Thursday, October 30, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Lost Art

This girl should be allowed to vote. I like John C. Wright's idea: make field stripping an AR-15 rifle a requirement for voter registration.

Monkey Grass

Forest Park - St. Louis

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sunset Cow

Image of the Day. The lighting was perfect for this shot out on Hwy O near Villa Ridge, Missouri. Nice curly cow hairdo.

Free Liturgical Advice #4 - Do it; Don't Talk About it!

How many times to I have to say this? Who's listening? Anyone?

Don't preach another sermon at the Table before Communion. We've already heard one sermon; and it if it was a Presbyterian sermon, it was probably already much too long. Why do we need to hear another sermonette before the Supper? Enough talking. We don't need another extended explanation or invitation to the Table before the Lord's Supper. Just do the Supper as Jesus commanded.

Our tradition is so very screwy on this point. We feel like we have to "fence" the Table long and hard in order for the Supper to be effective, so that people will take it seriously enough. Even if we grant the need to take the Supper seriously, what makes us think that talking about it for 15 minutes before we pass out the food will actually make a difference? Presbyterians don't seem to be able to appreciate ritual unless every step is "explained" in the liturgy.

Besides, the Table is not all about us turning in on ourselves or even our individual devotional experience with the Lord. It's a social event, a ritual meal with other people!

It's no surprise to me that most Presbyterian and Reformed churches don't practice weekly communion. Who would want to endure such a protracted call to "serious" self-reflection and "genuine," "honest," "true," "real," "internal" appreciation of the Table every dang week? Not me.

Remember, I've argued against this kind of thing at length here. Perhaps I should serialize my talk at this year's PCA General Assembly and post it here on my blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Image of the Day

Sorry about the mixup. This is a new image not a stale repeat!

Sunrise on Granbury Courthouse - Granbury, Texas

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Image of the Day

This is St. Mary's church in Villa Ridge, MO, just west of St. Louis county. I've returned to photograph this church a few times in the past. Yesterday evening it was clear there would be a dramatic sunset, so I drove out to see what I could capture. I've never captured it at sunset so I didn't realize how perfectly the church is set for such a shot. There's a hill just to the east of the church that allows for a direct shot facing west. You have to navigate some trees and power lines, but there are some clear paths. I've got a few very good one's that I'll post in the next few days.

The image for the blog banner is a bit more dramatic. The sky kept changing, so I got a number of different colors in each shot. The shot in this post has subtle yellow tones; but the banner image has more bright orange and reds.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Unknown Soldiers

Here are two versions of the same image. I'm thinking about entering one of these in a themed contest. Which one has more impact? You may have to click on the images to see a larger version.

The first is a black and white image.
The second is a duotoned image. free polls
Which image do you like better?
#1 - The Black and White Image #2 - The Duotoned  

Morning Light

Another shot from Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Spam-Am War Vet

I dropped by Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery yesterday morning. The light was great, so I captured a few interesting images.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Who's to Blame for the Credit/Financial Crisis?

Would the Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On the Lights?
By Orson Scott Card

Editor's note: Orson Scott Card is a Democrat and a newspaper columnist, and in this opinion piece he takes on both while lamenting the current state of journalism.

An open letter to the local daily paper — almost every local daily paper in America:

I remember reading All the President's Men and thinking: That's journalism. You do what it takes to get the truth and you lay it before the public, because the public has a right to know.

This housing crisis didn't come out of nowhere. It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration.

It was a direct result of the political decision, back in the late 1990s, to loosen the rules of lending so that home loans would be more accessible to poor people. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were authorized to approve risky loans.

What is a risky loan? It's a loan that the recipient is likely not to be able to repay.

The goal of this rule change was to help the poor — which especially would help members of minority groups. But how does it help these people to give them a loan that they can't repay? They get into a house, yes, but when they can't make the payments, they lose the house — along with their credit rating.

They end up worse off than before.

This was completely foreseeable and in fact many people did foresee it. One political party, in Congress and in the executive branch, tried repeatedly to tighten up the rules. The other party blocked every such attempt and tried to loosen them.

