Give Graciously, but Don’t Be a Dumb Donor: You Can Do a Simple Charity Checkup

 

Ed Anderson, Compassion International's chief financial officer, discusses information systems with ministry workers in Thailand in October. The ministry's field offices in 26 countries work with nearly two million children.

Ed Anderson, Compassion International’s chief financial officer, discusses information systems with ministry workers in Thailand in October. The ministry’s field offices in 26 countries work with nearly two million children.

Americans donated more than $1 billion to religious charities last year. But which charities use donor dollars best? And which evangelical parachurch organizations deliver the most “ministry per dollar”?

That’s what I wanted to find out. I contacted nearly 3 dozen ministries, requesting their audited financial statements so I could “look under the hood” and see how much they actually spend on ministry program. (As opposed to overhead, fundraising and other non-ministry costs).

My efforts were supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism, and the fruits of my labor were recently published in two articles:

One) a “local” article published in the Colorado Springs Gazette focusing on that city’s 23 largest parachurch organizations.

Two) and a “national” article focusing on 20 widely known national ministries published by Religion News Service.

Charities Vary in Efficiency and Transparency

I found out two important things you should keep in mind as you (along with millions of other donors) make charitable contributions at the end of the year:

First, ministries vary widely in how much of your money they actually devote to ministry. Among the ministries I researched, the most efficient was every home for Christ (88 cents of every dollar go to ministry programs), while the least efficient was Prison Fellowship (only 62 cents of every dollar go to ministry programs).

(See which organizations spend the most and least on program in the chart in the national article.)

Second, ministries differ in how transparent they are about their financial operations. I was surprised to discover that four Colorado Springs-based ministries that belong to the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability violated the council’s transparency standards by declining to provide me with their audited financial statements.

(When I contacted an ECFA representative for a response, ECFA promptly contacted the four ministries, which belatedly saw the light and sent me their documents. No word yet from ECFA on any plans it has to educate its members about transparency, which the ECFA calls both a matter of “moral integrity” and “a condition of continued ECFA accreditation in good standing.” And no word from the four ministries about any plans they have to be more transparent in the future.)

UPDATE from Gary Cantwell, Chief Communications Officer, The Navigators 11/29/16:

Thank you for bringing the ECFA guidelines to our attention. We have since added a link to our most recent audited financial statement to our public website (http://www.navigators.org/About-Us/Financial%20Report).

You can do your own simple charity checkup

Here’s what you need to do to see which charities deliver the most “ministry per dollar.”

-See if the charities use support make their audited financial statements available, either online or by request.

-Use these statements to find out how much of every dollar charities spend on “program” (the good works that are the reason you’re supporting them).

-Check the websites of charity watchdogs like Charity Navigator and Ministry Watch, both of which helped me in my research.

Compassion still gets it right

In the “local” version of the story I showed how Compassion International gets it right when it comes to transparency. The ministry makes more than a dozen financial reports readily available for all to see on its website.

I edited Compassion’s magazine for a few years, back in the day. Every year, President Wally Erickson insisted we add eight pages to the November/December issue so we could include the latest audited financial statement. When I interviewed Compassion’s chief financial officer Ed Anderson for the article, I got the distinct impression that financial integrity remains a core value at this ministry.

Posted in Articles, Blog

The Aliens Are Among Us! Again! (and in at a theater near you in “Arrival”)

Huge alien space pods have landed at a dozen spots around the world.

Will a linguist (Amy Adams) be able to communicate with these beings from another planet, ascertain their intentions, and respond quickly if they are out to get us?

arrivalaliens

78 years after Orson Welles scared millions with his Halloween broadcast of “The War of the Worlds,” bad guys are back in “Arrival,” the latest in a long list of movies and books about aliens among us.

Remember when horror fiction writer Whitley Strieber said aliens abducted him, probed his body, and declared him their “chosen one” in his creepy, allegedly nonfiction bestseller, Communion?

As Dave Bradstreet and I write in our new book, Star Struck:

Most Americans think we’ve got company in the universe, and nearly a third of us believe aliens have visited our planet.

The search for actual aliens (or SETI) has been going on for decades, but so far none have turned up. A growing number of space missions is probing more of our cosmos’s nooks and crannies.

World-famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has even joined the search, as the New York Times reported in July 2015: “Stephen Hawking Joins Russian Entrepreneur’s Search for Alien Life.”

But even if none are ever found, they will survive in our imaginations, our movies, and our sci-fi novels.

Why?

Dave and I suggest an answer:

Here’s my theory explaining why most of us seem to believe alien life forms are out there somewhere: pop culture. Our hearts and minds have been shaped by decades’ worth of adorable aliens who’ve visited us on screens small and large most of our lives. I know these celebrity extraterrestrials have informed my imagination about life in space.

 

 

Posted in Articles, Blog

Billionaire Space Race and Ending the War Between Science and Faith

I recently wrote about the Billionaire Space Race for the Colorado Springs Gazette. At the same time, Gazette writer Debbie Kelley wrote about me and Star Struck, my new book with astronomer David Bradstreet.

Last spring I was able to hear Amazon founder Jeff Bezos excitedly share his vision for commercial space travel:

bezos

“I won the lottery with Amazon,” he said at this spring’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. Now his billions fund his “boyhood dream.” In 2000 he founded Blue Origin, an aerospace company that plans to enable “anybody to go into space,” on brief, expensive rides.

My article asks: with all these new private space ventures, can we be “good” in space? And if bad guys take to the heavens, what is anybody going to do about it?

I interviewed experts Steve Eisenhart of the Space Foundation and Ian Christensen of the Secure World Foundation. You can read the article here.

Meanwhile, Debbie Kelley wrote about Star Struck and me in her article, “Colorado Springs theological writer’s latest book puts new spin on age-old clash of Christianity and science.”

“The war between religion and science is over,” said Rabey, who has written 35 books on subjects ranging from Celtic spirituality to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting to Pentecostal revivalism.

“No astronomical finding will diminish your belief in God’s role as Creator and sustainer of the universe,” the authors write.

Debbie has covered religion for decades, and understands that some believers are convinced that science is out to demonize faith. But as Debbie points out, everything I researched while writing Star Struck showed that scientific discovery often results in complex, elegant heavenly processes that engender awe and praise:

In doing research, Rabey said he realized the vastness of God’s creation – “the kind of things that make you stop and go ‘Hmmm’ and look up and marvel and wonder.”

 

 

Posted in Articles, Blog

Happy Birthday, Everything! Why Archbishop Ussher said God Created the World at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, October 22, 4004 BCE

There’s a big birthday coming up. Really big! According to 17th century northern Irish Archbishop James Ussher, the universe was created exactly 6,020 years ago this Saturday.

ussher

David Bradstreet and I discuss Ussher and explore the age of the cosmos in our new book, Star Struck:

The Bible clearly teaches that God created everything “in the beginning.” But does Scripture also tell us when that beginning began?

