Thursday, December 31, 2015

Qur'an fragments from Muhammad's time found at University of Birmingham

Another backlog item; as reported by the University of Birmingham, July 22, 2015:

A Qur’an manuscript held by the University of Birmingham has been placed among the oldest in the world thanks to modern scientific methods.

Radiocarbon analysis has dated the parchment on which the text is written to the period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4% accuracy. The test was carried out in a laboratory at the University of Oxford. The result places the leaves close to the time of the Prophet Muhammad, who is generally thought to have lived between AD 570 and 632.

Explaining the context and significance of the discovery, Professor David Thomas, Professor of Christianity and Islam and Nadir Dinshaw Professor of Interreligious Relations at the University of Birmingham, said: ‘The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Qur’an folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the University’s collections. They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.

‘According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Qur’an, the scripture of Islam, between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death. At this time, the divine message was not compiled into the book form in which it appears today. Instead, the revelations were preserved in “the memories of men”. Parts of it had also been written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels. Caliph Abu Bakr, the first leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad, ordered the collection of all Qur’anic material in the form of a book. The final, authoritative written form was completed and fixed under the direction of the third leader, Caliph Uthman, in about AD 650.

‘Muslims believe that the Qur’an they read today is the same text that was standardised under Uthman and regard it as the exact record of the revelations that were delivered to Muhammad.

‘The tests carried out on the parchment of the Birmingham folios yield the strong probability that the animal from which it was taken was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad or shortly afterwards. This means that the parts of the Qur’an that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death. These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Qur’an read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.’

Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, Lead Curator for Persian and Turkish Manuscripts at the British Library, said: ‘This is indeed an exciting discovery. We know now that these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three Caliphs. According to the classic accounts, it was under the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, that the Qur’anic text was compiled and edited in the order of Suras familiar today, chiefly on the basis of the text as compiled by Zayd ibn Thabit under the first Caliph, Abu Bakr. Copies of the definitive edition were then distributed to the main cities under Muslim rule.

‘The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Qur’an required a great many of them. The carbon dating evidence, then, indicates that Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library is home to some precious survivors that – in view of the Suras included – would once have been at the centre of a Mushaf from that period. And it seems to leave open the possibility that the Uthmanic redaction took place earlier than had been thought – or even, conceivably, that these folios predate that process. In any case, this – along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script – is news to rejoice Muslim hearts.’

The Qur’an manuscript will be on public display at The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham, from Friday 2 October until Sunday 25 October.
As reported by Sean Coughlan of the British Broadcasting Corporation, July 22, 2015 (bold in original):

What may be the world's oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham.

Radiocarbon dating found the manuscript to be at least 1,370 years old, making it among the earliest in existence.

The pages of the Muslim holy text had remained unrecognised in the university library for almost a century.

The British Library's expert on such manuscripts, Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, said this "exciting discovery" would make Muslims "rejoice".

The manuscript had been kept with a collection of other Middle Eastern books and documents, without being identified as one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the world.

The fragments were written on sheep or goat skin

Oldest texts
When a PhD researcher, Alba Fedeli, looked more closely at these pages it was decided to carry out a radiocarbon dating test and the results were "startling".

The university's director of special collections, Susan Worrall, said researchers had not expected "in our wildest dreams" that it would be so old.

Prof Thomas says the writer of this manuscript could have heard the Prophet Muhammad preach

"Finding out we had one of the oldest fragments of the Koran in the whole world has been fantastically exciting."

The tests, carried out by the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, showed that the fragments, written on sheep or goat skin, were among the very oldest surviving texts of the Koran.

These tests provide a range of dates, showing that, with a probability of more than 95%, the parchment was from between 568 and 645.

"They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam," said David Thomas, the university's professor of Christianity and Islam.

"According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Muhammad received the revelations that form the Koran, the scripture of Islam, between the years 610 and 632, the year of his death."

Prof Thomas says the dating of the Birmingham folios would mean it was quite possible that the person who had written them would have been alive at the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

"The person who actually wrote it could well have known the Prophet Muhammad. He would have seen him probably, he would maybe have heard him preach. He may have known him personally - and that really is quite a thought to conjure with," he says.

First-hand witness
Prof Thomas says that some of the passages of the Koran were written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels - and a final version, collected in book form, was completed in about 650.

He says that "the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad's death".

"These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed."

'Precious survivor'
Dr Waley, curator for such manuscripts at the British Library, said "these two folios, in a beautiful and surprisingly legible Hijazi hand, almost certainly date from the time of the first three caliphs".

The first three caliphs were leaders in the Muslim community between about 632 and 656.

Dr Waley says that under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, copies of the "definitive edition" were distributed.

Muhammad Afzal of Birmingham Central Mosque said he was very moved to see the manuscript

"The Muslim community was not wealthy enough to stockpile animal skins for decades, and to produce a complete Mushaf, or copy, of the Holy Koran required a great many of them."

Dr Waley suggests that the manuscript found by Birmingham is a "precious survivor" of a copy from that era or could be even earlier.

"In any case, this - along with the sheer beauty of the content and the surprisingly clear Hijazi script - is news to rejoice Muslim hearts."

The manuscript is part of the Mingana Collection of more than 3,000 Middle Eastern documents gathered in the 1920s by Alphonse Mingana, a Chaldean priest born near Mosul in modern-day Iraq.

He was sponsored to take collecting trips to the Middle East by Edward Cadbury, who was part of the chocolate-making dynasty.

The Koran
. Muslims believe the words of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel over 22 years from 610

. It was not until 1734 that a translation was made into English, but was littered with mistakes

. Copies of the holy text were issued to British Indian soldiers fighting in the First World War

. On 6 October 1930, words from the Koran were broadcast on British radio for the first time, in a BBC programme called The Sphinx

The local Muslim community has already expressed its delight at the discovery in their city and the university says the manuscript will be put on public display.

"When I saw these pages I was very moved. There were tears of joy and emotion in my eyes. And I'm sure people from all over the UK will come to Birmingham to have a glimpse of these pages," said Muhammad Afzal, chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque.

The university says the Koran fragments will go on display in the Barber Institute in Birmingham in October.

Prof Thomas says it will show people in Birmingham that they have a "treasure that is second to none".
It hardly needs to be said that just because this document may be from the time of Muhammad and provides evidence that the Qur'an that's available today is essentially the same as the Qur'an that existed in the 7th century means that it comes from God. All this means is that it's an ancient Middle Eastern document. It's the Bible, not the Qur'an, that is the inspired and infallible word of God.

However, there has been skepticism expressed about the discovery, as reported by Ben Hurst of the Birmingham Post, August 1, 2015:

Middle Eastern historians have raised doubts about claims the University of Birmingham had discovered to oldest known copy of the Koran.

The announcement was made last week sparking a frenzy of interest around the world.

The Islamic manuscript which was found hidden inside the pages of another book in a university library has been dated using radiocarbon analysis to a period between AD 568 and 645 with 95.4 per cent accuracy.

According to Muslim tradition, the Prophet Mohammed received the revelations that form the scripture of Islam between the years AD 610 and 632, the year of his death.

But now historians and manuscript experts have cast doubt on the findings, saying that just because the parchments were dated from that period, it did not necessarily mean the writing did too.

Abdul Sattar Al-Halouji, who was described as a manuscript expert in the Middle East, said: “It is not possible to ascertain that the parchments were written close to the time of the Prophet.

“The university should have examined the ink not the hide on which it was written.”

Halouji said the hide or the animal skin might be old but the verses may have been written later.

He said: “The manuscript might possibly be from the time of Othman Bin Affan who became Caliph many years after the death of the Prophet.

“During the time of the Prophet, the Koran was not organised or put in its present day form. Also there were no colours used.”

Adnan Al-Sharif, who is the dean of libraries at Umm Al-Qura University, told the Saudi Gazette there were many observations which cast doubt on the claims that the Birmingham manuscript was the oldest copy of the Koran.

He said: “One of these is the red-colour separation between the Bismillah and the two Surahs of Mariam and Taha.

“It was not customary during the Prophet’s time to separate between the Surahs.

“This copy seems to be organised and in order which was not so during the time of the Prophet,” he said.

Al-Sharif said radiocarbon examination of a manuscript can only point to the century not the year.

He said: “There are copies of the Koran in Turkey, Egypt and Yemen dating back to the first Hijra century.

“This means that they are concurrent to the Birmingham’s manuscript.”

