Monday, 27 August 2012

Secular reporters following Mitt Romney's presidential campaign seem unaware of the significance of Mormon communion, while a Mormon reporter presents a half-truthful picture

Dishonesty and deception are among the characteristics of a cult. A cult typically isn't up front with outsiders about its beliefs and practices and tries to deceive people about them. When Mitt Romney, presumptive 2012 Republican party candidate for President of the United States, participated in a communion ceremony in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, there were observers from the media present. While Michael Barbaro and Ashley Parker reported the details in The New York Times on August 19, 2012, they failed to note their significance:

BOSTON — Mitt Romney read Scripture from his iPad as he juggled his 2-year-old grandson on his lap.

He made sure to accept a small piece of white bread and cup of water, representing the flesh and blood of Jesus, from a member of the clergy who looked like he was about to accidentally pass him by.

A reporter who is aware of the significance of Mormon communion chose to present a false picture. McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed is a Mormon who has been following Mr. Romney along the campaign trail, and attended the same service as the New York Times reporters. Here's how he reported it for BuzzFeed on August 19, 2012:

WOLFEBORO, N.H — A little after 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, Mitt Romney got out of a black SUV with his wife, greeted a couple in the parking lot, and walked into a Mormon chapel to take their seats with a small congregation of wealthy vacationers and native New Hampshirites.

And I followed him in.

As a member of Romney's traveling press corps, I've followed the candidate across the country over the past eight months. I'm also a fellow Mormon, and I've written thousands of words along the way about how our shared religion seems to be shaping his candidacy. But until today, I had never actually sat in the same chapel as him, sung the same hymns with him, and said "Amen" to the same prayers as him.

It's an experience I wasn't sure I'd ever have. For all his private devotion, Romney has refused to engage even the most innocuous questions about his faith, arguing that discussion of Mormonism should have no place in 2012's recession-worn public square. I've often wondered why the candidate insists on keeping one of the most meaningful — and humanizing — aspects of his life hidden from public view; what it was about the fundamentally un-exotic Mormon experience that he was so afraid to share.

My chance to find out came Sunday with BuzzFeed's turn in the recently-formed "protective pool," a rotating group of reporters who follow Romney everywhere he goes and file short dispatches to the rest of the press describing the candidate's schedule. As luck would have it, my turn on pool duty happened to align with the pool's first trip to church with the candidate.

Shortly after entering the chapel, Mitt and Ann filed into an aisle with their son Tagg, his wife, and their six children, while a handful of reporters took seats in the back of the chapel. As my colleagues surveyed their unremarkable surroundings, they commented on how unremarkable it all looked: a generic high-ceilinged room full of nondescript parishioners.

What I saw, though, was a slice of Mormon Americana — a buffet of congregational quirks that any Latter-day Saint would recognize.

After a couple of hymns, including one titled "He Died, the Great Redeemer Died," a gaggle of teenage boys in white shirts and ties walked down the aisles passing out trays of bread and water that symbolize the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. When one of the boys accidentally moved on before the tray got to Romney, Tagg gestured for him to return. The candidate quietly partook in the ordinance, which represents repentance for past sins and a renewed commitment to avoid them in the future. It's a key tenet of Mormonism — this notion of constant spiritual course-correction — and a campaign aide would later tell me that, wherever Romney finds himself on Sundays, he tries to attend a Mormon Sacrament meeting.
When it came to his report for the press pool, Mr. Coppins, said this, as quoted by The New York Times blog The Caucus on August 19, 2012:

After a second hymn, “He died, the great redeemer died,” young men clad in white shirts and ties passed out the sacrament — small pieces of white bread and cups of water that symbolize the flesh and blood of Jesus, similar to Catholic communion. Taking the sacrament is a sign of repentance for sins committed in the past and a commitment to follow the commandments in the future.

The half-truth of this picture is the part about "a commitment to follow the commandments in the future." Indeed, that's what Mormonism is all about--a religion of salvation by human merit (bold inserted by blogger):

For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do. Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 25:23

But of course, there's no such thing as "grace, after all we can do;" it's either one or the other:

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. Romans 11:6

Mr. McCoppins, however, presents a deceptive picture when he says that Mormon communion is similar to Catholic communion. In Roman Catholic communion, there is a belief in transubtantiation--accurately termed by the Church of England in Article XXXI of its Thirty-Nine Articles as "blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits"--wherein the priest performs a miracle and turns the bread and wine (not water) into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ. Bible-believing churches use bread and wine or grape juice, with the fruit of the vine symbolizing the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross as the payment of the penalty imposed by God for our sins:

And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.
And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it.
And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many.
Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
Mark 14:22-25

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission. Hebrews 9:22

Associated Press reporter Kasie Hunt also seems to have been misled regarding Mormon communion. She reported on July 2, 2012:

