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The Drone of Damocles

Today it was reported that radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen, apparently in a precision attack by a US drone aircraft. He is ‘credited’ with both direct and indirect involvement in most of the major attempted and successful terrorist attacks in recent years, including the so-called “Christmas bomber” and conversing with Major Nidal Hassan before the Fort Hood massacre. Sounds like a significant victory for the US against al-Qaeda, right?

Fred on the “Dawning” Dark Ages

For your reading edification tonight, I offer the following article. His eloquent curmudgeonery is as razor sharp as it is politically incorrect. Yet he is right on. If I could wave my wand over our nation just once, high on the short list of magicked transformations would be that the classic love of the truly educated, disciplined mind would well up in the springs of the hearts in this culture. Education today is valued merely to the extent of the size of pay stub it will bring one, not for the freedom and enlightenment it brings to humanity.

If I had to guess why our culture lost a higher view of education, I would say that education lost its soul. It became a machine through which we grind our children rather than the exploration of the mystery of what it means to be human, in all its beauty and all of its depravity, so that the better we know ourselves, the better we appreciate God and the higher things He offers us. Education without spirituality is dead. Spirituality without education is either stagnation, anarchy or mere ritual. There is a reason that wherever education has flourished in a new area, it is at the hands of missionaries.

And now, from Fred on Everything, “A Culture in Regression.” {My favorite word was "enstupiation." Classic!}


More on the Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez Case

The abovementioned case was actually decided in 2010 by the Supreme Court, but before I started this blog, which is why it hasn’t been covered. In light of the new Vanderbilt case, it seems appropriate to bring up last year’s case. Here are some links that discuss the case—one from one of the legal groups arguing for the Christian Legal Society (CLS) and one from a neutral site. Below are comments I wrote in April 2010 to some friends based on similar links describing the CLS planned angle of attack before the case was decided. I’m no lawyer, but this is my armchair analysis for what it’s worth.

Happy Birthday!

I am very excited to celebrate one year of The Scholar Redeemer. There have been readers from 72 countries totaling nearly 11,000 views of 349 posts. By far, the most popular topic was the Professor Martin Gaskell court case. Topics have ranged from meditations, devotions and random thoughts, to observations of education in general and higher ed in particular, to government interactions with education, to the educational culture to apologetics to science/faith issues and so on.

It has been a faith journey for me personally as well. Many have asked how I am able to write something every day. Often I’d sit down, usually late at night, wanting nothing more than my pillow, to face a blank screen. Without any ideas jumping to get out, I’d simply pray for God to direct my thoughts and show me things from the day that might inspire, encourage or challenge folks.

The Need for Active Christian Faculty

There are at least two ways to promote diversity on campus:  to allow any group to form on campus, or to force all groups on campus to allow anyone into their group. Which one do you think allows for the most vibrant discussion and sharing of diverse viewpoints? Which one do you think campus administrators favor? Finally, which one is most consistent with the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right of the people peaceably to assemble?

Teaching the Previous Generations

Most folks think of education as primarily from the older generations to the younger. This is generally true, but there is increasing cross-fertilization in the process where the younger generation teaches the older.

I spent several hours tonight giving my folks a tour of facebook. They’ve resisted getting involved, just as I did. Early in this blog’s history, I posted about my antipathy towards facebook, but, as one friend put it, “I surrendered to the evil empire.” Now my folks are re-evaluating their resistance to it, so they asked me to show them and explain what I’ve learned about privacy and security and pros/cons. They understand it better, see new pitfalls and new possibilities. We’ll see if they take the plunge.

The Sea

Nearly everyone has their issues with the Bible. One of mine has to do with Revelation and the sea. Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”

To me the sea has always held a fascination. I loved to watch the Jacques Cousteau specials on TV in the 70’s when I was a child. Initially, in junior high, I wanted to be a marine biologist, and so on. While space may be the final frontier, I’d say we still have lots to learn about the sea.

When all is said and done and we’re in the new heavens and new earth, the scientist and explorer in me nearly drool over the idea of touring Creation with the Creator as our tour guide. “Core of the Earth? No problem.” “What does Venus really look like? Let’s go!” “Want to free dive the Marianas trench? I’ll race you!” The Xtreme sports will have nothing on us!