Abbas Tashkandi, another manuscript expert, said it was clear that the university examined the hide not the writing: “The hide may be old but the writing may be new.”

Tahskandi said the manuscript might be from the time of Caliph Othman Bin Affan and not the Prophet. He also said the manuscript might have been written in Makkah which was famous for its tanneries.

Experts contend that during the time of the Prophet there was no separation between the Surahs (chapters) in red colors, no red ink was used in writing “Bismillah Al-Rahman Al-Raheem” with which a Surah begins and that the holy book itself was not put in its today’s order.

Announcing the find, Professor David Thomas, professor of Christianity and Islam at the University of Birmingham, in Edgbaston, said: “The radiocarbon dating of the Birmingham Koran folios has yielded a startling result and reveals one of the most surprising secrets of the university’s collections.

“They could well take us back to within a few years of the actual founding of Islam.”

Experts believe the pieces of parchment may have been taken from an animal which was alive during the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed or shortly afterwards.

Prof Thomas added: “This means that the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Mohammed’s death.

“These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed.”

Birmingham’s Muslim community has already expressed its delight at the discovery in their city and the university says the manuscript will be put on public display.

England's Shugborough Code mystery solved?

As reported by Mike Lockley of the Birmingham Post, December 21, 2014:

A linguistics expert believes he has cracked The Shugborough Code – a random sequence of letters on a stately home monument that has baffled historians for over 200 years.

American scientist Keith Massey used his knowledge of Latin to decipher the code on the 18th century Shepherd's Monument at Shugborough Hall, Cannock Chase.

One theory is the curious sequence of letters – OUOSVAVV, framed at either end by DM – was left as a clue to the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.

According to legend, the code was created by the Knights Templar, fanatical and feared fighting unit of the Crusades.

Some of the nation's greatest minds have tried to break the code, including Charles Dickens and Charles Darwin but all have failed – until now – possibly.

Mr Massey, a former Arabic linguist recruited by America's top secret National Security Agency after 9/11, used his vast Latin knowledge to fill in the blanks.

He has no doubt the letters stand for "Oro Ut Omnes Sequantur Viam Ad Veram Vitam" - I pray that all may follow the Way to True Life.

Mr Massey, a public school Latin teacher, said: "I believe I've solved the mystery. I believe my proposal provides a sensible and credible interpretation to this long-standing mystery.

"My solution provides a straightforward and grammatical sentence, all parts of which are attested in tomb inscriptions and texts predating or contemporary with the creation of the Shugborough inscription."

The letters have long divided historians. AJ Morton, an expert in graves and monuments, dismissed the inscription as nothing more than 19th century graffiti, left by Shugborough residents George Adams and his wife, Mary Vernon-Venables.

Mr Morton explained the letters could be linked to the couple, relations of Thomas Anson who built the monument in the mid-1700s.

Mr Mr Massey, from Wisconsin, the D and M, below the main inscription, opened the door to cracking the code. The initials are likely to be the ancient Roman abbreviation of Dis Manibus: "for the Manes".

The Manes were ancestral spirits of the underworld and the initials are found on very early Christian tomb inscriptions. Mr Massey explained: "This is a clue to the correct interpretation of the longer series of letters. The inscription was intended to be understood as a tomb memorial composed in Latin."

Three Vs close together were also significant. "As someone trained in cryptography, I assume any time you have a letter that occurs more often than other letters, you are looking at an important clue."

Mr Massey believes they reference a Biblical passage - John 14:6, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (Ego sum Via et Veritas et Vita).

The scores of experts drawn to the mystery have whittled down the many theories to a short-listed of three:

* The letters are a cryptic, ancient love note and the Holy Grail is, in fact, a cup of love.

* They are, indeed, a tantalising pointer to the whereabouts of the Grail, once allegedly safeguarded by the Knights Templar.

* The inscription is a folly without meaning. It was carved to simply tantalise future generations.

Staff at the National Trust-owned property, once home to Lord Lichfield, believe the riddle is far from solved and will continue to baffle visitors for years to come.

Following a previous investigation, a spokesman said: "We get five or six people a week who believe they have solved the code so we are a bit wary of them now."
This reminds me of an item I saw years ago in the newsletter of the Ontario Association of Archivists. I tried to track it down through a Google search, and came up with accounts that vary so much in the details that I now suspect it of being an urban legend. Whether or not the story is true, it's funny; here's one account, which mentions no names:

A sexton in England undertook a project to map all the graves in the churchyard and to create a complete record of the individuals buried there. After years of work and research he had identified all of the stones but one. The stone, flat on the ground and directly behind the old church, bore only the initials H.W.P. The sexton dug through every church record and could find no record of anyone with those initials.

One day the plumber was working on the old water pipes in the church and chatting with the sexton who proceeded to tell him with pride about his project and added that he was greatly troubled by the fact that one stone remained unidentified. The plumber asked which stone that might be and the sexton pointed out the flat stone.

The plumber smiled and replied that he could solve that mystery since he had placed the stone there himself -- H.W.P. marks the location of the Hot Water Pipe.
Another account I found mentions Rev. Phillip Randall of Eye near Petersborough, while the London Daily Telegraph of August 23, 1986 is credited in other places as the source for a report that has this incident taking place at Evercreech Church, Shepton Mallet, Somerset, England.

More examples from Edmonton of community service centres masquerading as churches

Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. II Timothy 3:5

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. James 4:4

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.
I John 2:15-16

The following may be regarded as a companion piece to my post An example from Edmonton of a community service centre masquerading as an evangelical church (January 22, 2015).

As reported by Myrna Kostash in the Edmonton magazine The Yards, Summer 2015, pp. 14-15:

On a walkabout through my neighbourhood early this winter, I had taken note of the number of places of worship between Oliver and Downtown. I wondered, had these communities of religious citizens come to terms with the area’s drastic change in demographics and topography since they had first opened their doors a century ago? And how do the heads of these central Edmonton churches view their neighbourhood today?

For instance, according to the 90-year-old Grace Lutheran Church on 114 St., “the absence of focus on the unchurched and dechurched in the neighborhoods surrounding Grace” has resulted in a 10-year stagnation in membership, dwindling Sunday worship attendance and a Sunday school class one-third the size it was in 2000.

And then there’s the substantial, even hulking, brick presence of McDougall United Church that had seemed an incorruptible and timeless artifact of our history—social and artistic as well as spiritual— until last February. That’s when a report to City Hall estimated a repair and renovation bill of $18 to 25 million, citing a congregation reluctant to commit spending millions on urgent repairs for a building without provincial heritage status. Even more distressing was the conclusion of a separate consultant’s report that there existed no community or philanthropic “will” to save McDougall United.

Like all churches, Grace Lutheran and McDougall have their C & E (Christmas and Easter) adherents. Last year, 125,000 people went to Christmas Eve services in Edmonton who may never be seen until April, if not for another 12 months. But what counts to deans, bishops and pastors is who fills their pews the rest of the year.

All Saints’ Anglican Cathedral on 103 St. and Jasper Ave. is an imposing structure with a grand nave, but on Thursday mornings coffee and muffins are laid out in the Cathedral Common before a tax clinic opens for low-income Edmontonians. They arrive mainly from east of the Coliseum and Alberta Avenue and are then invited to Holy Eucharist and Soup and Sandwich Lunch in the lounge. It’s free and “everyone is welcome,” Dean Neil Gordon told me (a Dean is a Cathedral’s head while its Bishop leads the whole diocese). I arrived in his Cathedral office to find out what these modern ’hoods look like from the perspective of the parish office.

Downtown’s new condo dwellers come too, to bake muffins or drop by for an hour to chat with visitors who wait their turn for tax assessments. They’ve discovered the cathedral because of the concerts it hosts, such as Pro Coro, or for Choral Eucharist and the incomparable Jeremy Spurgeon on the massive organ. “We’re not just handing out food,” declared Dean Gordon. “We talk and learn stories.” The participation of young volunteers is key. They want to do more than just worship; they want face-to-face, hands-on service, whether it’s serving the Friday morning breakfasts or collecting clothes for the homeless. “They also join us in worship,” he noted, “but their primary religious energy is in outreach. I love millennials!”

All Saints’ is metres away from Bay/Enterprise Station—a “gold mine” when the arena opens up for business and downtown parking spaces disappear, he said. Many people come to All Saints’ from Cromdale and Southgate because of LRT access. The church even advertised its Christmas Eve services in the stations. But these commuting parishioners in fact represent a dispersed congregation and a new chapter in the cathedral’s history.

