Friday, November 26, 2010

Please Continue To Pray for Haiti

From Crosswalk Religion News Summary:

Haiti Cholera Spreading Faster than Predicted

Haiti's cholera epidemic has spread to the capital city of Port-au-Prince and much of the country, surprising officials and infecting thousands. Reuters reports that the disease as killed more than 1,300 people since the first case was recorded in mid-October. U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Haiti Nigel Fisher said that the waterborne disease could cause 200,000 causes within three months, according to the World Health Organization. "It's going to spread," he said. "The medical specialists all say that this cholera epidemic will continue through months and maybe a year at least, that we will see literally hundreds of thousands of cases." Fisher said U.N. and other aid workers needed to "significantly ratchet up" their response, including going through faith groups to distribute chlorine tablets to purify water, and increasing the number of treatment centers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Are You Having Eels for Your Traditional Thanksgiving Meal?

This is quoted completely from The Wild Turkey Zone

Read it here.

For most Americans, the Thanksgiving meal consists of a turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, and pumpkin pie (or sweet potato pie if you hail from the South.). While there are numerous regional and ethnic variations, this basic menu has not changed much in the last two hundred years. Nor is the standard menu much older than that. Our modern holiday fare bears little resemblance to the food eaten at the three-day 1621 harvest celebration at Plymouth Colony, the event now recalled as the “First Thanksgiving.”

The Wampanoag and Plymouth colonists often ate wild turkey, however it was not specifically mentioned in connection with the Winslow version of the 1621 harvest celebration. Edward Winslow said only that four men went hunting and brought back large amounts of “fowl” – more likely from the scenario to be seasonal waterfowl such as ducks and geese. And what about the stuffing? Yes, the Wampanoag and English did occasionally stuff the birds and fish, typically with herbs, onions or oats (English only).

The typical menu of Thanksgiving dinner is actually more than 200 years younger than that 1621 celebration and reflects both the holiday’s New England roots and a Victorian nostalgia for an imaginary time when hearth and home, family and community, were valued over progress and change. But while we have been able to work out which modern dishes were not available in 1621, just what was served is a tougher nut to crack.

What was really served at the First Thanksgiving

There are only two contemporary accounts of the 1621 Thanksgiving: First is Edward Winslow's account, which he wrote in a letter dated December 12, 1621. The complete letter was first published in 1622.

Our corn [i.e. wheat] did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

He also further describes the bounty of the Plymouth Colony in his later writings --

Our bay is full of lobsters all the summer and affordeth variety of other fish; in September we can take a hogshead of eels in a night, with small labor, and can dig them out of their beds all the winter. We have mussels ... at our doors. Oysters we have none near, but we can have them brought by the Indians when we will; all the spring-time the earth sendeth forth naturally very good sallet herbs. Here are grapes, white and red, and very sweet and strong also. Strawberries, gooseberries, raspas, etc. Plums of tree sorts, with black and red, being almost as good as a damson; abundance of roses, white, red, and damask; single, but very sweet indeed… These things I thought good to let you understand, being the truth of things as near as I could experimentally take knowledge of, and that you might on our behalf give God thanks who hath dealt so favorably with us.1

The second description was written about twenty years after the fact by William Bradford in his History Of Plymouth Plantation. Bradford's History was rediscovered in 1854 after having been taken by British looters during the Revolutionary War. Its discovery prompted a greater American interest in the history of the Pilgrims. It is also in this account that the Thanksgiving turkey tradition is founded.

They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercising in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.

Though not specifically mentioned as a food on the menu, corn was certainly part of the feasts. Remember that the harvest being celebrated was that of the colorful hard flint corn that the English often referred to as Indian corn. This corn was a staple for the Wampanoag and soon became a fixture in the cooking pots of New Plymouth. The English had acquired their first seed corn by helping themselves to a cache of corn from a Native storage pit on one of their initial explorations of Cape Cod. (They later paid the owners for this “borrowed” corn.) It is intriguing to imagine how the English colonists processed and prepared the novel corn for the first time in the fall of 1621. One colonist gave a hint of how his countrymen sought to describe and prepare a new grain in familiar, comforting terms: “Our Indian corn, even the coarsest, maketh as pleasant a meat as rice.”3 In other words, traditional English dishes of porridge and pancakes (and later bread) were adapted to be used with native corn.