The Dangers of Auto Pilot

I have finally arrived in Rockport, TX, on the Gulf Coast. Some family members have rented a cottage on the water for the week, and invited me to join them for the weekend. It was a slightly more eventful trip down than I’d anticipated.

As you may know from a post earlier this week, I put my back out on Monday, and it is much better, though not well, and so I’m not quite as alert as normal. It was a night drive because of an event tonight in Austin I had to attend. My ‘smartphone’ has GPS and maps, but not the audio to say, “Turn LEFT, you idiot!”

What Other Surprises Does God Have for Us?

The relatively big news out of astronomy recently is the amount of water discovered in space. They have found an amazing amount of water surrounding a massive black hole—enough for 120 trillion earthlike planets! (That’s even nearly ten times the size of our national debt!)

But wait, there’s more…

Fool or Child?

Tonight while I had my feet up for a while, my mind recalled some event from years past where I feel I looked rather foolish. It doesn’t matter the specifics, there are many such events to choose from in my life.

As I was shaking my head over the event and praying, “God, I sure am a fool sometimes!” I had a sense of a decidedly amused response, “You’re not foolish, you’re just a child, and I love you for it.”

If that kind of affirmation doesn’t perk up your day, I’m not sure what would.


Academic Double Standards?

Today, the UT Christian Faculty Network had a good discussion on professors sharing their worldview with their classes. In particular, how many Christian faculty can be slapped down for sharing/defending their worldview, yet other colleagues can mock that same worldview and push their own with little or no fear of reprisals. We discussed how we as Christian faculty can/should respond to this, especially when students come to us to complain or seeking reassurance that it is possible to be a Christian and a scientist or, more generally, an intellectual.

Frailty by Design?

I have a tendency to throw my back out. It’s one of those little life skills you wish you could unlearn.

If pain, as C. S. Lewis asserts, “God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world,” what ain’t I hearing?

My chiropractor and I, both single, were talking about how one of the harder things about being single is when things do go wrong, there is no one to rely on besides yourself with the day to day tasks. This conversation started by her commenting on my high pain tolerance, and my response that since there was no one else to function for me, I had to do it regardless of how I felt.

While it may seem appropriate for a scholar, walking around in the shape of a question mark is nonideal. 


On Iona, looking back at Mull.
After passing my defense in 1998, I spent five weeks in the British Isles as a graduation present to myself. One of my favorite bands is an Irish Christian group called Iona, named after an island off the western coast of Scotland. Of course, when I learned where the island was, I rushed off to visit. This evening, I stumbled upon a website that reminded me of it, and decided to share my journal entries from the trip. The visit occurred 13 years ago this past Thursday/Friday. This was one of the top highlights of my entire trip and I hope you can see why just rereading it, I wish I was back there.

Iona is tiny, about three square miles, but it’s historical value is incalculable. St. Columba (aka St. Columcille) was self-exiled from Ireland as penance for being the cause of a battle, and settled on the island and formed a monastery that helped preserve Christianity during the Nordic raids of the mid first millennium. The Book of Kells was created there and many kings are buried, including Duncan, the Scottish king murdered by Macbeth.

Jerusalem 3D

Jerusalem | Filmed in Imax 3D from JerusalemTheMovie on Vimeo.

This 7-minute trailer is for an upcoming (2013) IMAX-3D movie. Just this much reveals a lot about the geographic center of our faith.

In the first frames, it explains why Israel was chosen by God as the Promised Land—it is the bridge between 3 continents, the crossroads of the world’s cultures and prime spot for advertising about God’s desire to redeem humanity.

It shows a lot of the geography, from the lush Jordan valley to the wastes of the Dead Sea, Masada, ancient monasteries, Galilee and Capenaum.

Set it to full screen with the volume on and enjoy a beautiful and informative glimpse into the Holy Land.


Humbled by Honor

I’m the president of a local civic club. Today was our monthly lunch meeting, and the speaker had requested a video projector and screen. John is a friend who has these items to use in his ministry and willingly lets me borrow them when needed.

There was just one problem. I forgot to ask to borrow them.