Furthermore, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were making political contributions to the very members of Congress who were allowing them to make irresponsible loans. (Though why quasi-federal agencies were allowed to do so baffles me. It's as if the Pentagon were allowed to contribute to the political campaigns of Congressmen who support increasing their budget.)

Isn't there a story here? Doesn't journalism require that you who produce our daily paper tell the truth about who brought us to a position where the only way to keep confidence in our economy was a $700 billion bailout? Aren't you supposed to follow the money and see which politicians were benefiting personally from the deregulation of mortgage lending?

I have no doubt that if these facts had pointed to the Republican Party or to John McCain as the guilty parties, you would be treating it as a vast scandal. "Housing-gate," no doubt. Or "Fannie-gate."

Instead, it was Senator Christopher Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, both Democrats, who denied that there were any problems, who refused Bush administration requests to set up a regulatory agency to watch over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and who were still pushing for these agencies to go even further in promoting sub-prime mortgage loans almost up to the minute they failed.

As Thomas Sowell points out in a essay entitled "Do Facts Matter?" (] ): "Alan Greenspan warned them four years ago. So did the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers to the President. So did Bush's Secretary of the Treasury."

These are facts. This financial crisis was completely preventable. The party that blocked any attempt to prevent it was ... the Democratic Party. The party that tried to prevent it was ... the Republican Party.

Yet when Nancy Pelosi accused the Bush administration and Republican deregulation of causing the crisis, you in the press did not hold her to account for her lie. Instead, you criticized Republicans who took offense at this lie and refused to vote for the bailout!

What? It's not the liar, but the victims of the lie who are to blame?

Now let's follow the money ... right to the presidential candidate who is the number-two recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae.

And after Freddie Raines, the CEO of Fannie Mae who made $90 million while running it into the ground, was fired for his incompetence, one presidential candidate's campaign actually consulted him for advice on housing.

If that presidential candidate had been John McCain, you would have called it a major scandal and we would be getting stories in your paper every day about how incompetent and corrupt he was.

But instead, that candidate was Barack Obama, and so you have buried this story, and when the McCain campaign dared to call Raines an "adviser" to the Obama campaign — because that campaign had sought his advice — you actually let Obama's people get away with accusing McCain of lying, merely because Raines wasn't listed as an official adviser to the Obama campaign.

You would never tolerate such weasely nit-picking from a Republican.

If you who produce our local daily paper actually had any principles, you would be pounding this story, because the prosperity of all Americans was put at risk by the foolish, short-sighted, politically selfish, and possibly corrupt actions of leading Democrats, including Obama.

If you who produce our local daily paper had any personal honor, you would find it unbearable to let the American people believe that somehow Republicans were to blame for this crisis.

There are precedents. Even though President Bush and his administration never said that Iraq sponsored or was linked to 9/11, you could not stand the fact that Americans had that misapprehension — so you pounded us with the fact that there was no such link. (Along the way, you created the false impression that Bush had lied to them and said that there was a connection.)

If you had any principles, then surely right now, when the American people are set to blame President Bush and John McCain for a crisis they tried to prevent, and are actually shifting to approve of Barack Obama because of a crisis he helped cause, you would be laboring at least as hard to correct that false impression.

Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth. That's what you claim you do, when you accept people's money to buy or subscribe to your paper.

But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie — that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans. You have trained the American people to blame everything bad — even bad weather — on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.

If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth — even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate.

Because that's what honorable people do. Honest people tell the truth even when they don't like the probable consequences. That's what honesty means . That's how trust is earned.

Barack Obama is just another politician, and not a very wise one. He has revealed his ignorance and naivete time after time — and you have swept it under the rug, treated it as nothing.

Meanwhile, you have participated in the borking of Sarah Palin, reporting savage attacks on her for the pregnancy of her unmarried daughter — while you ignored the story of John Edwards's own adultery for many months.

So I ask you now: Do you have any standards at all? Do you even know what honesty means?

Is getting people to vote for Barack Obama so important that you will throw away everything that journalism is supposed to stand for?