During Edmonton’s original “boom” before the First World War, All Saints’ was a “rich person’s church,” according to Dean Gordon, who invited me to think of the remnants of the grand old homes that lined the residential streets along 100 Ave. Then came the crash, the Great Depression, and the focus of the parish’s activities turned from “fund-raising for nice things for the church” (processional crosses and clerical vestments) to relief projects, especially at the outreach mission church in Rossdale Flats. In Dean Gordon’s vivid image, it was “literally the cathedral on the hill, with a commitment to the people living down below.”

Dean Gordon said by the 1940s wealthier Anglicans had moved out of downtown to Glenora, while others from further away began commuting to All Saints’ “for the choir, the organ, the bells and incense”—the liturgical flourishes on offer in a Cathedral setting. In the 1960s, the parish became more “activist” hosting a women’s shelter and, for a few months, the Middle Earth cafe. “Imagine a folk cafe, as in Inside Llewyn Davis. But not everybody was happy with just coffee.” (It was raided for drugs.)

And today, the evolution continues: Sunday afternoon worship services in the Dinka language for South Sudanese Anglicans and, every third Sunday, First Nations services tie the Gospel narrative with Aboriginal storytelling.

I came away exhilarated from my conversation with the very animated, emphatic Dean, with a vision that swoops all around central downtown, from the cathedral steps to the empty lot across from the once Greyhound bus station he hopes will be cleaned up and made safer for Aboriginal women. I also took note of other churches dotting central Edmonton that have found novel ways to fill their pews: MacDougall United’s “rainbow” inclusiveness, Robertson-Wesley’s free yoga classes and art therapy, Grace Lutheran’s open music stages. But these chapels have been around for a century. What about the rare places of worship that have emerged in the last decade? I wondered what spiritual void were they filling?

Around the corner from All Saints’ Cathedral on Jasper Ave. stands the now-doomed Paramount theatre building that until recently sported the emphatic lettering of City Centre Church. The church now meets Sundays three blocks away, at Landmark Cinemas in City Centre Mall, or at the Cineplex Odeon in South Edmonton Common. I chased down one of its staffers, Kevin Machado, who is also a pastor at the downtown “campus,” for an interview at the Milner Library Second Cup.

Despite its preference for large auditorium venues, City Centre Church (CCC) is not a megachurch such as those established by evangelical Christians in newly-minted suburbs. It has origins in a church-planting movement, which Machado told me “seeds through communities” like our own.

Machado emphasizes that they are neither counsellors nor psychiatrists, but simply people who have “spiritual awareness.” People who “burn for community.” “I’m passionate about people who come from dark places where your soul is brittle and cold,” he told me. People like he and his wife not so long ago.

It’s the hope of healing that the CCC offers those who join them, even temporarily, at prayer, Muffin Sundays for families, at Hope Mission or Mustard Seed volunteer commitments, or (when they were still in the Paramount) potluck meals in the theatre lobby—often the warmest place for the CCC community on a Sunday night. “People hear about us by word of mouth, or from a friend’ or they walk by our sign. They meet us and it’s okay not to have all the answers. We don’t yell at people while we’re feeding them. We have conversations. They are welcome to stay and pray.”

But there is also this important difference: the CCC is a young church and still “spontaneous,” building itself as it goes along, not proclaiming any special understanding but just coming together, “normal people who have a shared experience,” in Machado’s words. No pews or chandeliers, order of clergy or choirs, not a church “that says, ‘this is what you need to do’” with all the structures that go with it.

Yet, along with All Saints’ and the others, the City Centre Church could be part of a movement, bringing central churches to the ‘hood.

That’s what Jodine Chase hopes will happen for the 1910 McDougall United Church. The congregation member started campaigning to prove that there is a will to save it among the church’s most “feisty” members, plus supporters in the downtown arts’ community. “Right off the bat, we had a dozen ‘Friends of McDougall,’” Jodine Chase told me. Friends of McDougall’s efforts to save the building began with fundraising, accepting donations from $20 to $20,000, “to capture our support and translate it into meaningful dollars.”

This was not a heritage that could be “preserved” simply by renovating the facade and demolishing the interior for condos. For one, the interior, built to seat 2,000, is in good shape and still an ideal acoustic environment for musicians and performers. For another, the building has long been the site of historic developments, as the original home of the Edmonton Opera, site of suffragette rallies in the 1900s, University of Alberta convocation venue, and the auditorium before the Northern Jubilee opened in 1957. “It has been a ‘tool’ for the whole city,” Chase argued. “And all users needed to be at the table with their contributions.”

Then, on April 1, 2015, the provincial Culture Minister announced formal intent to seek provincial heritage status with a contribution of $750,000 towards restoration (the City may be good for another $500,000), enough to complete the most urgent repairs to the exterior. The interior will be preserved as a “vintage” performing arts space and community centre, subject, of course, to the affirmation of the congregation.

Ah, yes, the congregation. This is, after all, a place of worship. Its inclusive ministry—ordination of women, support for LGBTQ—is what attracted families like Jodine Chase’s. But, as with so many denominational churches in the 21st century, the congregation cannot sustain the building on its own and must force a “community partnership,” she said. “The congregation is an integral part of the vision but we cannot be the sole steward anymore … We’re ready to walk the talk.”
As was the case with the example mentioned in my previous post, one looks in vain for any mention in this article of the Lord Jesus Christ. The mainline churches such as the Anglican Church of Canada and United Church of Canada have abandoned belief in the Bible as God's infallible word, "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Mark 7:7) These are the churches that are emptying and aging; Christ's true sheep have left, and these places have been left to the goats. The social gospel of "Let's make this world a better place," promoted by the mainline churches with their aging and dwindling congregations, as well as by the younger inhabitants of the Emerging church, is a false gospel, providing a false salvation.

December 7, 2016 update: More of the same, as reported by Jessica Barratt in The Yards, Winter 2016, p. 5 (note: OCL stands for Oliver Community League):

Churches of all denominations have played a significant role in establishing Edmonton's earliest communities. For example, Alberta College (the antecedent to MacEwan University) was founded in 1903 by members of MacDougall's Church board, while Robertson-Wesley United Church was instrumental in nursing sufferers of the Spanish Flu. But what about today? What larger role do they play?

Community-mindedness has never been lost amidst its religious mandates. Take, for instance, the work initiated by a handful of area pastors and reverends working, well, religiously, on projects for the neighbourhood at large--not just Sunday congregants.

Curtis Boehm started using Grace Lutheran Church as a resource for the Oliver community after joining the church in July 2014. In addition to its already well-established yearly garage sale, the pastor started organizing an indoor basketball club for the neighbourhood inside its gym every Tuesday at 7 p.m. He also led the creation of the Oliver Bike Club, which meets weekly from snowmelt to snowfall. "I'm really interested in building community activities so I can meet my neighbours," Boehm explains. "I want to be a pastor of Oliver!"

Similarly, pastor Nick Trussell of Christ Church successfully applied for a Make Something Oliver (MSO) grant this past June to partially fund BBQ on the Block. This series of four free biweekly barbecues between July and August were well aligned with the OCL's strategic goals, says MSO director Anika Gee. "The event welcomed all community members, not just those of the church; it made the project even more exciting." She says Christ Church's project let neighbourhood residents meet in person and hopefully develop lasting relationships.

Building a better community is also the theme of Robertson-Wesley's Spirited Art Studio, which is open to creatives of every stripe Monday nights from 7 to 8:30 p.m. According to Karen Bridges, minister of congregation and community development, the free event invites people to come together and creates something based on a specific theme or question. "This program is a great network which connects people's passions and helps them find a way to offer what they have to others," she says. The goal isn't far from the ideals held by the Abundant Community Initiative, which Robertson-Wesley sponsored. "We provided funds through our trust fund, which are designated for community outreach."