This question became an obsession for James Ussher, a seventeenth-century Irish Anglican bishop who spent decades of study and research in his quest to come up with the best answer. His dogged pursuit of the truth sapped his strength, emptied his bank account, and almost blinded him. But he persevered, concluding that the beginning had begun at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BCE.

But we almost didn’t learn about Ussher’s massive project:

Ussher was in his sixties when he finally finished his research. That’s when tragedy struck. All his notes were blown away by a powerful Irish wind. The loss shocked the bishop, who ascribed the incident to God’s mysterious will:

“He has thought fit to take from me at once, all that I have been gathering together, above these twenty years, and which I intend to publish for the advancement of learning, and the good of the Church.”

Helpful townspeople quickly gathered up most of the bishop’s windblown papers, allowing him to finally publish his magnum opus, The Annals of the World, in 1650.

Ussher’s chronology drew mixed reviews.

While most praised his scholarship, others scoffed. In 1922, H. G. Wells, a skeptic and author of some of the most enduring works of science fiction (The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine), dismissed Ussher’s dating scheme as a “fantastically precise misconception” based on “arbitrary theological assumptions.”

Ussher’s chronology might have disappeared had it not been added to scripture by some publishers:

Ussher died six years after publishing his Annals, but his dating scheme achieved immortality when an enterprising Bible printer began including his chronology in new Bibles. The Church of England incorporated Ussher’s dates in its official version of the Bible in 1701.

(Some Catholics also embraced Ussher’s dating scheme, but Jesuit missionaries encountered problems in China when they tried to preach a young-Earth Creator to people who traced their civilization back thousands of years.)

Over the next two centuries, Ussher’s dates were printed alongside the scriptural text in millions of English-language Bibles, leading generations of Bible readers to think of Ussher’s chronology as the biblical chronology.

This comingling of Scripture and chronological interpretation confused at least one reader. “I declare I had fancied that the date was somehow in the Bible,” said Charles Darwin.

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Thankfully, most Bible publishers long ago stopped adding Ussher’s non-scientific chronology to the pages of scripture, but Ussher’s views on the age of the cosmos remain popular with many “young Earth” believers. A 2014 Gallup survey found that Ussher’s views remain popular:

More than four in 10 Americans continue to believe that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago, a view that has changed little over the past three decades.

Read about efforts by theologians and scientists to determine the age of the cosmos in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

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You can order your own copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Star-Struck-Seeing-Creator-Wonders/dp/0310344069?ie=UTF8&qid=1467056613&ref_=la_B001IR3K8S_1_11&s=books&sr=1-11

Posted in Articles, Blog

Black Holes Burping and Singing: Scientists Say Cause Is “Spaghettification” of Stars

There have been some disturbing reports lately of crude behavior in outer space. Black holes are burping.

On the left, an optical image from the Digitized Sky Survey shows Cygnus X-1, outlined in a red box. Cygnus X-1 is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. An artist's illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. Cygnus X-1 is a so-called stellar-mass black hole, a class of black holes that comes from the collapse of a massive star. New studies with data from Chandra and several other telescopes have determined the black hole's spin, mass, and distance with unprecedented accuracy.

The black hole Cygnus X-1 (left) is located near large active regions of star formation in the Milky Way, as seen in this image that spans some 700 light years across. The artist’s illustration on the right depicts what astronomers think is happening within the Cygnus X-1 system. (NASA)

In the past, astronomers heard black holes singing. Now the sounds are more digestive.

As David Bradstreet and I explain in our new book, Star Struck:

Black holes—so far as we know—are celestial phenomena (possibly the remains of dying stars) that compress vast amounts of matter and energy into a very small space, unleashing gravitational forces so strong that they suck in everything nearby, including light waves, which explains why they’re so black.

Some people describe black holes as giant vacuum clean- ers that travel around sucking up planets and energy like so much space dust. It’s probably more accurate to describe them as big, galactic bathtub drains. Open your bathtub drain and you can see the dirty water swirling around and going down.

It’s similar with black holes, except we never see the drain itself, only space stuff swirling around and disappearing. We can’t tell where everything is going, nor do we know if the standard laws of physics apply within their mysterious boundaries.

The burping was reported by NASA and covered in a recent Forbes article, ” Black Holes Burp Cosmic Radiation After Devouring Stars:”

NASA astronomers have gained new insight into the enormous flares from stars being chewed up by supermassive black holes.

Everyone now knows that black holes belch fire when they chow down on stars, as a number of these rare events have been captured by space telescopes in the last few years.

But TIME disagrees, in this article: “No, Black Holes Can’t ‘Burp.’ But What They Do Instead Is Important.”

They can burp. Sort of. OK, let’s back up.

The TIME article says what sounds like burping may result from “spaghettification” of stars:

… which is just what it sounds like—an annihilation that takes the form of the star being torn into long stands before being swallowed up.

As spaghettification happens, it leads to what the researchers describe as a “sudden injection of gas close to the black hole horizon.” That is an injection toward the hole from the star, not the other way around. The injection leads to brilliant flares of light—still far away enough from the hole that they can escape. The light is then absorbed by dust particles a few trillion miles from the black hole, which re-emit the energy in the infrared.

blackhole2

In 2003, NASA detected massive sound waves speeding away from a supermassive black hole in the Perseus cluster of galaxies. As Dave and I wrote:

Translated into a musical note, these sound waves were the equivalent of a B flat that’s fifty-seven octaves below middle C on the typical seven-octave piano. Humans can’t actually hear these sound waves, which are a billion times lower than the sounds our ears can pick up, but our instruments can detect them, declaring the Perseus song the deepest note ever received from space.

“The Perseus sound waves are much more than just an interesting form of black hole acoustics,” said researcher Steve Allen of the Institute of Astronomy in an article on NASA’s Science News website. “These sound waves may be the key in figuring out how galaxy clusters, the largest structures in the Universe, grow.”

You may not be able to hear black holes, but you CAN hear the audio version of Star Struck.

starstruck-audio

 

 

Posted in Articles, Blog

Have You Hugged Your Pastor Today? Pastor Appreciation Day Coming!

People expect a lot from their pastors: theological insights; inspirational preaching; spiritual purity; powerful leadership; and a nice bedside manner when making hospital calls.

As a result, pastors suffer with higher than average rates of depression, obesity and hypertension. A psychologist says pastors are “the single most occupationally frustrated group in America.”

But you can help pastors thrive by celebrating Pastor Appreciation Day (celebrated either this Sunday, Oct. 9, or next Wednesday, Oct. 12, depending on the calendar you use).

