Thursday, December 30, 2010

Sarah Palin Visits Haiti

The world is full of extreme negativity these days. In our public square, people are always beating each other up verbally. Public discourse has become so uncivil and so polarized that people vilify one another and fail to see the good in those with whom they disagree. That situation saddens me greatly for a number of reasons. It is not a healthy situation for our country.

One of my biggest interests is finding areas of commonality amongst diverse groups. In working with my students, for example, I’ve come to realize that we Americans are often not nearly as polarized as the media pundits and politicians make us think. I’ve listened to students with different backgrounds and contrary worldviews discuss their beliefs about hot button issues, and discover to their surprise that they actually have much in common with the folks on the other side of the aisle. They often are stunned to realize that their bottom line views are not as far apart as they would have initially thought. Alternately, they discover that their bottom line positions are different, but their underlying motivations and values are actually the same or at least have similarities. Of course, that doesn’t happen with every issue. But it happens more often than we might think. However, we cannot have such epiphanies if we constantly vilify others and do not even try to listen to them.

Along those lines, I was intrigued by a recent news story about Sarah Palin. Governor Palin is someone who epitomizes the kind of polarization that has befallen the United States in recent years. Many adore her. Others are horrified by her. I have to admit I fall more into the latter category. But I try to keep an open mind and look for areas of commonality.

In that vein, I was encouraged by Governor Palin’s recent interest in the people of Haiti. I was glad she decided to travel there on a humanitarian trip. I was also glad to read of her deep compassion for the human tragedy in Haiti. I was also intrigued (if not surprised) by her suggestion that our government ought to give more aid to help the people of Haiti.

The bottom line is that although I disagree with her on many issues and her political tactics cause me great concern, I do appreciate her shedding light on the suffering of the Haitians, which continues to be so great almost a year after the earthquake. I always appreciate people in the spotlight using their fame to bring attention to overlooked human suffering and tremendous need.

My reaction to this news story does not mean that I’ll be voting for Governor Palin any time soon. Her politics are generally contrary to mine. And I try to not be a Pollyanna. I always have a healthy skepticism about anything that politicians say in front of a microphone and/or camera.

Nonetheless, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and I try to acknowledge the good I see in people. As a Christian, I believe we are all made in God’s image and he loves each of us infinitely. As a result, it is my responsibility to try to see others as God does. It undermines that responsibility if I vilify people with whom I disagree. Vilification denies the good in my brothers and sisters.

The link below contains an article on Governor Palin’s trip:

Hebrews 4:16

Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Reality TV

I hope you have had a wonderful holiday season. Our family has been traveling to celebrate Christmas with our family in Texas. They don’t have Wi-Fi, and their computers either have dial up or other impediments to blogging. As a result, I’ve taken a bit of a break from posting to this blog.

We had a great visit with our relatives, but being away from home is always tough. For example, we don’t generally sleep well. I particularly have a hard time sleeping, and woke up in the wee hours several times with nothing to do but sit in the living room flipping channels. There is not a lot on at that hour no matter how many channels you have. I ended up catching up on some reality TV.

Yikes. Surely the end of civilization must be around the corner.

My husband and I both hate reality television, but for somewhat different reasons. My husband thinks everything is staged and there is no reality in “reality television.” Basically, he thinks it is all a fraud.

I don’t disagree with him. And I loathe the basic premise of such staging/fraud, which seems to be to show how screwed up others are so that we can laugh at them and/or wag our fingers at them. In essence, reality television encourages us to judge others and feel superior to them.

My other major source of disgust with reality television is that people are allowing their personal lives and their families’ personal lives to be exploited for monetary gain. That is tragic on so many levels. And it is a bargain that never seems to turn out well, but people keep doing it.

Anna Nicole Smith was one of the early reality TV stars, and apparently her teenage son did not handle the situation well. As I have read, Daniel was a shy young man and a good student with aspirations to go to college, but he began using drugs because of awkward attention at school about aspects of his mother’s reality television show. A couple years after the reality show ended, he tragically died of an overdose.

Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey signed on to do a reality show of their early married life. Marriage is tough enough under the best of circumstances, but I cannot imagine how a young couple can possibly sort out the difficulties of adjusting to being a married couple with cameras following them in their home and on dates. Ms. Simpson and Mr. Lachey ended up divorcing after just three years of marriage.