Romney's campaign doesn't tell reporters when Romney is going to church. But the Wolfeboro branch is open to visitors and an Associated Press reporter attended the same sacrament service the Romney family attended. It featured bread with water instead of wine, a variation on communion that allows for the Mormon prohibition on drinking alcohol.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' use of water instead of wine or grape juice in communion has nothing to do with prohibition on alcohol (if they don't want to use alcohol, they can always use grape juice), and everything to do with the Mormons' hatred of the symbolism of the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for our sins, as stated succinctly by Ed Decker and Dave Hunt:

Mormonism teaches and practices…that Latter-Day Saints must prove their worthiness and earn eternal life by obedience to thousands of laws and ordinances, and repetitive performances of secret Temple rituals. This is because Mormonism denies that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, died for our sins and thereby purchased eternal life to be given as a free gift of God’s grace to all who receive Him by faith. Because they reject the full value of Christ’s blood poured out in death for sin on the cross, Mormons take bread and water at their communion services instead of bread and wine (or grape juice) as Christ commanded; and they display no cross inside or outside their chapels and Temples, but do display many Masonic and other occult symbols. Mormons have an almost fanatical aversion to the cross and shed blood of Jesus Christ. Ed Decker & Dave Hunt, The God Makers, 1984, p. 136

Two Armstrongs

In what may be an example in microcosm of the decline of western society, two white American males with the surname Armstrong have been in the news over the last few days. The one born in 1971 pretends to be a hero; the one born in 1930 actually was a hero.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

50 years ago: Anglican Church of Canada adopts new Book of Common Prayer

On August 23, 1962, more than 300 clergy and laymen at the 21st General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, meeting in Kingston, Ontario, voted unanimously to adopt a new Book of Common Prayer. The new book had been unanimously approved at the 1959 General Synod, but the move could not take effect until there was unanimous approval at two consecutive general synods.

As reported by Canadian Press in newspapers on August 24, 1962:

The revision began in 1943. Publication of a draft work in 1955 produced a burst of controversy and prompted more than 1,200 letters to the committee from churches across Canada.

...The book in general use now is a 1918 revision of the 1662 version.

The present revision, bringing some language and ideas up to date and reorganizing the layout for easier use by worshippers, also restores some liturgy from versions dating from the middle of the 16th century.

Two old anthems for use at communion have been revived from earlier versions in the new book.

The revised funeral service includes for the first time a place for reference to the deceased by name.
The 1962 Book of Common Prayer is now mainly used by traditionalist Anglicans who have broken away from the Anglican Church of Canada because of the ACC's increasing liberalism. The Anglican Church of Canada published the Book of Alternative Services in 1985, and that's the main liturgical text in use by the ACC today.
A discerning reader will see that "alternative" in the BAS's title really means "alternative to biblical Christianity."

Thursday, 16 August 2012

United Church of Canada elects its first openly sodomite moderator

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

It comes as no surprise to this blogger. As reported by Don Butler of the Ottawa Citizen, August 16, 2012:

OTTAWA — In a historic vote, the United Church of Canada has elected its first openly gay moderator.

After six ballots and nearly eight hours of voting at the church’s 41st general council in Ottawa Thursday, Rev. Gary Paterson emerged from a record field of 15 candidates to win the top job at Canada’s largest Protestant church. He is thought to be the first openly gay person to head any mainstream Christian denomination.

The 350 voting commissioners at the general council greeted the announcement with cheers and a prolonged standing ovation, and quickly voted to make Paterson’s election unanimous.

“I am so humbled by the trust and the responsibility you have placed in my hands,” Paterson told them.

The moderator, who is paid between $119,000 and $135,000 a year, is the presiding officer at meetings of the church’s general council and executive, and is viewed as its principal spokesperson. Paterson will be formally installed in the role for a three-year term Saturday, succeeding the current moderator, Mardi Tindal.

At a news conference following his election, Paterson acknowledged the historic nature of his election. “Among main line denominations, as far as I know this is probably a first,” he said. But he added that he was heartened that his sexuality had been a non-issue with those who voted for the new moderator. “

“I would suspect that that’s the primary news story. What some denominations or some parts of the world see as a huge dilemma or problem has not, within our immediate community here, been seen that way at all.”

Having an openly gay person as moderator “is good news,” he said. “I see the possibility for so many young people who may still be struggling with their orientation being able to look up and see role models.”

For some denominations, his election “will be problematic. I’m particularly aware that some denominations in what you would call the developing world will have very serious questions. I think we need to be in dialogue, that my very presence will in some ways force the issue.”

But Paterson said he wouldn’t want his sexuality to become the centrepiece of his time as moderator. “I sure hope it is not the central issue my being a moderator, because I think there are huge issues that we are called to address,” he said.

An “army brat” who was born in the Yukon in 1949, Paterson has served as minister of three Vancouver churches: First United, in the city’s Downtown Eastside; Ryerson United, a large suburban congregation; and St. Andrew’s-Wesley, a cathedral-like church in Vancouver’s downtown, where he currently presides.