Various surveys show how the pressure pastors feel is hurting them and the church:

1,400 pastors leave the ministry every month.

90% of pastors feel they are inadequately trained to cope with ministry demands.

75% of pastors say they are stressed and fight depression.

70% of pastors say they have no close friends.

55% of pastors feel lonely and discouraged at times.

33% of pastors say being in ministry is a hazard to their families.

23% of pastors have been forced to resign 62% of terminated pastors were terminated by churches that had forced out other pastors.

Only 16% of pastors say they are “very satisfied” with their prayer life.

As Cathy Lynn Grossman wrote in a recent article for Religion News Service, “Conflict and burnout are among top reasons pastors quit.”

Sometimes a call from God is not enough to keep a pastor in his post.

Many evangelical pastors who quit before retirement age found “another calling” either off the pulpit or out of ministry altogether. But many also say they were driven away by conflict and burnout. So says a new survey of former pastors from four denominations.

Grossman’s article was based on a LifeWay survey of 734 former pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Church of the Nazarene and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The LifeWay results were sobering:

  • 56 percent said there were clashes over changes they proposed.

  • 54 percent said they experienced a significant personal attack.

  • 48 percent said their training didn’t prepare them to handle the people side of ministry.

What can you do, besides give your pastor a big hug? LifeWay offers some actions you can take to help your pastor be healthier, happier and more effective in “10 Gift Ideas for Pastor Appreciation Month & Pastor Appreciation Day.”

Want to do something awesome for your pastor? Then give a gift retreat at SonScape Retreats.

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Founded by a pastoral couple more than 30 years ago, SonScape has helped more than 3,000 pastoral and missionary leaders and couples from around the world experience rest and renewal of their passion for ministry.

Research into SonScape alumni shows:

89% of leaders attending a SonScape retreat have remained in ministry (or have retired in ministry).

96% of couples attending a SonScape retreat are still married.

Want to know more about the SonScape approach? Then read Pastors are People Too (published by David C. Cook), the new book by Larry Magnuson, SonScape’s CEO, and co-author Jimmy Dodd of PastorServe.

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A former pastor who has been leading retreats at SonScpae for 14 years, Magnuson says the book tells you what pastors won’t tell you, but it’s what you need to know. In a time when too many pastors are discouraged, depressed, and often ready to throw in the towel on ministry, Pastors are People Too addresses the complex world of the pastor and their family.

Jimmy Dodd, President of PastorServe, and Larry Magnuson, President of SonScape Retreats, have developed a deep friendship, as well as a commitment to encourage and support the men and women called to lead the Church. The two ministries have come alongside thousands of ministry couples listening to their stories and offering help and healing where needed.

 

 

The books tells why the state of your pastor should matter to you, and what you can do about it:

  • Your pastor needs a champion
  • Allow your pastor to be a real person
  • Managing expectations
  • The pastor’s spouse and family
  • Conflict: It’s inevitable

At least for a while this month, perhaps we can stop placing inordinate demands on our pastors, and start being someone who supports leaders, instead.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Happy Birthday Sputnik: Little Russian Satellite Inspired U.S. Space Race

sputniknytIt was the “Beep, beep” that changed the world 59 years ago Tuesday.

David Bradstreet and I wrote about it in our book, Star Struck:

 

 

 

 

 

            The first man-made satellite to orbit the Earth wasn’t much to look at. With a shiny round body the size of a beach ball and four spindly antennae that resembled skinny legs, the device looked like an undersized barbecue grill.

But this primitive little satellite had a huge global impact. Launched into low Earth orbit in October 1957, Sputnik circled our planet every ninety-six minutes. Millions of people around the globe went outside to see it pass overhead. Amateur radio enthusiasts tuned in to hear its distinctive beep, beep signal.

Now everyone knew the truth. The US had been out-maneuvered by the USSR, its dreaded Cold War foe. The space race was on, and we were playing catch-up. President John F. Kennedy challenged the country to prove itself in a 1961 speech to Congress:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.”

Yes, meeting Kennedy’s challenge was expensive and difficult. And boy, was it impressive.

Kennedy’s audacious goal was dramatically realized eight years later when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon and returned safely home, his journey broadcast on live television for all to see.

Science fiction had become science fact. America declared victory in the space race, thanks to the billions of dollars NASA spent developing the cutting-edge technologies needed for dozens of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions.

NASA celebrated Sputnik’s birthday last year in the article, “Remembering Sputnik – The satellite that began the Space Race.”

Remembering Sputnik – The satellite that began the Space Race

 

Sputnik was the beginning of what we call Space 1.0. Today, Space 2.0 is just around the corner.

Say farewell to space 1.0, the era of government-dominated space exploration. Say hello to space 2.0, when a new billionaire space race is funding dozens of emerging private companies that plan to sell tickets to space tourists, mine asteroids, or create Martian colonies.

Thanks, Sputnik, for getting the whole thing started!

Read all about Sputnik and the space race in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

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You can order your own copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Star-Struck-Seeing-Creator-Wonders/dp/0310344069?ie=UTF8&qid=1467056613&ref_=la_B001IR3K8S_1_11&s=books&sr=1-11

 

Posted in Articles, Blog

A Curious Quest for Character and a Tale of Two Sinners

Once upon a time, evangelicals rallying around family values declared that character was a prerequisite to leadership–especially in the president’s office.

As journalist Jonathan Merritt puts it:

“Character counts.” That was evangelicals’ rallying cry in their all-out assault against Bill Clinton beginning in 1993. In response to what they perceived as widespread moral decline, some religious groups had become aligned with the Republican Party during the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. To them, the allegedly draft-dodging, pot-smoking, honesty-challenged womanizer symbolized everything that was wrong with America.

But things have changed, as Merrit shows in his Atlantic article, “Trump-Loving Christians Owe Bill Clinton an Apology.”

Merritt’s subhead says it all: “Conservative evangelicals were unwilling to offer forgiveness to a Democrat who asked for it. But they have freely offered it to a Republican who doesn’t want it.”

Trump,TimeCover-EdelRodriguez

More than two decades after Clinton’s first inauguration, many evangelical leaders of that era have endorsed the draft-dodging, foul-mouthed, honesty-challenged womanizer named Donald Trump for president. Only a handful refuse to follow suit, including Albert Mohler, the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. During the Clinton years, he regularly argued in mainstream media outlets that the Arkansan was morally unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

“If I were to support, much less endorse, Donald Trump for president,” Mohler says, “I would actually have to go back and apologize to former President Bill Clinton.”

 

A Dobsonian Denunciation

Back in Sept. 1998, James Dobson was “shocked,” “dismayed,” and “alarmed” by Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and “the willingness of my fellow citizens to rationalize the president’s behavior.”