You might want to remember the way the National Organization of Women threw away their integrity by supporting Bill Clinton despite his well-known pattern of sexual exploitation of powerless women. Who listens to NOW anymore? We know they stand for nothing; they have no principles.

That's where you are right now.

It's not too late. You know that if the situation were reversed, and the truth would damage McCain and help Obama, you would be moving heaven and earth to get the true story out there.

If you want to redeem your honor, you will swallow hard and make a list of all the stories you would print if it were McCain who had been getting money from Fannie Mae, McCain whose campaign had consulted with its discredited former CEO, McCain who had voted against tightening its lending practices.

Then you will print them, even though every one of those true stories will point the finger of blame at the reckless Democratic Party, which put our nation's prosperity at risk so they could feel good about helping the poor, and lay a fair share of the blame at Obama's door.

You will also tell the truth about John McCain: that he tried, as a Senator, to do what it took to prevent this crisis. You will tell the truth about President Bush: that his administration tried more than once to get Congress to regulate lending in a responsible way.

This was a Congress-caused crisis, beginning during the Clinton administration, with Democrats leading the way into the crisis and blocking every effort to get out of it in a timely fashion.

If you at our local daily newspaper continue to let Americans believe — and vote as if — President Bush and the Republicans caused the crisis, then you are joining in that lie.

If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats — including Barack Obama — and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans — then you are not journalists by any standard.

You're just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it's time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a news paper in our city.

Read the original article here.

Image of the Day


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Darth Mal

Image of the Day

Free Liturgical Advice #3 - Talk Like a Man

Only men are called to be Pastors. Pastors are called to lead the worship service. Women should have no liturgical leadership role in Christian worship. They should not be up front telling the congregation what to sing or read or what to do next. The pastor is called to represent Christ to his gathered bride, the church. Period.

The fact that Jesus wants his bride to be led by Pastors that he ordains means Jesus wants his congregations to be led and instructed by a male voice. I am using the word "voice" both in its narrow and broader senses.

First, men and women speak differently. Duh. Here's how Jim Jordan describes it in his Liturgical Man, Liturgical Women essays:
Men’s voices are generally an octave lower than women’s. A musician can tell you that lower notes are more foundational and higher notes are more decorative. The harmonic or “totality” movement in homophonic and polyphonic music is directed from the bass line, while the glory and decorative aspects of the music, including the melody, are in higher notes. Men’s voices (low notes) control the direction of the music, but women’s voices (high notes) glorify it.
I'm not so concerned to get into the details of this right now. I just want to note that listening to the voice of a woman lead a service is a different experience than hearing a man do the same.

The piece of free liturgical advice for this week, however, has to do with the way a man speaks when he's leading the service and what he says. Since the early 19th-century in America the pastorate has been feminized. Men who speak one way with their friends at a bar or at the hunting lodge suddenly start talking differently when they get behind the lectern or pulpit. You know what I mean. Sappy. Sentimental. Syrupy. It's like the difference between Ansel Adams and Thomas Kincade.

I don't even know if I can exhaustively describe the kinds of things I'm talking about. You just know it when you hear it. Preachers using silly, sentimental "illustrations" that the ladies love. Too many flowery adjectives like "glorious" and "heavenly" and "wonderful." In fact, normally this kind of feminized speech is heavy laden with descriptive adjectives. Active verbs get buried in the rubbish heap of affectations and emotive gushing. The pastor feels and says that he has to speak "to the heart." He lowers the volume of his voice to sound "spiritual" and "comforting."

Okay, I know. Obviously there are times and occasions for lowering the volume of one's voice, etc. But not while leading the service and not all through the sermon. I was at a service where the Pastor had this tone of voice that reminded me of a female kindergarten teacher. He tilted his head and affected a sing-song quality in his voice, "Now children, we are about to confess our sins, so everyone pay attention." It's not so much what he said, but the whiny tonality of his voice.

To affect a pseudo-spiritual, effeminate demeanor as liturgical officiant is to give in to the feminization of the clergy. To speak with a religious lilt and sprinkle all your ritual directions with sentimental affectations will undermine the foundational liturgical distinction between Christ, the Husband, and his Bride, the Church. Oh, and it's annoying, too.

