Wednesday, August 31, 2005

UMCOR Hurricane Relief

Click above or below to donate online. All money donated to UMCOR goes directly to the relief effort, administrative costs are paid for with money from the offering plate.

Upon Further Reflection, I've Decided That I Am Angry at Fred Barnes

Fox News pundit Fred Barnes is upset that the federal government will have to assist many people whose property was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. From Monday's Special Report With Brit Hume:

BARNES: But my problem with it is that, in some of these areas, like a below-sea-level city like New Orleans, they're not -- they want the rest of us to insure their risk. As people who live on the San Andreas Fault in California, where they know there are going to be earthquakes, people who live along the Mississippi River in these low farmland areas . . .

HUME: Floodplains.

BARNES: . . . near the river, the floodplains. They know they're going to flood. And when these things happen, they want the taxpayers all over the country to pay, and they do.

Three things: 1) Most Americans don't just decide to live somewhere. Where one lives is largely determined by one's work and family situations. 2) Most regions of the country are vulnerable to some sort of natural disaster(s), whether hurricane, earthquake, drought, flooding, blizzard, or tornado. 3) The damage caused by Katrina is unprecedented.

I'm tired of the suggestion that, if someone can in any way be blamed or held responsible for his or her predicament, the community or nation or society should not be obligated to help that person. Frankly, this is an un-Christian attitude. Christ calls us to help others, even if they are entirely to blame for the dire circumstances they have found themselves in. Yes, we should encourage personal responsibility; yes, we should hold people accountable for their actions. But Jesus asks us to heal and forgive unconditionally.

I am especially bothered that Barnes suggests that the American taxpayer is somehow the forgotten victim of this unspeakable tragedy.

Why Was New Orleans Ravaged by Hurricane Katrina?

The gays, of course. A website called Repent America explains.

(Hat tip: Pith in the Wind)

In Local News . . .

  • One of my favorite bands, Slack, was recently mentioned prominently in the Tennessean's popular "Brad About You" column. Slack, as reported by Scrambies last month, is cutting an album with Foo Fighters producer Nick Raskulinecz.

  • At Monday's local blogger luncheon with State Senator Rosalind Kurita, several bloggers, including Bill Hobbs, pressed the senator to call on the resignation of Ward Crutchfield and Kathryn Bowers, two of Kurita's Democratic colleagues in the Tennessee Senate. Both Crutchfield and Ward were indicted in the Operation Tennessee Waltz case. (Republican Chris Newton, also indicted, pleaded guilty in federal court yesterday, but has yet to resign his seat.) Kurita said, "My instinct is to say 'yes' [Crutchfield and Bowers should resign]." But, she added, they have to "look into their own hearts," because only they know whether they are truly guilty.

  • According to today's City Paper, many Nashville clergy are upset that Mayor Purcell has forced them to choose between a regressive sales tax hike and inadequate funding for schools. Liz Garrigan has a related editorial in this week's Nashville Scene.
  • Tuesday, August 30, 2005

    A Million Ways to Be Cruel

    I suppose I should have known about this long ago, but if you haven't seen OK Go's "A Million Ways" video (QuickTime), it's worth a watch. The dancing is good, the song is better, and apparently the video has become an Internet phenomenon of sorts.

    Tomorrow Night At Belmont UMC

    I'll be peforming my song "Mutate" tomorrow evening at the Belmont United Methodist "Pops Concert." The concert starts at 6:30 and there may or may not be $5 tickets available at the door. (I'm not sure whether or not it's sold out yet.) So, if you live in the Hillsboro-Belmont-Vanderbilt area and have $5, drop by. If not, you can download (for free) the song I'll be playing.

    The Sacrifice Story You Don't Learn About in Sunday School

    And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD's, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering" (Judges 11:30-31).

    Then Jephthan came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child . . . . When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, "Alas my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow." . . . At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made (Judges 11:34-35, 39).

    Anyone who went to Sunday school as a child knows the story of Abraham being commanded by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Of course, with Isaac bound to the altar and Abraham with knife in hand, God stops the pious father from sacrificing his son and provides a ram "caught in a thicket" as an alternative offering. Though no one (except the poor ram) dies, later Rabbinic tradition struggled with this text. Why would God ask someone to kill his son as a test of fidelity?

    Jephthah's daughter is not as fortunate as Isaac. She dies nameless; according to the text her death is most significant because she dies an unmarried virgin. Poor girl. Where is her "ram in the thicket"?

    Granted, God commands Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, while Jephthah sets his own terms for an offering of thanks to the LORD. (Jephthah possibly assumes that an animal will be the first to meet him in the courtyard of his home upon his return from battle.) Still, why doesn't God make acceptable an alternative sacrifice? For that matter, why doesn't Jephthah cry out, asking to be released from his vow, so that he won't have to kill his daughter?

    Judges 11:29-40 is a tricky text and one the church doesn't like to deal with. How do we teach this story to our children and youth? How do we help our adults struggle with this difficult Scripture?

    (Painting: "Abraham Sacrificing Isaac" by Laurent de la Hire, 1650; public domain.)

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    Lunch With Senator Kurita

    Thanks to Bill Hobbs I had the privilege of attending a bloggers luncheon with Tennessee State Senator and aspiring U.S. Senator Rosalind Kurita. I am working on a profile of Senator Kurita and her campaign that will hopefully publish sometime next year, when it is more timely. In the meantime I'll give you my initial thoughts on the senatorial candidate who hopes to upset U.S. Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. in the Democratic primary in hopes of running in 2006 for the seat that current Senator Bill Frist is vacating. (Context provided for my readers outside of the Volunteer State.)

  • Senator Kurita is very motherly: As a state senator from Clarksville, Kurita's district includes Fort Campbell (where, I learned, the senator goes for some recreational skeet shooting). Without exception, she talks about the troops stationed at Fort Campbell as "my soldiers." She talks to her soldiers almost daily and has responded to thousands of letters from military families in her district. As a result, her views on Iraq are colored by the effect the war has on her soldiers. Though she offered no creative ideas for handling the situation in Iraq, her concern for the troops fighting the war is personal and genuine.

  • She is very proud of her work as a nurse: Media outlets in Tennessee took note of Senator Kurita's aggressive "blogvertising" campaign. The Kurita campaign first came to my attention when I noticed an ad popping up on several political blogs that read, "Replace this Republican doctor [Senator Frist] with this Democratic nurse [Senator Kurita]." Kurita worked in several types of nursing for many years before getting into politics. (She prefers public health nursing and working in the operating room.) The senator helped initiate a "Nurses for Newborns" program at Fort Campbell and feels that her experience as a nurse gives her credibility as "one of the people." When asked what separates her from her primary opponent, Harold Ford, Jr., she said, "I know what it means to work hard for a living."

  • She considers herself a fiscal conservative: Senator Kurita has, in recent years, opposed both a state income tax and an increase in the Tennessee's sales tax. While opposing all taxes may win votes, I still have to ask if it is good public policy at either the state or federal level. State budget cuts have resulted in the loss of healthcare for millions of Tennesseans. And my simple economic mind tells me that reducing the federal budget deficit will require not only stopping spending, but also either cutting spending or increasing revenue. If raising taxes is not an option, what gets cut?

  • These are my initial impressions of Senator Kurita. Look for more as next year's primary nears.

    Update: TV on the Fritz has more.

    Wesley Blog Reviews This Week's Christian Dissent Live

    Shane Raynor of Wesley Blog gives the show some good publicity, but criticizes us (fairly) for not asking tough questions of Rev. Troy Plummer of the Reconciling Ministries Network. Though I cannot speak for my co-hosts, I think that we all value Shane's opinion, will take it to heart, and are glad he is now able to listen to the show.