The United Church was the first mainstream church in Canada to allow the ordination of gay ministers. In 1988, the church’s general council declared that everyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of sexual orientation, was welcome in the church, and all members are “eligible to be considered for ordered ministry.”

The decision was bitterly opposed by the church’s more conservative members, many of whom subsequently left the church.
In 1992, the United Church ordained Tim Stevenson, currently a Vancouver city councillor, as its first openly gay minister. Today, the church boasts many gay and lesbian ministers, and the issue is no longer contentious for most United Church members.

Paterson is married to Stevenson, who has been his partner for 30 years. After the election results were announced, Stevenson joined Paterson on the Dias and the two embraced as attendees cheered and applauded.

Paterson, who has been an ordained minister for 35 years, also has three daughters from his first marriage, now all in their 30s.

Paterson was only one of three openly gay candidates for the moderator’s job. The other two were eliminated early, as was Rev. Tom Sherwood, an Ottawa minister who served as Carleton University’s ecumenical chaplain from 1999 to 2009.

He takes office at a difficult time for the United Church, which is dealing with a steep decline in membership, aging congregations and ministers, and an accelerating financial crisis.

During this week’s meeting, there was consensus that wrenching changes lie ahead, including the closure of more churches, program and staff cuts and new forms of ministry.

Paterson addressed the church’s difficulties at his news conference.

“I’ve heard from so many individuals that they’re worried or they’re feeling a lack of hope,” he said. “The role of the moderator is someone who can bring inspiration and hope. We will find our way through. We will be changed and we will be faithful.”

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

25 years ago: The Moronic Harmonic Convergence attempts to accelerate the inauguration of the New Age

On August 16-17 1987, the Harmonic Convergence, the world's first globally synchronized meditation event, took place at approximately 200 sites throughout the United States and about 50 more around the world, with an untold number of participants. The event was organized by José Argüelles, founder of the Whole Earth Festival and one of the originators of Earth Day. It was believed that spiritual energy was particularly strong at "power centres" such as Mount Shasta in California and Mount Fuji in Japan, and that if 144,000 people gathered at these power centres and meditated for peace, it would speed the arrival of the New Age.

The timing of the Harmonic Convergence was allegedly based on the Mayan calendar, and marked an alignment of the sun, moon, and six of the eight other planets. According to one New Age site:

While many saw it as an end in itself, the opening to the New Age, in actuality the event was the fulfillment of an ancient Mexican prophecy, announcing the conclusion of a major cycle of 1,144 years, and the beginning of a final transitional period of 25 years.

This 25-year cycle – the time of prophecy – spans the period between 16 August 1987 and 21 December 2012. This now widely publicized date marks the Closing of the Cycle, the last day of the Mayan Great Cycle of 5,125 years or thirteen baktuns of 144,000 days each – a total of 1,872,000 days. This cycle effectively encompasses the cycle of history; from its beginning at 3113 BC to its conclusion, in 2012 AD.

The basis of the original Harmonic Convergence event and the cause of its success and positive effect on the world were in the principle of synchronized global meditation.

Timed to occur at sunrise, wherever that might occur on the planet, not only were people synchronized in their particular time zones, but as the planet made one rotation on its axis, every point of sunrise was synchronized in a slow motion sweep around the Earth.

The point of the synchronization was two-fold: to establish a common unified field of mind and intention, and secondly to create a type of mental network or field around the planet over a period of two days – a proto-noosphere.
The 1987 Harmonic Convergence also coincided with the 10th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Elvis's movies were being shown on television that weekend, and his songs were widely played on radio, so I associated that anniversary with the Harmonic Convergence. When the King of Rock and Roll failed to come back from the dead and nothing dramatic happened, the Harmonic Convergence was widely ridiculed (see, for example, Moronic Convergence: The moral and spiritual emptiness of New Age by Richard Blow, The New Republic, Vol. 198 No. 4, January 25, 1988, pp. 24-27). However, when the INF Treaty--which abolished an entire category of nuclear weapons--came into effect in 1988, and the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union began to fall apart toward the end of 1989, some New Age proponents claimed that the Harmonic Convergence had helped to bring about a more peaceful world. This spiritual power seems to have largely dissipated since September 11, 2001, but the New Agers still have a few months to go to complete their activities in the Harmonic Convergence of 2012:

Against this backdrop and in the midst of a growing foreboding and anxiety concerning the 2012 date, the call is made for the conclusion to the 25-year time of prophecy, the Harmonic Convergence of 2012. While the first Harmonic Convergence was a two-day event, the Harmonic Convergence of 2012 spans the year, from 1 January to 21 December 2012.

