Sunday, December 26, 2010

How to Make Snow Ice Cream (Video)

Lots of people from the south are probably trying to dig up their snow ice cream recipes. Here's a video I made with my now-wife (from Connecticut) after I showed her how Alabamians use that stuff they hate so much to shovel:

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas trees make non-Christians feel excluded, researchers say

Merry Christmas! Now cut it out.

Researchers at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, say a 12-inch Christmas tree caused non-Christians and/or those who don't celebrate the holiday to feel excluded, thereby lowering their sense of self-worth.

(Read the story on

Social psychologist Michael Schmitt, who led the study, said non-Christians and non-celebrants felt their sense of self worth lowered after entering the room with the tree, while all but one Christian/celebrant who participated felt their sense of self worth increased by seeing the tree.

He suggests toning down Christmas displays in public places to make non-Christians feel less left out.

But following that line of thought would lead to an entirely different conclusion.

(This is just a thought experiment, so don't get angry -- I'm only making a case full of Schmitt's own reasoning to show it's ridiculousness.)

Argument: Christian (X) and non-Christian (Y) each have a self-worth level of 5. (1 being lowest and 10 highest.) Each walks into the room without a Christmas tree. X and Y both leave the room still at self-worth level 5.

Next, X and Y walk into a room with a 12-inch Christmas tree. Y now feels worse about himself (down to level 3), but X feels better (up to level 8).

Our proposed solution is to remove the tree and leave both X and Y at level 5. This is great for Y, but worse for X. Should X be forced to suffer just so Y's feeling's won't be hurt? Maybe. But wouldn't a better solution be to raise both X and Y to level 8 -- or higher?

Now we need to figure out how to make that happen.

Ricky Gervais from 8 to
In a related item, funnyman Ricky Gervais writes on The Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog on how his older brother convinced him within one hour to stop seeing Jesus as his hero at age 8 and become an disbeliever in God altogether.

Gervais says it doesn't bother him if others believe in a god, but there's no science for it, so he doesn't.

It's mostly an intelligent read, but he does pull out the canard that science is superior because, among other things, "It doesn’t hold on to medieval practices because they are tradition. If it did, you wouldn’t get a shot of penicillin, you’d pop a leach down your trousers and pray."

This argument always gets a bug up my bum because some (not all) scientists are so fond of saying that something isn't true unless it's been proved by science. Gervais himself argues in this very piece that it is impossible to prove God's existence through science, therefore it makes perfectly good sense that he doesn't exist.

By this reasoning, if someone had by happenstance mixed up a batch of penicillin during the Middle Ages it wouldn't have cured anything because there was no scientific research to prove that it would. Leaches would have worked better.

No, I can't prove through scientific methods the existence of anything outside this physical reality; I can prove it through spiritual methods. Anyone who doesn't have -- and doesn't want -- the instruments to measure those things can't see it.

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(Photo: Christmas Tree by Anna Cervova)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Elephant named Elephant? Not very creative

The Birmingham Zoo in Alabama has just added an elephant to its upcoming "Trails of Africa" exhibit.

They got the 29-year-old bull, named Buldwagi, from Disney in Florida, The Birmingham News reports.

Buldwagi, it turns out, means "elephant."

So the Disney people, who came up with Mickey for a mouse (after first coming up with Mortimer for same mouse), Donald for a duck and seven different names for dwarfs, could only think up to call an elephant Elephant. That's sad.

If I were raised by a pack of wolves I wouldn't want them just calling me Human in their wolf talk. Be creative. Think up something to do with my personality or appearance. If you look at a picture of Buldwagi you'll notice that he has only one tusk. He lost the other in an accident when he was very young.

There's you a name, right there: Unitusk. Or Accident-Prone. Or Piano Key Donor.

Wait, wait: Tusk Tisk.

Whatever you go with, he won't care. He doesn't speak human.

But, you're thinking, they don't actually call him Elephant; they call him Buldwagi, which, since he is an African elephant, is Swahili or something for elephant.

Not so. It's Seminole.

Yes, apparently there is a word in Seminole for elephant. Probably something descriptive, too, like "Giant With Snake Nose Who Dances with Uncreative Nomenclature Givers."