In September and October, a variety of both dried and fresh vegetables were available. The produce from the gardens of New Plymouth is likely to have included what were then called “herbs:” parsnips, collards, carrots, parsley, turnips, spinach, cabbages, sage, thyme, marjoram and onions. Dried cultivated beans and dried wild blueberries may have been available as well as native cranberries, pumpkins, grapes and nuts.

While many elements of the modern holiday menu are very different from the foods eaten in 1621, the bounty of the New England autumn was clearly the basis for both. The impulse to share hospitality with others and celebrate and give thanks for abundance transcends the menu. Edward Winslow’s final comment about the harvest of 1621, is a sentiment shared by many Americans on Thanksgiving Day: And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pakistani Christian Pardoned

From Crosswalk's Religion Today summaries:

Pakistani President Pardons Christian Woman on Death Row

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari ended a Christian woman's 18-month ordeal yesterday, commuting her death sentence and allowing her to walk free, The Christian Post reports. Asia Noreen (also referred to as Asia Bibi) was the first woman in Pakistan to receive the death sentence under the country's controversial blasphemy laws. The 45-year-old mother appealed her sentence Saturday after drawing international attention. "This is the only acceptable outcome to what has been a travesty of justice from the outset," said Nasir Saeed, coordinator for U.K.-based Center for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). "Asia Bibi should never have been charged with blasphemy, let alone found guilty and sentenced to death." Muslim women in Asia Noreen's village accused her of blasphemy after an argument arose and Noreen defended her faith.

Let's praise God that the prayers of his saints were heard.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why I Love Movies

Posted by me on the Filmspotting Forum, where I dwell under the pseudonym, "Oldkid"

Film isn't just one thing. Painting is a visual art. Music is an audible art. Novels are a storytelling art. Film is all of this, or just one, or some combination of them. Film can have a black screen with no sound for thirty seconds and, depending on the context, it can have the deepest meaning or emotional impact. Film is the most complex art form we have, and perhaps only the Wii has the potential of giving us more. But for now, film is it.

Because of this, film has the greatest potential to be different things to different people. Everyone looking at "Starry Night" by Van Gogh sees something a little different. But that is nothing compared to a deeply rich film like Kieslowski's Blue or Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Some claim these to be among the greatest works of art of all time. Some won't appreciate them at all. But one thing is for certain, they speak to each of us differently, and for different reasons. That is what great art does. And the greatest of art sticks with us over time.

Given the complexity of film, it doesn't surprise me that our reactions to it is complex as well. I have my multiple rating system, and yet I find that even that system is inadequate to express my reaction to a film, as I gave Rachel Getting Married all top scores, but had more than twenty films I appreciated above it. What my marathon is helping me understand is that my appreciation for film is complicated enough that I can't dissect it precisely.

So I will have contradictions between my rating and my ranking. And you know why I don't mind that? Because it means that I am a human being-- complex and difficult to put in a box, like every other human being. And film is one of the few mediums that is rich enough to be able to compare to a complete human experience.

Our ratings of movies is funny, really. Do we rate our top 100 life events? How could we even judge such a thing? And, honestly, I see the best of films as being among my favorite life events. Yes, watching Spirited Away is as much a great event of my life as is watching my son be born or travelling to India. No, I won't rate these events, because they can't be measured like that. Nor can I say which event of my life I "enjoyed" the most, as if human experience can be judged on the level of "enjoyment". So, why should we judge film that way?

I really do like rating films. It's a pastime. But my determination of those which I put highest isn't limited to "enjoyment" nor to "greatness", however we might measure that. Rather, it is experience. Which film has become a part of my life more than others? Which film has become a memorable experience that I cherish? I have a hard time cherishing Rachel Getting Married as truly great I think that film is. But I can, and do, cherish the experience of Wendy and Lucy. And Nausicaa. And even Hunger and United 93-- although that may be hard to imagine.

I praise these filmmakers not just for technical ability or for the ability to take the most complex art form and create something truly wondrous with it. I praise them for enriching my life.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Do The Poor Work?

"If you tax people who work and you pay people who don't... do I need to say the next sentence to you? If you tax rich people and you pay poor people you're going to get lots and lots of poor people."
-Arthur Laffer, quoted on NPR's Intelligence Squared Debate

So, Mr. Laffer, you are characterizing poor people as those who don't work. This is the most "laffable" of social prejudices. That people who are poor don't work, but people who are rich do.