“That disregard for morality is profoundly disturbing to me,” wrote Dobson in his monthly letter to supporters of Focus on the Family, the ministry he later left to found Family Talk. “The public has never approved such misconduct.”

Dobson has endorsed Donald Trump, who has his own issues with marriages, extramarital affairs, racism, and sexism. Dobson has not condemned Trump’s sins, claiming he is a “baby Christian” who apparently doesn’t know any better.

The Apostle Paul said “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” but Trump gets more grace from Dobson than Clinton ever did:

“I just don’t understand it,” Dobson wrote in 1998.

“Why aren’t parents more concerned about what their children are hearing about the president’s behavior? What have we taught our boys about respecting women? What have our little girls learned about men?”

It’s all about character, Dobson wrote.

As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world!

Dobson concluded that Americans would soon face the consequences if they continue to tolerate blatant immorality from their national leader:

We are facing a profound moral crisis not only because one man has disgraced us but because our people no longer recognize the nature of evil. And when a nation reaches that stage of depravity – judgment is a certainty.

PS: Jonathan Merritt also explored theologian Wayne Grudem’s less-than-compelling efforts to apply different standards to Trump than he applied to an earlier Republican candidate, Rudy Giuliani.

Grudem, a professor at Phoenix Seminary, wrote in 2007 that evangelicals “will lose any moral high ground” if they support Giuliani, “a pro-abortion, pro-gay rights candidate who is on his third marriage and had a messy affair prior to his divorce from his second wife.”

Compare Wayne Grudem’s comments about Rudy Giuliani to his Trump endorsement

 

Posted in Articles, Blog

See “Meteor Shower of the Decade” This Week

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

The heavens will be putting on a big show as Thursday night becomes Friday morning.

The annual Perseid meteor shower is back, this time twice as powerful as usual, giving us a display that Popular Mechanics described as “the meteor shower of the decade.”

If you find yourself outside during the night Thursday, don’t forget to look up.

On August 11 and 12, the biggest meteor shower of the year, the Perseids, will be lighting up the night sky, and this year the Perseids promise to be the best shower of the decade.

Getting to Know Meteors

Astronomer David Bradstreet and I explore meteors in our new book, Star Struck:

Meteors are chunks of interplanetary material that typically burn up when they come into contact with our atmosphere.

We call them meteoroids when they’re floating in space. They’re meteorites once they land on the ground, as many thousands do every year. And when Earth’s orbit takes it through the debris field of a comet orbiting near the Sun, we witness a meteor shower.

Popular Mechanics says this year’s show will be twice as big as normal, thanks to some additional guests:

The Perseids typically peak in mid-August every year, when the Earth intersects with the trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. Debris from the comet impacts the Earth’s atmosphere and streaks across the sky, creating shooting stars….

This year, the Perseids are expected to contain meteors from comet trails laid down in 1862, 1479, and 1079. This means that some of the meteors that will impact Earth’s atmosphere next week broke off from the Comet Swift-Tuttle nearly a thousand years ago.

Viewing Tips

There’s a helpful NASA site that can help you get the most out of this summer’s Perseid shower show.

Unfortunately, not everyone can see meteor showers or other heavenly glories. Some of us who live in big cities are blinded by our own light: we’re unable to see into space because we’ve let there be too much light on Earth.

This  can Dark Site Finder can help you locate the nearest dark spot.

OOPS! The Ones that Sneak Through

Our atmosphere intercepts most asteroids, but every once in a while, a big one gets through, as Dave and I explain:

In 1908, the Tunguska meteor was traveling toward Earth at 40,000 mph when it exploded far above our planet’s surface. The blast’s force knocked down an estimated 80 million trees across some 800 square miles, instantly turning forests of tall timber into trillions of toothpicks.

You can actually visit the remains of one meteor:

Barringer_Crater

A 150-foot-wide meteor struck Arizona some 50,000 years ago, unleashing the explosive force of 20 million tons of TNT….

Mining entrepreneur Daniel Barringer bought the crater in 1903, hoping to get rich mining its awesome ore. But he never found his mother lode.

Where did Barringer’s meteor and all its supposed mineral wealth go? Scientists say that when the meteor collided withg the desert, the meteor vaporized upon impact, spreading tiny specks of molten metal across the desert for miles around.

Today, Barringer’s descendants still own the crater, and the Barringer Crater Company welcomes thousands of paying guests to view exhibits at a nearby visitor’s center and take brief tours along part of the crater rim. During tours, guides show guests where the remains of Barringer’s meteor went, sticking a small magnetic rod into the soil and holding it up for all to see the tiny specks of metal clinging to the magnet.

Look, See

The psalmist David tells us:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Ps. 19:1).

Catch the Perseid meteor shower to see that glory vividly declared and proclaimed!

You can read all about meteors and other mind-blowing cosmic characters in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

You can pre-order your own copy here.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Catching Up with John Michael Talbot

Pioneering Catholic musician John Michael Talbot visited Colorado last week, which was great for the many hundreds who heard him sing and teach, as well as for me!

1) A musical legend

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I was able to catch up with John Michael to do an article for the Colorado Springs Gazette. Plus Lois and I were able to join John Michael and Viola for dinner.

The “Musical Legends” article brings together John Michael and another musical legend–Bill Gaither–who is still going strong at 80 years old.

Though different in many ways, Talbot and Gaither have established themselves as musical legends, but not only by their sales figures. They’ve impacted live audiences for decades, and many people sing their songs from hymnals on Sundays. Both artists have also mentored other artists.

 

2) New JMT album

John Michael sang at an event organized by the local St. Thomas Aquinas society, including both classics and new songs from his upcoming album, The Inner Room, his 55th release, which comes out in September.

The-Inner-Room-CD

The album is based on Jesus’ Sermon on the mount and features top musical collaborators:

JMT is joined by three legendary figures: Multi-Grammy Award winner and Bluegrass Music legend Ricky Skaggs (Mandolin, Fiddle), Multi-Dove Award winning guitarist Phil Keaggy and mixdown consultant Bill Halverson, whose credits include Producer / Engineer for Crosby, Still & Nash, and Eric Clapton among countless others).

 

 

3) New cover for St. Francis book

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The Lessons of St. Francis, the first book John Michael and I wrote together, is now in its 31st printing. The new version features a new cover.

The cover emphasizes St. Francis’s “smallness” and humility–characteristics that one can also see in Pope Francis, who adopted Francis’s name upon being elected pope.

You can order the book here.

 

 

4) Little Portion bakery incites overwhelming desires!

Two years ago, Viola had an idea. “Start a bakery!” Today, the Little Portion Bakery is generating funds for the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, the community John Michael founded.