Pastors: talk like men.

If you want to read more about the feminization of the church and the clergy, check out these titles:

Ann Douglas, The Feminization of America Culture

Nathan Hatch, The Democratization of American Christianity

Leon Podles, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity

David Murrow, Why Men Hate Going to Church

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Lion Prince

Yesterday we had our annual Harvest Party. I'll be posting some images from that event over the next few days.

Friday, October 17, 2008


Image of the Day
Captured with an IR-converted Nikon D70s at the Jewel Box in Forest Park, St. Louis.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Image of the Day

Hanging on by a Thread
It is amazing to me how these guys can attach themselves and then move quickly up and down these little threads of web.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Liturgical Advice #2 - Bread

Don't use flat crackers or hard tasteless little cubes or styrofoam-like, melt-in-your-mouth wafers for communion. Use bread—a normal, fresh, tasty loaf of bread.

Yes, use a nice loaf of yeasted bread. Normal bread with yeast is NOT leavened bread.

I don't know how many times I've had to explain this to visitors, especially Presbyterian visitors.

"Why don't you all use unleavened bread for the Lord's Supper?" they ask.

My answer: "We do. What you just ate is unleavened bread."

"But, but. . . it was not a cracker or a wafer, but a normal loaf of bread!"

"Yes, that's true. But it was not made with leaven, but with new yeast. Sour dough bread is made with old leaven. Ours was not."

Let's think about this a little more carefully.

1. The first thing to note is that the unleavened bread is bread made without the old sour "starter" dough that contains the yeast. In normal situations the yeast comes from that starter "leaven." "Leaven" refers to the old, sour reserved dough that contains the yeast. Leaven contains yeast. Leaven is not the same as yeast. Many translations completely miss the distinction.

2. When bread is being made, there are two sources for yeast. First, you can get yeast from the old leaven that you have "reserved." In fact, the yeast must be imported into the "leaven" at the start of the process. When the process begins yeast is cultivated from the lees of wine. Then the yeast is put into the dough. A portion of the dough is used to cook the first batch, but a larger portion is "reserved" in order have the yeast readily available for use in later loaves. This is what is called the "leaven." Today we call it the "starter" dough for sour dough bread.

3. The second way to get yeast is to get it "fresh" when it's cultivated from the wine. Technically, a fresh loaf of bread made with this newly cultivated yeast is NOT "leavened." What this means is that the first bach of yeasted, rising bread that is made with the new yeast is NOT leavened bread. It is yeasted, but not from the sour dough leaven. So technically speaking a loaf made with yeast NOT from the leaven is still unleavened bread. It's new. It doesn't use the old, sour stuff. The bread we use for the Lord's Supper in our church is not sour dough bread. It is not leavened bread. It contains fresh yeast. It is yeasted, but not leavened.

4. There was theological symbolism involved in the use of unleavened bread when the Israelites made their flight from Egypt. They left behind the old, sour world of Egypt and began a new life. It was called "the bread of haste" because they had no time to cultivate new yeast. The process takes time. So they had to eat unleavened and un-yeasted crackers.

5. Once they arrived in the promised land, they started over again with the yeast of God's new world. They would no longer get their "life" from Egypt, but now from the Lord's Spirit. They ate unleavened bread in the wilderness until they could get to the new land, harvest grapes, make wine, and also new yeast.

6. All of this has to do with the Old Creation. One cuts off Egyptian leaven and finds new leaven in the New Land. In between, one eats unleavened bread. The annual Feast of Unleavened Bread seems to be a week long return to the wilderness, the inbetween place. The association of leaven/yeast with the feast of Pentecost makes it clear that by that time new yeast has been found and is being used.

7. So, the general question is whether in the New Covenant we must reenact the history of redemption weekly or annually, or whether that would be the same error as transubstantiationism in the old sense. It seems to me that using unyeasted bread would be like doing animal sacrifices. It was part of what was done over and over until Jesus came and finished it. The new leaven each year gradually fell back and became Egyptian leaven during the year and had to be cut off anew at Passover. But the New Covenant is ongoing, and cannot fall back, because it is guaranteed by the death of Jesus, not by the death of animals. The Spirit-leaven of Acts 2 does not fall back and become Egyptian.