"The Church is there for the community," explains Boehm. "A fellow pastor even recommended I get involved with the OCL as soon as I started." Though Boehm recently stepped down as OCL's volunteer director, he says that the connections he's made have helped him understand his audience better. "Where you live, where you are, where you go," he says, "that's where your work is." And that, for these generous souls, means Oliver.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Outhouse (aka The Shack) author William P. Young's heresy, blasphemy, and perversity is becoming more obvious with the passage of time

For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Acts 20:29-30

And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.
Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.
II Corinthians 11:14-15

Little children, it is the last time; and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
I John 2:18-19

I've already commented on The Shack (which I prefer to call The Outhouse) by William P. Young (Paul, to his friends), and I don't want to go to the bother of repeating myself, so the reader is invited to see my previous posts:

"The Outhouse" (aka The Shack): One-Hour Blasphemizing (December 30, 2008)

Finding God in The Shack? (April 1, 2009)

The Outhouse (aka The Shack) in God's house (May 5, 2009)

Catherine Elsworth interviewed Mr. Young for the online book club Goodreads for its September 2015 newsletter (bold in original) (as an aside, the same newsletter contained an interview with notorious atheist idiot Richard Dawkins):

Interview with Wm. Paul Young
September, 2015

Bestselling Christian novelist William Paul Young likes to shake his readers, both in terms of subject matter and the questions he asks. He achieved this in spades with his 2007 debut, The Shack, which not only featured a father reeling from the brutal murder of his young daughter but challenged perceptions by portraying God as a large, black woman who listens to funk. Heresy, some cried. But many more found the book inspirational, and the novel, which was initially self-published, has now sold more than 25 million copies worldwide, been compared to The Pilgrim's Progress in terms of impact, and is being made into a movie starring Octavia Spencer as God.

Young's new novel, Eve, is likely to prove similarly provocative with its interpretation of the creation narrative that suggests Adam, not Eve, triggered the Fall, which means that Eve—and therefore womankind—has for centuries been unfairly maligned. The gripping sci-fi-flavored story has as its central character a savagely wounded 15-year-old girl, a former child prostitute who witnesses creation from an in-between world of teleporting, angels, and evil mirrors. Eve is a "tall, fine-boned, ebony-black woman," God breast-feeds, and Adam is seen with a pregnant belly.

Those who were upset by The Shack will no doubt be outraged again. But Young, who says his fiction is grounded in decades of Bible study, welcomes such visceral responses. The 60-year-old, who was raised by missionaries in New Guinea, suffered abuse as a child and went on to attend seminary in Oregon, tells Goodreads why he is driven to challenge what he sees as polarizing and sexist in traditional interpretations of Scripture and how he hopes Eve will fuel a new discussion about gender roles and what it means to be human.

Goodreads: You've said Eve was the hardest book you've written because you were consolidating 40 years of work on this issue. How did you get to the point where you were ready to write it?

Wm. Paul Young: I don't think I would have had the confidence to tackle this without having written The Shack and Cross Roads [Young's second novel, released in 2012, about a selfish businessman who reconnects with God after falling into a coma], because it is such a monumental task to address something so embedded, and especially to do it inside a story, in fiction. That was why it was so arduous and such a hard piece of work, because I wanted a teenager to be able to read it and not get lost inside it, yet I wanted it to be true and coherent with the scholarship and with the text itself.

GR: Why was it so important for you to challenge the creation narrative of Genesis? What did you most want to do with this book?

WPY: For many of us, and I grew up evangelical fundamental Christian, the narrative has been pretty engrained. And the more I worked on the passages themselves, primarily pushed in that direction because of some major losses of my own, sexual abuse [an issue in the book] and those kinds of losses which were perpetrated by men, the more I came to the opinion that the narrative we have adopted is wrong. I grew up in a hierarchical fundamentalist religious perspective that really subordinated women and even in the last couple of decades has found new language to subordinate women. So I wanted to challenge the existing narrative because the polarizing language we use with regards to gender or relationships, to masculine and feminine, has created a huge amount of division and confusion. I saw a narrative for the entire passage that would allow a conversation to emerge that might get away from this polarity language and begin to relate to the question in terms of being human, not in terms of gender or ethnicity or social position. And I thought if I can find a way to make that narrative accessible, maybe it could change the conversation. And I really believe it can. So I'm kind of thrilled about it.

GR: How would you describe the existing narrative?

WPY: Oh, you know, Adam is created and then Eve is created, and she is beguiled by the serpent, who is the bad guy, and she tempts and draws Adam into an existence of separation from God. But the narrative predominantly places the blame at the feet of women, and that hasn't answered the question why have men done so much damage in the world.

GR: Why do you think this interpretation has endured for so long?

WPY: Because it's dominated by men, and translation has been dominated by men, and men have been the ones in power who have told the story. It's true not just of gender issues; it's true with ethnicity issues, and those in power create the narrative for history, whether they do it on purpose or not. I know job security impacts interpretation of Scripture more than any single thing. Genesis says that when the turning takes place, at least the woman turns to a relationship, which is more like the character and nature of God, but the man turns to the ground and the works of his hands, and so it becomes about territory and property. So, surprise, surprise, the narrative emerges that allows some sense of justification for men to continue to dominate and suppress the voice of women, and this is so wrong. Look at all the destruction and damage that men have brought to the world and continue to do so. So we need a different conversation.

GR: By depicting Eve as a black woman or having the images of God breast-feeding or Adam pregnant, are you trying to get people to think and perceive differently?

WPY: Yes, and the text allows for all of that. The word "mercy" is from the same root in Hebrew as the word "womb," and so every time you read "mercy" you are dealing with the maternal nature of God. And you've got language in Isaiah of God nursing or El Shaddai, which means the breasted one. We need to have a conversation that deepens our understanding of, and appreciation for, what being human is all about and that everybody, in my view, every single human being is a unique expression of the spectrum of both the masculine and feminine, because God is neither male nor female.

GR: How did you come up with the story itself—Lilly Fields, a teenage victim of child trafficking, horribly injured and abused, becomes a witness to creation and the fall and thinks she can somehow change history.

WPY: With the kind of history that I have, with growing up in a culture where sexual abuse was a part of my world before I was five years old, and it took me decades to work through the damage with any sense of coherency or integration, I have for many years been inside the conversation with regard to the healing of the human soul. So when I was looking at the story line, I was thinking, Eve is the character who frames the story, but who is the central character? The first time I began working with the idea, I was literally thinking, I want a 15-year-old girl to be able to read this story and not get lost. And I was thinking about the fact that sadly we live in a world where girls are constantly being trafficked, and they are objectified. And I was looking at my daughters and my granddaughters and thinking, How do I speak to this in a way that might change things for them? And not just for my girls but for the daughters of us all. Lilly allowed me huge freedoms because she allowed me to explore the process of healing itself.

GR: Some of the subject matter in your books, the suffering of Lilly or the murder of Missy in The Shack, is pretty traumatic. Is that part of what you want to do—to shake people?

WPY: I do, and there's no question about that. But even in Eve it's not graphic, and you don't need to be. You've got to pull people across the threshold enough so they understand what it is you're talking about. But I want my kids to be able to read this, and I want teenagers to be able to read this. People who read horror had an easier time with that than they did with The Shack because it is so human and so tangible and so wrenching, but not because it is graphic. And the same is true for Eve. I want a pretty strong boundary yet at the same time I don't want to be some Pollyanna person who thinks everything in the world is wonderful, because it's not. We have huge devastating problems that it is way past time to address.

GR: The voice of your teenage heroine is modern: She's unimpressed and skeptical about religion.

WPY: Yes, and it's because this younger generation is exactly there. They've got really good crap detectors, they're not excited about agenda, things are moving and changing so fast, they want something that matters that actually makes a difference. And her voice was not difficult to access. I'm surrounded by young women who give me lots of feedback, who love me, but aren't impressed.

GR: You wrote Eve in about seven months. How do you work when you start a new project?

WPY: I'm not a wake-up-in-the-morning, do-your-2,000-words kind of guy. I'm just like, all right, it's time, jump in the river, see what happens. Sometimes it could be 14 hours in a day. It's one of those zones where you lose track of time, you don't remember going to the bathroom or the last time you ate, you just get swept away in it, and it's a constant companion until it's done. To me it's as close as a man will ever get to delivering a baby, very much like a pregnancy—you have your morning sickness, and you waddle around, and you want to pull the baby out now, but it's not quite time, and the labor process is excruciating—and long for me.

GR: I wanted to ask about the book's graphic and colorful depictions of conception and labor. At one point God "plunges His hands into the holy mess... The labor was nearly finished. Then, with a piercing wrenching scream, Adonai raised above His head a newborn baby."

WPY: I have a high view of humanity, which is contrary to the evangelical heritage I grew up with, which had a very low view of humanity, so I am constantly trying to find ways to celebrate our humanity. And the whole conception and the birthing process is to me one of the most amazing miracles that exist in creation, and to find ways to celebrate it, I loved some of the depictions that emerged in the story line around the birthing process and the exultation of that, and that by itself grants a dignity and honor to women that is incredibly well deserved, and I'm thrilled about that, too.

