Showing posts from 2005

Review: Sarah by Orson Scott Card

Sarah is the first of novelist Orson Scott Card's "Women of Genesis" series. Card is best known for his science fiction (for example, the exceptional Ender's Game). He is an excellent writer, and a devoted Mormon who is not afraid to allow his characters to take their beliefs seriously.

I wish I could recommend Sarah, but I'm afraid I cannot. While Card is great at picking good words and putting them in the right order, there are deep problems with this book.

Most notably is the near-Superman character and capabilities of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sarah. They make no mistakes. Well, Abraham makes one rather big one but he soon sees the error of his ways. Abraham somehow has a fully-formed Mormon belief, including the Christian concept of the sacrifice of a Son by his Father, even generations before God gave God's name and the Law to Moses. Sarah can do anything, except have children. (And then, of course, she does that.)

This is even true in what is almost univers…

Santa Claus? or God?

So we're into the Christmas season officially now that we're past Thanksgiving. One thing that always strikes me as odd this time of year is how many people seem to have confused God with Santa Claus.

In a way, I guess I can understand the confusion. The famous editorial "Yes, Virginia, There I a Santa Claus" reads pretty much the same if you substitute "God" for "Santa Claus". (Except the part about the fairies. I never did get that part anyway.) Neither God nor Santa Claus can claim to be readily available for interviews on CNN.

Still, it's amazing to me how much confusion there is. For example, some say God is a man with a long white beard.

That's Santa Claus. I've never heard of anyone saying that God lives at the North Pole and wears a red coat, but if they do, well, now you know.

Some say that God has a special affinity for little people, that God somehow treats children better than adults. Again, that's Santa Claus. (The guy e…

Halloween, the Christian Holiday

We talked about this week before last, but I wanted this on the blog too, especially for folks who weren't there.

I think Halloween has the potential to be an incredibly effective, meaningful, and joyous Christian festival. Now, most of the times when you read a statement like that, the proponent is imagining re-styling Halloween into some kind of "Fall Festival", scrubbing it clean of all ghost stories or anything scary, and maybe using it as some kind of "morality tale:" a variation on the Christmas-time song "you better watch out."

That's not what I'm advocating. I think that there is a great Christian witness in sitting in a dark room and telling ghost stories. I think there is something more than morality to be gotten from October 31. (Not that there isn't morality there: just look at any pre-Scream horror movie and watch who gets massacred first, and who makes it through.)

Halloween, more than any other festival, is about story-telling.…

Crossing the Bridge

I read yesterday that during the chaos after the hurricane, a number of people, hungry, thirsty, and dying at the New Orleans Convention Center, tried to cross the Crescent City Connection (bridge) to the high-and-dry West Bank, where they hoped to find food, water, and, perhaps, help.

They were met by Gretna Police who halted them with bullhorns and gun shots over their heads. It wasn't about race, or cruelty, according to the police. It was about law and order, since there were probably looters among the crowd. It was about Gretna not having the resources to support this huge mass of people. "If you wasn't there," said the police chief from Gretna's neighbor Westwego, "shut your mouth, because you don't know."

A while back, I remember that a West Bank church tried to install a large lighted sign saying "JESUS". The church neglected to check the city ordinances, however. As it turned out, the display was much larger than the allowed sign si…

Katrina/Rita Update

Well, it looks like all our youth are safe and more-or-less OK. Thanks to God.

There are a couple of things I'd like to mention, because goofy theology always seem to come up whenever anything terrible like this happened.

The first stupid idea is that the people who suffered these kinds of calamities do so because God wanted to prove some point, or punish somebody. God doesn't work that way. God never works that way. People who start saying that Katrina, or 9/11, or AIDS or what have you is God visiting judgment on the victims usually don't know any of those victims. If they did, they wouldn't say such stupid things. You, the Northminster youth, know people who have lost their homes (though thankfully not their lives) and you know what nonsense this "God got them" theology is.

For a biblical reference, see, e.g., John chapter 9, where Jesus heals a man who is born blind. Before doing this, however, he dismisses as nonsense a question about who's fault the m…

Hurricane Katrina

If any members of Northminster Presbyterian Church in Slidell/Pearl River read this, please add a comment below or e-mail me at this address (I'm not sure when I can reach my other e-mail addresses.)

Our family is fine. We're in Greenville, MS staying with relatives. We're praying for all of you.

I've opened the site up for anyone to post comments, at least for now.