8. Now, if the leaven is thrown out and you are in haste to make bread, then it can be made without yeast. That apparently is what the Israelites did when they hurried out of Egypt. That's why that particular bread was called "the bread of haste." They left behind Egypt (the old leaven) and hurried out to cross the Red Sea. But there's nothing to suggest that we have to eat the bread of haste (unleavened AND unyeasted bread) at the Lord's Table. In fact, Jesus reclined at table and we relax for the covenant memorial meal. The old leaven is gone, so we don't eat sour dough bread. But we do eat newly yeasted bread that represents Jesus new kingdom and the life he gives us at his Table.

9. You should note also that in Israel the bread eaten during the Peace Offering was leavened or yeasted (Lev. 23:17). It is only Passover and the ensuing week that required unleavened bread alone be eaten, and that was not only during the special meal but at every meal for the week. After that, all the bread eaten, including at feasts and sacrifices, was yeasty and leavened. Leavened bread was offered at Pentecost, and leaven is thus associated with the coming of the Spirit, the Yeaster. We live after Pentecost. Go find Dr. Collins's article in the Westminster Theological Journal where he argues that the Lord's Supper is the fulfillment of the Peace Offering. The normal peace offering meal included yeasted bread. The one special one - Passover - did not in order to commemorate the Exodus.

A side note: not every reference to "leaven" in the Bible makes it out to be symbolic of evil or the old world. So the person who says, "I'm sorry, pastor, but I just can't eat this bread for the Lord's Supper because leaven and yeast represent evil in the Bible," is just plain wrong. Leavened bread was a regular part of the fellowship meals at the tabernacle and temple. Sometimes leaven (and the yeast it carries) even represents the healthy influence of the kingdom of God (Matt. 13:33). When you eat yeasty bread at the Lord's Table you are not symbolically ingesting evil. Sigh.

10. Oddly, we object to Romanists when they say (supposedly) that Jesus is recrucified in the mass. But then by using unleavened bread we are really doing something similar: returning to Passover, to the Old Covenant, over and over rather than worshipping in a post-Pentecostal way. I don't want to press this, but it makes sense to me.

So let's stop eating nasty little hard crackers at communion. What kind of feast is that? How can people "taste and see that the Lord is good" when they are wondering about just what that wafer that is stuck to the roof of their mouth is made of.

Don't Look up!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Image of the Day

Westward Expansion Dreamscape
I posted something similar to this about a month ago, but this is a new shot from a new angle. The sky is much better in this one, too (=clouds).

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Free Liturgical Advice #1 - Background Music

This is the first installment of a little series I'd like to do for the next three months or so. I didn't write the book on liturgy, but I did write a book on the subject. That doesn't mean I'm an expert, but I think I have a good eye (and ear) for spotting liturgical silliness. And that's what I intend to do in this little series—identify some practical liturgical mistakes that are commonly made in modern American worship services. Liturgical corrigenda ("things that need to be corrected"), if you will. Lucy charges 5 cents. My advice is free.

So here is my first piece of advice: don't play background music during the long pastoral prayer. You know what I mean. The piano or synthesizer is playing some slow, nondescript muzak as the pastor begins to pray. The soft, simple music continues throughout the prayer. Sometimes the music is meant to conjure up "heavenly" thoughts or even "outer space." Oh yes, I've heard synthesized "space music" played as the prayer is being made. I don't know what else to call it. It's the kind of music you might hear during a presentation at your local planetarium.

This practice is pure cheese. It is so incredibly annoying and ridiculous. I suspect that it comes directly from televised church services and other televangelistic "ministries." Don't do it. Just pray. If people are having a hard time following your prayers, pastors, then shorten them. That's right. Most pastoral prayers are way too long. Better yet, use a form of prayer—a litany or a bidding prayer—that actually incorporates the congregation in the act of prayer. Now, there's a novel idea. No, actually, it's an ancient practice that treats the congregation as participants in the liturgy rather than simply as an audience that is being manipulated by emotive music.