GR: There was a very strong reaction to The Shack, with people accusing you of heresy and theological inaccuracy. What's it like to have such a visceral response?

WPY: I love a visceral response way more than I appreciate ambivalence. Someone who doesn't care, there's no real conversation there. At least with an angry person you can have a conversation, because when people are upset, something in them is being challenged enough to raise their ire, and that's an engaged process and opens up the possibility of really great conversation. I love the questions, I love the conversation, and I think it's our way forward.

GR: And with your background, you feel you can support your fiction with your knowledge?

WPY: I went to seminary, I went to bible school, and I've read voraciously. I love the deep philosophers and theologians and the people who people quote who they don't actually read, I actually read them. But I find that part of what I am to the community of faith as well as to the community of humanity is that I'm an interpreter. I grasp some of the big-picture stuff, and I find a way to say it in a way that my kids can understand it. And that's a very narrow thing, but it's important, and I'm thrilled to be in that space. My books are recognized as human books. They're not sectarian with an agenda to divide, but they're addressing fundamental human questions, and as a result I think they speak a language that crosses all these barriers, and that gives me hope.

GR: Goodreads member Ellen asks, "What sort of criticism or backlash do you expect from conservative Christians with the release of Eve?"

WPY: The same people who didn't read The Shack and didn't like it are not going to read Eve and not like it. And the beauty is they are my people. They really are. They are the people I grew up with, I know really well, and I know where they are coming from. I know what they are afraid of. So yeah, I anticipate I will get the same sort of serious 12-page dissertations against all the evils of the book that I've had before. But even with The Shack, I'd say that might be 1 or 2 percent, maybe 3 percent, of all the responses that I get. And even when people have come to where I've been speaking and intended to take a stand against me, they are overwhelmed by the stories of how this conversation has penetrated people and changed their world.

GR: The back of the book says it's an "unprecedented exploration of the creation narrative." You've never seen anything in all your reading like this?

WPY: The closest that I've gotten to someone who really did a great job on the Genesis narrative was Perelandra by C.S. Lewis, which remains one of my favorite stories. It's the second in the Space Trilogy that he did, and he posits Venus as the new Eden in which the Eve character makes the right choice. And Lewis is brilliant in that book. But he doesn't tackle the existing narrative; he just posits an alternative universe. But no, like I said, 40 years of work on all the issues and the problem passages, and it constantly drove me back to Genesis, really pushed me to explore the Hebrew and the historical theological positions about it and get a great grasp of the story line, and then draw together what people have written over the centuries and say, All right, let's see if we can't find a narrative that is coherent with the text and with the scholarship and that allows for a different conversation.

GR: Could you talk us through how The Shack became a book. You originally wrote it for your kids while you were working three jobs?

WPY: Yes, and our youngest was 13 at the time, so they weren't little kids. It started with Kim, my wife of nearly 36 years, who said to me, "Some day, as a gift for our kids, would you just put in one place how you think because you think outside the box." It wasn't until I was 50 that I felt my head and heart were integrated enough to write something that puts in one place how I think. So I wrote this story on the train going between my three jobs and ended up making 15 copies at Office Depot. I gave six to the kids and Kim and the rest to my friends and family. And those 15 copies did everything I ever wanted that book to do. I was thrilled with that. It never crossed my mind to publish it. I didn't know anything about publishing, and so to be involved in something that became such a global phenomenon was absolutely wonderful, humbling. You have the sense that, you know what, this is God's sense of humor. It's one of those stories where you just shake your head and laugh a lot.

GR: What does it feel like now that the movie is being made?

WPY: I was invited up to the set, and it is a surreal thing to walk around where they have built an entire shack, and they're filming and there's 50 crew and cast and you think, I made 15 copies of a little thing that I wrote for Christmas for my kids, and all of these people are employed because of this and bringing to this their abilities and their skill sets and their stories, and it's all being woven together into something that gets to be presented in a different way to the world again. It is so surreal, and I am so grateful.

GR: Who are your favorite authors and the writers who inspire you?

WPY: I grew up in the highlands of New Guinea, where we didn't have any technology, so I grew up with books and I read all the classics plus Edgar Rice Burroughs, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, I love the science fiction genre. And then of course the Inklings with C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams, Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton. And Malcolm Muggeridge, even in Punch magazine I loved his ability to turn a phrase and bite someone in the butt. And Mark Twain.

Then I started getting into some philosophy, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Jacques Ellul, who's not easy to read, but he's conceptually brilliant as a sociologist and a theologian. And then the mystic strain on the other side, people like Richard Rohr and Jean Vanier. Then back to Athanasius's On the Incarnation of the Word of God and people who were writing in the first few centuries. And also I'm a bit of a physics person. I love quantum theory and astronomy. I love it, just enough to be dangerous. That's why you have quantum fire in Cross Roads and fractals in The Shack and movement between worlds or parallel universes. And it's why you have this mixture of fantasy and science fiction and deep human psychology and theology all kind of merged together inside a story line.

GR: Goodreads member Katie asks, "Do you find it hard to write as a faith-filled man in a society that is becoming so secular and looking to follow popular opinion rather than stand for truth and right?"

WPY: So my first response to that is that I am convinced that secularism is halfway to Jesus from religion. I find huge amounts of resonance within secularism that religion has created inhibitions to address. So I don't find antagonism in the secular dimension of the world nearly as much as I find it within religious fundamentalism of any sort whether it's atheistic fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, or Islamic fundamentalism. With someone who is about being right, and not about loving, or about codified propositions and laws, then you've got a lot more pushback, and I find some comfort in the fact that Jesus found it the same way in the first century. It was the religious people who had the most problems with who he was and what he was saying. So I really don't. In fact, the more human that I am in terms of the conversation, the easier it is to have that conversation within the secular world.

GR: Goodreads member Kristin asks, "How do you feel when you hear your books have changed people's relationships with God?"

WPY: Oh my gosh, I hear that a lot. That's one of the greatest blessings that's ever happened, because I've been allowed to participate in whatever this is. And it really is the holy ground. People's stories are the holy ground, that's where you get to watch the activity of God inside a person's world in a way that burns away everything that's not real. So the greatest gift that's come out of this is the invitation to be inside other people's stories, and those stories are miraculous, they are just mind-boggling, and I've got thousands of them.
A few things that struck me from this interview:

When it comes to Paul Young's claim of having been sexually abused as a child, we have only his word to go on, but I'm increasingly inclined to believe he's telling the truth, because it would explain a lot. For instance, no normal man writes with a 15-year-old female reader in mind. To put it bluntly, there's something seriously wrong with Paul Young; his writing style is feminine; his subject matter appeals mainly to women (click on the link for the interview and look at the comments); he writes with 15-year-old female readers in mind; and worst of all, he promotes a feminine god. Mr. Young doesn't come across as a real man.

Mr. Young's list of favourite authors and literary genres is most revealing, and is more in keeping with a New Ager than a Christian. The Castalia House publishing firm is currently running a series of posts on its blog concerning the disproportionate amount of pedophilia within the science fiction community--including such big names as Arthur C. Clarke.

My reaction to the author of The Shack is similar to my reaction to the first two movies from writer and director Neil LaBute. In the Company of Men (1997) had two unpleasant men as the main characters, but the main female character was someone I could root for. However, Mr. LaBute's next movie, Your Friends & Neighbors (1998) had nothing but unpleasant characters; I can't speak for all myneighbours, but the characters in that movie don't resemble any of my friends. After seeing those movies--and especially, after the second one--I concluded that there was something seriously wrong with Mr. LaBute, who converted to Mormonism at Brigham Young University and has since left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Others have also noticed that there's something wrong with Mr. LaBute, as a glance at his Wikipedia entry will show. Two Neil LaBute movies were enough for me, and I haven't been interested in seeing anything else he's had to offer.

Paul Young openly denies the account of creation, apparently blaming belief in the literal truth of the account in Genesis chapters 1-2 for his sexual abuse as a child. As is always the case with religious liberals--especially those who have wormed their way from within the professing Christian church--those who believe in the literal truth of the Bible are always the bad guys. It should be kept in mind that to deny the biblical account of creation is to deny the very words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, as well as the words of the Apostles, who were men directly commissioned by the Lord Jesus Christ and were writing under divine inspiration.