The speaker emailed me about an hour and a half before the meeting confirming the equipment would be there. I thought, “Oh, <insert flowery vocabulary of blessing and warm feelings>”

Back to Basics

I suspect most people’s minds have certain themes that run through their heads. There are certain topics their brains like to meditate on, and regardless of how broad their thoughts go, there are a few ruts. One of my mind’s ruts is most generally and easily described as city mouse/country mouse, though it hardly does the topic credit, as it ranges over many areas (technology, politics, worldview, etc.). If you are a consistent reader, you will recognize this theme in many of its faces.

Today’s installment of meditations on this theme deals with the fundamental necessities of life—air, water and food.

Encouragement for the Weary

There are times when we just run out of gas. We’ve burned the candle at 6 ends, and there just ain’t much left. I offer these words from our User’s Manual.

Be still, and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Isaiah 40:29

In vain you rise early and stay up late, eating the bread of toil— for He grants sleep to those he loves.
Psalm 127:2

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28


What We Are Dealing With Here

"Every thinking man, when he thinks, realizes that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally impossible for us to figure what life would be if those teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals; all the standards to which we, with more or less resolution, strive to raise ourselves”
- President Theodore Roosevelt

Ol’ Teddy got it half right. The only part he got wrong was the critical part, about it being literally impossible to figure it out. We didn’t have to figure it out, we just did it. Now there appears to be scholarly evidence of our success at doing the impossible. Here’s to us.

"If it Feels Right..." by David Brooks, NYTimes

For us as educators, it explains a lot about why things seem to be harder in the classroom. Our students today are just as smart as they used to be. They just don’t have the same moral compass previous classes had.

Just today there were two incidents that appear to lend agreement to this study.

Special Cases

Every so often, usually one to two times a year, a special case comes along. There will be a situation or a student with unique needs that don’t fit neatly in the lines of your carefully planned course. For whatever reason, your policies and procedures just don’t apply, and you need to adjust.

Sometimes it’s the precursor to a shift in how things will be done in the future, so everything needs to begin to adjust to accommodate a new way of doing things. Usually, it is merely the annoyance of the ubiquitous ‘exception to the rule.’

If you are like me, you are doing good to keep the normal things humming along, and you don’t relish the thought of having to figure out how to fit this road bump into your schedule. I have found a reasonably simple solution to moderate the effect of these special cases.

Two Minds Diverged in a Culture

The longer I am in academia, the more I see just how different of a mindset there is between ‘ordinary folks’ and ‘movers and shakers.’ This difference in worldview is there independent of the presence or absence of faith.

Both groups are acutely aware of the difference between them, and both tend to look upon the other disparagingly. The ‘movers and shakers’ (academics, politicians, etc.) are viewed by ‘ordinary folks’ as ‘elitist,’ and ‘out of touch with the real world.’ The ‘ordinary folks’ are viewed as simpletons, hics, seeing in black and white what is really shades of gray, ‘nuanced’ and ‘complex.’

Ten Years

It is right and appropriate to jump on the bandwagon of everyone remembering 9/11. It has fundamentally shaped how we have interacted with the rest of the world, almost as much as WWII. Yes, I still maintain that WWII has so far had a greater impact that 9/11, but it had a 60 year head start. Given time, 9/11 may well surpass it, though both world wars set the stage for 9/11 in how the Middle East was carved up by the fading colonial powers. We did very little to alleviate those problems and thus have inherited them.

It has shaped my life directly as well. While I don’t know anyone personally that was lost that day, one very close friend lost a friend in the towers. Another acquaintance lost a brother I think in the Pentagon. Friends from grad school were on the observation deck the Saturday 3 days before. Mike remarked to me in an email shortly afterwards, “I remember standing on the roof and thinking how solid it was.”

Things We Know, Yet Aren’t So

We can all think of things that we are sure are true, have been convinced of their veracity since we were knee high to grasshoppers, only to discover…the TRUTH….

Pro wrestling is real

Santa Claus

The Tooth Fairy

The Easter Bunny

The world is flat

I’m from the government and I’m here to help

Recently I learned that Ben Franklin never said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” He really said, “Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” At least that one isn’t too far off.

Today another cherished quote bit the dust.