    Update: Untied Methodist also mentions the show.

    Pray for the Gulf Coast

    I really can't imagine what the people of Biloxi, New Orleans, and other cities and towns in that region are going through as Hurricane Katrina reaches land. I asked myself this morning, What if I suddenly had to evacuate, to leave my home not knowing whether it would be there when I returned? As I reflected on this question, others arose:

  • What about the four cats in my family? Would we just throw them in the back of the car with a makeshift litterbox? What about the pets of family members whom we would need to help evacuate? How many animals can you fit in one car?

  • Where would we go? How much would we need to pack? Would we make any effort to keep any of our stuff? Would we take our most important things upstairs and cover them in plastic? Would we burn onto CDs any important contents of our hard drive? Would we say, "Screw our stuff," and leave town as quickly as possible?

  • What would be our obligation to fellow citizens, particularly those without the means to evacuate? If we tried to help, would we only be getting in the way and endangering ourselves, or could we really do something to help? If we could somehow help, would we be selfish not to?

  • How could we possibly explain any of this to an 18-month-old?

  • Of course, thousands of people were not able to evacuate, and I know that I cannot hope to understand the fear they are experiencing.

    At times like this, I feel hopeless, selfish, blessed, and fortunate. Keep all of the people living on the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Mississippi in your prayers.

    Sunday, August 28, 2005

    Christian Dissent: Listen to This Week's Show

    This week's Christian Dissent Live (on Radio Free Nashville, 98.9 WRFN) is now available for download.

    You can also subscribe to a Podcast of each week's show.

    Guests this week were Mark Tooley, of the Institute on Religion and Democracy's United Methodist Action project and Rev. Troy Plummer of the Reconciling Ministries Network.

    Cole, Joey, and I talked with our guests about the Lake Junaluska controversy in The United Methodist Church.

    Yes, the sound quality is much better this week.

    Saturday, August 27, 2005

    Titan's Fans Needn't Be Optimistic

    I know it's just preseason, but I can't help but be pessimistic after the Titans overtime loss to the 49ers last night. For one, the close score is deceiving. The Titans' starters fell behind 13-3 to a team that went 2-14 last year.

    Pacman Jones, the Titan's corner selected sixth overall in this year's draft, has dominated the headlines here in Nashville. He actually did pretty well as a cornerback, but he dropped two punts, one of which was recovered by the Niners.

    About Pacman: I noticed that his jersey reads "P. Jones." Since his given name is Adam, I can only assume that P stands for Pacman. Some analysts feel that Jones must earn the right to be called Pacman. Personally, I like the nickname, and I'm going to use it. But "P. Jones" seems unprecedented. I recall that Magic Johnson's Lakers jersey read "E. Johnson" (E for Earvin), not "M. Johnson." I could be wrong on this, but I'm not aware of any other major professional sports athletes (the XFL doesn't count) whose nicknames have been indicated on their jerseys.

    Friday, August 26, 2005

    Great, Now the KKK's Involved

    (From the Asheville Citizen-Times; thanks to reader Steven Webster for the tip)

    The American White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan will join other demonstrators at next weekend's Hearts of Fire Conference at Lake Junaluska in Western North Carolina. The event is being hosted by the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial advocacy group for LGBT persons within The United Methodist Church.


    August 21, 2005: Western North Carolina Bishop Addresses Lake Junaluska Controversy

    August 23, 2005: IRD's Mark Tooley on the Lake J. Controversy

    Do People Really Choose a Faith Based on Television Commercials?

    Because The United Methodist Church has another one. Maybe I'm getting too cynical now that I'm 29, but I've seen a lot of commercials for the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, and I've never given much thought to being a Mormon.

    I think that people embrace congregations or faith traditions when they experience God through those churches or traditions. I'm sure that it's possible to experience God in a 30-second television spot; I'm just not sure that it happens very often.

    If You Can't Trust Cable News . . .

    . . . you're probably wise not to.

    (From The Los Angeles Times)

    Recently, Fox News commentator John Loftus gave the home address of a supposed terrorist living in Orange County on the air. As it were, the supposed terrorist moved away from that address three years ago, and the family of five that now resides there is not pleased with the drive-by profanity, amateur photography, and vandalism they have been subject to as a result of Loftus's mistake.


    Today is my twenty-ninth birthday. At age 29 . . .

    Alexander Graham Bell transmitted the first sentence by telephone.

    Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. published his first novel, Player Piano.

    Carole King released Tapestry.

    Ringo Starr (the oldest Beatle) recorded The Beatles' final album, Abbey Road.

    Michael Jordan won his second NBA Championship with the Chicago Bulls.

    Tim Duncan won his third NBA Championship and third NBA Finals MVP award with the San Antonio Spurs.

    Francis of Assisi founded the Franciscan Order (he actually may have been 28).

    Siddhartha Gautama ("The Buddha") renounced the world and abandoned his family and possessions.

    The Attorney General of Country Music

    Tennessee Attorney General Paul Summers has asked country music star Gretchen Wilson to stop waving a cannister of Skoal chewing tobacco during concert performances of her song "Skoal Ring." Summers fears that the popular performer is tempting her young fans to try smokeless tobacco. (He may have a point.)

    Personally, I am repulsed by chewing tobacco. I have vivid memories of guys in my college dorm "dippin' chaw." (Forgive me if I am unsing improper terminology.) They would carry around Coke bottles that they would slowly fill with black slobber. It was disgusting.

    Still, I think that Attorney General Summers should cut Gretchen some slack. After all, as she proclaims, she's a "redneck woman"; she "ain't no high-class broad." Let me get a "hell yeah!"

    I don't know much about the attorney general (except that he loves capital punishment), but I wonder whether policing country music shows is part of his job description. Apparently, Summers thinks that it is. In a letter he wrote to Gretchen Wilson yesterday, the attorney general says:

    As the attorney general of the home state of country music I want to discuss my concerns of your promotion of smokeless products, particularly as it relates to the youth who attend your concerts and who listen to your music.

    There you go, Paul Summers is the Attorney General of the Home State of Country Music. I hope Summers also takes seriously his duties at the Attorney General of the Home State of Cracker Barrell, Federal Express, Those Freaky Walking Horses, Several Protestant Churches, and (at least in part) Nuclear Bombs.

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    The Daily Show's Coverage of the Pat Robertson Debacle

    It's awfully funny.

    Another Reason I Am Proud to Be a United Methodist

    (From The United Methodist News Service)

    Homeless musicians in northern California have a gig every Wednesday at North Sacramento United Methodist. The church holds a weekly jam session for homeless and formerly homeless persons with musicial inclinations. Non-homeless church members also participate, forging relationships with their musician peers and, in some cases, transforming lives (both their own and those of their homeless guests).

    The article was written by Nashville writer Ciona Rouse, whom I have the fortune of knowing through The United Methodist Church.

    Men Are Pigs Hyenas

    I've been reading Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax. Dr. Sax affirms gender equality while acknowledging important differences in how males and females learn and react to different situations. It's a good book that debunks many common gender stereotypes, while helping parents and teachers more effectively meet the educational and social needs of boys and girls.

    Anyway, Sax provides the following disturbing information:

    In one carefully designed study, a surprisingly high percentage—35 percent—of "normal" college men said that they not only fantasized about rape, they would actually rape a woman if they were assured of not being punished. . . .

    Even more troubling: for many teenage boys, the idea of inflicting pain on a woman is sexually arousing. Psychologist Neil Malamuth, who has specialized in studying the responses of "normal" college men to rape fantasies, has found that most young men experience greater sexual arousal when the imaginary rapist deliberately hurts the woman he is raping. The greater the victim's pain, the greater the sexual excitement. (pages 123, 124)

    Goo! (For the record, I have never fantasized about rape or inflicting pain.)