By my count, Paul Young used the word "conversation" 11 times in the interview. That's the way it is in the Emerging Church in which Mr. Young would seem to naturally fit; it's always a "conversation" with Emergents, it's never "Thus saith the LORD."

Mr. Young boasts about his "high view of humanity," but whenever that occurs, it's always a see-saw--when the view of humanity goes up, the view of God goes down. The "God" of Paul Young's invention isn't worth worshipping.

Paul Young is an example of what Vox Day, author of the recent book SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down the Thought Police (2015) refers to as the three laws of Social Justice Warriors (SJWs)--the first law is the law that should be most kept in mind:

1. They always lie.
2. They always double down.
3. They always project.


Mr. Young, like a typical SJW, uses a false analogy when he places Christian fundamentalism on an equal level with atheistic and Islamic fundamentalism. He's also dishonest when he compares his own battles with fundamentalists with the religious leaders whom Jesus faced. In fact, the Pharisees of whom the Lord Jesus Christ was so critical weren't fundamentalists, but religious liberals; they didn't know (Matthew 22:29) or believe (John 5:45-47) the scriptures, "teaching for doctrines the commandments of men." (Mark 7:7)

Paul Young makes a snide remark about the "people who didn't read The Shack and didn't like it." What a liar. I, for one, did read The Shack and didn't like it. Go to my first post mentioned above, and click the links to see reviews by Christian authors who also read the book and didn't like it--including Mr. Young's neighbour James De Young, who turned his review into the book Burning Down the Shack (2010). After the extremely unpleasant experience of reading The Shack, this blogger has no intention of reading Eve; I'll wait for reviews by discerning Christians who have stronger stomachs than mine (and of course, who have actually read the book).

I can't emphasize strongly enough that Paul Young isn't someone coming from outside the professing evangelical Christian church, but from within. He's an alumnus of Canadian Bible College from its days in Regina; it's now Ambrose University, based in Calgary (search this blog under "Ambrose" for information on this increasingly unbiblical institution). Mr. Young presumbably knows what the truth is, but he's chosen to reject it; like those mentioned by Paul in the Acts 20 passage cited above, Paul Young is speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after himself.

Use of drones in business is increasing

The following article indicates that drones can have many beneficial uses, but it doesn't take much imagination to envision drones being used for sinister purposes. As reported by Scott Simmie of the Toronto Star, November 16, 2015:

Flying at 60,000 feet, powered by the sun, Facebook’s huge unmanned Aquila aircraft provides an airborne bridge to the information highway — beaming Internet access to people in technologically barren parts of the planet.

At a major construction site, a squad of flying robots hoists and lays bricks with military precision, pausing only for battery swaps or a recharge.

And at Amazon, Walmart, and the Vaughan-based Drone Delivery Canada — tests are afoot to transform the delivery of small packages using robots in the sky.

The common thread is the ubiquitous unmanned aerial vehicle, or “drone.” And the above scenarios, more likely than not, will be realized in the not-so-distant future. The Vaughan company exists (though it’s not delivering yet), demonstrations of intelligent swarm assembly (using foam “bricks”) have been carried out — and a 42-metre wingspan Aquila prototype has been built.

“They’re really now becoming new tools in a company’s toolbox,” says Michael Cohen, president of Toronto-based Industrial Skyworks, or ISW.

It’s one of many firms globally that see massive opportunities in the use of unmanned aerial technology. Flying high-end quadcopters manufactured by Waterloo-based Aeryon Labs (which just secured $60 million in venture capital financing), ISW does everything from inspections of building envelopes through to work in the electrical, telecommunications, and oil and gas sectors. Multiple types of high-resolution sensors can be taken aloft depending on the task at hand.

“If one needs to look at a hard-to-reach place like the top of a telecommunications tower to understand how much rust is on equipment, drones are now able to get this information and we’re able to present it in a valuable way,” says Cohen, who is also an airline-rated captain.

One of ISW’s core businesses is thermal inspections of massive roofs on industrial buildings. The work is carried out at night, and — until ISW came along — had been done by people carrying handheld thermographic cameras. Using a drone is safer and faster.

And — potentially — better at many, many things.

“We’ll see them in everything from deliveries to construction sites to all sorts of other applications,” predicts Cohen.

Such as precision agriculture — where unmanned aerial systems gather ultra-precise data while flying over farms. “A very simple way of thinking of it is optimizing inputs to increase outputs,” says Pat Lohman, VP of Partnerships with North Carolina-based PrecisionHawk...

...In late October, there was news Walmart Inc. had been testing small unmanned aerial systems indoors for months — and had applied to the FAA for permission to take those tests outside.

Reuters reported the application seeks to test drones in “deliveries to customers at Walmart facilities, as well as to consumer homes.”

According to the Reuters report, Walmart plans to use drones manufactured by China’s DJI — a company that has continuously advanced drone technology while simultaneously reducing price. Last year, the company recorded $500 million (U.S.) in sales. This year, it is set to surpass $1 billion.

So stable is the platform that many small entrepreneurs have launched businesses with DJI products. Gateway Data Systems Inc. started with a sub-$2,000 device and accessories. The Etobicoke-based company monitors construction sites and provides high-resolution, date-stamped video progress reports.

“It holds people accountable to their project timeline,” says president and CEO Mike Smith. “Boots on the ground is fine, but to get an actual overview of an entire project you really need a bird’s eye view.”

Smith, an IT specialist, has plans to take his company far beyond progress reports and into the realm of security surveillance. He says he’s already exploring partnerships with academic institutes, hoping to push the artificial intelligence of these flying robots.

He envisions drones triggered by motion sensors autonomously capturing video evidence of construction site theft — even potentially following suspects.

“How do we push that platform — and see how far we can take it?” asks Smith. “How much more can we make it do — and how fast?”

If the progress of the past few years is indicative of the future — the sky’s the limit.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

University of Virginia professor conducts research into reincarnation

Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Genesis 3:1-5

If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Job 14:14

There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. Proverbs 14:12 (also Proverbs 16:25)

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: Hebrews 9:27

As reported by Tara MacIsaac of The Epoch Times, December 11, 2014 (updated August 1, 2015) (bold in original):

Dr. Jim Tucker learned from the best. His predecessor in reincarnation studies at the University of Virginia, Dr. Ian Stevenson (1918–2007), earned the respect of America’s scientific community for his sober analyses, even if he didn’t convince everyone reincarnation undoubtedly exists.

Though he was based in the United States, many of Dr. Stevenson’s subjects were in Asia. Dr. Tucker is bringing the research home to America, a move with as many benefits as challenges...

...Far from fostering talk of past lives, some American families Dr. Tucker has worked with have been dead-set against it. Only after convincing evidence emerged that the child was remembering a past life—evidence strong enough to convince skeptical parents—would Dr. Tucker hear from them.

For example, an evangelical Christian in Louisiana who was completely resistant to the idea of reincarnation was eventually convinced by the details his son gave of a past life.

When his son, James Leininger, was 2 years old, he began having horrific nightmares of crashing in a plane. The boy said he was shot down by the Japanese, that his plane took off from the Natoma ship, and that he had a friend named Jack Larson. He also identified the site where he crashed, Iwo Jima, from a photograph.

Iwo Jima is an island that the United States fought to capture in 1945. The Natoma was indeed involved in the Battle for Iwo Jima. One pilot died in the battle, and a pilot named Jack Larson was also on the Natoma.

Leininger started saying he was the third James. The pilot who died in the Battle for Iwo Jima was named James Huston Jr. That would make James Leininger the third James if he is the reincarnation of this pilot.

Dr. Tucker was raised Southern Baptist himself. When asked how his family feels about his research, he said, “I don’t completely know how they feel about it.” His mother is supportive, though he’s not sure she’s convinced reincarnation exists. His wife and children are supportive.

He’s also lucky to work with supportive colleagues at the University of Virginia. The university’s Division of Perceptual Studies brings together researchers who investigate near-death experiences, apparitions, death-bed visions, and other topics related to human consciousness.

“You never know who’s going to be open to it,” Dr. Tucker said. “It’s different to be sure, but I think that we approach it in a way that’s reasonable and that’s true to the overall scientific approach of curiosity, trying to learn about what’s going on without having any preconceived ideas.”