I particularly like Viola’s Granola and St. Anthony’s Hermit Bars, named after the founder of Western monasticism, and made with blackstrap molasses, raisins and pecans. “Ten out of ten hermits agree!” says the online catalog

5) Itinerant ministry

John Michael’s appearances in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas are part of his itinerant ministry.

“Like St. Francis, we are going from parish to parish in a time of great need in our culture,” he says, “rebuilding the church one parish at a time, and renewing hearts one life at a time.”

Posted in Articles, Blog

Church’s Lunar Communion Is Out of This World!

Church calendars are seldom exciting, but Webster Presbyterian Church near Houston hosts an annual event that is out of this world. Lunar Communion Sunday–to be celebrated this Sunday, July 17–honors the congregation’s legacy as the “Church of the Astronauts.”

John Glenn, Jerry Carr, Charlie Bassett, and Roger Chaffee were active members of the church, located on NASA Parkway, not far from NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center.

Apollo astronaut Buzz Aldrin, a church elder, celebrated communion on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969–the day before he and Neil Armstrong became the first humans to walk on the moon. Sitting in the lunar capsule, Aldrin poured a few drops of wine into a small silver chalice, watching the weightless red liquid gracefully curl in the vessel. As he swallowed the wine and chewed a small piece of bread, he read John 15:5, which affirmed his dependence on God:

220px-Aldrin

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

You can read all about Aldrin and other Christians in the space program in “Bless Thou the Astronauts,” published by Christianity Today’s “The Behemoth” online magazine. The article is an excerpt from Star Struck, my new book with astronomer David Bradstreet.

Quiet Expressions of Faith

The public remained in the dark about Aldrin’s brief lunar liturgy. That’s partly because atheist activist Madalyn Murray O’Hair had earlier sued the U.S. government following an earlier demonstration of astronauts’ faith.

Back in December 1968, Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders became the first humans to orbit the Moon. The Apollo 8 astronauts celebrated by delivering a simple Christmas Eve message for everyone back home, taking turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis 1 from the King James Bible. After hearing taxpayer-supported astronauts reciting the Bible from space, O’Hair claimed they had violated the First Amendment. The case was dismissed, but from now on, Christian astronauts would find quieter ways to express their faith.

Buzz Aldrin’s lunar communion was kept quiet, but he has often spoken and written about it over the years. “It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were communion elements,” he said.

A Church that Loves Astronomers, Astronomy

Lunar Communion Sunday is just one of the ways Webster Presbyterian Church’s seeks to honor God and serve members of the scientific community. Its sanctuary is beautifully decorated with astronomical improvisations on the standard church furnishings. Stained glass windows portray nebulae, the gigantic clouds of stellar dust and gas that the Hubble Space Telescope is examining. The cross features slices of a Mexican meteorite that NASA astronauts used while training to handle moon rocks.

images

Nearly half a century later, Aldrin remains star struck, and he has emerged as a major supporter of exploring Mars. As he wrote in a 2013 New York Times column, “The Call of Mars”:

Fast forward to today. Now I see the Moon in a far different light — not as a destination but more a point of departure, one that places humankind on a trajectory to homestead Mars and become a two-planet species.

It is time to lay the groundwork for effective global human exploration of space.

Read all about Buzz Aldrin, the space race, and the quest to reach Mars in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

0-StarStruck-cover

You can pre-order your own copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Star-Struck-Seeing-Creator-Wonders/dp/0310344069?ie=UTF8&qid=1467056613&ref_=la_B001IR3K8S_1_11&s=books&sr=1-11

Posted in Articles, Blog

Jazzed About Jupiter

After a journey of five years and 1.8 billion miles, NASA’s solar-powered Juno spacecraft is getting ready to finally unravel some of the turbulent  planet’s many mysteries.

juno_current_position_7_04_2016

NASA’s Juno spacecraft will orbit, study and photograph Jupiter for the next 20 months.

How was this huge planet (and our solar system) created?

Does it have a rock core, like Earth?

And what can we learn about the horrendous hurricane that’s causing the planet’s fabled Red Spot? (The spot, about two times the size of Earth, has whirled out of control for centuries and will do so for centuries more.)

New York Times science writer Kenneth Chang explained the mission’s goals for the next 20 months in his article, “NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Will Soon Be in Jupiter’s Grip.”

“One of the primary goals of Juno is to learn the recipe for solar systems,” said Scott Bolton, a scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio who is the principal investigator for the $1.1 billion mission. “How do you make the solar system? How do you make the planets in our solar system?”

Our Solar System’s Two Neighborhoods

Astronomers divide the solar system’s planets into two groups. The four terrestrial planets closest to the Sun are small, rocky, and solid. The four more distant Jovian planets are large, gaseous, and surrounded by numerous rings and moons.

Jupiter is 11 times the diameter of Earth. It has 121 times the surface area and 317 times the mass of our planet. More than fourteen hundred Earths could squeeze into Jupiter.

JupiterThumbnailSmallThe planet is a turbulent, gaseous giant with no solid surface but plenty of activity. Juno will use scientific devices to see through Jupiter’s clouds and even analyze its core.

Chang explains:

The slight fluctuations in Jupiter’s gravitational pull, measured by shifts in the frequency of Juno’s radio signals, will tell the density of the planet’s interior and whether there is a rocky core within, where pressures might reach half a billion pounds per square inch.

Some of Juno’s tasks will be determined by amateur astronomers. NASA has invited people to join its “JunoCam community” and help determine what photos the spacecraft will take.

When its work is done, Juno will self-destruct, making sure that no human microbes pollute the environment of Europa, a moon of Jupiter that may have deepwater oceans beneath its thick ice crust. Astronomers suspect there may be life in these oceans, and NASA doesn’t want us to mess it up.

Four centuries ago Galileo discovered Jupiter’s four moons. Now, we’re getting ready to see what Juno can find out. You can follow Juno’s real-time progress here.

Read all about Jupiter, our solar system, and missions to understand the heavens in Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonders of Our Cosmos, written by yours truly and astronomer David Bradstreet (Zondervan, Sept. 2016).

0-StarStruck-cover

You can pre-order your own copy here:

https://www.amazon.com/Star-Struck-Seeing-Creator-Wonders/dp/0310344069?ie=UTF8&qid=1467056613&ref_=la_B001IR3K8S_1_11&s=books&sr=1-11

 

 

Posted in Blog

“Future Shock” Still Shocking Us

They say one thing that doesn’t change is change itself, but pioneering futurist Alvin Toffler, who died this week, said the pace of change is picking up velocity, causing a disruptive condition he called “future shock.” Here’s how he described the symptoms:
Future_shock
“…the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.”

The world’s most famous futurist published Future Shock in 1970. “This is a book about what happens to people when they are overwhelmed by change,” he wrote.

