesn’t matter what race or class or ethnic background you are, we are all equal in the eyes of the one God.

There’s a lot of talk in our country lately about values. The political campaign for 2008 is bringing to the forefront all the “issues” that have been used to divide us. Americans have been no different than the church goers in Corinth-arguing about leadership.

The key phrase in Paul’s letter is this: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The common good. There it is, right there in the Bible. God’s Holy Spirit gives each one of us a unique gift for the good of all of God’s creation.

“The common good.” As Inigo Montoya famously remarked, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

The “common good” referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:7 is not “the good of all of God’s creation.” It is for the good of the church that the Holy Spirit has given spiritual gifts to the people of God. Despite Edgar’s delight in his own discovery (“see, see–I told you! It’s right there in the Bible!”), the Church has known for 2000 years that this verse is in Paul’s letter, and has known what it means. That’s because it is able to read Scripture without assuming that everything must have an application to the political issues of the day (either that or dismissed as archaic). 1 Corinthians 12-14 is about the way the church is supposed to function, and about the context (agape) that forms the setting for that functioning. 1 Corinthians 12:7 is no more about the political stuff that Edgar follows up with than 1 Corinthians 13 is about marital relations.

In another misuse of Scripture, we get this:

Jesus was the agent through which God created the heavens and the earth. And if we can believe the psalmist that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;”–that’s Psalm 24–why should there be any division among us about reducing greenhouse gases, switching to wind or solar power, or reusing materials we unthinkingly throw away.

So Psalm 24, a magnificent hymn of praise to the King of Glory, becomes proof that we need to follow Al Gore off the edge of a cliff. Scientific evidence of greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming? Hah! We don’t need no stinking science–we have Psalm 24! A psalm that proclaims,

Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!

is actually about recycling! Plastics and aluminum cans, right there in the Bible! Who’da thunk it?

But Edgar doesn’t stop mangling Scripture there. He next moves on to the Gospels:

Jesus also had another priority. It was taking care of the poor. The Gospel of Luke, the first reported words of Jesus in public ministry come right out of the prophet Isaiah. He said this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”

If we are followers of Jesus, what are we doing to eliminate poverty that kills?

Jesus, of course, didn’t say anything about “eliminating” poverty. In fact, He said that we would always have the poor with us. But Edgar thinks bigger than Jesus ever could have–about what you’d expect from someone who used to be in Congress. Oh, and pretty much all biblical scholars are convinced that the first words of Jesus’ public ministry were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) But Edgar’s never been big on that repentance stuff, except for political conservatives–reeks too much of fire and brimstone.

One possible solution is for those of who are part of the faithful community to support the Millennium Development Goals. [peace and blessings be upon them, as Chris Johnson would say].

That’s right, folks–the way we obey Jesus and eliminate poverty is by supporting the UN in its effort to cut poverty by half by 2015.


There’s more, but I’m getting a headache.

The EPC General Assembly office has announced the first admissions into the EPC/New Wineskins transitional presbytery. As of August 21st, the following churches had been admitted:

  • Hope Presbyterian Church in Rogue River, Ore.; Brian Boisen, pastor; pending their dismissal from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

In addition, Grace Chapel Presbyterian Church in Madison, Miss., and its pastor, Steve Bryant, have been received into and EPC transitional presbytery in preparation for possible membership in the Central South Presbytery.

(Via Layman Online.)

Muslim foot-washing rituals have been in the news recently as a number of public universities, including our own local George Mason, have installed special basins in public restrooms on campus for the use of Muslims preparing for prayer. In at least one case in Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union, normally Johnny-on-the-spot in church-state separation cases, declined to intervene, holding that the school’s expenditures were an appropriate “health and safety” measure. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, on the other hand, claims the law on such expenditures is “murky.” Now, another university is seeking to prevent Christians in a school organization from washing the feet of new members, claiming it’s “hazing,” according to the Alliance Defense Fund:

A federal judge said no Friday to Savannah State University’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a Christian student group.  University officials booted the student group, Commissioned II Love, off campus after university officials deemed the group’s act of sharing the Gospel as “harassment” and the club’s practice of washing the feet of new members–as Jesus did with his disciples–as “hazing.”

“Christian students cannot be treated as second-class citizens.  It’s ridiculous that a university would boot a Christian student club from campus simply for exercising its First Amendment right to free speech,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Joseph Martins with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

Officials at Savannah State University suspended the Christian student organization in April 2006, denying the group access to university facilities and benefits.  On Sept. 11, university officials applied the highest sanction possible against the student group–complete and formal expulsion from campus–alleging that the group violated its suspension when some of its members individually participated in a contemporary Christian music event.

Savannah State officials accused the student ministry of engaging in “harassment” because its members shared their faith with other students and “hazing” because its leaders washed the feet of new members in an act of service.  Foot washing is an ancient Christian custom reflecting Jesus’ service and love for his disciples.  The university charged that foot washing was “an activity which endangers or is likely to endanger the physical health of a student, regardless of the student’s willingness to participate in such activity.”

Yeah, I mean, by the time they’re done somebody’s feet might be clean. Can’t have that on a college campus. I can just imagine the lawyer who argued this in front of a federal judge coming out of the courtroom thinking, “well, I’ve just made a total idiot of myself.”

I’ve heard of people who thought they were God, but they are generally considered psychotic. Evidently the lunatics are running the asylum in mainland China:

As of September 1, China is tightening control over Tibetan Buddhism with a new law requiring government permission for the reincarnation of lamas.

The new law bans Tibetan lamas, or monks, from reincarnating without Chinese government approval.

China, which has ruled Tibet for more than half a century, says anyone outside China cannot influence the reincarnation process and only monasteries in China can apply for permission.

I obviously don’t believe in reincarnation, of Buddhist lamas or anyone else, but does this strike anyone else as being a tad…presumptuous, shall we say?

John Powers, an expert on Tibetan Buddhism at Australia National University, says the law is “absurd” but at the same time, “chilling”.

“They’re [Chinese government] trying to exercise as much control as they possibly can over religious practices and over peoples’ lives,” he said. “It’s not even just exercising control of the present life, they even trying to control future life and death. This sort of thing would only occur in a totalitarian government.”

Actually, I’m not sure that any totalitarian government has ever tried to assert control over the afterlife. I believe we have a new record here.

Of course, this is the same government that has tried for years to tell Catholics that they can’t be led by the Pope, has killed and imprisoned who knows how many Falun Gong followers for doing mental and breathing exercises, and has driven millions of Christians into underground churches as the only way to practice their faith without the government telling them what to preach or teach. And all this by an atheist government! When you’ve got your brute fingers in everyone’s religious pies, why should your monomania for control be limited by a little thing like death?

“As my theology began to evolve and change, I began to see marriage as an antiquated institution that oppresses women,” she said.

–The Rev. Melanie Dawn Miller (United Church of Christ), in the August 26 New York Times announcement of her wedding to  William Lanzana.

(Via UCCtruths.)

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