Ivory Thoughts

Ivory is what all mammalian teeth are made of. The word itself traces its roots back to the ancient Egyptian word for elephant, as that has historically been the primary source of commercial ivory.

This brings to mind all sorts of witticisms when one thinks of the ivory tower (a group of people long in the tooth; dead but ornamental, a place where knowledge is chewed, ground down, etc.).

Looking at scholarship from this perspective can give us something to chew on. We take the wonders of nature, the mystery of human behaviour and dissect them, examining from every angle, and then regurgitating it in an arcane language devoid of life.

Different or Weird

Pastor Tim Ortberg said in a talk some years ago that many Christians, knowing that with Christ in their hearts their lives should be different and finding that it isn’t, default to being weird instead. This brings up a great question with which I’ve wrestled many times:  What is it about being a Christian that fundamentally makes my life different than someone who’s not a follower of Christ?

Young Earth/Old Earth

At today’s Christian faculty lunch, the topic of Science and Faith came up, particularly in the context of Genesis and the old earth/young earth debate.

My friend and colleague Sarah Salviander has started a ministry called Six Day Science, which I’ve written about before, and in spite of the appearance of the name, she is an old earth creationist. I asked her how things with that ministry were going and she was a little frustrated with the complete lack of response to email introductions she’d sent out to local pastors. We as a group sympathized, and shared that many pastors, not trained in science, tend to automatically take the young earth position. Furthermore, since many young earth creationists believe that is the only inerrant interpretation of Genesis, anyone holding a different view has a doctrinally weak view of Scripture. Consequently, many pastors try to insulate their congregations from those who hold different views, especially if that church has a school affiliated with it. This really helped her understand the dynamic involved.

Fires in Texas

I know I reported about the fires around Austin yesterday, but it has only grown worse today. There are hundreds of fires across Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. Hundreds of homes destroyed. Thousands are displaced. To get a feel for the scale of the largest set of fires, go here.

It is strange to be surrounded by so many out of control fires. Every year we hear about the wildfires gobbling up vast tracts of land out west in California, Wyoming and so on, and you feel bad for them, but you have your own life to live.

Please Pray For Rain!

Today’s topic is a bit different, and urgent.

My area of Texas, as I’ve written before is officially under extreme drought conditions. Lakes are less than half full. And today, due to a combination of a cold front moving through and the (DRY!) remnants of tropical depression Lee, we have had severe high winds that have fanned flames of many wildfires. I live near a county line, and both of those counties have been overwhelmed by fires.

One fire has burned over 14,000 acres and is not contained at all in the next county (Bastrop) and has destroyed over 300 homes so far.

Football's Here!

I enjoy football, especially that of my ‘Horns, and secondly, the Wolverines, but I’d hardly call myself a fanatic. What I’ve noticed this year is that many people, including me, have been more excited about the advent of football season which finally arrived this weekend (for the college folks—I think the pros started several weeks ago—see what I mean?)

For me, in record-breaking hot, drought-stricken Texas, the beginning of college football means that it is time for the temperature to begin to consider maybe thinking about starting to cool off.

In Between

We often talk of the valleys of life and mountain top experiences. But these tend to be relatively short periods of time. What’s in between?

Is it merely transitioning from a peak to a valley or vice versa? Is it a vast rolling plain without much scenery? Most likely it is a complex set of contours—smaller rises, runs, dips, straightaways, rapids, doldrums. Days where you work hard but have little to show for it. Days where you work hardly at all and still have little to show for it. And of course days of great promise where the interest of all of the ‘unproductive’ days shows up as a big dividend.

What Did Mary Know?

In chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, Jesus is attending a party at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, whom he just raised in chapter 11. The party is going fine, when Mary shocks everyone. She pulls out an alabaster (likely modern day calcite) jar of fine perfuming oil called spikenard. Largely due to its likely origins in the Himilayas, it was extremely expensive. The jar contained about a pound of it, costing a year’s wages. She breaks the flask open, begins to pour it all over Jesus, head to toe, including his feet. If this weren’t scandal enough, she uncovers her hair, letting it fall free, so that she could wipe the excess up with it.

To the party’s guests, this was wrong on so many levels.