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Bible lesson at Christian School

The very first thing I'm going to say is that I do NOT approve of anyone striking anyone else.

Now, to the case of the Christian school teacher who was struck in the face by a parent in Mobile, Alabama.

Arlicia Yvonne Winbush (pictured) was charged with second-degree assault and disorderly conduct after police say she struck a teacher at Faith Academy in the left cheek.

Police told The Press-Register that Winbush entered the classroom “using loud, boisterous and profane language,” later, in the hallway, hitting the left side of the teacher's face.

Such behavior is call for arrest, and that's what happened. But the incident brings to light one of the hard sayings of Jesus:

"But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." -- Jesus (Matthew 5:39 NIV)
For a biblical literalist, this shouldn't be a hard one: The teacher was literally struck on the cheek. He/she should have turned the other one.

Not so fast: If you want to be uber-literal, it says if someone strikes you on the RIGHT cheek, you should turn the other one. The teacher allegedly was struck on the LEFT cheek. An out!

But anyone with half a brain knows that even a literal reading of the command would expend to being hit on the left. So should the teacher have stood there and taken it?

Maybe he/she did. The news account doesn't say. But there's also the consideration that children were present, and the teacher had a duty to protect them. Taking a literal beating might have spurred an enraged person to move on to more victims -- and ones more vulnerable no less.

pluck out your eye.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Smoking knocks off restaurant health department rating points

So the health department now is counting 4 points off a restaurant's score if smoking is allowed.

That's the case, at least, in Jefferson County, Alabama. I've just read the most recent health department ratings, and two restaurants had 4 points ticked off their scores because of the presence of second-hand smoke. One is a sports bar that probably serves only appetizers. Still, that qualified it for a health department inspection. The other was a chain restaurant. (A chain smoking restaurant, I suppose.)

I'm no proponent of smoking. In fact, I hate it. But the libertarian in me gets his dander up when a legal activity brings about a 4-point penalty. (The most serious infractions bring 4- and 5-point deductions.)

Further, the public is fully aware of the health risks of smoking. If someone walks into a restaurant, he or she can observe whether smoking is taking place, then leave if he or she so chooses. (If no one is smoking when one enters the establishment one may ask an employee whether there is a risk someone else might light up before one has finished one's meal.)

But food inspection is an entirely different deal altogether. You've got no way of knowing whether the cook washed his hands after his last trip to the loo or whether the raw chicken was left at room temperature for three days. It's a proper function of government to make sure neither of those things happened.

And businesses that allow smoking but don't serve food aren't given a score they're required by law to post in a prominent place, and that seems a little unfair.

I've sent a missive off to the Jeffco health dicks. I'll post their response if I get one.

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Photo by Anna Cervova via

Thursday, October 28, 2010

On Christians and Halloween: Jesus with stinky breath is not Heaven

I got roped into going to one of those Judgement Houses once.

Instead of scaring you to death with monsters and killers, the intent of a Judgement House is to scare you into eternal life through showing poor life choices.

Typically held in church family life centers, you start out in a room of teenagers at some sort of social event then proceed to a room where a horrible accident has occurred and some of the teens have died.

Next, you're ushered into a funeral scene with crying friends and relatives, and then you go to Hell. There is fire and moaning, weeping an gnashing of teeth.

These are typically Protestant affairs, so you don't go to Purgatory. Still, your trip to Hell is short-lived and before you know it you're in Heaven.

The one I went to had us all stand in a line and have our fates pronounced by God the Father, portrayed by a man with multiple senior discount cards, but who still looked nothing like the painting on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Instead, he was clean-shaven with with male-pattern baldness -- and wore glasses.

Glasses? Why would even an anthropomorphized God need glasses?

Well, anyway, it got worse.

I say that even though you'd think that having my name read from The Book of Life would be great. Yet once the Father had put on his glasses to read our names from the Book, Jesus showed up to welcome us to our eternal reward.

At least Jesus looked pretty much like his paintings: Long hair, beard, robe. Of European descent.

He started at one end of the line and welcomed each of us personally. Being a shy person and at the farther end of where he started, I was filled not with the Spirit but with dread -- which only increased in dreadfulness the closer he got.

