According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (Alice Herz-Sommer)


Alice Herz-Sommer believed to be the oldest-known survivor of the Holocaust,
died in London on Sunday morning at the age of 110. Photo: AP

Oldest Holocaust survivor dies aged 110
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/10657323/Oldest-Holocaust-survivor-dies-aged-110.html

February 24, 2014

The world's oldest known Holocaust survivor has died aged 110, her family have said.

Alice Herz-Sommer, who lived in London and was originally from Prague, was confined in the Terezin - or Theresienstadt - concentration camp for two years after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia during the Second World War.

Ms Herz-Sommer was a renowned concert pianist who is said to have counted esteemed existentialist writer Franz Kafka among her family friends.

She was recently made the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary, The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life.

The 38-minute film is up for best short documentary at the Academy Awards to be handed out next weekend.

Ms Herz-Sommer died in a London hospital on Sunday morning after being admitted on Friday, according to her family.

Speaking the same day, her grandson, Ariel Sommer, said: "Alice Sommer passed away peacefully this morning with her family by her bedside.

"Much has been written about her, but to those of us who knew her best, she was our dear 'Gigi'.

"She loved us, laughed with us, and cherished music with us.

"She was an inspiration and our world will be significantly poorer without her by our side. We mourn her loss and ask for privacy in this very difficult moment."

Born into a musical Moravian family, Ms Herz-Sommer began her musical education aged five and was soon taking piano lessons with Conrad Ansorge, a pupil of Franz Liszt.

She met her husband, musician Leopold Sommer, in 1931 and married him just two weeks later.

The couple and their son, Raphael, were sent from Prague in 1943 to a camp in the Czech city of Terezín, where nearly 35,000 prisoners died.

Inmates were allowed to stage concerts in which she frequently starred.

She never saw her husband again after he was moved to Auschwitz in 1944 and many in her extended family and most of the friends she had grown up with were also lost in the Holocaust.

After the war, she went to Israel with her sisters and taught music in Tel Aviv before moving to London for her son, who had grown up to become a concert cellist but who died suddenly in 2001 while on tour.

Writing on the forthcoming film's website, Ms Herz-Sommer said: "Music saved my life and music saves me still."

She is said to have spent her final days continuing to play the works of Schubert and Beethoven, from her home in central London.

Speaking on the film's website, she said: "I am Jewish, but Beethoven is my religion. I am no longer myself. The body cannot resist as it did in the past.

I think I am in my last days but it doesn't really matter because I have had such a beautiful life.

"And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love."



The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
(Alice Herz-Sommer)


Official Trailer



The Lady in No. 6





Exploring Evolution Series: Renaming the Earth


Boris Vinatzer has developed a naming convention based on genome sequencing
to enhance the way organisms are classified. Credit: Virginia Tech

Scientist proposes revolutionary naming system for all life on Earth
http://phys.org/news/2014-02-scientist-revolutionary-life-earth.html

Feb 21, 2014

A Virginia Tech researcher has developed a new way to classify and name organisms based on their genome sequence and in doing so created a universal language that scientists can use to communicate with unprecedented specificity about all life on Earth.

In a paper published in the journal PLoS ONE, Boris Vinatzer proposes moving beyond the current biological naming system to one based on the genetic sequence of each individual organism. This creates a more robust, precise, and informative name for any organism, be it a bacterium, fungus, plant, or animal.

Vinatzer, an associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Life Science's Department of Plant Pathology, Physiology, and Weed Science, suggests a new model of classification that not only crystalizes the way we identify organisms but also enhances and adds depth to the naming convention developed by the godfather of genus, Carl Linnaeus. Scientists worldwide have used the system that Linnaeus created for more than 200 years.

"Genome sequencing technology has progressed immensely in recent years and it now allows us to distinguish between any bacteria, plant, or animal at a very low cost," said Vinatzer, who is also with the Fralin Life Science Institute. "The limitation of the Linnaeus system is the absence of a method to name the sequenced organisms with precision."

