Thursday, December 27, 2007
A breathless report on Yahoo News this evening: US population will hit 303 million January 1, 2008.
The sky is falling? Hardly.
I remember being convinced as a child that human beings would reproduce like rats and fill the earth.
Read America Alone by Mark Stein for a different view.
Better yet (and a lot quicker), look at the future world population calculator on www.poodwaddle.com. If you experiment with it, you'll find that human population will drop starting in about 80 years, and if it continued to drop, we'll be out of people in about 505 years!
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Merry Christmas, and now a few words from the great C.S. Lewis on Christmas, from his God in the Dock (or as we'd say in America, "God on Trial."). This was penned many years ago, and needless to say, ours is not the first generation to fret about keeping Christ in Christmas, etc.:
Three things go by the name of Christmas. One is a religious festival. This is important and obligatory for Christians; but as it can be of no interest to anyone else, I shall naturally say no more about it here. The second (it has complex historical connections with the first, but we needn't go into them) is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality. If it were my business to have a 'view' on this, I should say that I much approve of merry-making. But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. I see no reason why I should volunteer views as to how other people should spend their own money in their own leisure among their own friends. It is highly probable that they want my advice on such matters as little as I want theirs. But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everyone's business.
I mean of course the commercial racket. The interchange of presents was a very small ingredient in the older English festivity. Mr. Pickwick took a cod with him to Dingley Dell; the reformed Scrooge ordered a turkey for his clerk; lovers sent love gifts; toys and fruit were given to children. But the idea that not only all friends but even all acquaintances should give one another presents, or at least send one another cards, is quite modern and has been forced upon us by the shopkeepers. Neither of these circumstances is in itself a reason for condemning it. I condemn it on the following grounds.
1. It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You have only to stay over Christmas with a family who seriously try to 'keep' it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare. Long before December 25th everyone is worn out -- physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think out suitable gifts for them. They are in no trim for merry-making; much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act. They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.
2. Most of it is involuntary. The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own. It is almost a blackmail. Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we hardly remember) flops unwelcomed through the letter-box, and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?
3. Things are given as presents which no mortal every bought for himself -- gaudy and useless gadgets, 'novelties' because no one was ever fool enough to make their like before. Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?
4. The nuisance. For after all, during the racket we still have all our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labour of it.
We are told that the whole dreary business must go on because it is good for trade. It is in fact merely one annual symptom of that lunatic condition of our country, and indeed of the world, in which everyone lives by persuading everyone else to buy things. I don't know the way out. But can it really be my duty to buy and receive masses of junk every winter just to help the shopkeepers? If the worst comes to the worst I'd sooner give them money for nothing and write if off as a charity. For nothing? Why, better for nothing than for a nuisance.
Friday, December 21, 2007
An interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and his waffling views on the historicity of the nativity accounts in Matthew and Luke brings to the fore the question: can we trust the historical veracity of the accounts of Jesus' birth as found in the New Testament?
Here are the basic objections critics have regarding the nativity story:
1. Matthew's account and Luke's account are contradictory and incompatible.
2. A virgin conception is impossible, and a creation of later generations of Christians to buttress their faith in the divinity of Jesus.
3. The accounts are not grounded in known history.
The second objection, strictly speaking, is not an historical objection. It's a philosophical objection. A Christopher Hitchens would reply, yes, just as we'd be safe to object to to a claim that talking pink elephants rule Canada.
Now, I was a skeptic. True I was a teenager at the time, but the virgin birth never bothered me. It seemed to me that if God were real, he could (to use a phrase Mr. Hitchens might) do whatever the jolly He may care. It's a silly objection. It really is.
The first objection is a literary objection. Again, this doesn't strike me as very muscular objection because while on the surface they don't mesh, it's rather easy to reconcile the two. In other words, even though they tell the story in very different ways, they don't tell the story in ways that can't be merged.
The only substantial objection is the last: can it be grounded in history? And here the story does quite well. For example, places (Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem) and names (Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Herod, Augustus) are correct for the time period. Herod is an especially telling figure; his assault on the toddler boys of Bethlehem are exactly the sort of behavior we would expect of him, based on his historical portrait (in Josephus' Antiquities).
For a much longer (and much better!) examination of these issues, see Mark D. Roberts' extended discussion from back in 2004.
Merry Christmas, everyone!
I noted that Dennis MacFadden posted today his intent to cease commenting on American Baptist-related issues, which is exactly what I would do were I in his position. I'm glad I had a part in the inspiration for His Barking Dog (which Dennis notes, thank you). I'm about where Dennis is in ABC-related matters. It's just not on my radar screen anymore.
BTW, during the thick of the ABC v PSW crisis, when DD was a source of breaking news, someone asked me, "Would you be blogging this if you were on the [PSW] board?" The answer is, of course not. Board members have a different set of responsibilities.
I can report that TransMin ends the year having met and exceeded their goal of 100 covenanting churches. (The 'covenanting church' status far exceeds the on the books membership standards that the ABC most denominations require, while not crossing the connectional church line.)
I hope to blog up something about the historicity of the Christmas story either later today or Monday morning. Tomorrow our daughter flies in from Florida and Sunday is off the charts busy (two services, baptisms, and a three-hour gift-wrapping outreach).
Monday, December 03, 2007
Over 20 FBC members wrapped presents and chatted up customers at the Big Lots store within sight of the church. Here are some pictures (courtesy Philip Pan):
We had the advantage of Mandarin-speaking Philip Pan (Mr. Personality!) as well as several Spanish-speakers.
We offered free gift-wrapping from 3-6 on Sunday afternoon. We had about thirty families take us up on it and had about 5-6 substantive conversations with people as to why we were there: to freely serve as God freely loves.
On Sunday morning, we had a great attendance and gave away five guest boxes to newcomers. Keep praying that Christmas time will be harvest time!