He got closer and closer, and finally he got to me. I hated to break it to him, but had I already heard his speech when he told it to Jim, who was standing next to me.

He put his hands on my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world."

He had bad breath.

I wish when he'd opened that scroll a roll of Certs would've fallen out. (Wait a minute: Perhaps that was the Pergatory!)

Soon enough, though, his simple chronic halitosis was out of my face and on to Dave's. Then we walked through Heaven and out the back door, loaded up onto the church bus and were driven back to our cars.

At least people who go through haunted houses are happy to return to their normal lives. I got to go to Heaven then was told "Goodbye! Come back to see us!"

Should we celebrate Halloween?
Judgment Houses spring from the desire of some Christians to avoid celebrations of Halloween because of their non-Christian roots. Some churches and parents host harvest festivals or have their kids dress up as biblical characters.

I'm for following your own conscience on this -- as long as you don't drive other people away in the process.

For instance, an atheist friend of mine once noticed that his neighbors had put a sign up on their front door declaring that since they were followers of Christ they wouldn't be passing out candy on Oct. 31. This just ticked him off and gave kids a good reason why they shouldn't even consider being Christians.

In my own heart, I've decided to follow Jesus' command to "give to all who ask." So when kids in costumes knock on my door expecting candy I give them some. I don't throw Bible tracts in with the candy and don't tell them, "God bless you!" I just give them candy. I don't wear a costume or decorate my house for the occasion. And I buy only candy that doesn't have skulls, witches or bats on it. I'm making only a subtle statement, and they can't consciously tell that I am, but, combined with prayer, maybe I'll make an impact.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Second Coming was in 1962?

Bad news: It looks like we missed the Second Coming. From the hairstyles and clothing in this picture I just got in the mail promoting a prophecy seminar, it happened in the early 1960s. (And, no, Don Draper didn't make the cut.) Click picture to enlarge.

Good thing there was no tarrying until today. Back then, all the redeemed cleaned up and donned their Sunday best for the event. Today we'd have met our Savior in T-shirts and flip-flops.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Christine O'Donnell's problem is that she's inspiring masturbation

I'm not disturbed by Christine O'Donnell's stance on masturbation; I'm disturbed that she inspires masturbation.

For my entire life as a follower of Christ I've heard people say that the biblical proof against that act comes from Genesis 38, where Judah's son Onan refuses to sire a son for his dead brother. He does have sexual relations with his sister-in-law, Tamar, but when it's time to fire, he pulls out and spills his seed on the ground, knowing the child won't be counted as his own in the all-important genealogical records. At that time this was considered a grave sin.

Under our current covenant with God, men are not required to sire offspring for their brothers who die without an heir, so this passage is irrelevant in its literal sense. (It's still relevant in terms of us following God's will for our lives.)

The gist is, Onan didn't masturbate; he actually had sex with a woman. In fact, it was God's will for him to have sex with that woman. There were penalties for early withdrawal.

The only thing Onan's deed has in common with the deed O'Donnell has opposed is that the seed is given no chance to fertilize an egg.

O'Donnell, in a 1990s MTV documentary on abstinent people, argues that it is impossible to pleasure oneself without lusting in one's heart. Jesus equated lusting in one's heart to actually committing adultery -- so that's bad.

But suppose you're married. What if you masturbate while thinking about your spouse? That's not adultery at all. And there isn't a single verse in the Bible that specifically addresses masturbation.

So the problem is masturbation for single people, which O'Donnell is. They, according to Scripture, aren't supposed to have sex with anybody, and therefore not even fantasize about having sex with anybody.

So on that count I'll agree with her.

But Paul notes that all these rules for Christian behavior are for ... Christians only. What people outside the church do is none of our business. So going on Bill Maher's show and MTV is a waste of time and "casting your pearls before swine." (No offense intended if you don't like being compared to hog.)

O'Donnell is running for Senate in Delaware, and hasn't made her opposition to masturbation a campaign issue. Comedians and political opponents have. But if tapes of her Maher and MTV appearances didn't exist, opponents and comedians couldn't drag them out so easily. If she'd said it in a church setting and tapes were found, so what? That's her personal life and she would have been speaking to people who were purporting to hold themselves up to such standards.