Vinatzer does not propose changing the naming convention of existing biological classification. Instead, the new naming system is meant to add further information to classify organisms within named species and to more rapidly identify new ones since the process depends solely on the organism's genetic code.

A genome-based naming system could be particularly helpful to public health officials who live in an age of constant vigilance against biological threats. In his paper, Vinatzer used the anthrax strain that appeared in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as an example of the limitations of the current taxonomy-based system.

Weaponized anthrax frustrated officials as the powder found its way to offices in the United States and the ensuing investigation took months for law enforcement to identify the origin of the original pathogen as the Ames strain.

More than 1,200 strains of anthrax—or Bacillus anthracis—exist. Each one possesses an arbitrary name chosen by researchers that does nothing to illuminate genetic similarities.

With the naming scheme developed by Vinatzer, the name of every single anthrax strain would contain the information of how similar it is to other strains. Using Vinatzer's genome sequence, the Ames strain used in the bioterrorist attack would, for example, be known as lvlw0x and the ancestor of this strain stored at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases would be known as lvlwlx.

Vinatzer's naming convention would also give researchers the ability to name new pathogens in a matter of days—not months or years—based on their similarities to known pathogens.

The proposed naming process begins by sampling and sequencing an organism's DNA. The sequence is then used to generate a code unique to that individual organism based on its similarity to all previously sequenced organisms.

The advantages to Vinatzer's method over the Linnaeus system are many.

Coded names could be permanent, as opposed to the shifting of names typical in the current biological classification system. Codes could also be assigned without the current lengthy process that is required by analyzing one organism's physical traits compared to another's. Lastly, the sequence could be assigned to viruses, bacteria, fungi, plants, and animals and would provide a standardized naming system for all life on Earth.

Vinatzer cites one plant pathogen—Ralstonia solanacearum—as an example of the roller coaster of rotating name changes that exists in the world of plant pathogens. The pathogen went through three costume changes of names and was originally called Bacillus solanacearum, which then became Pseudomonas solanacearum, and then Burkholderia solanacearum before finally resting on Ralstonia.

Vinatzer has previously used genome sequencing with great success. In 2009, he and a collaborator were able to trace a pathogen that was devastating kiwi fruit crops around the world back to China.

Virginia Tech is submitting a patent describing the naming scheme. Vinatzer and his collaborator Lenwood Heath, a professor in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering founded This Genomic Life, Inc., which will license the invention to develop it further.

Heath oversaw the development of the bioinformatic pipeline to implement the system. He was interested in collaborating with Vinatzer because of the potential to empower scientists to communicate accurately with one another about biological systems.

"I work in computation, so having the opportunity to impart my knowledge by ordering the organic world through numbered sequences of DNA was fascinating," Heath said. "The mathematical world and the living world are a lot more closely related than we think."


Movie Review: Evangelical Movies - Stereotypes and Bugaboos

 



"A movie by Christians and for Christians can only be useful if they start intelligent
conversations and not serve as rah-rah movies for insiders and gate keepers."
- RE Slater


This spring's upcoming box office films present the idea of a Christianity that is under fire. A faith that is badgered, beaten, and bloodied, by a supposedly unbelieving society turned off to the message of the church. But I have a different idea when watching these Christian presentations, an idea that what really is at stake is the way the church is presenting itself and refusing any adjustment or re-education to its doctrines. A stubborn faith centered on Jesus is one thing. But a stubborn faith centered upon dogmatic belief about a particular kind of God or Bible is another. Especially when that faith is in tatters when held in the hands of a gender-biased, discriminatory, uncompassionate gospel of conservative politics indifferent to the cold, starving masses of society. One that is full of rage towards anyone that differs with its dictums and certitudes. It then becomes a self-promotion of one's beliefs and values through fear of "the other" and the "pride of belief." Devising impregnable fortresses, writing defensive apologetics, or shouting down public opinion was not what Jesus had in mind when He said, "Go out to all the world and make disciples." He was about getting out into the moiling masses of mankind and mixing it up with all whom He met - dirtying His hands and feet and serving those neglected or forgotten by society. And more curiously, His biggest foe and crucifier became the church crowd angred by His teachings of the good news of God's grace and forgiveness.