Be sure to give some thought to what mission we can accomplish realistically this year. I'd suggest we consider: (1) Who needs help? (2) What do we have to give? What would we enjoy giving? (3) Where do those two meet?


We talked about atonement in Sunday school a couple of weeks ago. We had folks coming in and out due to the string quartet and trumpet voluntary practice, so I said I'd try to post most of what we talked about.

Now, one of the main things to understand is that what God did in atoning for our sins is mystic: it's not just that we don't understand it completely; it's that we can't understand it completely. So, we'll do our best, and try to be honest about anything that doesn't quite fit.

What is atonement?

Here is a dictionary definition. Here's another.

In essence, I like to think of atonement as the act of restoring a broken relationship. If I stole your diary, I can, perhaps, atone for that by giving you back the book, and apologizing. (That's the usual understanding: atonement is about making up for something you did wrong.) I think it also counts as atonement if you tell me to consider the book a gift, and forgive me. If I lost the diary, or destroy…

Hermen Bartels

I just wanted to add a short note about Elder Herman Bartels, who died last week. I am very grateful to God that my life was touched by his. He was a good friend of mine, and a good friend of the church.

Maybe it says something about him that at Vacation Bible School earlier this month, he made a point of providing his famous hot dogs, even when he was unable to personally bring them, even when he was finding it nearly impossible just to walk from room to room.

I'll miss Herman, but I know that even now I share in Christ's resurrection with him.


We talked some about evangelism today, and I asked you all to think of ways we can reach out to other people about the wonderful news we witness to each week.

Click on the post title to go to the PC(USA)'s page on "Presbyterian Evangelism". It has links to some material on evangelism (like definitions, and the upcoming Evangelism Sunday). Also, you can click around a bit and you'll find some related stuff.

Summarizing a few things we talked about:

1. IMHO, nothing about evangelism should come from or lead to guilt. If the reason you tell people about the Christ we worship is because you feel guilty, we're all doing something very, very wrong. (Imagine a husband telling people about his wife only because he'd feel guilty if he didn't mention her.)

2. Again IMHO, there are a number of different ways to evangelize; it's not simply limited to referring to some script in a conversation with your friends:

Tell me [name of friend] do you know the saving grace o…

Hurricane Dennis

Just a reminder to continue to pray for the people (of all nationalities) who have been in Hurricane Dennis's path.

In addition to praying, look for ways to help. Let us know if you find anything we can all do together.

Henriette Delille

Last week, a visitor told us that she was related to a nun featured on the front page of the Times-Picayune. I misunderstood her to refer to another nun, who was on the front page of the T-P the day before. (Yes, we are talking two nuns in two days. If this surprises you, welcome to New Orleans. )

Anyway, the real story is at the link above. (click on message title, but be ready for lots of advertising). Almost unbelievably, she doesn't appear to be listed in the wikipedia. (Note to self: put together an article.) However, here seems to be a very good discussion of Delille and the Sisters of the Holy Family.

She was an amazing woman, a free "woman of color" (not a slave) in the early 1800's who gave up what was apparently a very comfortable life to minister to the poor (and the slaves) in New Orleans. She is being considered for sainthood by the vatican. Regardless of what the Roman Catholic church decides, she seems to have been an amazing woman, and our visitor sho…


The link (click on the word "Baptism" above) gives the official Presbyterian statement concerning infant baptism.

And here's my take...

Baptism is God's work.

Like everything else in Christianity's Reformed tradition, God acts first. God has called us "from the creation of the world," long before we can do anything about it.

In other words, baptism is not something we do for ourselves, or we do for our children, but something God does for us.

Baptism marks us as God's people.

I bear a mark on me that I carry everywhere. You can't see it, but everyone who knows me well knows about my mark. It's my last name.

My last name ties me to the generations which have gone before me, the nation they originated in, and those who will go after me. It also binds me to my wife's family, since, when we were married and she took my name, she placed on us the trust and faith of her family's tradition.

I also wear my baptism. I did not choose it, any more than…

Talking Donkey Reference

The reference for the talking donkey story is Numbers 22. Numbers 21 has some context, and the story is resolved in Numbers 23-24.



I hope to use this blog to cover some of the stuff we don't get to in Sunday school. We won't answer all your questions; some just don't have answers. But we'll talk, and write, and maybe post a link or two.

And, we'll have fun. That is, if I have anything to say about it.

More soon.