One other thing:
And I want women to be modest in their appearance. They should wear decent and appropriate clothing and not draw attention to themselves by the way they fix their hair or by wearing gold or pearls or expensive clothes. 1 Timothy 2:9 (New Living Translation, emphasis added)
I know Christine O'Donnell covers herself up. Still, she's pretty hot.

And that might make some single Christians who like her, uh, like her.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Craig Ferguson a prophet against my compromised spritual walk

It's not a great day in America for yours truly. It's the great and terrible Day of the Lord.

I was watching TV's Craig Ferguson last night, as I'm in a regular habit of doing, when I saw him show this clip of Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell:

I've let it go that Ferguson and others want to make fun of O'Donnell for opposing masturbation or for saying that she once dabbled in witchcraft, but Ferguson played only the first part of the clip you see from Rachel Maddow's show above. He essentially burst out laughing only at the thought that masturbation represented "lusting in your heart," which O'Donnell equates to adultery.

She gets that line from Jesus, who says in Matthew 5:28, "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (NIV) So if Ferguson wants to laugh at the words of Christ he's free to do so, but I've turned him off.

I should have done it long ago, but I just sat and endured Seth McFarlane's shows and Robot Chicken because of their artistic merit. But if someone artfully made fun of my mother I wouldn't endure it, and I won't endure it any longer when they make fun of my savior.

So thanks, Craig, for being my Nathan the Prophet. I was a man of unclean ears. Now I've quit all of you.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Who needs you, God? Not Moses at the Red Sea

"The parting of the Red Sea during the Israelites' exodus from Egypt usually attributed to Moses could have been nothing more than a natural phenomenon, not a miracle, says a team of researchers," reports Newser in a story headlined "Parting of Red Sea Linked to Ma Nature, not Moses."

The actual Colorado researchers who made the findings weren't quite so anti-Moses as the Newser report indicates, but their findings do point to a natural phenomenon that, unlike previous theories, actually allows water to remain stacked up on both sides of a particular spot of water in that biblical area just as Exodus describes.

It should be pointed out that not even the Bible says Moses parted the Red Sea -- God did. And it says he sent a strong east wind to do it, just as the latest theory espouses.

To be fair, some news organizations reported the same story noting that the laws of science back up the biblical account. But Newser's tweet of the story read: "Sorry Moses; Scientist uses fluid dynamics to explain the parting of the Red Sea."

As more spiritual people see a less antagonistic relationship between science and faith, a surprisingly large number of non-spiritual people are moving in the opposite direction.

I've always been awed by science's explanation of God's creation, rather than troubled by it. I've heard it said that theology's role gets smaller as science's role gets larger. I disagree.

In the "all truth is God's truth" vein, scientific explanations inform our understanding not only of the natural world; sometimes it gives us a spiritual truth as well.

If you haven't read my piece on predestination vs. free will, I'll try to summarize quickly: I believe in them both. They are compatible by God being able to consider infinite universes to create, then picking the one that provided free will for his creatures while also working out his plan perfectly.

This being said, God chose to call the universe into being that perfectly timed the Israelites' need to cross the water with the weather pattern that allowed it to happen.

It's rather a simplistic explanation, true, but add that to the googolplex upon googolplex of computations necessary for God to bring about everything from the freeing of ancient Israel to me finding my wife and you've got quite a headthumper.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Merry Christ-less Democrats?

With my previous post mentioning Christopher Hitchens and atheism, it isn't a surprise that Google ads posted this on the side of the article. What was unexpected, however, was that the list of "Great Gifts for a Merry Christ-less!" included not only a Flying Spaghetti Monster and a Darwin Fish, but also a Democratic donkey button and a "Yes We Did" Obama T-shirt. (See the unretouched ad at left.)

Are they saying atheists only vote for Democrats? (Hitchens himself is in the GOP's camp on some issues.) Or are they saying Democrats in general and Obama in particular are "Christ-less"? They obviously didn't get the memo.