So I get the idea behind the upcoming raft of films - and heartily support it - that our Lord Jesus must be the life-giving center to any Christian faith. But I don't think it is Jesus (or God) who is under attack by society, by science, or by atheists beating the air to all who would listen. What is actually under attack - and keenly felt by the evangelical church in particular - is a Christian faith stubbornly clinging to its dogmatic certitudes refusing to become more informed, more adaptive, more doubtful of its policies, and less certain of its ideologies. I touched upon this recurring idea last week when posting the changing disposition of Christian politics since the 1960's (The Loudest Christian Voices are the Humble, the Peacemakers, the Hopeful, and Grace-Givers... ). It is the church itself  that has come under fire... that is, its institutions and religious attitudes. And at a certain point it must repent and seek God's face. We all know the difference between an institutionalized church and a spiritual church. One is without faith and man-made. The other is full of faith and God-made. One is dogmatic and full of hate and judgment. The other holds ameliorating doctrines that are full of grace, truth, and forgiveness. The first would see the "Jesus" on the street and walk by without so much as a second thought to his or her's personage, bearing, or deportment in life. But the second would see that same "Jesus" and fall down repentant and full of conviction re the untruths of their lives and their desperate need for a Savior crying "Send me, dear Lord, send me."

So let us not confuse God's spiritual church with our own institutionalized church of our own making - regardless of denomination, pulpit, lectern, creed, charter, liturgy, or mass. And though it is invaluable to understand and discuss biblical doctrine v. church dogma, let us not get lost in our own rhetoric by so scrutinizing God's laws, heart, mind, and spirit, as to lose the very Creator Himself. Films espousing a particular kind of belief system are only helpful to those within its creedal system looking to defend its mindsets and policies. Which, in this case, is a purposeful misunderstanding of evolutionary creation (Noah); a misrepresentation of the death of God experience in society (God is Dead) bearing extreme secularism, genocidal war, ecological rape, and civil injustice to the masses; and a refusal to recognize the desperate human conditions of many through the evangelization of conservative tea-party politics; the active resistance to, and discrimination of, homosexuals regarding marriage privacy laws (The Bible Series of 2013); and on and on and on the list could go. There is no Spirit-filled Kingdom life here. Only man-inspired kingdom politics set on the doorstep of a church blinded, prideful, and unbowed.

At least that is my first impression  when viewing the evangelical films that have come out since Burnett's five-part "Bible series" in 2013. Mostly I'm reacting to both an indiscriminate, literalistic reading of the Bible, coupled with a Christian subculture that is intolerant of those different from itself and more absorbed in preserving its belief structures and Christian religions. I would rather see a church more open to enfolding a lost, sinful world, into the redemptive love of God. Sharing His forgiveness and serving with eyes wide open to those neglected and ignored by society. My greater concern is to update the church into doctrines that are porous, ameliorating, and full of grace. Forgiving and full of compassion. Inspiring and full of faith, doubt, and less certain than they have been (more mystical without the lost of good doctrine behind them). To let die all the false ideas and misrepresentations of what we think the church is when that same heavenly fellowship must reach beyond the corruptibility of our own human hearts full of sin and pride and submit to the Kingdom tensions of this age.

In Hollywood jargon, the evangelical machine is cranking out great sound bytes for black-and-white faiths clinging to past paradigms and useless religious folklore. But the issue isn't about God being dead, but about ourselves being dead and whether we're willing to unlearn what we think we know, and to relearn a renewed Christian orthodoxy that is God-filled, redeemable, and relevant. Russell Crowe and Kevin Sobo movies aren't going to be the fix that some Christian faiths are hoping for... and I think are actually mis-directional in framing the content they wish to expose. How? By holding to a literal retelling of Noah against the science of an evolutionary earth. Or by denouncing the "death of God" movement by illiterately misunderstanding its basis (Kant, Nietzsche, genocide and cultural suicide in WWI and II, the rise of modern secularism, ecological rape, and on and on). This is to ignore the legitimate concerns experienced so devastatingly by so many at the hands of godless, greedy, nationalistic, even religious, if not humanistic, regimes of despotism and tyranny.