I think we can consider this simply. Let's take your average CEO and your average poor person. The average CEO might work hard for a few years, take "well deserved" vacations of a few weeks a year and, if they get fired for incompetence, has a multi-million dollar severance pay so they can spend a couple years looking for work. The CEO's spouse doesn't need to work at all.

The average working poor family has two wage earners, one of whom probably has two jobs. If they lose one of those jobs-- perhaps she was asleep during working hours because she has only been getting five hours of sleep a night-- then she immediately has to find another job to replace it or else she loses her apartment and then her children.

Now let's look at the average homeless person. This person has been up half the night due to anxiety-- worry about being found out by the police and worry about what he is going to accomplish the next day. He has been pounding the pavement every day looking for work, and all the employers are saying, "Too old, needs to be retrained, there are better candidates for the job." Perhaps he might turn to begging so he could get a motel for the night, and as he stand there, he is greeted with people yelling at him, "Get a job" or "Get a life, you bum!". He is constantly ashamed, constantly worried about what his life is going to be.

I am not saying that all of the wealthy are like that CEO. However, Mr. Laffer, don't ever make the statement that poor people don't work. They work harder than you and pundits like you could possibly know. You can only claim that the rich "work" because you don't know what real work is.

Real work is waking up each morning driven to do something because otherwise your children will go hungry.

Real work is being humiliated before your boss and not talking back because you can't have your family end up on the street.

Real work is having to walk for miles with your children to the closest free meal, only to find out that someone gave you wrong information and the meal was closed that day.

Real work is having to carry a box full of cans and pasta miles home because the bus driver wouldn't allow such a large box on his bus.

Real work is being told by the police to leave their town because they don't want to see "your type" here anymore.

Real work is getting up at five in the morning so you can search through dumpsters for cans before the garbage truck comes, so you can make thirty bucks if it's a good day.

Real work is beautifully playing your violin on the street, only to be ignored by all but a handful of passers-by.

Let's face it, Mr. Laffer, obtaining wealth is part talent, part drive and part luck. Not everyone has the specific talents involved to make large amounts of money-- should those who don't have such talents lack basic human needs like shelter and health? Not everyone who has the talents to obtain wealth decides to use them, deciding to benefit others instead of themselves. Should they be penalized for choosing a profession that supports society? And obtaining wealth is a large part luck. Because even if you have the talent and the drive to make a lot of money, ofttimes you won't because you weren't in the right place or the right time.

I am not talking about the tax debate. I am talking about prejudicial statements against the poor in order to win the tax debate. Show respect to the poor. If the only way to win the debate is by telling lies about the people who most need the truth, then the debate is not worth winning.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Stop HOBOphobia!

November is Homeless Awareness Month!!

Countless times a day, homeless people are rejected, falsely accused, harassed, ticketed, and even beat up, all for the “crime” of not having a roof over their heads or of being dirty or of carrying all their possessions in a backpack. The homeless are treated as the outcast of society, as those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Yet the homeless are not the cause of the evils of our society. Nor are they necessarily the outcome of our evils. The homeless are people—people who want to live and love and hope and work, just like you do. Let us not continue to punish those who are lowly in our society, but help them.

Battle the cliches of the homeless
The homeless are “us”, not “them”—Many of the homeless are good Christians or children of important citizens. Many of our neighbors and friends have been homeless at one time or another. Homelessness is not an evil, or even necessarily a tragedy—it is a stage of life that many of us have gone through.

The homeless DO work—While most do not have jobs, they do work hard, some harder than people who have “regular jobs”. It is not easy to get up at 6am to get to dumpsters before anyone else and climb in many of them in order to get recycled cans. Other homeless volunteer at free hot meals and shelters.

Not all homeless are alcoholics—In general, about one third of the homeless have alcohol or drug abuse problems. Many more have mental health or social difficulties. Many have had tragedies that have overwhelmed them, such as a loss of a job or the suicide of a spouse or family member.
Not all homeless are criminals or violent—Most homeless abhor the crime and violence done by the few homeless who do because it gets them accused. The homeless have the same percentage of theft and violence as those who are housed.

Teach your children and the community not to hate the homeless.
The majority of violent crimes against the homeless are done by middle class youth who feel that they have the right to violently fulfill the prejudices of their parents and community. If our youth and community learn that the homeless are human—people like us—then such crimes will be reduced, even eliminated.