The essence of the concluding Harmonic Convergence will consist of two concurrent cycles of synchronized meditations: a thirteen-day cycle and a seven-day cycle. There are also special synchronized meditations for certain key event points such as the Venus Transit, Crystal 8 (June 6, 2012) and Harmonic Convergence of 2012, Magnetic 22-23 (August 16-17, 2012), etc.
God, of course, is working according to his own schedule, which may not necessarily be in accord with the harmonic Convergence. A sidelight of the 1987 event involved a break-in, resulting in much damage from vandalism, at Gryphon Books, a New Age store on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. None of the psychics at the store foresaw the attack on their business, although they were aware that it was a location of strange spiritual phenomena. The 2012 Harmonic Convergence has been forced to proceed without any participation from Gryphon Books, which has been out of business for many years.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

20 years ago: The death of John Cage

On August 12, 1992, American composer John Cage died at the age of 79, just a few weeks short of 80. Mr. Cage was known for “compositions” such as 4’33” (four minutes, thirty-three seconds) (1952) that illustrated his belief in the existence of an impersonal universe and blind chance, rather than an infinite and personal God. American musicologist and critic Sigmund Spaeth, in his book The Art of Enjoying Music (1949), defined music as “the organization of sound toward beauty,” thereby implying that there is such a thing as beauty that we can appreciate. Mr. Cage’s “compositions” wouldn’t qualify as music according to Mr. Spaeth’s definition.

Francis Schaeffer, in his book The God Who is There (1968), devoted several pages to Mr. Cage as an example of modern mysticism:

If God exists and we are made in His image we can have real meaning, and we can have real knowledge through what He has communicated to us. If this is taken away we are left only with man and his finite self-expression. At his point all one has is the expression of the individual man. But Cage quite logically sees that this will not do, and so he carries man’s dilemma further, smashes self-expression and leaves chance speaking. This is the basis of his music…

…Back in the Chinese culture long ago the Chinese had worked out a system of tossing coins or yarrow sticks by means of which the spirits would speak. The complicated method which they developed made sure that the person doing the tossing could not allow his own personality to intervene. Self-expression was eliminated so that the spirits could speak.

Cage picks up this same system and uses it. He too seeks to get rid of any individual expression in his music. But there is a very great difference. As far as Cage is concerned there is nobody there to speak. There is only an impersonal universe speaking through blind chance.

Cage began to compose his music through the tossing of coins. It is said that for some of his pieces lasting only twenty minutes he has tossed the coin thousands of times. This is pure chance, but apparently not pure enough; he wanted still more chance. So he devised a mechanical conductor. It was a machine working on cams, the motion of which cannot be determined ahead of time, and the musicians just followed this. Or as an alternative to this, sometimes he employed two conductors who could not see each other, both conducting simultaneously; anything, in fact, to produce pure chance. But in Cage’s universe nothing comes through in the music except noise and confusion or total silence. All this is below the line of anthropology. Above the line there is nothing personal, only the philosophic other, or the impersonal everything.

There is a story that once, after the musicians had played Cage’s total chance music, as he was bowing to acknowledge the applause, there was a noise behind him. He thought it sounded like steam escaping from somewhere, but then to his dismay realised it was the musicians behind him who were hissing. Often his works have been booed. However, when the audience boos at him they are, if they are modern men, in reality booing the logical conclusion of their own position as it strikes their ears in music.

Cage himself, however, even though he continues to compose such chance music, is another example of a man who cannot live with his own conclusions. He says that the truth about the universe is a totally chance situation. You must live with it and listen to it; cry if you must, swear if you must, but listen and go on listening.
(pp. 71-73)
Mr. Schaeffer then quotes from a profile of Mr. Cage by Calvin Tomkins in the November 28, 1964 issue of The New Yorker where it states that Mr. Cage had become so interested in the mushrooms growing near his home that he had become one of the best mycologists in the United States. Mr. Cage admitted that when it came to identifying mushrooms, he couldn’t approach them according to his ideas of chance, because it would kill him. Mr. Schaeffer comments:

In other words, here is a man who is trying to teach the world what the universe intrinsically is and what the real philosophy of life is, and yet he cannot even apply it to picking mushrooms. If he were to go out into the woods and begin picking mushrooms by chance, within a couple of days there would be no Cage!

We have said before that the ideas of modern man are destroying what man is himself. But not only that, their views cut right across what the existence of the form and structure of the external universe would indicate as well. As we see in the dilemma of Cage and his mushrooms, they cannot live on the basis of a consistent application of their views in regard to the universe, any more than they can in regard to man.

However, while Cage is forced into a hopeless dichotomy with his mushrooms, with his music he has continued to live consistently with is position, even though his music is nothing more than noise or silence. He has resisted the pressure to dress up impersonal Being in connotation words or sounds. Most modern men have not had this much courage.
(p. 74)

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

United Methodist pastor in Dallas observes Ramadan

Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the people are vain:
Jeremiah 10:2-3a

Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face;
That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
Matthew 6:16-18

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:
“Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Colossians 2:20-23 (NIV)

As reported by Muslim commentator Dina Malki of, July 29, 2012 (links in original):

United Methodist Rev. Wess Magruder has not only decided to observe the Ramadan fast this year with his Muslim friends, blog about his experience, but break his fast with Muslims as well. Last night, Magruder accepted the invitation of a local Muslim to eat “iftar,” the fast-breaking meal at the McKinney Islamic Association. Having succeeded in fasting from sunrise till sunset for eight consecutive days, the pastor appreciated God's grace in this communal meal. Most importantly, this celebration reminded him of the main reason why he had decided to fast: neighborly love.