    Upon reading about these studies, I felt only shame toward my gender. While Sax's book was published this year, the studies he cites were done in 1981 and 1980, both by Neil Malamuth. I wonder if men have changed in the past 25 years—I hope we have changed for the better. But considering that the Internet and a new breed of video games have given men several more opportunities to be exposed to and to participate in rape fantasies, I can only assume the problem has gotten worse.

    Check out Why Gender Matters. It's a fascinating read for anyone who has or works with kids. And most of it has nothing to do with rape.

    Wednesday, August 24, 2005

    Corna: The Universal Sign for Rock 'n' Roll

    Aside from a brief stint with the Foxymorons in 2002-2003, I haven't been in a rock band in nearly five years. Nonetheless, as I go about my daily life, I find that my fingers still instinctively form the corna (see below).

    According to popular belief, the hand gesture is meant to emulate devil horns and pay homage to the dark lord, though in recent years many have ignored the sign's supposed satanic connotations and have taken it to simply mean "rock 'n' roll." (The popularity of the gesture surged in the nineties, largely due to the influence of Beavis and Butthead.)

    Rocker Ronnie James Dio (who replaced Ozzy in Black Sabbath before forming Dio in 1983), claims to have popularized the gesture as a symbol for rock music when he joined Black Sabbath in 1979. According to Dio, he picked up the symbol from his Italian grandmother who used it to ward off evil spirits. Ronnie is unhappy that the symbol has become so common and that it is often done improperly.

    Though I make the corna subconsciously, as though it flows from my being, the sign's presumed relation to Satan has always made me nervous. As a divinity school grad, I know that the image of Satan as a red-skinned, two-horned humanoid with a pointy beard is the product of centuries of Christian mythology and that the Bible is not even entirely clear as to who or what Satan is. As far I am concerned, horns in no way signify evil or darkness. Still, as a Christian who doesn't want to offend other Christians, I don't want anyone to look at my hand and think that I am mocking his or her faith or that I am disrespecting God. So, I have found myself adding the thumb, forming the American Sign Language sign for "I love you." This, Dio explains, is incorrect.

    I don't want anyone to misinterpret me—when I mean "rock," I mean "RAWK!" not "I love you." (Of course, one sometimes rocks with loved ones, so I guess the thumb could be appropriate in certain situations). And I certainly don't want to disrepect Ronnie James Dio. So I have decided that I will use the corna, when appropriate, but I want to be clear that I ascribe no satanic meaning to the gesture and mean no offense to God or any faith tradition including my own.

    Quoth The Features, "God save rock 'n' roll—woo!"

    Everyone's Gettin' Fat 'Cept Oregon


    According to the advocacy group Trust for America's Health, CDC data suggests that, from the 2001-2003 statistical cycle to the 2002-2004 cycle, the obesity rate increased in every state except for Oregon. My home state, Tennessee, is one of the five fattest states in the nation. 25.6 percent of our population is obese, a 1.3 percent increase over the last statistical cycle. (Yes, I am overweight, but according to this body mass index calculator my BMI is less than 30, so I do not qualify as obese.)

    Tennessee is only slightly fatter than the state where I grew up, Indiana (25.2 percent obesity rate). While Tennesseans have more opportunities for outdoor exercise than Hoosiers, the food in the Volunteer State is much better than the food in Indiana, so the small difference makes sense to me.

    At any rate, I suppose we Tennesseans need to do something about our weight problem. I'll start thinking about an "Obesity Plan."

    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    Scientists Speak Up on Mix of God and Science

    An excellent article from the New York Times on the religious beliefs of renowned scientists. The article gives a voice to theistic evolutionists, who are often forgotten in the evolution-versus-intelligent-design debate.

    (Hat tip: Dare We Be Christians?)

    IRD's Mark Tooley on the Lake J. Controversy

    The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), an unofficial advocacy group for gays and lesbians within The United Methodist Church, will be holding its "Hearts on Fire" conference at Lake Junaluska, a church-owned-and-operated conference center in North Carolina. Some have protested, arguing that RMN's mission is inconsistent with United Methodist Social Principles. Mark Tooley, of the Institute for Religion and Democracy's (IRD) UM Action, explains in a letter obtained by Untied Methodist why he and his organization feel that RMN should not be allowed to use the facilities at Lake Junaluska.

    Mark will be a guest this Sunday on Christian Dissent Live (6:00–8:00 a.m. CST on 98.9 WRFN, Radio Free Nashville), so I'll let you read the letter and save my questions and comments for the interview.

    Related: Western North Carolina Bishop Addresses Lake Junaluska Controvery

    Does Anyone Else . . .

    . . . get spam as comments?

    Monday, August 22, 2005

    Pat Robertson Advocates Assassinating Venezuelan President

    Unfortunately, this is not satire.

    Define Democracy

    I feel that equal rights for women are essential for any true democracy. Reuel Marc Gerecht, former Middle East specialist for the CIA and current employee of the American Enterprise Institute (a Washington think tank), thinks differently. Regarding the possibility that the new Iraqi constitution might not grant equal rights to women, Gerecht said on Meet the Press Sunday:

    In 1900, women did not have the right to vote. If Iraqis could develop a democracy that resembled America in the 1900s, I think we'd all be thrilled. I mean, women's social rights are not critical to the evolution of democracy. We hope they're there. I think they will be there. But I think we need to put this into perspective.

    Actually, this gives me an idea: I have been reluctant to call for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq because of the potential consequences for the Iraqi people. Though I opposed going to war in the first place, I think that the U.S. is obliged to clean up some of the mess before we leave. But, if the Iraqi Parliament decides to institutionalize misogyny (regardless of any religious reasons for doing so), I think that we should pull our support without hesitation. Dying for freedom is tragic but noble; dying for discrimination is simply tragic.

    Living Off the Land

    As of this evening, the Tinley family vegetable garden has yielded 50 vegetables:

  • 22 onions

  • 21 tomatoes

  • 7 green peppers

  • All of the vegetables are about 1/3 the size of anything we would buy at the grocery store, but they (at least the onions and tomatoes) have been very tasty.

    Need a Drummer?

    My son Meyer, a skilled percussionist, now owns his own drum set. It's a three-piece (a bass drum and two rack toms) with a splash symbol. He still needs a snare drum, high hat, and bass-drum pedal; and he should probably replace the heads and some of the hardware; but the shells are in good condition.

    Meyer would be an excellent addition to any band that is looking for a unique look and sound. He is about 2'8" and plays standing up; he uses wooden spoons instead of conventional drumsticks. He periodically strays from his kit and picks up the beat by banging on couches, tables, people, and kitty cats. Though his style is unusual, Meyer has an excellent sense of rhythm and a lot of energy.

    (Hopefully, we soon can provide some pictures of Meyer with his drum kit.)

    I Just Don't Understand the NCAA

    From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

    ATHENS — A group of Georgia football fans took up a collection to pay for a Boise State player's father to fly from Baghdad to see his son play against the Bulldogs in Athens.

    But the NCAA rule book got in the way.

    Dan Miller, father of Broncos sophomore guard Tad Miller, is a retired police lieutenant who is training Iraqi police officers.

    When Sam Hendrix of Signal Mountain, Tenn. — "suthndawg" to his fellow Georgia fans on the Dawgvent, an Internet message board — read a story in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the Millers, he started an online movement to raise the $2,700 it will cost Dad to make it to Sanford Stadium to see his son play in the home opener Sept. 3.

    But when Crowe checked with the two schools, he was told the UGA fans' generosity would be a violation of NCAA bylaws regarding extra benefits and expenses for student athletes and their families.