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Christopher Hitchens / David Berlinksi debate on atheism like pulling teeth

As I waited by the door to hear Christopher Hitchens and David Berlinski debate atheism last night in Birmingham, Alabama, the quickly increasing crowd for the general admission event made me think that a Who-like stampede for the best seats might actually result in some of us finding which side is correct.

Of course, that's only if the theists are correct.

Which brings up one of the questions submitted to the two men after the formal debate had ended.

"What are the weaknesses of Pascal's Wager," moderator Larry Taunton asked Hitchens, who then went off on several things he believe to be lacking in the philosopher's argument. When Berlinski was then asked the strengths of Pascal's Wager, the mathematician replied, "I don't know."

Perhaps that's because Berlinski isn't the typical apologist for Judeo-Christian influence: He's an agnostic, who says he began taking on atheism because it lacks moral imperatives and he got tired of hearing what he calls the leading atheists' idiotic arguments.

Hitchens, on the other hand, enjoyed displaying his disgust at such filthy ideas as having someone else take on your sins. He failed, however, to explain what he thinks is so vile about it.

He did explain the vileness of religious people who think they have God all figured out. Non-theists such as himself admit they know hardly a drop in the bucket about the universe, he said. It was nice of him to have we believers pigeonholed. Not a one of us has ever admitted to knowing only a minute fraction about God, after all.

On the whole, the evening was a bit disappointing. I expected both men to mount more vigorous arguments, but I came to the conclusion that Berlinski did the best he could not being a believer in any theism himself, therefore having not as much passion for his cause. But Hitchens is quite attached to his beliefs so should have made a better show; sadly, the straw men and emotional theatrics that ought to be beneath him are not.

I left the event thinking how the only two things on my calendar that day had been the debate and a visit with the dentist who told me I have decay that needs worked on. I should fire my scheduler.

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Thursday, September 2, 2010

Stephen Hawking says God not needed for creation -- maybe

In his new book "The Grand Design," physicist Stephen Hawking says God wasn't necessary for the Big Bang to have happened.

"Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing," Hawking notes.
It's true that the creation of everything from nothing (ex nihilo) doesn't prove the existence of God -- but it also doesn't prove that there isn't a God. That same law of gravity keeps me sitting at my desk as I type rather than floating away. I can't make an argument for or against God's existence -- only an argument for gravity.

Many news reports seem to say that Hawking is at least implying either that there isn't a God, or that he's unnecessary as the primary cause of everything. Not knowing the context yet, I can only say that he's arguing that the the laws of physics as we know them allow the universe to spontaneously create. What isn't addressed is where those laws came from.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Twitter Communion cancelled

The Rev. Tim Ross has canceled Twitter Communion.

Planned as a live worldwide event to evoke Christian unity, it eventually fell victim to unintended controversy. Ross, a retired Methodist minister in Worthing, England, had hoped Christians from various traditions around the globe would gather at their computer terminals on Aug. 14 and take bread and wine (or grape juice) if their beliefs allowed. But Methodist authorities asked Ross to call off the event because it comes at a time that the denomination is still trying to figure out the proper use of the Internet by the church.

Ross stressed that he wasn't outright forbidden to hold communion by Twitter, the microblogging website that limits "tweets" to 140 characters, but he was strongly requested to cancel for now.

"It was never my intention to be controversial much less confrontational. The whole point of Twitter Communion was to offer the Christians around the world the opportunity to step beyond their differences, to meet in fellowship and love and to celebrate the common-union we all share through Christ’s body and blood," Ross writes on the Twitter Communion website.

The series of short tweets that will constitute a prayer for Christian unity will take place at the same time Twitter Communion had been scheduled for, Aug. 14 at 5 p.m. EDT in the United States.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Theology: Where doctorates and the unschooled are equal?

If my car is acting up and I don't know what's wrong, I first check with my dad or my brother; they both know a lot more than I do about the subject. But if neither of them can help me fix the problem, I call my mechanic -- after all, he's an expert.

But theology seems to be one of the few subjects that no one seems willing to defer to an expert on. (Politics is another.)

Why this is so is beyond me; having the proper theology might have eternal consequences, depending on who is correct, so you'd think people would see this as a major decision. Nope. They're quite happy to just do whatever feels right to them.