Magruder writes on his blog how he has been feeling spiritually stale lately and how he was yearning to the old Christian fast that he believes Americans are not big fans of. Therefore, Magruder turned to the Muslim faith for inspiration since he knew that Muslims have successfully been fasting for 30 days each year during Ramadan for over fourteen hundred years. The Muslim fast is a total abstention from eating and drinking during the daylight hours. Furthermore, the fast goes beyond the stomach to include the eyes, the tongue, the ears, and all limbs which are expected to be trained to submit to the pleasure of God by refraining from ill manners and moral vice. A few Muslims succeed in attaining a heart-fast where they become spiritually submissive to the divine as well.

Thus, Magruder’s blog includes a lot of comparative religion as well as spiritual efforts for a quest for the Divine. "I feel a constant “buzz” [during the fast] in my head," he wrote. "This buzz serves a useful purpose, by the way. It keeps me conscious of God, of God’s presence, of God’s will that is bursting to become real in the world. And so when something else isn’t going on in front of me, the buzz reminds me to speak to God."

Another main reason that the pastor took on the Muslim fast is his Christian ethics of loving God and loving neighbors. “But there’s another reason that I have chosen to ‘act like a Muslim’ over the next thirty days. I truly want to stand in solidarity with my friend, [Imam Sheikh] Yaseen, and his congregation in Plano. I want them to know that I do not resent their presence in my community and country. In fact, I am very glad that they are here.” (The New MethoFesto)

Not realizing what his blogging experience might trigger, Rev. Magruder woke up on July 26, the seventh day of Ramadan, to a flooded email inbox with comments from his blog. His blog posts have been picked up by local Muslims and Christians as well as by nation-wide readers who sent words of encouragement, advice, and support. The Huffington Post Ramadan Liveblog even included his posts. “I am overwhelmed by the response,” Magruder wrote.

Most Muslim commentators gave the pastor “high fives,” advice on surviving the fast, and thank you notes for sharing the experience online. One particular reader, Osman, invited Magruder to the break-fasting meal at the McKinney mosque mentioned earlier.
It's obvious from Pastor Magruder's blog posts that he doesn't understand the grace of God as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ's death on the cross to pay the full penalty for our sins. Like the Israelites in Jeremiah's day who worshipped the true God in the Temple and then worshipped false gods in pagan temples, Pastor Magruder seems to think that it's okay to worship God in a mosque as well as a supposedly Christian church. What an abomination.

When it comes to hypocrisy, Pastor Magruder takes a back seat to no one. Here is what he says about fasting:

9. Fast like Jesus – simply and privately (Matthew 6:16-18). Jesus assumes that we fast. His instructions about fasting begin with the phrase, “And whenever you fast.” That means we should be fasting.

This is one spiritual discipline that United Methodists in America fail to exercise on a consistent basis. It’s probably because we are programmed to consume. We don’t comprehend how to go without, and therefore, don’t correlate “going without” with spiritual growth.

I believe that fasting is the one thing that we United Methodists in America need the most. We have to develop this practice, and learn the discipline of abstaining from things, from prosperity, from greed, from acquisition, from capitalism.

I will learn to fast.
If Pastor Magruder really believes in fasting privately, why is he then going public about his fasting during Ramadan here, here, here?
Despite Pastor Magruder's complaint of the lack of instruction on fasting in his United Methodist tradition, there's nothing to prevent him from fasting as a Christian. If he has to undertake a Muslim fast to grow closer to God, he is spiritually dry indeed. And as the passage cited above in Colossians states, there's nothing in this kind of spititual practice that has any "value in restraining sensual indulgence" (or, as the King James Version puts it, "honour to the satisfying of the flesh"), whether it be done by Muslims, liberal pseudo-Christian "pastors," or those practicing contemplative spirituality in Emerging or Evangelical churches.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

British court allows a 10-year-old Jewish girl to be baptized as a Christian

It's interesting to note that a Jewish mother's opposition to her daughter's baptism in Britain is being fought in the courts. Imagine what the reaction would be if it were a parent from a Muslim background who had become a Christian and desired to have a child baptized. As reported by Jennifer Lipman of the London newspaper The Jewish Chronicle, August 3, 2012:

A ten-year-old child in Essex has been given permission by a judge to convert to Christianity against her Jewish mother's wishes.

Both parents of the girl, who cannot be named, are Jewish. But after the marriage soured, her father converted to Christianity and his children, the girl and a younger brother, could now do the same.

He already takes them to church every other weekend, which the mother has agreed to, but in November she applied for a court order to prevent the father from having the girl baptised, at least until she is 16. The court heard that the girl herself had asked to be baptised and that the father initially doubted that she was serious.