The Christian faith isn't a faith that needs to defend God. I think God is big enough to do that all by Himself. What the Christian faith is in need of is a humble, serving church willing to irenically discuss relevant issues in a post-postmodernistic age full of wonder and mystery. An age moving towards global pluralism as driven by sociological movements of intermixing multi-ethnic cultures and global turmoil. An age of necessary ecological reform demanding mindful sustainability business practices lest we exterminate the human race through careless misuse and provision for clean water, clean air, a preservation of natural resources, and food supplies for the hungry generations destined to come after us. Into these arenas must the Christian faith learn to adapt and grow with the times. Cultic evangelical movies will not help propel indoctrinated church programs into societal mainstreams requiring compassionate politics and selfless governance against the hot issues of injustice and reform, political intolerance and tension, civil unrest and epistemological emptiness. I think we can do better than that, don't you? What do you think?



God's Not Dead | Official Full Movie Trailer





Noah - Official Trailer (2014) [HD] Russel Crowe, Emma Watson





Son Of God | Official Trailer [HD] | 20th Century FOX





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 The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer [.pdf]





Index to past articles on "An Open Faith and Open Theology"





Index to past articles on "Postmodernism"






Russell Crowe as Noah


'Noah' Film Receives Praise From Christian Evangelicals Unfazed By 'Creative Interpretation'
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/22/noah-film-evangelicals_n_5009259.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000051

Posted: 03/22/2014 7:59 am EDT Updated: 03/22/2014 8:59 am EDT

Darren Aronofsky's upcoming Biblical drama "Noah" may be “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” as the director said, but it turns out quite a few Christian leaders enjoy the film in spite of that.

Cooke Pictures, a company that produces media programming for nonprofit and religious organizations, released a video on Friday showing Christian leaders reacting to "Noah." Despite objections from some in the religious community saying the film took unwarranted creative license with the Bible story, not everyone is so critical.

Leaders from organizations like American Bible Society, National Catholic Register, The King's College, Q Ideas, Hollywood Prayer Network, and Focus on the Family offer their opinions in the video -- and, for the most part, they are glowing.

Here are some of the Christian leaders' reactions:
"Darren Aronofsky is not a theologian, nor does he claim to be. He is a filmmaker and a storyteller, and in 'Noah', he has told a compelling story. It is a creative interpretation of the scriptural account that allows us to imagine the deep struggles Noah may have wrestled with as he answered God's call on his life." -- Jim Daly, President, Focus on the Family
"'Noah' is big and bold and entertaining, and without a doubt pro-faith and pro-God." -- Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
"While 'Noah' makes no claims to be an inerrant retelling of the Scripture, it is a great tool to draw genuine intrigue in what the Bible does say. The film draws forward the themes of obedience and its consequences, sin and judgment, and mercy and justice, all in the context of the early interaction between God and man." -- Andrew Palau, Luis Palau Association
"'Noah' tells a wonderful story and still points us to major truths of God: the consequences of sin, a fallen mankind, divine justice and divine mercy. God will definitely use this film in our culture and it's our choice as Christians to decide if we want to join in the conversation or not." -- Karen Covell, Founding Direction, Hollywood Prayer Network
"'Noah' is nothing short of astonishing. I am confident that it will be remembered as a film that helped re-enchant a new generation with the biblical narrative. Honestly, it is path-breaking." -- Greg Thornbury, President, The King's College
Among those who will not be watching 'Noah', however, are Pope Francis and Glenn Beck. In a recent video Beck called the film "dangerous disinformation", saying that, if allowed to watch it, children will believe the film's Noah story over the Bible's.


