I’m not typically a big fan of litigation. But that option needs to be there for some cases that can’t be solved in other ways. It’s a big stick that should only be used when absolutely necessary and only when appropriate.

I’m glad that option was there for Stephanie Hoffmeier of Colonial Forge High School in Stafford, Virginia. When Stephanie applied to register a student club at the school, the administration denied her request, “on the grounds that it was not tied to the school curriculum.”

What was the club proposal? “The Pro-Life Club,” thought to be the region’s “only anti-abortion club in a public high school.” After filing suit in federal court, the educrats at Colonial Forge had to rethink and reexamine their position: “Even some advocates of strict separation of church and state say religious speech is protected under the Constitution and federal law.”

One of the basic rights that is consistently tread over by the public education bureaucracy in the United States is the right to integrate religious faith and intellectual learning, fides quarens intellectum. And even in a case like this, in which faith is brought into an extra-curricular activity, the first and most basic instinct is to squash it.

Thankfully, “School officials, conceding they were wrong, officially recognized the club on Oct. 24, and Hoffmeier dropped the suit.”

Blog author: jballor
Saturday, November 10, 2007
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Day 2 marked the end of GodblogCon 2007. A highlight of the day was LaShawn Barber’s talk which provided both concrete advice for clear and concise writing, as well as testimony to how blogging can become a profession. The latter depends on the former, of course. She closed with the mandate: “Be bold, confident, and passionate.”

We concluded the day with a large roundtable discussion including the forty or so Godbloggers who persevered to the end. John Mark Reynolds facilitated a lively discussion about the promises, perils, and the future of blogging and new media. We closed the roundtable by going around and having each person make a bold statement or prediction. Mine was “Bloggers will soon be the new webmasters: everyone is going to need one on staff or have ready access to one’s expertise.”

Much like the practice of blogging itself, GodblogCon is a meeting, or fellowship, rather, that is still in its infancy. The conference went very smoothly and was excellently coordinated. But much like the new media itself, GodblogCon has a great deal of promise and potential. I hope that I personally and Acton as an institution can become more involved as the “Godblogosphere” continues to mature.

This Sunday, November 11, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

A prayer “For the Persecuted” (BCP 1928):

O blessed Lord, who thyself didst undergo the pain and suffering of the Cross; Uphold, we beseech thee, with thy promised gift of strength all those of our brethren who are suffering for their faith in thee. Grant that in the midst of all persecutions they may hold fast by this faith, and that from their stedfastness thy Church may grow in grace and we ourselves in perseverance, to the honour of thy Name, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost art one God, world without end. Amen.

For more on how you can help the persecuted church, visit The Voice of the Martyrs.

Spontaneous and peaceful celebration of Berlin Wall collapse

Today marks the 18th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall served as a powerful contrast between free people and ideas, against a system of government that imprisoned its citizens through totalitarian control and intimidation. It also serves as a reminder of the nations and leaders who stood up to Soviet aggression bent on world domination.

A grave situation for Berlin developed in 1948, when the Soviet Union cut off all land and rail access to the city. In what was the greatest humanitarian airlift in world history, U.S. and British pilots kept German citizens fed and supplied. The Berlin Airlift, expected to last a couple of weeks, lasted for 15 months until the Soviets finally capitulated. Amazingly, at the height of the airlift a plane landed in Berlin every minute. The airlift sparked a deep friendship between the German people and the U.S. and British military. The Germans just a few years ago saw many of these same pilots dropping bombs on them. It also showcased the willingness of free countries and free people to sacrifice for the freedom of others. Eighty American and British soldiers were killed during this miraculous humanitarian endeavor.

In 1961, the East German government erected a massive wall with defense structures turned against its own people. The wall tore apart families and the German people, and became an iconic symbol of the Cold War and Soviet oppression. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate and sternly delivered the line, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Just a few years later, with freedom on the march across Eastern Europe, in a memorable moment, the German people peacefully crossed the physical divide in Berlin.

At the Acton Institute annual dinner in Grand Rapids on Oct. 24, our keynote speaker was former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar. In his remarks, Laar talked emotionally about the Estonian resistance while their nation was held captive by Soviet domination. He also added, “When we forget our values, and the West is not following its values, it means a big danger to all of us.”

An important value is standing with and defending those who are weak and oppressed. In fact, many readers of the Bible strongly identify with the biblical narrative of deliverance. It’s important to remember today all those humans in the world who are enslaved by ruthless regimes and tyrants. It’s also essential to counter and be vigilant of the eroding freedom in our own nation. Unfortunately, too many Christians today misunderstand the significance of political and religious freedom from a growing and intrusive government. From the beginning, which we learn from our lesson in Genesis, it’s faith in our creator and rule of law under God, which powerfully contrasts with the rule of man, preached and practiced by the socialist overseers.