The judge at Romford County Court has now written to the girl giving her permission.

Judge John Platt told the child: "Your father thinks it is right for you to be baptised as a Christian now. Your mother wants you to wait until you are older, so they have asked me to decide for them. That is my job."

He said he had decided that "the best thing" for her would be to be allowed to start baptism classes as soon as they could be arranged "and that you are baptised as a Christian as soon as your minister feels you are ready".

But he added: "Being baptised does not mean that you give up your Jewish heritage. That will always be part of you and I hope that you will continue to learn more about that heritage."

The court heard a written submission from Chabad rabbi Odom Brandman, who said the case was "extremely disturbing".

"In Judaism we don't encourage conversion either way as it is unnatural for a person to change the religion they are born into and which thus is ingrained in their soul in a deep way. Although conversions are performed they must be worked at over a number of years when a real change can realistically take place. It is unfair to any child to put them under this pressure and to do something unnatural to their soul."

The child's grandparents said the father was forcing their granddaughter to give up her Jewish heritage.

The judge's decision does not mean the baptism will go ahead, but it stops the mother from preventing it via the courts.

Edmonton's Urban Sanctuary offers four days of instruction in spiritual formation--for only $325

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. II Peter 1:3 (NIV)

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.
And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.
II Peter 2:1-3

For background information on spiritual formation, I recommend searching under the terms "spritual formation" and "spiritual disciplines" at Critical Issues Commentary (look for printed material and radio broadcasts); Kjos Ministries; Lighthouse Trails Research Project; and Herescope. Spiritual disciplines and spiritual formation are advocated by those who believe that there are techniques or practices that Christians can employ that will enable them to live above the level of "ordinary" Christian existence. As II Peter 1:3 states, however, we already have everything we need for a godly life, and Peter didn't include spiritual disciplines or spiritual formation among the "everything."

Urban Sanctuary, affiliated with Larry Crabb's New Way Ministries, is Edmonton, Alberta's leading centre for the teaching of spiritual formation. Its latest event is a four-day workshop titled Biblical and Historical Foundations of Spiritual Formation (registration link deleted by blogger):

"Spiritual Formation" has come into its own ... at least as a Google search term.

Just type "spiritual formation" into your search engine and you will find pages and pages of websites and online articles referring to it in some way or another, plus a couple of handfuls of related searches. You can even go to Christianity today and other well known magazines and find, again, pages and pages of articles referenceing "spiritual formation." And, as with most popular search terms, you can also find controversy. Some say spiritual formation is essential to life in Christ, others claim it is unbiblical and a return to works righteousness.

Many pastors, church leaders, and christians in general are unsure what to think about spiritual formation. On the one hand they identify with statements like this, which speak of a need for a new look at spiritual maturity:
Our world today cries out for a theology of spiritual growth that has been proven to work in the midst of the harsh realities of daily life. Sadly, many have simply given up on the possibility of growth in character formation.
Vast numbers of well-intended folk have exhausted themselves in church work and discovered that this did not substantively change their lives. They found that they were just as impatient and egocentric and fearful as when they began lifting the heavy load of church work. Maybe more so. (Richard Foster, The Spiritual Formation Agenda, February 4, 2009)

But, on the otherhand, they are not interested in a new direction or teaching that doesn't have a firm place both in the Bible and in Christian history, including Protestant Christian history.

The goal of this seminar is to address the place of spiritual maturity and spiritual formation, as it is defined in our day, both in the Bible and in the lives of Christ followers throughout the centuries. It is a seminar for pastors, church leaders, and all those who want to find out more about spiritual formation and the place it has in our lives as Christians.

Dates and Times:

August 13 – 16, 2012 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.,

Location : Urban Sanctuary

Cost: $325, lunch is provided each day

Sound interesting but you can't make if for the whole time? You can also come half-time for $150 (Lunch not included)...
•Mornings - Biblical Foundations of Spiritual Formation
•Or Afternoons - Historical Foundations of Spiritual Formation
On the page of Urban Sanctuary's website titled Our Vision, you read:

Our goal is to send people back into the Body after being brought to a place of maturity and to stimulate the Body to a new way of thinking (spiritual theology), a new way of living ( the hope of sanctification) and a new way of relating (loving deeply)...

...We desperately want to keep that flame alive and so feel that our mission is to safeguard and teach an understanding and practice of spirituality that once marked evangelical churches over a hundred years ago...

...We feel a revolution must take place to recover the power of sanctification in the life of a Christian. We need a Biblical theology of spirituality, a practical knowledge of the spiritual journey and a humbleness to learn and help each other in the journey.
Urban Sanctuary talks about "biblical theology of spirituality," while encouraging practices that aren't found in the Bible (and I hardly need mention that evangelical churches "over a hundred years ago" didn't engage in the spiritual activities promoted by Urban Sanctuary, but were opposed to them). Please keep in mind that Urban Sanctuary charges a hefty fee--$325 for 4 daytime sessions--in order to help others in "practical knowledge of the spiritual journey."