“Change,” Toffler wrote, “is the process by which the future invades our lives.” And he warned that many people would struggle to adapt to the increasing pace of change. “Unless man quickly learns to control the rate of change in his personal affairs as well as in society at large, we are doomed to a massive adaptational break down.”

Toffler issued predictions, correctly foreseeing the demise of the nuclear family. But he missed the boat on cities, incorrectly suggesting that they would shrink as work was distributed.

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Newt

The BBC’s article, “Alvin Toffler: What he got right – and wrong,” does a good job of assessing his hits and misses. But his central point about the disruptiveness of rapid change remains prophetic. He gave a memorable name to a new malady that is “a real sickness from which increasingly large numbers already suffer.”

Change Continues to Disrupt
I believe Future Shock is one of the sources of the chaos in this presidential election cycle. Voters reacting to globalization and rapid social change are recoiling, demanding that leaders do something to reverse the “new normal.”

But yesterday’s version of normal is unlikely to return, says futurist Thomas Frey of Colorado’s DaVinci Institute. I interviewed Frey for the article, “Future Shock, Revisited,” for The Gazette.

Frey is more optimistic than Toffler. “Some things we are adapting to quite quickly,” he said, “but there are some things we still have a hard time getting our minds around.”

“Look at the adoption speed of new business models. After the invention of radio, it took 38 years for the technology to reach five million users. TV took only 13 years to reach that number. The Internet reached that level in four years, while Twitter took only nine months, and the Angry Birds game reached five million in 35 days.

“We’re at point the point where a new start up business can come out of woodwork and reach 50 million users in less than week. Everything moving exponentially.”

The present becomes the future every second. Toffler and other futurists show that this process can be destabilizing when we feel it’s moving too quickly to destabilize the cultural traditions we embrace.

What can we do to better adapt to the pace of change?

Posted in Articles, Blog

A Toast to St. Arnold: Patron Saint of Beer

BBasStAThe 7th century abbot of a French monastery is the inspiration for a Colorado event and a nationwide movement of Christian beer drinkers.

This article the Colorado Springs Gazette focuses on local event organizer Brian Bennett, who dresses up as St. Arnold to greet his hundreds of guests.

Posted in Articles, Blog

Merging Churches Are “Better Together”

When pastor Eric Sandras asked to rent space in a nearby church, they gave him the whole building! In this article from the Colorado Springs Gazette, see how three Colorado churches did what thousands do every year: merge for greater effectiveness.ChurchMerge (Photo by Tracy Aung.)

Posted in Articles, Blog

Christians and Marijuana?

GAZ-leaf-crossAmerican are experiencing a major shift in their attitudes toward marijuana (see recent surveys from CNN and Gallup).

But what do American Christians think? I had the opportunity to explore this question in three recent articles:

“Pot Pilgrims” tells the stories of Christian families relocating to Colorado Springs to treat their children with Charlotte’s Web marijuana oil.

“Marijuana Ministry” offers the first-ever look at the Stanley brothers’ faith and the Christian commitment that is the foundation for their work with Charlotte’s Web.

(Thanks to On Faith and editor Patton Dodd for assigning me these two long-form articles on this historic topic.)

“Moraljuana” is a slimmed down version of these articles published Sunday in the Colorado Springs Gazette. (It’s their cross/leaf illustration used above in this post.)

 

Posted in Articles, Blog

Super Book for Super Bowl Fans: “All-Pro Wisdom”

I’m back after an extended absence with some exciting news that actually helps explain that absence.

Super Bowl fever is spreading here in Colorado, but even if you don’t like the Broncos or Seahawks, you will love the new book I wrote with NFL All-Pro center Matt Birk and business/leadership guru Rich Chapman: All-Pro Wisdom: The 7 Choices That Lead to Greatness.

Birk_Allprowisdom book coverMatt is scheduled to discuss the book on “Hannity” on Fox News this Thursday night Jan. 30.

In his 15 seasons in the NFL, Matt was a two-time All-Pro NFL center and was the NFL’s 2011 Walter Payton Man of the Year. (He was also a member of the Baltimore Ravens team that beat the Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship game, but even that can be  forgiven.)

All-Pro Wisdom explores issues of character and commitment that lead to greatness in all areas of life, and features insights from other all-pro players, including the NFL’s 2012 Walter Payton Man of the Year Jason Witten, Jerod Allen, Anquan Boldin, Adrian Peterson, Troy Polamalu and Aaron Rodgers.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote the foreword to the book, saying, “This is not a book about football. It is a book about choices.”

You can learn more about the book here and purchase the book here.

Posted in Blog, BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion)

Following St. Francis

Just In time for Francis’s feast day this week, my story in The Gazette about local believers who try to incorporate aspects of the saint’s teaching into their lives.

And here’s a bonus: a portion of the story that was cut from The Gazette because of space limitations (which means the story I turned in was too long!):

“Peace, People and Planet”

Steve Saint was in high school when he encountered St. Francis in a movie theater. He had come to see “Jesus Christ Superstar,” but the second feature, “Brother Son, Sister Moon,” introduced him to Francis and led to his converting to Catholicism and devoting his life to following Francis’s model.

“I was raised Lutheran, and became an evangelical in high school,” said Saint. “And even though Protestants often consigned Catholics to hell, I could see clearly that Francis was a way more committed Christian than I was. He was a compelling figure who gave his entire life to Christ.”

In Derry Northern Ireland

For the last five years, Saint has served as Director of the Pikes Peak Justice & Peace Commission. The local organization serves “peace, people, and planet.”

“Francis taught that God speaks through all of creation,” he says. “People can either see creation as sacred, or we can trash everything God created, subjugating it, having dominion over it, chewing it up and throwing it away.”

Saint can clearly see the influence of St. Francis on pope Francis. “He has done things that would make St. Francis smile, like shunning the papal mansion and the Vatican’s trappings, by washing the feet of people in a drug rehabilitation center, and by the inviting way he cares about people.”

 

Tagged with:
Posted in Blog

Love for Sale: Revisited

When I started this blog I wrote about TV commercials: “Advertisers are using love to wrap us and their products in one big All-Consuming Embrace.”

Now, Cheerios has taken the love sell to a new low with its commercial featuring a mother, a child, Cheerios and a dead nana.

On his Sept. 17 show, Stephen Colbert weighed in, satirizing Cheerios for “leveraging the death of a grandmother” to sell cereal.

See Colbert’s hilarious segment here.

Posted in Blog, Mixed Media

Burning Art: The Art of Burning Man

Some 60,000 people attending this fall’s Burning Man celebration of “radical self-expression and self-reliance” turned Nevada’s Black Rock Desert into a temporary art museum.