He also conducts more conventional research alongside his reincarnation studies. While the conventional methods of scientific investigation are able to measure phenomena with a reassuring certainty, Dr. Tucker said there are many important subjects that don’t necessarily lend themselves to conventional study. They should, however, still be explored.
The Benefits of Reincarnation Research

Reincarnation research can help some children who are having a hard time coping with past-life memories. Such children can sometimes even experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), caused by their visions of dying violently. Some have phobias related to these traumatic visions, and some simply talk about missing their old family members so much they become very agitated. In solved cases, children who have visited the families of their past-life incarnations have often resolved the issues that were upsetting them.

Dr. Tucker explained that sometimes it helps because the child’s memories have been validated, or because the child can see that the old family moved on and that life is in the past. Either way, children usually stop talking about their past lives around the age of 6 or 7.

Another way in which this research may help Americans, is that it confirms a belief in the afterlife. Dr. Tucker said that his research can hopefully help people treat each other better, though he says any kind of spiritual belief, whether in reincarnation or otherwise, can help in this regard.

Will Americans one day be as open to the idea of reincarnation as people in Eastern cultures? “I don’t necessarily see the American culture moving in that direction,” Dr. Tucker said. Roughly 20 percent of Americans believe reincarnation may exist, he said, and there’s no indication that belief is on the rise. But Americans may be more likely to believe in reincarnation after hearing examples within their own culture of children who seem to remember past lives, rather than examples from villages on the other side of the world.

As for the multiple details that children give of their past lives that match up with real people who have died, Dr. Tucker said, “It defies logic that it would just be a coincidence.”

He gave the example of a woman in Lebanon who accurately gave 25 names of people from her past life along with descriptions of their relationships. In his book, “Return to Life: Extraordinary Cases of Children Who Remember Past Lives,” Dr. Tucker gives many examples of children in the United States and abroad whose apparent recollections of previous lives have confirmed his belief in life after death.
As reported by Tara MacIsaac in The Epoch Times, October 21, 2015 (updated December 13, 2015) (bold in original):

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—Dr. Jim Tucker works at the University of Virginia’s Division of Perceptual Studies (DOPS) as a reincarnation researcher.

He has a database of about 2,000 cases of children who seem to remember past lives. Some of these children’s memories have been verified to match in detail the lives of people who have died, suggesting the memories are genuine.

Tucker spoke with Epoch Times about his work, starting with the terminology. In his academic work, he usually prefers terms such as “survival” instead of “reincarnation.”

“There are a lot of connotations with ‘reincarnation,'” Tucker said. The religious connotations do not necessarily have bearing on the cases he studies. “Stated most conservatively,” he said, “[the cases] provide evidence that some young children have knowledge of events that happened in the past and their experience of that knowledge is that they are memories that they went through themselves.”

“The simplest explanation is that they’re recalling a life they actually lived,” Tucker said...

...“With our cases, we don’t take anything on faith if we don’t have to … The question is, do the things that they say match with the life of somebody in the past? … In the strongest cases, it would have been impossible for the children or even their parents to have committed fraud, because the information was so hard to come by...”

...Database of Cases, Patterns Emerge

“We’ve studied 2,500 cases, and we have this data base where we code each case on 200 variables,” he said. “We can see patterns from the group of cases that you can’t necessarily see on an individual level.”

An example of a pattern he’s observed is that more boys talk about past lives than girls. This seems strange, because girls are usually more verbal at a younger age. But Tucker thinks he may have figured it out.

About 90 percent of children talk about memories of past lives as the same sex. “So when we say more boys talk about these cases than girls, we’re saying that more of the previous personalities were male than female, and … it’s in the unnatural deaths where there are more males than females.”

About 73 percent of the unnatural deaths purportedly remembered by children are male. This correlates to U.S. statistics which show that in a five-year period 72 percent of unnatural deaths in the country were male.
Traumatic Deaths and Birthmarks

Many of the outstanding cases involve children remembering traumatic deaths or traumatic experiences in past lives. Sometimes the children even have birthmarks that seem to match the wounds from their past lives.

Tucker considered how a past-life wound could physically appear on the body of a baby in the present life, how the mind might imprint a mark on the body.

“We know that specific images in the mind can sometimes produce specific marks on the body. For instance, there are what are called stigmata cases where someone will pray intently to Jesus and then develop what appear to be wounds like the wounds of Jesus described in the Bible.

“Or there’s this well-known case where a man was recalling a very traumatic event where he had been tied up. He developed what looked like rope marks on his arms.”

“If someone dies a traumatic death, then if the consciousness does carry on, it may carry with it the imprint of that memory … to the developing fetus,” he said. The memory could thus cause the marks to appear where the wounds were.
American Cases

Tucker’s predecessor at the university, Dr. Ian Stevenson, did much of his research in Asia or sometimes Africa and other regions. Tucker has decided to focus more on cases in the United States.

He said one of the advantages of this approach is that more records are usually available for verification in America than in Asian villages. Another advantage is people can’t argue that it’s a cultural belief in reincarnation causing the children to fantasize about a past life. Most of the American cases take place in families that have no initial belief in reincarnation.
Regression Not as Trustworthy

Tucker does not study cases of past lives remembered through hypnosis.

“One problem with hypnotic regression is that hypnosis itself is just such an unreliable tool, even for memories from this life,” he said. Sometimes people may recall things they read or watched, he said. “It’s very hard for someone to tell if it was a memory or just a fantasy during hypnosis.”

He acknowledged, however, that there have been some exceptions, some cases with verification.
What’s It Like to Die?

About 20 percent of the children who report past-life memories also talk about the time between lives. They sometimes talk of floating up and seeing their bodies, some talk of going to other realms, of being led to their next parents, and a variety of other experiences.

Concerning how his work has affected his view of his own mortality, Tucker said: “I’ve become persuaded over the years that there does seem to be more than just the physical world … that there is this consciousness piece that’s separate … I don’t see any reason that consciousness would be completely dependent on the living brain.”

He said, “I’d still like to put it off as long as possible, but I’m hopeful that after I die, I’ll be able to have new experiences.”
One of the reasons I believe that the early chapters of Genesis are accurate history rather than fiction is because the lies told by the serpent in Genesis 3 are the same lies being spread and believed today: God hasn't spoken; you shall not die; and you shall be as gods. If Satan can deceive people on the subject of death and the afterlife, they are deceived indeed, especially if Satan can deceive people when they're young. It's worth noting that the reports of past lives seem to be increasingly coming from children; for recent examples, go to The Epoch Times and search their site under "reincarnation."

The cases described by Dr. Tucker conflict with what the Bible says concerning death and the afterlife; they aren't, therefore, evidence for reincarnation, but they are evidence that something is happening in the spiritual realm. The truth is to be found in Scripture; the Bible teaches resurrection--not reincarnation--to eternal life for the saved, and eternal damnation for the lost:

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.
For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death...
...But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come?
Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:
And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain:
But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.
All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.
There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.
There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption:
It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.
And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit.
Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual.
The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven.
As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly.
And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
I Corinthians 15:20-26, 35-55

But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years...
...And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:5-6, 12-15

For further reading on this subject from a Christian perspective, I recommend three books that are long out of print, but are worth reading: Is There Life After Death? by Zola Levitt and John Weldon (1977); The Other Side of Death by Tal Brooke (1979); and The Reincarnation Sensation by Norman L. Geisler and J. Yutaka Amano (1986).

Israeli rabbis demand that cell phones be kosher

As reported by Moshe Heller of Ynet News, June 6, 2015:

The rabbinical battle against the Internet has reached the synagogue: A synagogue in Jerusalem's Bukharan Quarter recently announced that a person who owns a cellular phone with Internet access or text messages will be banned from serving as a cantor or reading the Torah.

According to an announcement made by the Musayof Synagogue, which is considered a Shas stronghold in the neighborhood, the synagogue manager and the great sages of the generation, led by late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, "A person in possession of a non-kosher phone cannot serve as a leader in prayer."

While the ultra-Orthodox leadership has been radicalizing its attitude towards haredim who use cell phones that have not been authorized by rabbinical committees, Rabbi Yosef Cohen publicly expressed his negative opinion about the strict rabbis last week.

"It's not true what all the rabbis say, that one must not possess a non-kosher phone," he said. "Everything in the world can be exploited for kashrut purposes. I don't have an iPhone, and I don't know how to use one, but I have heard from God-fearing people that they are blocked and can't commit any offense with it," the rabbi stated in his weekly lesson at the Bukharan Quarter.