    The NCAA is so vigilant about ensuring that student athletes—who generate millions of dollars for the NCAA and several large, state universities—are in no way compensated for their performance that it fails to see the silliness in its actions. Playing in Athens is huge for a school like Boise State, especially since they could legitmately pull an early season upset of the Dawgs. That Georgia alums and fans would raise money to fly in an opposing player's father is an extraordinary act of sportsmanship. Let Lt. Miller accept the gift and watch the game.

    This is almost as silly as the 2004 case of Jeremy Bloom, a University of Colorado football player and Olympic-caliber skier. Bloom lost his NCAA football eligibility because he took skiing endorsements that were necessary to fund the travel and training essential to making the Olympic team. Skiing, of course, is not an NCAA sport.

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    Western North Carolina Bishop Addresses Lake Junaluska Controversy

    Bishop J. Lawrence McClesky of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church has written an excellent letter to his congregations regarding the use of the Lake Junaluska conference center by the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), an unofficial UM advocacy group for gays and lesbians. Other unofficial UM organizations have protested RMN's use of Lake Junaluska (which is located in the Western North Carolina Conference and operated by The United Methodist Church's Southeast Jurisdiction) for its "Hearts on Fire" conference. Bishop McClesky argues in his letter that The Book of Discipline supports allowing RMN to meet at Lake J.

    (Hat tip: Untied Methodist)

    Listen to Christian Dissent Anytime, Anywhere

    It's a little rough, and it's missing about 35 minutes, but Cole has posted the audio of this morning's show. He will be working in the future to improve sound quality and so forth.

    Related: Read this aricle about the national "No Fly" list by today's guest, John Graham.

    "They Say You Better Listen to the Right Side of Reason"

    According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, listeners in the Twin Cities are tuning out political talk radio. Popular conservative voices such as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity (who, in my opinion, are more about venom than substance) have especially struggled to keep listeners. Limbaugh's ratings are down 43%; Hannity's 63%.

    I don't know if these trends have been observed in other metropolitan areas. But according to the Star-Tribune:

    Many Americans also are switching the dial. While ratings for political talk radio typically drop the year after an election, experts around the country sense something else in the air. Many metro listeners are turning to local, often sports-oriented shows.

    I can understand the switch from politics to sports. With sports, the stakes are always high, but ultimately nothing really matters. Sports rivalries can strengthen friendships; political rivalries can make them very awkward.

    On the other hand, last week I took to the airwaves as the co-host of a radio show that deals with politics (on WRFN 98.9, Radio Free Nashville), so I hope that the public still has not given up completely on political discourse. Maybe I have bad timing, but I like to think that Christian Dissent Live is unique among political talk radio shows. Check us out, from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Sunday mornings.

    Saturday, August 20, 2005

    Dean Snyder Solves the UM Discipline Divorce Mystery

    Turns out, it was nothing more than an editorial mistake.

    For context, see What Does The United Methodist Church Say About Divorce? (August 15).

    My Senator Has Something to Say About Everything

    My senator, Bill Frist, now backs teaching intelligent design in public schools. He says, "I think today a pluralistic society should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith."

    I agree that students should have access to a "broad range of fact," but he implies that faith should be taught as science. As a person of faith, this frightens me. The intelligent design movement argues that current scientific evidence calls into question the validity of the theory of evolution, which has long been taken for granted by many scientists. OK. But if God or "faith" replaces or becomes a scientific alternative to evolution, what happens when future generations bring forth evidence that pokes holes in intelligent-design theory? Does the existence of God then become a matter of scientific debate? Is the mystery of God reduced to mere paleontology? I am comfortable with teaching scientific theories that challenge our conventional understanding of evolution, but teaching God as science puts limits on God's creativity and God's essence.

    Back to Senator Frist: The cynic in me says that Frist is playing to popular opinion on every hot-button issue that makes the headlines in preparation for a 2008 presidential run; the pragmatist in me says that if Frist really wants to win the nomination or the presidency, he should do less talking; the Republican in me says that Frist, as a U.S. senator with presidential ambitions, should leave this issue alone because curriculum standards should be determined by state and local governments, school boards, and (ideally) educators themselves. The Federal Government should have nothing to do with it.

    Thursday, August 18, 2005

    Better Jobs, Better Wages

    Dean at Untied Methodist has an excellent two-part interview with Dr. Sheila Collins, co-founder of the National Jobs for All Coalition. I recommend reading the interview, but be sure to set aside plenty of time:

    Part I: Full Employment at a Living Wage Is Possible

    Part II: Politics and Greed Keep Us From Having Jobs for All

    Brother Roger, Founder of Taizé Community, Stabbed to Death During Prayer Service

    This is depressing. Why would anyone attack a 90-year-old monk?

    (Hat tip: St. Phransus)

    Wednesday, August 17, 2005

    I Guess I Don't Get It

    Cole beat me to this, so I'll be brief. The most recent issue of Jerry Falwell's National Liberty Journal contains a damning critique of the Christian Alliance for Progress, which I recently joined, by Dr. Edward Hinson, who works under Falwell at Liberty University. Hinson argues that the Alliance and similar organizations are "a small, inconsequential fringe of loosely organized pawns of political liberalism." I take issue with his attacks for a few reasons:

  • He does not acknowledge "liberal" Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ: Of course, those of us who call ourselves "progressives" too often fail to extend the same courtesy to members of the religious Right. Still, I think that dismissing one's political opponents as somehow less-than-Christian is a cheap way to avoid serious dialogue within the church. The New Testament sets precedents for both council (Acts 15, for example) and schism (the Letters of John) as responses to disagreements about doctrine. While Christians today do hold varying beliefs about Christian dogma, I think that our main point of contention is not theology but the question of how to most effectively minister to others. (I could be wrong.)

  • He questions the legitimacy of Christian Alliance because "no one has heard of " the organization's leaders: One's credibility or ability to lead is not incumbant on popularity or name-recognition. Just as the news show with the best ratings isn't necessarily the show with the best coverage, the best known preacher isn't necessarily the one who is most faithful to the gospel. Building name recognition often involves making enemies as much as it does making friends. We teach our children that they shouldn't just listen to or emulate someone because that person is famous; this lesson applies to adults as well. Picking on someone because he or she is not popular is simply juvenile.

  • He overgeneralizes: Hinson intimates that Christian Alliance is a pawn of the Democratic Party and lumps it in with other "liberal" religious groups such as Call to Renewal and the Interfaith Alliance. For one, I know many progressive Christians who are as frustrated with Democrats as they are with the Republicans. Most progressive religious groups, at least in theory, seek to go beyond partisan politics. Secondly, there are distinct differences between the groups that Hinson mentions. Christian Alliance, for example, is significantly more evangelical than the Interfaith Alliance but significantly more (for lack of a better word) liberal than Call to Renewal. Though I am critical of Hinson and Falwell for making generalizations about progressive Christianity, I will also confess than I and other progressive Christians have been guilty of lumping together all of our conservative and fundamentalist brothers and sisters.

  • The tension between progressives and conservatives isn't going away; but, as Christians, we should make a commitment to extend love, grace, and civility to those with whom we disagree. (OK, I wasn't brief. Sorry.)


    Lately, on this website I haven't been friendly to the intelligent-design movement. I still am not convinced that intelligent design is a scientific theory fit to be taught in schools. I also worry about using God to plug the holes in existing theories about the origins and development of species. However, I do feel that challenges to the theory of evolution such as those posed by Michael Behe should be taught, as long as they are grounded in good science. (As a non-scientist, I cannot vouch for them.) I strongly believe that silencing dissenting voices in any discipline (biology, astronomy, history, biblical studies, whatever) is dangerous and counter-productive.