Urban Sanctuary apparently sees no irony in charging people over $80 per day for spiritual growth, while affirming "sustainability" as one of its values:

We will work, both corporately and privately, so that we will not be a burden to the body of Christ. This will involve living a simple lifestyle and learning skills that can support us financially.

At $325 per person for a 4-day workshop (and they don't even give you lunch if you go only for half-day sessions), it seems that some people are being asked to fork over a lot of money in order to help Urban Sanctuary maintain its "simple lifestyle." In this respect, Urban Sanctuary resembles the ashram of Mohandas "Mahatma" Gandhi:

In fact Gandhi’s own ashram, with his own very expensive ‘simple’ tastes and innumerable ‘secretaries’ and handmaidens, had to be heavily subsidized by three merchant princes. As one of his circle observed: ‘It costs a great deal of money to keep Gandhiji living in poverty.’ Paul Johnson, A History of the Modern World from 1917 to the 1980s (1983), p. 471

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Ancient sculpture of pagan idol found in Turkey

Is not Calno as Carchemish? is not Hamath as Arpad? is not Samaria as Damascus? Isaiah 10:9

As reported by Randy Boswell of Postmedia News, August 2, 2012:

Canadian archeologists have unearthed an extraordinary human sculpture at a globally significant, 3,000-year-old dig site in Turkey that had already yielded a host of discoveries in recent years for a University of Toronto-led team of researchers.

The latest find — the exquisitely preserved head and torso of a figure that would have stood four metres tall in the historical Neo-Hittite city of Kunulua — exemplifies a monumental sculptural tradition referenced in the Bible, including passages that describe the “graven images” created in the “kingdoms of the idols” north of ancient Israel.

The colossal figure — bearded, wide-eyed and curly-haired — appears to have been ritually buried and covered with stone slabs after the Assyrian conquest of Kunulua in 738 B.C. The sculpture, the back of which had been inscribed with a hieroglyphic chronology of its people’s military triumphs, is thought to have stood at the gates of a citadel within Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite kingdom of Patina, which lasted about 260 years before its destruction by the Assyrian invaders.

The researchers, headed by University of Toronto archeologist Tim Harrison, believe that it may represent “the physical manifestation” of the Old Testament account of the fall of “Calno” and the destruction of its monuments.

The destruction of Calno-Kunulua was invoked by the prophet Isaiah as a warning to the Israelites that they should follow the will of God or face a similar eclipse of their civilization.

Along with the human figure, the Canadian-led dig at present-day Tayinat, located in southeastern Turkey near its border with Syria, also revealed an elaborately carved column base featuring a winged bull and sphinx.

The latest excavation was led by University of Toronto PhD student Darren Joblonkay. Last year, the same site produced a monumental sculpture of a lion that drew attention around the world. Earlier finds reported in 2009 first led Harrison and his team to link the location, about 35 kilometres east of Antakya (site of the ancient city of Antioch), to Isaiah’s oracle about the Assyrian attack on Calno.

The statue of the human figure was unveiled this past weekend at a ceremony attended by Turkey’s culture minister.

“It took a couple of weeks to fully excavate and then remove it from the site — it is about two tonnes in weight — to the nearby regional museum in Antakya,” Harrison told Postmedia News on Wednesday in an email from the region.

He also observed that the evidence of Kunulua’s destruction being unearthed by the university team offers an ancient parallel to the political upheaval unfolding today in nearby Syria and elsewhere in the region.

“In many ways,” he said, “the process of political fragmentation we are witnessing in the region today mirrors the socio-political transformation that coincided with this epochal transition three thousand years ago.”
Mr. Boswell reported the earlier discovery on April 17, 2009:

Canadian archeologists working in southern Turkey have unearthed the remains of a biblical-era temple, the religious centre of an ancient kingdom whose destruction nearly 3,000 years ago is recorded in the Old Testament.

The excavation at Tell Tayinat, near the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea about 300 kilometres north of the Syrian capital of Damascus, has exposed "ornately carved" columns, "monumental" staircases and other remnants of a "powerful kingdom" destroyed by Assyrian invaders in 738 BC.

The discoveries at the site of the ancient city of Kunulua are believed to be evidence of the destruction of Calno -- invoked in the Bible by the prophet Isaiah as a warning to Israelites to follow the will of God or face a similar fate, says University of Toronto archeologist Tim Harrison, director of the project.

The ruins, located near another temple found by University of Chicago archeologists in the 1930s, appear to prove the existence of a "sacred precinct" that existed at the time of the Assyrian onslaught, he added.

"What we've encountered may be traces of that destruction," Harrison saidThursday. "We think that place is our site."

Harrison said that "we haven't put the jigsaw puzzle together, but we've got the pieces," noting the "nice convergence" between the dig site and the references in Chapter 10 of the Book of Isaiah and other texts from the pre-Christian era.