PBS’s News Hour featured a great segment on this year’s art, including the work of San Francisco area’s Flaming Lotus Girls.

BurnManArt
You can see the video report here.

And you can see still photos here.

In 2008, I interviewed reporter/photographer about her book, Burning Book, and about the spiritual aspects of the annual Burning Man celebration:

Jessica Bruder is a reporter for the Portland Oregonian and the author of the 2007 collection, Burning Book: A Visual History of Burning Man.

“Spiritual isn’t a word I use a lot in my own life,” says Bruder, who was raised in a Jewish-Catholic family. “I spend most of my time in the secular world. But as I look at it, and think about the roots of what drives people to participate in Burning Man, I see that it’s a sense of community similar to what people find in religion.

“If they’re religious people, or if they hunger for something bigger than them, Burning Man is certainly bigger than they are, even though they create it themselves.”

Find out more about Jessica’s book here.

Posted in Blog, Mixed Media, Picture=1000

Available Now: What Would Jesus Ask?

This just in:

What Would Jesus Ask? 10 Questions That Will Transform Your Life, my new project with Jim Dixon, is now available.

jesus_ask

If you’re in the Denver area, you can hear Dr. Dixon preach on selected chapters from the book on Sept. 22, Oct. 13, and other dates (check here for details).

You can read more about the book here.

Posted in Blog, BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion)

Colbert and the Cardinal (U.S. Catholics #1 and #2)

Timothy Cardinal Dolan kissed the hand of host Stephen Colbert on the Sept. 3 edition of “The Colbert Report.” Perhaps the President of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of New York agreed with Colbert’s comment:

You’re the second most famous Catholic in America, next to myself.

Other revelations during the interview segment with U.S. Catholics #1 and #2:

Colbert said that when Dolan was not elected Pope, as some had expected, he lost 50 bucks in a bet. Dolan affirmed that no Ouija board or chicken bones were used in the papal voting.

More important, Colbert isn’t sure about Mass attendance after Pope Francis reportedly said that “even atheists are redeemed by Christ.”

“He’s too soft on sin for me,” said Colbert, adding: “If even atheists are redeemed by Christ, why have I been going to Mass on Sundays? I could have gotten another nine holes in.”

Posted in Blog, Quotable

TIME for Some Football?

Millions of folks are glad to watch football on TV once again. But how much playing time does the average NFL game include?

The Wall Street Journal used stopwatches and calculators to determine that there are about 11 minutes of actual play per NFL game.

football clock

That’s less than the average baseball game, which includes almost 18 minutes of actual play.

Posted in Blog, Mixed Media

Seamus Heaney’s Celtic Catholic Poetry (R.I.P.)

The world lost one of its greatest and most popular poets Saturday Aug. 31 when Seamus Heaney died in a Dublin hospital.

heaney190

Born on a family farm named Mossbawn in County Derry Northern Ireland, Heaney often wrote about potatoes, peat and the power of rural tradition, as well as the Troubles that plagued his native land. Awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995, his life and work were described in the Award Ceremony Speech:

Seamus Heaney comes from a humble, farming community, but at the same time we meet in him a learned poet who in the very microcosm of language cultivates and reveals the Celtic, pre-Christian and Catholic literary heritage.

His first collection of poems, published in 1966, included “Digging,” which paid homage to his rural roots:

By God, the old man could handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

Before describing his choice of a different calling:

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Ten more collections would follow, the last published in 2010.

His 1984 collection, Station Island, was inspired by Lough Derg, the penitential pilgrimage site that has attracted disciples for centuries:

Blurred swimmings as I faced the sun, my back
to the stone pillar and the iron cross,
ready to say the dream words I renounce

See his obituary here.

Posted in Blog, Quotable, Writing Life

Plastic Jesus Attacks Again!

No, we’re not talking about the popular song recorded in 1962:

Well, I don’t care if it rains or freezes,
Long as I have my plastic Jesus
Riding on the dashboard of my car
Through all trials and tribulations,
We will travel every nation,
With my plastic Jesus I’ll go far.

We’re talking about a modern-day anti- consumerist prankster who goes by the name Plastic Jesus.

His latest attack involved sneaking a Useless Plastic Box into a Best Buy store and posting this photo.
plasticbox12
We will be looking to see what Plastic Jesus does in the lead up to Christmas!

Posted in Blog, Man&Machine, Mixed Media, Picture=1000

Colbert Turns the Other Cheek

It was another Colbert Report classic, combining spoofs of pop culture, the broadcast media, and religion.

The occasion was Flo Rida’s performance of “Can’t Believe It” on NBC’s Today show, complete with the line about the rapper’s love of shapely posteriors (or “bubble-yum bum”).

Following the performance, Flo Rida explained the gaudy piece of Jesus jewelry he wore during the performance.

“I put God first with everything I do,” said the rapper, soberly.

It was all too much for Colbert and his writers, who logically concluded that “Jesus was a bootie fan,” and also gave a new twist to a classic Christian commandment.

Posted in Blog, Mixed Media

Real Persecution in Egypt

Christians in many areas of Egypt have been under attack since the army removed President Mohamed Morsi from office. The attacks have grown in number and severity since the army violently moved against large camps of protestors on Aug. 14.

ouster
“Egypt is in the midst of an anti-Christian progrom,” says National Review Editor Rich Lowry in a recent column.

Here are three ways to grasp the persecution:

1) A Human Rights Watch report says 42 churches have been attacked, along with many other institutions and schools, along with homes and businesses owned by Christians.

2) USA Today created a map showing the locations of major attacks.

3) Today, The Wall Street Journal focused on the destruction of one treasured Coptic Christian monument, the Virgin Mary Church, a historically significant place of worship for 15 centuries.

Why are Christians being attacked? For one thing, they are a convenient scapegoat for Muslim Brotherhood supporters upset over Morsi’s ouster.

Another reason is that many Egyptian Christians supported the army’s coup. The photo above shows Coptic Pope Tawadros II (seated third from right) lending his official support at the July 3 press conference where Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sissi announced the army’s takeover.

One often hears many North American Christians claim they face persecution. For example, in 2010, bestselling author and former megachurch pastor Jack Hayford offered these dire opinions in a Charisma magazine feature on: “What will life be like for the church in 2020?”

“The next 10 years will bring increasing persecution upon believers. The spirit of anti-Christ is increasing its intensity. The heat will not only increase against institutional Christianity, but any believer who lives ‘out of the closet’ of silence or reserve.”

Hayford was speaking of persecution in “the Western world.” But British journalist Rupert Shortt offers a different perspective on real persecution in his recent book, Christianophobia (published by Eerdmans):

“About 200 million Christians are now under threat” around the world, “more than any other faith group,” writes Shortt in his guided tour of nearly 20 countries where believers are in danger. Shortt documents numerous recent cases in which believers have been burned alive, beheaded, crucified, tortured, had their tongues cut out, been forced to emigrate, and witnessed their churches bombed and their homes burned to the ground.