    Talk About Yourself for a Change

    Andrew Sullivan shares my thoughts on the fruitless pasttime of political speculation and goes one step further. He feels strongly that people need to tell their own stories rather than mindlessly trying to participate in the "national conversation." I quote:

    I remember when people talked about themselves. At the dinner table and in the diner you heard about that sports car-from-a-kit your neighbor was building, about some lady's kidney tumor, about who was wooing another man's wife, and about the bear that was eating from someone's apple tree. These little stories added up to life. You got a sense of how people were actually managing. Now you hear what they're thinking. What a bore. Most of them can't think, and have never tried, and are just repeating what others think and adding their own misinterpretations and biases. I could care less, frankly. I'd rather hear about what somebody's doing to get rid of the bat infestation in their attic. But no, it's Washington, Washington, Washington, which is thousand of miles away from western Montana but has somehow convinced us it's right next door. Well, it's not. The neighbors are next door. But because they talk only about politics, I have no idea what their lives are like and they don't either for the most part, they don't either. They're trying to join the "national conversation" and meanwhile the bears are eating their apples.

    Though I will remain, to some extent, a part of the problem, I agree entirely.

    Franny and Zooey Prayer of the Day

    God, comfort those who suffer and challenge those of us who are comfortable.

    By the Way

    If you were wondering why I went with the tomato, I was just in a tomato mood last night.

    I don't really have an explanation for "Scrambies," either. I just decided that, because this site has become independent of Josh and does not have a Josh address, it should get its own name and identity. For no good reason, I picked Scrambies when I chose the URL six months ago, so I decided to stick with it.

    Evangelical Scientists Refute Gravity With New "Intelligent Falling" Theory

    From The Onion. (I mean no disrespect to intelligent design theorists; this is just really funny.)

    Vowing to Set the World Straight

    On the shortcomings of therapy that claims to "cure" homosexuality; from the Washington Post

    (Hat tip: TV on the Fritz)

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    The Cindy Sheehan Situation

    I've become very frustrated with the debate surrounding Cindy Sheehan's protest outside the Bush ranch. On one hand, I'm tired of her detractors, who have resorted to personal attacks and questioning Ms. Sheehan's sincerity in hopes of embarrassing or discrediting her. On the other hand, I've had enough of her supposed "supporters" exploiting Ms. Sheehan's protest for their own political gain and claiming her tragic loss as their own.

    As usual, the best coverage of this event has come from The Daily Show, which led with the story Monday night.

    (Video from Crooks and Liars)

    "No-Fly List" Keeps Infants off Planes


    I think the Transportation Security Administration needs to more carefully distinguish between potential "terrors" and potential "terrorists."

    Monday, August 15, 2005

    U.S. Lowers Sights On What Can Be Achieved in Iraq

    (From Sunday's Washington Post)

    Pardon my cynicism, but our nation-building efforts in Iraq seem to be going just as war opponents had predicted.

    I should say more: I applaud American forces for all the good they have done in Iraq. But I continue to be frustrated that the administration summarily dismissed criticisms and concerns about its plan (or lack thereof) to create a stable democratic government in post-Saddam Iraq. It was, and is, a noble goal, but the Bush administration never had a viable postwar plan and refused to answer critics who called them out on it. Now American, Coalition, and Iraqi forces, and especially the people of Iraq, are suffering for the administration's lack of foresight.

    Big, Empty Churches Full of People

    An interesting editorial from a member of the millennial generation on the future of mega-churches.

    (Hat tip: Christian Dissent)

    What Does The United Methodist Church Say About Divorce?

    Fellow United Methodists may be interested in this:

    The following two paragraphs from the 2000 Book of Discipline were not included in the 2004 Book of Discipline (¶161D):

    Although divorce publicly declares that a marriage no longer exists, other covenantal relationships resulting from the marriage remain, such as the nurture and support of children and extended family ties. We urge respectful negotiations in deciding the custody of minor children and support the consideration of either or both parents for this responsibility in that custody not be reduced to financial support, control, or manipulation and retaliation. The welfare of each child is the most important consideration.

    Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God's grace is shared by all.

    I personally think that these two paragraphs are important; sadly, nothing was added to replace them. Only a vote by the 2004 General Conference could have deleted this material from the Discipline. I have two questions:

    1) Why was this material removed?

    2) Why was there no coverage of this vote?

    The UM News Service is silent regarding votes on the church's stance on divorce, choosing instead to focus on the ongoing homosexuality debate. I want to know what happened and why.

    An Undead Mall?

    This weekend I received in the mail what appears to be the first Bellevue Center―the neighborhood mall―newsletter. Bellevue Center, currently on the list of "dead malls", is announcing a major redevelopment plan that includes building a Wal-Mart Supercenter on the property. The plan also calls for the "creation of a new outdoor plaza with a water feature that will offer new locations for restaurants and related businesses." Management will be reconfiguring the inside of the mall to create larger spaces on the second floor. According to the newsletter, the mall has been unable to woo potential tenants because of a lack of adequately large spaces. (I was under the impression that the mall couldn't woo tenants because of the lack of visitors.)

    I not crazy about a Wal-Mart going in across the street, but I'm excited about the outdoor plaza and "water feature." Then again, I lack faith in Bellevue Center's ability to successfully pull off a major redevelopment.

    Be Fruitful and Multiply

    I hate to pick on people. And I really don't like picking on the same person twice in one day. So I'll refrain from picking on Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, for his op-ed piece in Saturday's Louisville Courier-Journal. Instead, I'll pick on the Courier-Journal for deciding that the piece was worthy of publication. (Mohler had originally written it for his website in 2003.)

    Mohler argues that couples who decide not to have children are morally irresponsible. "Though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution," he writes, "it remains a form of rebellion against God's design and order." Mohler concludes, "The church should insist that the biblical formula calls for adulthood to mean marriage and marriage to mean children."

    Yes, there are several examples of biblical couples who are called to have children and who are blessed through their children. (Some biblical heroes also had children with mulitple wives and with their wives' servants. I hope that Dr. Mohler does not endorse such behavior simply because it is biblical.) But I would argue that the Bible does not call for "adulthood to mean marriage." Paul, for example writes, "To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion" (1 Corinthians 7:8-9, NRSV). He also writes, "He who marries his fiancée does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better" (1 Corinthians 7:38, NRSV). We also have no evidence that Jesus married or had children; many consider the very suggestion offensive. We know that Peter was married (Matthew 8:14), but his wife is absent from the Gospels and Acts and there is no mention of Peter and his wife having children.

    More importantly, Christians believe in a living God. For the ancient Israelites childlessness threatened their identity and existence as a people. They were a small nation among more populous and powerful empires, and they had to keep their numbers up. Christianity today is not nearly as vulnerable as Israel was. Moreover, more than 6 billion people live on this planet, and nearly half of them are dirt poor and involuntarily skipped a meal today. The church needs to be less concerned about producing more people and more concerned about caring for the people currently walking the earth.

    The Bible certainly affirms strong family relationships (for example, see the Book of Ruth or consider that our relationship with God is described as a child-parent bond). But many types of families are represented and affirmed in the Bible, just as many types of families are represented in the church. I have no problem with couples having children. My wife and I have a child and cannot imagine life without him. Still, I feel no need to pressure other people to reproduce. Raising a child is a big commitment and one that should be made carefully.

    250 Miles Per Gallon? They're Doing It

    An article on "hybrid tinkerers" from

    That Movie Still Brings Tears to My Eyes

    New Notre Dame head football coach Charlie Weis sits down his team for a screening of Rudy followed by a motivational speech from Rudy himself.

    Pray for Gaza

    The pullout officially began last night. While I think that dismantling Israeli settlements in Gaza will ultimately help the peace process, the next few days could be tense for both Arabs and Israelis in the region. Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres puts the event in perspective (from

    There is no sense whatsoever to remain here. The settlers do not have a future in the Gaza Strip, because they cannot live as an isolated group of people 8,000-strong among a million-and-a-half Palestinians who live in poverty and protest and unemployment.