CNN Report: The Rise of the "Spiritual but not Religious"




Good news about the ‘spiritual but not religious’
 
Opinion by Linda Mercadante, special to CNN
February 22, 2014

(CNN) – Despite the ongoing decline in American religious institutions, the meteoric rise in people who claim to be “spiritual but not religious” should be seen positively - especially by religious people.
 
To accept this as good news, however, we need to listen to what they are saying, rather than ridicule them as “salad bar spiritualists” or eclectic dabblers.
 
After spending more than five years speaking with hundreds of “spiritual but not religious” folk across North America, I’ve come to see a certain set of core ideas among them. Because of their common themes, I think it’s fair to refer to them by the acronym: SBNR.
 
But before we explore what the SBNRs believe, we first need to learn what they protest.
 
First, they protest “scientism.”
 
They’ve become wary about reducing everything that has value to what can only be discovered in the tangible world, restricting our intellectual confidence to that which can be observed and studied.
 
Their turn towards alternative health practices is just one sign of this. Of course, most do avail themselves of science’s benefits, and they often use scientific-sounding arguments (talking about “energy” or “quantum physics”) to justify their spiritual views.
 
But, in general, they don’t think all truth and value can be confined to our material reality.
 
Second, SBNRs protest “secularism.”
 
They are tired of being confined by systems and structures. They are tired of having their unique identities reduced to bureaucratic codes. They are tired of having their spiritual natures squelched or denied.
 
They play by society’s rules: hold down jobs, take care of friends and family and try to do some good in the world. But they implicitly protest being rendered invisible and unheard.
 
Third, yes, they protest religion – at least, two types of it.
 
But the SBNR rejection of religion is sometimes more about style than substance.
 
On one hand, they protest “rigid religion,” objecting to a certain brand of conservatism that insists there is only one way to express spirituality, faith, and the search for transcendence.
 
But they also protest what I call “comatose religion.”
 
After the shocks of the previous decades, and the declines in religious structures and funding, many religious people are dazed and confused.
 
They are puzzled and hurt that so many – including their own children - are deserting what was once a vibrant, engaging, and thriving part of American society.
 
So why, then, is it “good news” that there is a huge rise in the “spiritual but not religious”? Because their protests are the very same things that deeply concern – or should concern – all of us.
 
The rise in SBNRs is the archetypal “wake up call,” and I sense that, at last, religious leaders are beginning to hear it.
 
The history of religion in Western society shows that, sooner or later, people grasp the situation and find new ways of expressing their faith that speak to their contemporaries.
 
In the meantime, there are plenty of vital congregations in our society. In the vast mall of American religious options, it is misguided to dismiss all of our spiritual choices as moribund, corrupt, or old-fashioned – even though so many do.
 
What has prompted SBNRs, and others, to make this dismissal?
 
For one thing, many religious groups are not reaching out to the SBNRs. They need to understand them and speak their language, rather than being fearful or dismissive.
 
Second, the media often highlights the extremes and bad behavior of a few religious people and groups.  But we don’t automatically give up on other collections of fallible human beings, like our jobs, our families, or our own selves.  Some attitude adjustment is needed by both religious people and SBNRs.
 
Finally, SBNRs need to give up the easy ideology that says religion is unnecessary, all the same, or outmoded. And all of us should discard the unworkable idea that you must find a spiritual or religious group with which you totally agree.  Even if such a group could be found, chances are it would soon become quite boring.
 
There’s no getting around this fact: It is hard work to nurture the life of faith. The road is narrow and sometimes bumpy. It is essential to have others along with us on the journey.
 
All of us, not just religious people, are in danger of becoming rigid or comatose, inflexible or numb.
 
 All of us need to find ways to develop and live our faith in the company of others, which is, in fact, what religion is all about.
 
 
Linda Mercadante, is professor of theology at The Methodist Theological School and the founder of Healthy Beliefs – Healthy Spirit.  She is the author of “Belief without Borders: Inside the Minds of the Spiritual but not Religious.
 
The views expressed in this column belong to Mercadante.