Describing the Assyrians as a tool of God's anger, Isaiah reminds his people of the awesome power that can "destroy and cut off nations" and direct invasion forces to "take the spoil" of conquered cities.

"Is not Calno as Carchemish?" begins Isaiah's litany of smashed kingdoms, cautioning that a faithless Jerusalem could fall next. "Is not Hamath as Arpad? Is not Samaria as Damascus?"

Harrison described Isaiah's warning about Calno and the other destroyed cities as having "an iconic representation in the ancient mind" -- something akin to the fall of Rome much later in human history.

Among the artifacts uncovered by researchers -- including University of Toronto students and various international scholars participating in the dig -- are fragments of decorative stone inscribed with hieroglyphics from an extinct Middle Eastern language.

Harrison suspects that the temple, located at a crossroads for various religious and linguistic tribes of the ancient world, may have once been a "melding" site where disparate peoples gathered.

Harrison said the temple was unearthed last summerAfter word of the find circulated among biblical-era scholars, pressure grew in recent months for the team to reveal some details.

Australian Neo-Nazi "ethicist" Peter Singer receives his country's highest civilian honour

Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people. Proverbs 14:34

Surely some future historian, surveying our times, will note sardonically that it took no more than three decades to transform a war crime into an act of compassion, thereby enabling the victors in the war against Nazism to mount their own humane holocaust, which in its range and in the number of its victims, may soon far surpass the Nazi one. It is significant that, whereas the Nazi holocaust has received lavish TV and film coverage, the humane one goes rolling along largely unnoticed by the media. Malcolm Muggeridge, Sanctity of Life, Chatelaine, December 1979, p. 138

Professor Peter Singer, an "ethicist" whose views on the sancity of human life I find virtually the same as those of the Nazis, was named a Companion (AC) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday 2012 Honours Lists (see page 8 of linked document):

For eminent service to philosophy and bioethics as a leader of public debate and communicator of ideas in the areas of global poverty, animal welfare and the human condition.

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has compiled some revealing quotes from major figures in the animal rights movement. Of interest for this post are these, merely a small sample to illustrate Professor Singer's low view of the sanctity of human life:

An animal experiment cannot be justifiable unless the experiment is so important that the use of a brain-damaged human would be justifiable. — Peter Singer, godfather of the animal rights movement, Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our Treatment of Animals, 2nd. edition, 1990.

Surely there will be some nonhuman animals whose lives, by any standards, are more valuable than the lives of some humans. — Peter Singer, godfather of the animal rights movement, Animal Liberation: A New Ethic for Our Treatment of Animals, 2nd edition, 1990.

There are some circumstances, for example, where the newborn baby is severely disabled and where the parents think that it’s better that child should not live, when killing the newborn baby is not at all wrong … not like killing the chimpanzee would be. Maybe it’s not wrong at all. — Peter Singer, godfather of the animal rights movement.

Your dog can show you when he or she wants to go for a walk and equally for nonviolent sexual contact, your dog or whatever else it is can show you whether he or she wants to engage in a certain kind of contact — Peter Singer, godfather of the animal rights movement.
The one thing I would agree with concerning Professor Singer's "eminent service to philosophy and bioethics" is that while many who share his outlook pussyfoot around the implications, Professor Singer isn't afraid to take his views to their logical conclusions and state them.

Although Peter Singer is of Jewish background, that doesn't seem to have had much influence on his philosophy, as reported by Dan Goldberg of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, June 24, 2012:

Although his family has a Passover seder -- “with a beet root instead of a lamb shank” -- and he celebrates Purim with his grandchildren, and Rosh Hashanah, Singer says Jewish traditions “did not play much of a role in my life.”

He concedes, though, that his family history did play a part in the development of his theories.

“As three of my grandparents died in the Holocaust, and the fourth was fortunate to survive in Theresienstadt, that was very much present in my life,” he said. “I am sure that it had some impact on my thought -- on my abhorrence of cruelty, of the naked use of power over the defenseless and, of course, of racism.”

His parents, he says, gave him the choice of whether to have a bar mitzvah celebration. He declined.

“I never believed in a god,” he said. “There may have been times when I wondered if there might be a god, but it always seemed to me wildly implausible that a god worth worshiping could allow the Holocaust to occur.”

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

40 years ago: Egypt and Libya agree on political union

On August 2, 1972, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Libyan leader Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi concluded three days of talks in the Libyan cities of Tobruk and Bengazi with an accord that would see the governments of the two countries unite by September 1, 1973. The proposed union, which would create the largest state in Africa, was seen as a move to provide money from oil-rich Libya for the Egyptian army to buy offensive weapons that the Soviets had refused to supply. The plan was subject to public referenda in each country, but the “final version” of the accord could be vetoed by the leaders of the two countries.

Egypt and Libya already comprised two-thirds of the Federation of Arab Republics, which, with Syria, had come into existence on January 1, 1972. The union between Egypt and Libya ultimately failed because of disagreements over the timing and objectives of war and diplomatic alternatives to war agains Israel.