    Related: "Palestinian Girl," The Adverbs (2003)

    Evolution Wars and Flying Dinosaurs

    I finally finished reading last week's Time cover story, "Evolution Wars," about the push to teach intelligent-design theory in school science classes. It's a good article that articulates the difference between traditional creationism and the growing intelligent-design movement. Because I recently addressed this subject, I'll spare you any further commentary on the article.

    In a Time Forum printed alongside the intelligent design piece, four experts (all middle-aged white men) answer the question, "Can you believe in God and evolution?" One of the experts, Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a self-avowed young-Earth creationist, says, "You cannot coherently affirm the Christian truth claim and the dominant model of evolutionary thoery at the same time. Meaning no disrespect to Dr. Mohler, but not having the energy to go into a lengthy explanation of why I disagree with him, I thought I'd recommend an article from Landover Baptist. It's an excellent piece of satire titled, "New Evidence Suggests Noah's Sons Rode Flying Dinosaurs."

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    Rev. Don Beisswenger at Glendale Baptist

    Rev. Don Beisswenger (formerly of Vanderbilt Divinity School will be speaking this Thursday at Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville at 7:00 p.m. (Honestly, I'll probably be home with the family, but you should go nonetheless.) From Glendale's website:

    [Don] will share his experience as a prisoner of conscience, following his arrest for nonviolent protest in dissent over U.S. military policy at The School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). The retired professor and director of field education at Vanderbilt University Divinity School was sentenced to six months in federal prison in Kentucky for his protest at the Fort Benning, Ga. installation that trains Latin American soldiers.

    Ray Waddle, in the December 2004, Presbyterian Voice editorial, said that Beisswenger, a Presbyterian minister, went willingly to prison: “His politics and theology led him there – a commitment to make common cause with voiceless people, whether homeless people in the U.S. or citizens in Latin America who suffer, as he sees it, at the hands of U.S. foreign policy. Several SOA graduates have been implicated in killing of missionaries or torture. The Army says no courses there advocate torture or abuse.”

    No Stream or Podcast This Week

    This morning was my first show as co-host of Christian Dissent on Radio Free Nashville. Due to technical problems (I suspect that a cat was involved), we were unable to get a usable recording of the show. So if you missed the show this morning, you missed a quality interview with Reverend Tim Simpson, founder of Christian Alliance for Progress.

    Cole, the beloved founder and leader of Christian Dissent Live, promises to have the kinks worked out by next week. Then you will be able to listen to the show at your leisure.

    Saturday, August 13, 2005

    We Have Armadillos! Who Knew?

    According to the City Paper, several armadillos have made their way to Tennessee, and they keep coming. Apparently, armadillos can cause problems "because its fear response is jumping straight up, more often then not into be the undercarriage of passing cars."

    I still haven't seen one, but I'll let you know when I do.

    The Politics of Trash

    This week's Nashville Scene has an excellent editorial on Metro's reponse to residents who have demanded that they be provided additional 96-gallon garbage bins.

    Friday, August 12, 2005


    According to Truth Laid Bear, this site is the 4,374th most visisted blog that they track, with 57 unique visitors per day. (The chart to the right illustrates Daily Josh readership trends.) Woo! I had no idea I got that many hits. Thank you, readers.

    Update: I think that the ranking is actually based on the number of unique links to The Daily Josh from other blogs tracked by Truth Laid Bear, and the number is now up to 63. They also rank blogs based on unique visitors, but I'll have to put a special counter on the page to be tracked. Still, I am now ranked 4,172 out of 34,466 blogs. That puts me in the 87th percentile. So I'm encouraged.

    Justice Sunday II: Is It Really a Big Deal?

    Since I live in Nashville, work for the church, and have an interest in the intersection of faith and politics, I have kept up with Justice Sunday II—God Save the United States and This Honorable Court, which will be held this Sunday at Nashville's Two Rivers Baptist Church. Featured speakers include Tony Perkins, James Dobson (on video), Tom DeLay, and Phyllis Schlafly. The official purpose of the event is unclear, though it is assumed to be a pep rally for Supreme Court nominee Judge John Roberts.

    The original Justice Sunday was attacked by crazy religious liberals like myself because the event's speakers implied that those who take issue with the President's judicial nominees are not people of faith, and because my senator, Bill Frist, was one of those speakers. (Frist, since endorsing federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, is no longer on good terms with Dobson and Perkins.) This time around, people know what to expect, so this Sunday's speakers are unlikely to surprise or shock anyone.

    My question is, Who are the organizers and distinguished guests of Justice Sunday II speaking for? I have not been able to locate a list of participating churches or a full list of featured speakers. (Neither is available on the official website.) From what I can gather, mainline Protestants are not represented at all. According to Mark Tooley, the head United Methodist at the Institute for Religion and Democracy (an advocacy group for social, political, and theological conservatives within mainline Protestantism), his organization is not involved. Good News, the most prominent organization for conservative United Methodists also will not be participating. Though many mainline Protestants sympathize with the political views of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, few (if any) are endorsing this event.

    When I Googled "Justice Sunday II," I found that 11 of the first 20 links are to bloggers protesting the event. Only 2 link to bloggers supporting the event, both of whom have been invited to blog live from Two Rivers Baptist. The remaining links lead to news reports and press releases about Justice Sunday II.

    Though Dobson, Perkins, and company claim to speak on behalf of the majority of American voters, I would argue that they don't speak for the majority of American Christians, the majority of Republicans, the majority of Republican Christians, or the majority of parents who look to Focus on the Family for information about movies, music, and so forth. I could be wrong, but I would advise people not to get too worked up about Justice Sunday II. I don't think these people have as much influence as they think they do.

    More on Christian Dissent Live, this Sunday from 6:00–8:00 a.m. on Radio Free Nashville.

    When September Ends

    Crooks and Liars has gotten permission to host the new Green Day video for "Wake Me Up When September Ends." According to the press release, "This timely and politically charged filmic vignette documents Green Day's view of the effects on young soldiers and loved ones left behind."

    Given the goals of the video, I was disappointed. I don't care for music videos with excessive dialog and lengthy no-music sequences. Videos should not try to transcend the music itself. If artists really want to turn music videos into mini-movies, they need to show me something special. Unfortunately, Green Day and director Samuel Bayer fail to do so.

    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Gazing Into the Future, Ignoring the Present

    Today, the Denver Post reported that, according to Bob Woodward, Dick Cheney would seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. This weekend, a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll revealed that registered Democrats heavily favor Hillary Clinton as their 2008 presidential nominee, while registered Republicans are split between Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. (Cheney was not considered a potential candidate when the poll was taken; my senator, Bill Frist, finished fourth among Republicans.) Several cable news programs have invited pundits to speculate about the 2008 race.

    I was tempted to analyze recent speculation and polling data regarding the next presidential election; then I remembered that it is more than three years away. We are only nine months removed from the last election, and some prospective presidential candidates have 2006 races to worry about.

    Our culture seems to value candidates more for winning elections (or at least running good races) more than for what they actually do as elected officials. I don't care for President Bush, but he is our president and will be for another three years. Instead of wasting time speculating about who might replace Bush in a few years, I think my time would be better spent petitioning the president and my other elected representatives about issues that are important to me (even if they have never listened to me before). Policy is not made in elections but in the halls of government.

    Unfortunately, many politicians seem more concerned about being re-elected or crafting their legacies than about doing what is best for their constituents. Ridiculous amendments are tacked onto bills that legislators will have to vote for for PR reasons. Our leaders are more concerned about how much money is spent on education, defense, and so forth than they are about how that money is spent. After all, responsible and effective use of resources is difficult to explain in a 30-second television spot.