Cheese is for Friday night at the wine bar. Keep it out of church.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Image of the Day

Max the Tawny Eagle (lives in the Bird Sanctuary at Lone Elk Park)

Wall of Separation?

Back in April I was asked to "debate" a professor at William Woods University in Fulton, Missouri. The question: should there be a "wall of separation" between religion and government/politics so that government and the political process are strictly secular? It was more like a forum and less like a debate. Nobody "won." I'd like to take a few posts and offer some random thoughts about this topic. Nothing polished and definitive. Just some ruminations from a simple pastor.

Thinking about this question and topic I realized that the conversation can go in any number of directions. More often than not the debate focuses narrowly on what role if any religion should have in the public lives and official actions of politicians and legislators. Religion, it is argued, should not be a factor in the “political process,” narrowly conceived. I’ll come back to that in a moment. But before I do, I think it would be beneficial to step back or zoom out and look at the relationship between religion and politics with a wide-angle lens, if you will.

What I have in mind are broader definitions of religion and politics than what are often used in this popular debate. I’m afraid a modernist conception of “government” has captured the day. “Government” and “politics” refer to the highest levels of civil government—national or state government and politics. To what we might call “professional” politics.

Our media has reinforced this modernist meaning: “The government releases crime figures today.” “The government sets education policy.” “The government delivers unemployment statistics.” And so on. When Fox News reports on “politics,” as it does for an hour in Brit Hume’s Special Report every weekday at 5 PM, it is almost exclusively focused on national politics, and sometimes on State government.

But there was a time (pre-modernist) when the noun "government" and the adjective "political" denoted much more. There seems to be a move in these post-modern times to recognize that there’s much more to “government” and to “politics” than centralized state and federal power structures.

For example, pre-modernist dictionary definitions of “government” recognize that communities are governed at many different levels. The 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defined government in this way:
Government. N. Direction; regulation. “These precepts will serve for the government of our conduct.” 2. Control; restraint. “Men are apt to neglect the government of their temper and passions.” 3. The exercise of authority; direction and restraint excercised over the actions of men in communities, societies or states. . . . 4. The exercise of authority by a parent or householder. “Children are often ruined by a neglect of government in parents.”
Compare that with Webster’s New World Dictionary (1972) that I still have from my high school days: “Government. N. The exercise of authority over a sate, district, organization, institution, etc.”

The same reductionist tendency can be discerned with our use of the word “politics.” We have become comfortable with a constricted modernist definition. But the word comes from the Greek polis, which means "city." Politics had to do with the organization, life, administration, and rule of a polis (a city).

Expanding the domain of the activity in a pre- or post-modern definition would lead to something like this: “Politics as the art and science of organizing, administering, and ruling the affairs of a community.” The adjective “political” then ought to be recovered so that it encompasses the communal life of a people and especially the order of a community (family, neighborhood, county, city, state, nation state). Politics has to do with social leadership, responsibility, and service within the community.

With these expanded (recovered?) conceptions of government and politics, the question about the role of religion becomes acute.

When I talk about to my congregation about the Christian’s political duty, I am referring to the perspective Christians ought to have on and the role we should play in the life, order, and government of the communities to which we belong. What obligation do Christians have towards the affairs of government at all levels. Self-government, family government, neighborhood, church, and including the exercise of civil authority and rule.

To be continued. . .

Friday, October 3, 2008

Lion King in the Morning

I captured this at the St. Louis Zoo a few weeks ago. The light was just about perfect.

Well, I don't feel like a Lion King this morning. My kingdom is a mess. My kingdom being my downstairs office. This is the first few days of my sabbatical, but I'm going to have to spend a least one of them cleaning up. I looks like the last time I cleaned was 7 years ago! Sigh.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Crisp Cloudy Day

I stopped by the riverfront yesterday "on the way" to pick up my wife at the airport. It was a perfect day to capture of few images at the Arch park. I'll post more later.