A few essential article/editorials on the collapse of the Berlin Wall:

Dinesh D’Souza: Why the Berlin Wall Fell

George Allen: World Freedom Day


Kenneth T. Walsh: Memorable presidential speeches are few and far between. But Ronald Reagan’s words in Berlin two decades ago will live on

David Crossland: New Find Evokes Horrors of the Berlin Wall

On Hugh Hewitt’s radio show yesterday, he hosted a roundtable discussion with folks at this year’s GodblogCon (link here). After Hugh interviews Mark Steyn, Hugh has Michael Medved, Al Mohler, John Mark Reynolds, and Mark D. Roberts to discuss the conference and the significance of new media for Christian cultural engagement.

Here is a fantastic quote about America that deserves a hearing:

From the very beginning, the American dream meant proving to all mankind that freedom, justice, human rights and democracy were no utopia but were rather the most realistic policy there is and the most likely to improve the fate of each and every person.

America did not tell the millions of men and women who came from every country in the world and who–with their hands, their intelligence and their heart–built the greatest nation in the world: “Come, and everything will be given to you.” She said: “Come, and the only limits to what you’ll be able to achieve will be your own courage and your own talent.” America embodies this extraordinary ability to grant each and every person a second chance.

Here, both the humblest and most illustrious citizens alike know that nothing is owed to them and that everything has to be earned. That’s what constitutes the moral value of America. America did not teach men the idea of freedom; she taught them how to practice it. And she fought for this freedom whenever she felt it to be threatened somewhere in the world. It was by watching America grow that men and women understood that freedom was possible.

What made America great was her ability to transform her own dream into hope for all mankind.

America needs to remember the things that made us great. Liberty is the fruit of responsibility and virtue. Let us take heart.

The speaker was none other than French President Nicolas Sarkozy in his address to Congress earlier this week. You can find the entire text of his speech here

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, November 8, 2007
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Today was a pretty full day that just wrapped up a few minutes ago. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, opened up the day with a keynote address, “Pioneering the New Media for Christ.”

Mohler emphasized the communicative mandate of the Christian faith: “To be a Christian is to bear the responsibility to communicate.” Setting this statement within the context of stewardship, Mohler emphasized the biblical foundations for a Christian view of communication. In creation God made human beings in his image, as communicative and rational beings. The account of the Fall in Genesis 3, however, provides us with the context of sin.

Although Mohler didn’t make the link explicit, the Fall’s effect on communication comes to expression in the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel. So language can be both used properly and misused (to lie, to slander, to gossip, and so on). But after Creation and Fall comes Redemption, which is expressed in terms of the divine communication, the revelation in Jesus Christ (the Logos of John 1).

Mohler engaged Francis of Assisi’s instructions to teach and preach “with words when necessary.” Admitting that actions must be consistent with our declarations, Mohler asserted that words are always necessary. “No one is going to intuit the Gospel,” he said. Citing Romans 10, Mohler noted that faith comes by hearing the Word.

With a brief theology of communication in view, Mohler examined the varieties of technological means that have been used to transmit the Gospel. Christians, he said, are a people of the Book, a “literary” people. Noting that Christians initially used radio to a greater extent than television, Mohler provided the basis for a comparison of various kinds of media.

In this way, the advent of the Internet is more like radio than TV, insofar as the ease of access, production, and broadcasting, in North America is far more extensive than was popular access to TV in that medium’s early days (78% of Americans have access to a computer, and that percentage is markedly higher the younger the target group).

Mohler’s address provided evidence for the claim that blogging, podcasting, and videocasting are legitimate and important media for Christians to responsibly and prudentially engage the culture and proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

The talk raised the following issues for me. Given that “Godblogging” as a phenomenon is “talk about God” in a particular form, the possibilities for identifying the parallels, relationships, and continuities between “Godblogging” and “theology” (God-words) are plentiful. I also considered Augustine’s treatise on Christian rhetoric, De Doctrina Christiana (On Christian Teaching), especially Book IV, as a source of seminal relevance.

On a more minor point, Mohler attributed the lack of Christian engagement in film in the early days of Hollywood to economic and artistic deficits. It seems to me that there was just as much a cultural deficit, which is perhaps what he meant by an artistic deficit, in the sense of the inability to appreciate beauty wherever it exists. There was (and still is among some) a profound and deep distrust of the theater and film (and television by extension) as inherently deceitful and powerful tools of diabolical power, given the pagan backgrounds of the theater.