    Our elected representatives, whether we like them or not, do a very important job, even if we don't approve of how they are doing it; the rest of us need to remember that being involved in the political process is not limited to voting. We need to keep tabs on those who represent us and save campaigning for election years.

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    Wednesday Evening Reading

    Untied Methodist: Judicial Council Must Uphold Due Process in the Stroud Case
    On how the UM Judicial Council's decision in the Beth Stroud case—expected to be issued in late October—will upset everyone, but for different reasons

    Think Progress: In Romance With USA, Americans Play Hard to Get
    An interesting assessment of recent polling data

    Tiny Cat Pants: Unacceptable
    About a government plan to reduce the cost of war by investigating for fraud veterans' claims of post-traumatic stress disorder

    The Onion: Vehement Anti-Cell-Phone Guy Finally Caves In
    "After calling the device "the item single-handedly responsible for the erosion of our nation's social and cultural foundation" for close to a decade, Jason Whiting gave in to social pressures this weekend and bought a cell phone."

    Squeezing the Last Drops of Political Juice out of a National Tragedy

    The Defense Department is using money from its hideously large budget to hold the first annual "Freedom Walk" to commemorate 9/11. The walk will start at the Pentagon, go through Arlington National Cemetary, and end on the National Mall, where festivities will culminate in a Clint Black concert.

    Clint Black? Were Alan Jackson and Brooks and Dunn unavailable? 9/11 was an American tragedy. But, as a white person living in the south, I am bothered that white southerners have gone to such lengths to claim 9/11 as our own. The terrorist attacks of four years ago affected the entire country, but particularly the eastern seaboard, and especially New York City. If the Defense Department must throw this celebration of freedom/exploitation of a national tragedy, I suggest finding a more suitable performer for the closing concert, like New York's own Jay-Z.

    Franny and Zooey Prayer of the Day

    Every person is God's blessed creation.

    Tuesday, August 09, 2005

    Is Your Child Becoming a Homosexual?

    This is rich. Focus on the Family offers warning signs that parents can look for if they're worried that their 5-to-11-year-old boy may "become gay." Focus on the Family recommends setting one's children straight before puberty, when they can become official homosexuals.

    My question: If we can tell that a boy will be gay years before he hits puberty, can we conclude that homosexuality is the result of genetic andor early-childhood developmental factors and is in no way a choice? Personally, I'm not sure that the answer matters; being gay or lesbian hurts no one.

    In Family/High School Basketball News . . .

    . . . my brother-in-law, formerly the head basketball coach at Nashville's Hillsboro High School, recently took the head coaching position at Mt. Juliet High School in Wilson County. The Tennessean has the full story.

    Borg's The Heart of Christianity

    I recently re-read Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity. When I first read the book, in the spring of last year, I wrote this review (though I never did anything with it). I looked over my old review tonight and have decided that I stand by what I wrote last year. So if you have read or are interested in reading The Heart of Christianity (and it is a worthwhile read), check out my review and let me know what you think.

    Franny and Zooey Prayer of the Day

    God, heal me, and heal this broken world.

    Monday, August 08, 2005

    God Bless You, Justice Stevens

    John Paul Stevens, a Ford appointee often known as the most liberal Supreme Court Justice, raises the issue of capital punishment with the Roberts confirmation hearing looming. He alleges serious flaws in how the death penalty is administered.

    Related: "The Price of Death" (from October 2002).

    Recommended Reading

    A thought-provoking piece on the semantics of war and the futility of violence by Jason Sisk

    I Updated My Website

    I don't know if anyone looks at Josh, but I thought I'd mention that I updated it yesterday. Of course, most of the updates are just links to posts on this blog that you've probably already read or chosen not to read.

    If you've ever wondered why the heading on this blog says "Josh" (three times, no less), I should say that I didn't realize that people would ever find "" without first going to Josh But, from what I can tell, most people come directly here, which is good, because I update the blog daily. Most of the stuff on my main site is ancient andor not worth looking at.

    I'd actually prefer that people come directly to the blog. But to clear up any confusion, I thought I should say that there is an actual Josh on the web and that I still update it semi-regularly.

    And while I'm thinking about it, here's a new Meyer picture that I forgot to put up on his website.

    Sunday, August 07, 2005

    On the Air

    I think I'm safe announcing that, starting next week, I'll be helping out Cole Wakefield on his Christian Dissent radio show. It's a news/talk program for progressive-Christian types. The show airs from 6:00 to 8:00 a.m. on Radio Free Nashville, 98.9 WRFN, and I'll be on the air two or three Sundays per month. You may have trouble picking up the signal, even in the Nashville area, but you can listen to the show live or pre-recorded at Radio Free I'll keep you posted on details.

    In the meantime check out Nashville Is Talking. Cole was this weekend's guest blogger.

    Saturday, August 06, 2005

    Credit Where Credit Is Due

    Watching VH1's Top 20 Countdown has become a part of the Tinleys' Saturday morning routine. For some reason, Meyer prefers it to SpongeBob SquarePants.

    In recent weeks The Pussycat Dolls (featuring Busta Rhymes) have been near the top of the chart with "Don't Cha." ("Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me?") VH1 often fails to mention (actually, I've never heard them mention) that "Don't Cha" is essentially a cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot's 1988 classic "Swass." ("Don't you wish your boyfriend was swass like me?") To quote an review by Eric C. Baur of Owensboro, KY:

    Unfortunately, many people have pigeon-holed Sir Mix-A-Lot as a "Weird Al" style rapper who busts rhymes about big butts and buttermilk biscuits. Sadly, this just isn't true. Swass is a pristine example of old-school rap that was just starting to become mainstream when this ablum was initally released. As well, Mix-A-Lot helped bring Seattle to the rap mainstream when most artists were based either in New York or L.A.

    Friday, August 05, 2005

    Biggest Signing in Predators History

    The Nashville Predators are expected later this afternoon to announce the signing of NHL superstar and probable future hall-of-famer Paul Kariya. The Preds could be dangerous this year.

    Who Is Responsible for What?

    Untied Methodist has a good post and subsequent discussion about the role of the church and the government in ensuring that people have the opportunity to work and to be paid a fair wage. Dean at Untied Methodist draws heavily on the United Methodist Social Principles. Today our Social Principles and Social Creed cover everything from environmental concerns to family life, but when the first Social Creed was adopted in 1908, it dealt almost entirely with labor-related issues.

    Few question whether the church should help people obtain skills, find work, and meet their basic living needs. But United Methodists, and Christians as a whole, still disagree on whether the church should petition and pressure the government to pass legislation that protects workers and ensures laborers better compensation. I feel that the church should be involved in such advocacy efforts, but allow me to back up. I would like to suggest that churches use a three-tiered approach to help workers (both those currently employed and those looking for work). You can read that last sentence two different ways: that churches do use this approach, or that churches should start using this approach. I mean both. Anyway:

    1) The church needs to help the working poor (and the poor in general) meet their basic needs. Many churches put significant effort and resources into providing needy persons food, shelter, clothing, and so forth. Congregations could more effectively meet these needs with financial and logistical support from local, state, and federal governments.

    2) The church needs to help people move forward. Again, many congregations are already doing this. I know of several churches and church-affiliated programs in my area that offer job-training and job-counseling, English classes for immigrants, programs to rehabilitate criminals and prostitutes, programs to help people overcome addiction, and so forth. All of these efforts help people find work and take steps toward financial security. Here also, the more the government helps out, the better.