Meet and listen to homeless people
Find out the times and locations of local free meals and sit at the table with the homeless. Find out their real motivations and hopes and desires. You may find that they do not differ that much from your own. Be patient with a homeless person’s oddness—you seem just as odd to them.

Include the homeless in social events
Invite the homeless to community and church functions. However, because many of them do not believe that they would be welcome, certain assurances must be made:
It is not necessary to be well-dressed for the function.
It may be necessary to provide transportation to and from the event.
An announcement may be necessary to make sure that everyone is accepting of the homeless.

Support benevolence organizations that assist the homeless
Volunteer at a free meal, give to an organization that helps the homeless, give blankets and clothes to a shelter. Call a local church to find out where you can help the homeless. As you give and volunteer be a friend to those you are helping—seeing and meeting them— not a distant, nameless Benefactor.

Provide opportunities for the homeless
Provide what the homeless REALLY need—opportunities to shower, socks, clean clothes, an address, a chance to work for money, a chance to do volunteer work for others. Be a friend to the homeless and help them get the resources they need.

Do you want to know more about homelessness or Anawim, our ministry? Please go to:

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Greed Is Good?

The original idea of capitalism by Adam Smith is that the seller would have enough empathy to understand what his customer actually needs and provide it to him. The customer, of course, helps determine the cost by whether he buys it from this seller or the next.

But capitalism is completely different than the way Adam Smith imagined it. Modern capitalism is not so much empathy for the consumer, but a manipulation of the consumer to convince the consumer of "needs" that she never had. Modern capitalism is emotional blackmail, and a blight on civilization.

It is greed that allows a two liter bottle of Pepsi cost less than a loaf of bread. It is greed that makes banks and utilities charge the poor for the fact that they don't have much money. And it is a society of greed that looks down on hardworking people and tells them that they are worthless. And that same society, if those hardworking people lose their job, that tells them that they don't deserve to sleep, or even to use a bathroom. Greed is not good, and has never produced good, except to both the greedy and the lucky.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The "New Perspective" on Paul

A member of a film forum I'm on asked me my opinion on the theological and historical fad concerning Paul the Apostle, called "the new perspective on Paul".

In sum, the "new perspective" is the realization that Paul was Jewish and that as such he did not stand against all things Jewish, as the church, for many centuries seem to portray him. This perspective was initiated by E.P. Sanders in his book Paul and Palestinian Judaism, and expanded into full theologies by J.D. Dunn and N.T. Wright.

The main insight by Sanders is absolutely correct-- Paul was Jewish and we have every indication that he continued to teach in synagogues throughout his life. In Acts, Paul is said to have obeyed the law completely in every aspect (Acts 21:24). He was a Jew in good standing, and although he caused controversy, he was never excluded from the Temple, and, if church tradition is correct, he was killed as a Roman citizen, in accord with Roman law, not as a Jewish citizen. I also think that it is the church's, especially the Protestants', interpretation of Paul that has caused him such disrepute, not what he actually wrote.

However, for me, I think that the "new perspective" theology is still pretty young and not fully developed. I've read a number of commentaries on Romans, including the one by Wright and a good portion of the one by Dunn, and I have yet to read one that made sense of the arguments in the book. I think that Richard Hays explains the book of Galatians adequately (although his book is almost incomprehensible) and I wish he would do some solid work on Romans in the same light.

Okay, now that I've gotten all technical, these are my conclusions as a reflection on the new perspective on Paul:
1. The early Christian church were more persecuted by the second Temple Jews because they considered the temple unnecessary and the priesthood corrupt and not worth obedience rather than their view on the law.

2. I think that Paul was not speaking of law or moral principle in general when he said it was superseded by faith. I think he was speaking specifically about the law of Moses and how it was superseded by Jesus' principles. Paul was still a strong proponent of moral code as being essential for salvation, as seen in I Corinthians 5-6.

3. That Paul was not one who dismissed Judaism, but was one who attempted to reform Judaism, even as Jesus did, even as Luther tried for the Catholic church. In all of these cases, it was the systems of power that rejected the reforms, thus causing new religions to be formed.

4. That what really got Paul rejected was his insistence of the acceptance of Gentiles by God into a Jesus-reformed Judaism. Although many have accused Paul of prejudice, I think that it was his tolerance that got him rejected. And I think that both Galatians and especially Romans are defenses of Paul's "gospel", which is, namely, the welcoming of Gentiles into God's kingdom.

Sorry for getting all technical and stuff. Perhaps my "great learning has driven" me "mad"