This is “persecution as I understand it,” he writes. “None of the opinions, insults, or laws judged offensive by many Western Christians amounts to persecution.”

May God help Egypt, where real persecution is breaking out, not the kinds of issues and inconveniences often confused with persecution in the Christian West.

Christianophobia

Posted in Blog

The Butler’s Faith

The movie “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” tells the story of Eugene Allen, who faithfully served eight presidents while working as a White House butler. The film includes religious elements, as Director Lee Daniels explained to Adelle M. Banks of Religion News Service:

You can’t tell a story about the civil rights movement without the gospel and gospel music. You just simply can’t. It’s impossible.

butler moviejpg

Banks’ story goes deeper into Eugene Allen’s faith, including his six decades as a member of Washington’s Greater First Baptist Church, where he served as an usher and trustee.

Forest Whitaker plays Allen and Oprah Winfrey plays his wife Gloria in the film, which opens Friday Aug. 16.

For even more, read The Butler by Wil Haygood, the writer who tracked down Allen for The Washington Post and wrote the book that inspired the movie (and the cover photo above).

Posted in Blog, Mixed Media

Yod Lives!

Was he a holy man or con man? A benevolent father figure or a dirty old man? Decide for yourself after watching The Source Family, a documentary film about the former Marine named Jim Baker who transformed himself into Father Yod and led a utopian commune of wide-eyed young followers who were devoted to healthy food, the Sacred Herb, and sex.
father-yod1
“I’m the father you all wanted,” said Father Yod. His devoted followers seemed to agree, most sticking with him even after he determined he should have 13 wives.

“They transformed sex, drugs and rock and roll into a genuine religious formation,” says a scholar quoted in the documentary.
FatherYod13Wives
Thanks to an abundance of photos, film, and music (provided by the commune’s band, YoHoWha 13, which recorded numerous albums), The Source Family transports you back in time to the early 70s.

The documentary also features more than a dozen former members of the group, which disbanded after Father Yod’s sudden death in 1975. Some, like Isis Aquarian, one of the 13 wives, remain as devoted as ever.

If you’re interested in cults, groupthink or the legacy of the 60s, see The Source Family.

Posted in Blog, Mixed Media, Past Is Present

Civil religion, “Sheilaism,” and Robert Bellah (R.I.P.)

Those of us who follow religion and culture lost a founding father last month. Robert Bellah, the Berkeley scholar, helped open the academy doors for the sociological study of religion.

robert-bellah

He gave us the term “civil religion,” but was best known for his (and his co-authors’) 1985 book, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, which explored the ways that the American individualism that had been largely praised by de Tocqueville had, in more recent times, “grown cancerous.”

American cultural traditions define personality, achievement, and the purpose of human life in ways that leave the individual suspended in glorious, but terrifying, isolation.

Other Bellahisms:

For many, “freedom means being left alone,” or “freedom from the demands of others.”

“Sheilaism” is what we get when American-style individualism meets religion, as explained by Sheila Larson, one of the many Americans interviewed in habits:

My faith has carried me along way. It’s Sheilaism. Just my own little voice.

When the kind of “expressive individualism” pioneered by Walt Whitman collided with the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the result was a new kind of mysticism that tends to “radicalize and absolutize” religious individualism.

Bellah’s prescription for recovery includes a return to tradition and community:

Perhaps common worship, in which we express our gratitude and wonder in the face of the mystery of being itself, is the most important thing of all.

Thank you, Robert Bellah.

See the New York Times obit here.

Posted in Blog, Past Is Present, Quotable
A to Z

Steve's articles have appeared in these publications and outlets:

Akron Beacon Journal
Albany (NY) Times Union
The American Spectator
Ann Arbor News
Arizona Republic
Atlanta Journal/Constitution
Associated Press
Beliefnet
Birmingham (AL) News
Bookstore Journal
Boulder Camera
Catholic Digest
CCM
CCM Update
Charisma
Charlotte Observer
Christian Examiner
Christian Herald
Christian History
Christian Management Report
Christian Post
Christian Reader
Christian Research Journal
Christian Retailing
Christian Single (Southern Baptist Convention)
Christianity.com
Christianity Today (since 1982, EPA Award)
Church Bookstore
Columbus Citizen-Journal (Sunday magazine features)
Columbus Dispatch
Compassion Update (Compassion International, editor)
Cincinnati Enquirer (Sunday magazine features)
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Current Thoughts & Trends
Daily Guardian, Wright State University, Dayton, OH (editor)
Dallas Morning News
Dayton (Ohio city magazine)
Dayton Business Journal (editor)
Dayton Daily News and Journal-Herald (news, features, stringer)
Devo'Zine (United Methodist)
The Disciple (Disciples of Christ)
Discipleship Journal
East Asia’s Millions (Overseas Missionary Fellowship)
English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English)
Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Freedom Wire
The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO: Religion Editor, news, features)
Grand Rapids (MI) Press
Group
Herald of Holiness (Nazarene)
HIS (InterVarsity)
Home Life (Southern Baptist Convention)
Houston Chronicle
Huntsville (AL) Times
IMAGE
Indianapolis Star
Kansas City Star
Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service
Leadership Journal
Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader
[email protected] (EPA Award)
The Living Church (Anglican)
Los Angeles Times
The Lutheran (ELCA)
The Lutheran Witness (Missouri Synod)
The Magazine for Christian Youth! (United Methodist)
Media Update
MinistryNet
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Missions Today
Mobile (AL) Register
Moody
National and International Religion Report
New Age
New Orleans Times-Picayune
New Sound
New York Times (Religion Journal, news, stringer)
New York Times Syndication Sales Corp.
Newark Star-Ledger
Omaha World-Herald
Orange County Register
Outreach
Parents of Teenagers
Pastor's Family
Policy Review (Heritage Foundation)
Publishers Weekly
Pueblo Chieftain
Pulpit Helps
PW Religion Bookline
Re:generation Quarterly
Rejoice!
Religion News Service (news and features)
Religious Broadcasting
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Saint Paul Pioneer Press
San Diego Union-Tribune
Shepherdess International (Seventh-day Adventist)
Sojourners
Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard
Tallahassee Democrat
Today’s Pentecostal Evangel (Assemblies of God)
Twin Circle Catholic Weekly
Virtue
Vue (Wesleyan)
Washington Post
Wireless
The Wittenburg Door
World
World Pulse
Worship Leader
Young Salvationist (Salvation Army)
Youthworker Journal (writer, columnist, editor)
Youthworker Update

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