    3) The church needs to be involved in advocacy. The idea that "those who work hard will be OK, and those who aren't OK aren't working hard" is silly. When I was in high school, making little more than minimum wage was great. I could bowl three games and get a malt at Steak 'n' Shake every night, and the money never ran out. I couldn't believe that anyone complained about money. Once I had graduated from college, making little more than minimum wage was not sufficient. I couldn't pay for basic living expenses without help from my parents, a luxury that many people don't have. And, of course, I didn't have benefits.

    But this isn't about me. Millions of people are working hard (sometimes working multiple jobs) and not getting by. While we shouldn't rely on the government to solve all of our problems, the government (local, state, and federal) has a responsibility to provide for the common welfare. If affordable housing is lacking, the government needs to find ways to create more affordable housing units. If millions of people lack healthcare, the government needs to initiate programs to make sure that these people are taken care of. Today the minimum wage is ridiculously low, many people work full-time and live below the poverty line, and the disparity between the haves and have-nots continues to grow. The government must do something to increase wages.

    Churches are called to minister to people in need, but churches simply do not have the resources to both meet people's basic needs and help people take the next step forward, especially when government policies ensure a continual flow of needy persons and families. Even while the church reaches out to the poor, the church must petition and pressure the government for legislation that will help solve the underlying problems of poverty. According to Jim Wallis, one out of every sixteen New Testament verses deals with poverty andor social justice; the ratio in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is one-in-ten; in Luke alone, it is one-in-seven. Poverty andor social justice is the second most prominent topic in the Old Testament. (Idolatry is first.) Clearly, effectively fighting poverty is a biblical imperative.

    Further reading:
    Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
    Sweet Charity by Janet Poppendieck
    God's Politics by Jim Wallis

    Also see:
    The Fair Wage Plan

    Required Reading

    Jim Wallis had an excellent op-ed piece in yesterday's New York Times. Definitely worth reading.

    (Tip: Dare We Be Christians?)

    Advertising the Good News

    Wesley Blog has a good post on cheesy denominational marketing messages.

    Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Chick Tracts: The Little Booklets That Used to Give Me the Willies

    In my youth I remember stumbling upon a pamphlet titled This Was Your Life! I think I found it in a public restroom. I read the tract several times, and it caused me hours of anxiety about the fate of my eternal soul.

    Last night, I found the source of these little booklets. Jack Chick has been drawing them for forty years and has produced titles on a host of subjects. Before I raise the obvious objections, I'd like to commend Chick for two reasons:

    1) I like that Chick tracts are strategically left in public places. It's a little creepy, but a good idea nonetheless. Before I got into websites, I seriously considered using this method to distribute essays and short stories. People are intrigued by what they find lying around.

    2) Every time I read This Was Your Life! I spent time reflecting on my life and seriously evaluating my priorities. Though I think that Jack Chick's theology is dangerous, he definitely makes his readers think about their own beliefs.

    Looking through the list of booklets, I was shocked by the number of anti-Catholic tracts. Chick considers Catholicism a false and idolatrous faith. I was less surprised to find that he preaches against homosexuals, Harry Potter, Palestinians, and teachers of evolution. He also caricatures heretics like me (who read Harry Potter, don't hate gay people, think that the theory of evolution has merit, and so on) as those who subversively use the public school system to attack Christianity.

    Some of the Chick tracts are unintentionally humorous; some are frightening. At any rate, now I know where they come from.

    Wednesday, August 03, 2005

    Bush Advocates Teaching Intelligent Design in Public Schools

    Though he still asserts that curriculum decisions should be made by local school districts (within the constraints placed upon them by the No Child Left Behind Act), the President yesterday advocated teaching intelligent design theory as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

    I am a Christian who has no problem with the theory of evolution. Evolution is an ongoing creation process, and I believe in a living God who continues to create. And I don't have a problem with intelligent design. I do, however, feel that this philosophical viewpoint should not be taught as science.

    For one, intelligent design theory isn't entirely scientific. While the idea of irreducible complexity is intriguing, it and intelligent design in general rely heavily on gaps in evolutionary theory as evidence for a greater intelligence. In essence, intelligent design theorists fill in scientific holes with God. Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett in Evolution From Creation to New Creation point out the theological flaw in this reasoning:

    The problem with this position is that by placing God within the gaps of our knowledge we run the risk that when science advances such that a natural explanation is found, the place of God disappears. . . . This confuses primary cause (divine action) and secondary causes (the law-like behavior of the universe).

    I affirm the idea that a greater intelligence works through the laws of nature but don't think that one's belief in a divine creator should be reduced to science or taught in public-school science classes. Rather, churches should point to the natural world and the vast universe as products of God's magnificent creativity.

    Missing Young Women Are Big News . . . If They're White

    After protests from Philadelphia city officials and Philadelphia-area blogs, the mainstream media has finally picked up on the story of Latoyia Figueroa, a 24-year-old Hispanic woman who is five months pregnant and has been missing for two weeks. While Figueroa's story is similar to Laci Peterson's and seems at least as newsworthy as Natalee Holloway's (Figueroa is pregnant, after all), new outlets have given it little coverage. Even though CNN, FOX News, and MSNBC have all done stories on Latoyia, none has given the matter nearly as much attention as the Natalee Holloway story.

    Unfortunately, missing persons are fairly common. While each case is tragic, only some can be covered. How do media outlets determine which to cover and how much ink or airtime each case gets? I can only assume that race consciously or subconsciously plays a role, especially considering the ubiquitous coverage of the Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway disappearances and the sparse coverage of Latoyia Figueroa.

    Tuesday, August 02, 2005

    Actually, I'm a Young Adult and a United Methodist

    Untied Methodist has an outstanding (if lengthy) post on The United Methodist Church's ability (or inability) to attract young adults. The discussion that follows also raises some good questions.

    Powerful Women

    Forbes magazine recently released its second annual list of the world's 100 Most Powerful Women. While I was disappointed that the list included no religious leaders, I was impressed by the number of women who are heads of state. Yulia Tymoshenko, prime minister of the Ukraine, and Gloria Arroyo, president of the Phillipines, are both in the top ten. (Granted, Arroyo is facing possible impeachment.) The leaders of Ireland, New Zealand, and Sri Lanka are in the top 25.

    Having read the list, I am even more upset that the United States has never had a female president, that a woman has never run for president on a major party ticket, and that only one woman has run for vice president on a major party ticket. If Bangladesh and Latvia can have women as heads of state, why not the U.S., a nation known for equality and opportunity. (Of course, we've never had a minority president either.)

    Another Crisis We Should Be Paying More Attention To has an inspiring story about faith communities working to stem the crisis in Niger, where nearly one third of the population is hungry due to drought and a locust invasion. I confess that I haven't been paying much attention to this story. also provides a list of organizations that are involved in the relief effort. I would like to add UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) to the list.

    Monday, August 01, 2005

    How Many Planets Are Really in Our Solar System?

    This weekend astronomers suggested that 2003UB313—a large, round, trans-Neptunian object (TNO) in the Kuiper belt—is our solar system's tenth planet.

    2003UB313 is larger than Pluto, which argues for it gaining planet status. Personally, however, I'm not sure that Pluto should count as a true planet, but as a minor planet—one of many minor planets in the Kuiper belt. Its orbit is unlike that of any of the eight undisputed planets, and it is smaller than the earth's moon (as is 2003UB313). The only planet nearly as small as Pluto is Mercury, which is located close to the sun, where one expects to find smaller, rocky planets. (One other possibility is that Pluto and its moon, Charon, form a double planet.)

    If we do consider Pluto a planet, then 2003UB313 must also be certified as a planet and given a name that is easier to remember. My fear is that astronomers will continue to find large objects in the Kuiper belt that argue for planet status. Before long, we will have dozens of planets in the solar system, and third grade science will suddenly become much more difficult.