Here’s what the CRC’s 1928 Synodical Report on Worldly Amusements had to say about film in particular:

It is also common knowledge that the moving picture industry is to a large extent in the hands of unscrupulous men, whose only concern is large financial profits regardless of the moral influence of the presentations. A large number of these pictures are a shameful exploitation of the sex-instinct; and many other exert a baneful influence through the portrayal of crime, a flippant attitude toward parental authority, the dignity of hte govenrment and of the church. Because of these things the movie-theater is undeniably one of the most destructive forces in our country, morally pestilential.

Based on these and other observations, the committee recommended abstinence from theater attendance by Christians.

With that minor caveat, Mohler’s address was full of Christian wisdom about the technology of our culture and Christian engagement. More to follow in the morning.

Also: The folks at Stand to Reason are live-blogging the event. There are a number of posts on Mohler’s talk.

Sophisticated followers of politics such as the readers of PowerBlog will not be surprised by this story, but I’ll bring it to your attention anyway. The US House recently passed a bill that includes a dramatic tax increase on mining businesses. Supporters argue that the tax helps reign in the environmentally abusive mining industry. Higher taxes. Environmental concern. Senate Democrats would be scrambling to get on that bus, right? One problem: Majority Leader Harry Reid is from Nevada, whose economy depends heavily on the extraction of minerals and metals.

It reminds me of one of Hillary Clinton’s recent controversies, the ethanol flip-flop. Her spokesman explained: “She has always been a supporter of ethanol except for a time when there was evidence that New York would be hurt economically.” No doubt. If only pro-tax, “pro-environment” politicians would be equally sensitive to the economic ramifications of their policies even when they’re not immediately obvious to their own constituents.

When you think about it, NBC’s little promotional stunt on Sunday Night Football for their “Green is Universal” week is a lot like a mini-Kyoto treaty: it was an empty gesture that had no long-term impact on the problem it was trying to address, while immediately making things worse on their broadcast, and in the end the only thing it accomplished was to make the participants feel a bit better about themselves. They probably shouldn’t though, considering that in order to send Matt Lauer to Illulissat, Greenland (4,200 miles roundtrip from 30 Rock), Al Roker to the Galapagos Islands (6,100 miles roundtrip), and Ann Curry to the South Pole (18,000 miles roundtrip) probably created many times the carbon emissions that were “offset” by Bob Costas’ romantic candlelight rendezvous with the American football-viewing public.

Or perhaps they shouldn’t feel so bad, considering that we’re just now learning that the southeastern United States is suffering through a dreadful drought (caused, of course, by Global Warmingtm) partly because of a lack of hurricaines (also brought to you by Global Warmingtm) over the last few years:

…journalists from The New York Times to the Augusta Chronicle have blamed the Southeast’s woes on man-made carbon dioxide.

Wrote the Chronicle: “Indeed, the drastic effects of global climate change intrude everywhere on our daily consciousness – from the serious drought that now threatens cities in the Southeast to. . . Category 5 hurricanes regularly battering coastlines.”

But, according to the AP stories that ran across the nation, the drought conditions are a result of “stifling summer heat and a drier-than-normal hurricane season.”

Complained a USA Today story: “With hurricane season nearing an end, no one expects relief before winter.”

Yes, both the presence and absence of hurricanes are simultaneously the fault of – you guessed it – climate change! If only we could figure out some way to distinguish between those carbon emissions that cause lingering drought and those that cause increased hurricanes and balance them somehow.

Perhaps the UN could add that to the agenda of their upcoming UN Climate Change Conference 2007 in fabulous, sunny Bali, Indonesia! Via The New Editor, Claudia Rosett gives insight into the sacrifice that our beloved international diplomats will be making to save us from ourselves:

UN policy allows even the lowlier UN staffers to travel business class on long-haul flights (your tax dollars at work), the better to arrive wined, dined and ready to hit the ground …and the beaches … and the golf courses … and the tennis courts — running. Apparently there is so much to discuss that the conference will run for a full fortnight, from Dec. 3-14, at Bali’s seaside luxury resort of Nusa Dua.

For all those taxpayer mugs out there who have not had the experience of flying business class to spend a fortnight at Nusa Dua, check out the spectacular seaside photos of the Bali International Convention Center, with its slogan: “The Place…Where Business is a Pleasure.” For more information, page through the Bali conference outline on the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change, or UNFCC, web site. This includes a handy list of pre/post conference tours, and a list of hotels (Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa, and Melia Bali Villas and Spa Resort, already sold out) plus recreational facilities: sailing, fishing, snorkeling, ocean kayaking, and, of course, the shopping gallery.