But they treat their cars far more seriously even though the worst thing that is likely to happen if you guess wrong is that it will break down eventually. (Of course, if it's your breaks that are going bad, it still would be good that you've decided upon the correct theology.)

This problem stems from the fact that in a free society we may have any opinion on any subject without penalty of the state. That's a great freedom to have, but freedom of thought without consultation of experts is as dangerous as is the freedom to rebuild your own car engine without any training.

Yes, theologians and atheist and agnostic philosophers have deep divisions among themselves as to what the "truth" is, but that shouldn't stop those of us untrained in theology from seeking their advice before deciding upon an opinion of the afterlife.

Even if I want to try to fix my own toilet, I ask somebody or check the Internet first. Yet millions of thinking humans are content to concoct their own theology and assume they're right.

It's a common cry that members of organized religion blindly follow whatever they are fed. This can, indeed, be a danger, but just making up something in one's own head is no less intelligent. At least those who recite the Apostle's Creed are following a belief system that has been tested and tried by millions over several centuries. Why is that more stupid than just following one's own path?

I'm not arguing to pick a theologian or philosopher to just blindly follow; I'm just saying that no one who knows nothing about automobile engines would give his own opinion of what's making that funny noise under the hood the same weight as he would the opinion of a professional mechanic. Why do that with what might well be the eternal destiny of his soul?

For a view from someone more learned than I am (I did drop out of Bible College, after all) check out All Saints Writers Block.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Minister plans communion by Twitter

UPDATE: Twitter Communion has been canceled, and will be replaced with an alternative prayer. The time is the same.

He's already led a modern Lord's Prayer by Twitter. Now, the Rev. Tim Ross, a Methodist minister in England, is ready to try a worldwide communion on the social networking site.

"It’s a way for Christians to show that we really do belong to one Church, that we can lay our differences aside and proclaim that we are united in one thing - our love for Jesus," Ross writes on the website Twitter Communion.

Twitter Communion will take place Saturday, August 14, at 22.00 British Summer Time. That's 5 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, 2 p.m. Pacific in the United States. And if you're on the other side of the International Date Line, you'll have to get up early Sunday to join in.

To participate, you must first follow Ross on Twitter (@TimRossMinister), then, at the appropriate time be at your computer following his tweets with bread and wine or juice at hand.

More info, including the prayer Ross will be tweeting, can be found at

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cell phones and social media in the church pew

Greg Garrison of The Birmingham News reports on how cell phones, Twitter, Facebook and more have church members using Bible apps in the pew and searching for new houses of worship using social media sites. A few pastors, though, have found it a bit too much.

Read the story: Cell phones, Twitter, Facebook overtake old-time religion

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Genesis 1

On a recent prayer/photography retreat I attended, participants were challenged to tell the creation story in photographs. There was a state park and a university campus nearby. Here's my attempt:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.

And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.

And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Interview with author of "Brilliant Disguises," Christian writer William Thornton

William Thornton's debut novel, "Brilliant Disguises," focuses on a man who pretends to be a Christian to get a coveted job with a famous philanthropist. A natural mimic, Cameron Leon, through his work and personal experiences, comes to see the evangelical Christian world from an outsider's perspective. I talked with Thornton, a co-worker and friend, about the book:

What inspired you to write this book?
Two things. I actually got some inspiration from a book I only saw the title to: "The Double," by Dostoyevsky. I've always been fascinated with the concept of identity -- how we assemble our own, how we change it, consciously and unconsciously. It's something that is a constant in literature. Think "The Great Gatsby." I saw the title and immediately, I had a rough concept for the main character.

And also, this novel grew out of a short story I had written about five years earlier about a man who is a mimic, and is asked by the widow of his late brother to imitate that brother's voice, just to get her through her grief. That is another part of the novel -- the idea that even when we imitate someone, a little of us shows through and seasons the mix.

Your main character, Cameron Leon, pretends to become a born-again Christian just to get a job, and fools everyone but himself -- and, of course, God. What was your thinking behind this device?
Part of the Christian experience, as Thomas à Kempis observed, is that we are supposed to be the imitation of Christ. I was interested in the idea of someone who was pretending to be a Christian. But I needed a motivation for the character, and holding down a job seemed like a good one. Occasionally, you'll read about people who are fired from jobs for failing to live by a morals clause in their contract. I thought I would take that a step further.