During the lesson, which was quoted by the Haredim 10 website, Cohen lashed out at Ashkenazi rabbis, accusing them of being greedy. "Everyone must have a kosher number. Why? Because the Ashkenazi rabbis have to steal people's money? Where is it written? They go to rabbis who don't understand what a phone is and how to speak on a phone – and they are lured into taking a kosher cell phone. It's wrong," he said.
And as reported by Moshe Keller on December 27, 2015:

The Rabbinical Committee for Communication Affairs is demanding that the prominent ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit organization employ inspectors to patrol authorized cell phone stores in haredi neighborhoods and ensure that the devices sold in those stores are indeed "strictly kosher" - with no camera or Internet access.

The committee is active among the haredi public in a bid to convince the sector's members to use their cell phones for conversations only. In addition, it acts as a control system of cellular companies in terms of filtering and blocking content services which are perceived as unsuitable for the haredi sector, and occasionally warns against cellular providers who fail to meet the criteria.

The rabbis' demand to employ inspectors follows several incidents in which workers of cellular stores in haredi neighborhoods were caught selling unauthorized devices or tampering with devices which appear "kosher," allowing customers to surf the Web on their phones.

In one incident, the Rebbe of Strykow staged a protest outside a cellular store selling Internet-supporting phones. He stood outside the store with his followers for an hour, trying to convince customers to avoid buying there.

The move's supporters argue that the lack of supervision could create a breach, with stores selling under the table like in the kosher food industry. On the other hand, there are those in the committee who believe that the supervision alongside the rabbinical boycott of Internet-supporting cell phone users are sufficient, and that adding inspectors would boost the non-profit committee's expenses.

The debate between the rabbis has been joined by interested parties criticizing the committee's representatives. Street ads distributed in haredi neighborhoods claim that due to the lack of supervisors, many stores tamper with cellular phones, allowing yeshiva students to evade the rabbinical ban.

"Yeshiva students are seen visiting impure and detestable stores on Bnei Brak's Jabotinsky Street and in the Davidka Square in Jerusalem, buying devices without any supervision and protection," the ads state.
Meanwhile, one rabbi ruled that a lost cell phone doesn't have to be returned to its owner--if the phone is "non-kosher." As reported by Moshe Heller, July 29, 2013:

An innovative halachic ruling issued recently states that there is no need to return a lost "non-kosher" phone to its owner.

The ruling was given following an incident which took place in a bakery in the central city of Bnei Brak, when a saleswoman refused to return a smartphone to its owner. The case sparked a halachic debate on social networks on whether the saleswoman had violated the "thou shalt not steal" commandment.

The new halachic ruling, issued by Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, states that banned cellular phone are not considered a property which, if lost, must be returned to its owner according to the Torah.

Meanwhile, a new court on communication affairs was established in the ultra-Orthodox sector at the initiative of Refael Meir, the brother of haredi journalist Yedidia Meir. The court will headed by five leading rabbis, who will issue rulings on the use of cellular phones and the Internet.

The decision to set up the new institution was made during a meeting held at the home of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, one of the leaders of the haredi Ashkenazi public.

The court will also run a PR campaign against haredi websites which rabbis have ordered their followers to boycott. Some of these websites have been taken down as a result of the boycott calls, yet many other websites have been launched recently.
See also my post Ultra-orthodox Israeli rabbi claims he has permission to use an iPhone--as other haredim smash smartphones (January 13, 2013)

Israel reports record number of Jewish immigrants from France in 2015

That then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee.
If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee:
And the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers.
Deuteronomy 30:3-5

As reported by Reuters, December 25, 2015:

A record number of French Jews moved to Israel this year, an immigration official said on Thursday, citing anti-Semitic violence and economic insecurity in the European country as causes.

France has the largest Jewish population in Europe, having grown by nearly half since World War Two to some 550,000. The community has been jarred by an increase in security threats and Islamist terror attacks such as January's gun rampage at a Paris kosher market that killed four Jews.

Israel's quasi-governmental Jewish Agency, which encourages immigration, said some 7,900 French Jews had relocated to Israel in 2015, a 10 percent increase from the previous year.

"Each has his or her reason, including the economic crisis, personal security, terrorist attacks, and, in some places and times, an anti-Jewish mood," agency spokesman Yigal Palmor said.

Though not final, the immigration figure falls short of Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky's prediction after the kosher market attack following the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January that more than 10,000 French Jews would move to Israel this year.

Palmor said wider Jewish immigration to Israel reached a 15-year high in 2015, with around 30,000 new arrivals. He noted a high number of arrivals from economically troubled Russia and civil war-torn Ukraine.

Turkey holds its first public Hanukkah celebration

As reported by Itamar Eichner of Ynet News, December 15, 2015 (bold in original):

A year to remember for Turkey's Jews: Jewish year 5776 will likely go down in history as the first time in which a public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony was held in the Muslim country in a state-sponsored event.

Members of the Jewish community, who have always observed the holiday traditions in their homes, almost secretly, are calling it a "Hanukkah miracle" that has joined the recent Hanukkah greetings issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

There are 12,000 Jews living in Turkey today, the majority of whom are in Istanbul. In the past 30 years, most of them have changed their names so as not to be identified as Jews for fear of harassment from the state's authorities and local Muslim citizens. Now, they hope, the era of fear is over.

The ceremony, which was initiated by the Jewish community and organized by the Beşiktaş Municipality, took place on Sunday at Istanbul’s historic Ortaköy Square. Turkey's Chief Rabbi Ishak Haleva lit the eighth candle of Hanukkah, and the large audience was made up of both Jews and Muslims, including Turkish and foreign state officials and religious clerics.

Participants included officials from the Istanbul Governor’s Office, Foreign Ministry and the mufti's office in Istanbul, the consul-generals of Israel, the United States and Spain and Israel, the imam of the Ortaköy Mosque, the country's rabbis and local Chabad emissaries.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish zealots intimidate residents of Beit Shemesh, Israel

Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Isaiah 29:13

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; Isaiah 64:6a

Beit Shemesh is a city approximately 19 miles (30 kilometres) west of Jerusalem. As reported by Roi Yanovsky of Ynet News, December 5, 2015:

Beit Shemesh police arrested an ultra-Orthodox resident of the city this week on suspicion of committing a number of violent acts and threatening residents of the Hephizbah neighborhood.

The suspect, in his 30s, has allegedly been carrying out the attacks against those he deemed to not be adequately following Jewish religious law, and who he claimed were not leading a sufficiently religious lifestyle.

The arrest took place within the framework of a weeks-long investigation by Beit Shemesh police, who collected substantive evidence against a number of suspects.

According to the suspect, they continuously aggressed numerous residents of the neighborhood with the aim of coercing them into leading a more observant lifestyle.

Beit Shemesh's more moderate ultra-Orthodox, from the central stream, tell of an atmosphere of terror imposed on the public by zealots – for example, through media outlets – which amount to bullying and delinquency.

"This is the 'Iranization' of Beit Shemesh, if not the 'Daeshization,'" one of them said, using the Arabic shorthand for the Islamic State group.

Local newspaper owners spoke of protectionism. "We're threatened. Whoever doesn't toe the line can expect to be personally and professionally hounded, continuously so," one said.

Among the demands the zealots have made to newspapers are to use the words "rooms to rent" instead of "guesthouses," as well as not to print women's first names, or the words "pregnancy," "childbirth" and "breastfeeding."

These activities have exclusively internal, and directed against the ultra-Orthodox public alone. Beit Shemesh has previously been the site of confrontations between the ultra-Orthodox and other Jewish denominations, with residents not belonging to any ultra-Orthodox streams complaining of religious coercion and harassment.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

25 years ago: The death of Nancy Cruzan

I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: Deuteronomy 30:19

On December 26, 1990, Nancy Cruzan, who had suffered permanent brain damage in a car accident in Missouri in 1983, and had been fed through a tube while being hospitalized in a "permanent vegetative state," died after 12 days of court-ordered starvation.

On June 25, 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, voted 5-4 to reject an appeal from Miss Cruzan's parents to remove the tube and allow her to die, but a probate court judge in Jasper County, Missouri ruled on December 14 that they had a right to remove the tube because three of Miss Cruzan's co-workers had testified in November that she had once said that she would never want to live under such circumstances. The tube was removed two hours after the court ruling, and it took 12 days for Miss Cruzan to finally be starved to death.

See also my posts:

30 years ago: The death of Karen Ann Quinlan (June 11, 2015)

10 years ago: The execution of Terri Schiavo (March 31, 2015)