I don’t know about you, but I shudder at the thought of a world so ravaged by the horrors of climate change that UN staffers would be forced to fly coach to a two week long conference at a fabulous seaside resort.

In the meantime, though, let’s just be thankful that the UN and NBC are willing to kick out so much carbon in order to help in creating the global warming-caused hurricanes that will offset the global warming-caused drought that afflicts the global warming-ravaged Southeast US. And let’s tip our cap to Glenn Beck, who is using his perch on CNN to help out as well:

GodblogCon 2007 hasn’t quite started yet, but one of the privileges of attendance at this year’s conference was an opportunity to see an early screening of “The Kite Runner,” (courtesy Grace Hill Media) directed by Marc Forster (who has also directed “Stranger than Fiction” and “Finding Neverland”). The film is based on the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini.

Michael Medved helped to host the event late last night, introducing the film and as a special treat leading a Q&A session with the movie’s lead actor Khalid Abdalla. There was a decent turnout, including Dr. Al Mohler, who is giving the first address at the conference this morning. The film’s story revolves around the lifelong friendship between Amir (played by Abdalla as an adult) and Hassan, and is set in Afghanistan in the late 1970s before the Communist invasion, later during the rule of the Taliban, and in America.

Considering the depiction of Amir and Hassan’s relationship in the film, I often considered their relationship to have a similar dynamic as that between Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There are a number of parallels, not least of which is the fact that in one way or another both Hassan and Sam are “servants” or employees of their master’s family. Tolkien is said to have modeled Sam on the British “batmen” of the first World War, soldiers who loyally and unswervingly served their officers.

The story is very compelling, and as Michael Medved observed more than once (and quite rightly so), the movie isn’t successful because it is primarily political, but is a success because it is so intimately personal and human. Khalid Abdalla emphasized that this was the first Hollywood movie to focus on this region of the world from a primarily personal and familial perspective, rather than one focused on governments, military aggressors, or tyrannic oppressors. Of course those elements are present, but they are depicted from a much more personal perspective that is more familiar to us than pedantic political narratives.

Amir and his father, Baba.

There are some great lines in the film, and there are likewise some great performances, not least of which is Abdalla himself as well as that of Homayon Ershadi, who plays Baba, Amir’s father. One of the more poignant and telling lines comes from Baba, who says of Afghanistan in the late 1970s that the mullahs want to “rule” our souls while the Communists “tell us we don’t have one.” I don’t want to give away too much of the plot if, like me, you haven’t yet read the book.

My wife Amy has recently read the book, however, finishing it last week, and here’s her reaction:

It isn’t very often that I would say I’m haunted by a book I have read, but that’s the only way to describe my feelings after turning the last pages of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The novel follows the life of Amir, a wealthy boy who grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, but later emigrates to California with his father, Baba, following the Russian invasion.

Amir may physically leave his homeland behind, but he is unable to escape many of the things that happened there as a boy, including his friendship with and eventual betrayal of Hassan, the son of Baba’s Hazara servant. Hosseini eloquently illuminates Amir’s complicated relationship with his boyhood friend and servant.

From the very beginning, Amir is a gripping protagonist with whom you cannot help but sympathize. While his actions are polarizing and selfish, the complexity of his life against the background of ethnically-charged Afghanistan provides not only interesting character development but also rich insight into life in Kabul, including everything from competitive kite flying to racial tensions and Afghan traditions. It is hard to believe that this is the first novel from Hosseini, a former internist-turned-novelist. Tackling topics such as fear, regret, honor and loyalty, he poignantly touches on just about every raw aspect of human life, leaving no emotional stone unturned.

Most important, through the story’s many twists and turns, Hosseini’s vividly detailed writing will have you physically gripping the book with your hands as you anticipate what beautiful prose might lie at the next turn of the page. This is a book you will never forget.

You may have heard that the film’s release date was pushed back out of concern that some of the children who played parts in the film and who still live in Afghanistan might be in danger of reprisal over the film’s content. The film was scheduled to be released on November 2, and while none of the children have been removed from the country, plans have been set up to place them into safe houses during the initial stages of the film’s release in order to gauge the local reaction. The new release date is December 26, and I strongly urge you to see this film. Mark the release date on your calendar and be sure to support this film in its early theater release. You won’t regret it.