And, I liked the idea that Cameron is giving an insider's perspective of the evangelical world, per se, but he's doing it as an outsider. So things that churched people take for granted are new and alien to him. By seeing them through his eyes, it gives the reader a different perspective, or a new one, if they're coming from a secular background.

Which character in the book do you most identify yourself with and why?
There's no one character I identify most with, besides Cameron. I think everyone, on some level, feels they're "about to be found out." H.L. Mencken once defined self-respect as "the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious." And I took some inspiration from my life -- because like Cameron, I have an older brother who's much better at mimicry and imitations than I am. He's still alive though, thankfully. There's some minor characters I also identify with.

You sprinkle quotes from philosophers and other famous people throughout the book. Who are some of your favorite philosphers and how have they influenced you?
This was a device I chose to show that Cameron is so much of a mimic that even his ideas are somebody else's. I tinkered with this part of the manuscript for a long time because I didn't want somebody to read it and think, "Oh, this is Bill showing off his library." But I did want to give the impression that these ideas we carry around impulsively inside us actually come from somewhere and have been articulated before. Modern pop culture tends to leave us with the impression that "no one's ever gone through what I'm going through, and they've never had thoughts as profound as I have."

As for philosophers who have influenced me, in college I took several philosophy courses and studied under Dr. Richard Cohen, who was a student of Emmanuel Levinas. I managed to work Levinas into the novel, as well as Franz Rosenzweig. But strangely enough, the parts of the course that appealed to me the most were the Old Testament prophets. The book we studied, besides the original Scriptures, was "The Prophets" by Abraham Heschel. Great book.
The prophets don't dwell in concepts of time, space, the Other. They deal in the everyday, which is where philosophers and street people both live their lives. If you can't feed somebody, then it really doesn't matter whether our perception of time and reality is flawed.

Writing fiction is a bit like putting yourself in God's shoes -- creating your own world and populating it with whichever characters you choose. Did writing this book give you any insight into God's perspective on humanity?
Any writing does, just like being a parent does. I think we tend to see our lives as one narrative, with foreshadowing, key scenes, and an ending that we seem to race toward that's already foretold. Our minds help us do this. But life is much more complex and messy, and I think God sees our lives not necessarily as that one strand, but all the other possibilities that fall with each passing second.

It's like when you play chess with a computer -- the computer not only plots its moves, but plots ahead to every conceiveable move that you or it could make, based on the last move. I think that is how He sees it, and it gives us another window into just how ... the old English word would be terrible ... He is. That's a being of unimaginable, awe-inspiring power and complexity. And yet, He cares. With that kind of window, He not only observes but cares, interacts, shapes, steps aside, and blesses.

An author can see possibilities, but they're focused on that narrative, and on the demands of the story. It has to satisfy on some emotional level, which means that it can be manipulated, The key is being, like God, almost invisible. I think it was Raymond Chandler who said, "When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun." Sometimes, you have to step in.

What do you hope readers take away from "Brilliant Disguises"?
I hope they find it a satisfying read. I also hope they see it as something different. I think a lot of -- the market term is Christian fiction -- tends to try to satisfy some of the secular cravings we as readers have. The spy story. The romance. There's a lot of allegory and fantasy with some spirituality or Scripture leavened in for the market. And all that is fine. A good story is a good story.

But we run the risk sometimes, I think, of reinforcing what the secular world suspects -- that we live in a fantasy world, that we escape through our faith. And I don't see Christians as escapists at all. It takes a great deal of clarity to look at the world the way it is and look past all the grime and glitter, tune out the noise, and focus on finding the Almighty in the other person. Part of what Cameron does is make that journey, as we all must.

"Brilliant Disguises" by William Thornton is available at, Barnes and Noble, BooksAMillion and on the website Thornton also has a blog,, which deals with Christian themes in literature and contemporary culture.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Wooly Willy nabbed in Florida killings

Thanksgiving murder suspect caught with help of "America's Most Wanted" and child's obsession with arranging metal shavings into facial hair.