In my opinion, Jon & Kate Plus Eight is one of the worst reality television debacles to-date. Yet another couple’s marriage fell apart as the world watched it play out on their TVs. It was horrifying that a couple’s personal tragedy was entertainment for the world to watch and exploit in disgusting detail. Of course, the tragedy was exacerbated because the couple had eight young children. (At least Ms. Simpson and Mr. Lachey did not have kids.) As if all of that was not horrifying enough, Kate Gosselin signed on for another show without her ex-husband to let the world gawk some more at her children.

Because of my Christmas vacation insomnia, I saw a bit of two more recent reality TV shows. They were both so horrifying, I couldn’t watch entire episodes. The infomercials looked good by comparison.

The first of the two shows I caught was What Chili Wants. I was a young adult in the 1990s when the musical group TLC was popular, but I haven’t heard what they have been up to since the tragic death of one of their members, Lisa Lopes. What Chili Wants is a new reality show following TLC member, Chili Thomas, as she works with a relationship expert to find true love. In the first scene of the episode I caught, Chili described to the expert what she is looking for in a mate. She explained he had to be physically gorgeous and sexually appealing; there were specifications for both his abs and his genitals. Chili also demanded that her future mate be a believer in God and not consume pork. However, she was a bit more tolerant with regard to a potential mate’s family status; she would accept up to two baby mamas.

My mind reeled. I’ve never heard someone speak so shallowly and so selfishly about finding a life partner. Chili Thomas is a lovely, talented woman. She is about my age and has a son. I cannot imagine someone who is so accomplished, who is a parent and who has arrived in middle age being so self-absorbed and clueless about finding a mate. Consequently, I hope my husband is right and there was no reality to that reality show. Surely, the whole thing was invented to attract viewers. Even so, after about 15 minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore and had to change the channel.

The other reality show I caught during my insomnia was Sarah Palin’s Alaska.

I’m not even sure what to say about that show. I did give it a fair shot and watched almost a full episode. It was absolutely horrifying on so many levels. I’m just not sure where to even start.

And that may be a sign that I ought not even try. Perhaps it is best to not dwell on the many revolting aspects of the show. Instead, I’ll just sum it up by saying: oh, my goodness, I cannot believe we as a nation have sunk to this level.

Somewhat surprising, my apolitical husband is particularly disgusted that Sarah Palin has agreed to do a reality show. He thinks exposing one’s personal life to the cameras like that is about the most tasteless, undignified thing one can do. And he fears that Governor Palin has set a new (low) standard that other politicians will follow. His greatest fear is that we’ll have a president someday who has been a reality TV star.

My husband is not very interested in politics, so (unlike me) he is not even that offended by Governor Palin’s political rhetoric. His chief concern is just the cheapening of our democratic process and the stature of those elected to office. Serving in public office these days is not an opportunity for selfless public service, but simply another opportunity to exploit oneself for economic gain and public attention. In the past, politicians have done that primarily via book deals and honoraria for giving lectures. Apparently now there is a new avenue: reality television. President Snooki or President Palin? As my husband sees it, what is the difference? He has a point.

Mark 8:36

"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?"

Mark 10:45

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many."

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Prince and the Paupers: A Tax Fable

A friend of mine, Professor Brad Borden of Brooklyn Law School, recently published an article in the Huffington Post. That would be pretty exciting news in the base case, but it is particularly noteworthy because Professor Borden is a fellow tax nerd. We tax nerds seldom get our work included in non-tax or non-academic publications. So this is quite a coup!

I wanted to highlight the article here because I thought it was very well done. The article is written as a fable told to his young daughter. Even people without any interest in tax law can follow and appreciate Professor Borden's points. And he expresses them in a very engaging manner. Who knew tax policy could be so compelling!

I also thought the subject matter of the article would be of particular interest to readers of this blog. It hits upon structural injustices in the context of both our political system and our tax laws.

The link below contains the text of the article. Enjoy!

Deuteronomy 16:19 (New American Standard Bible)

You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Would Jesus Buy? (2007) (Troubled by the Style of the Film)

Although I agree with the substantive concerns of the film and I’m generally glad that a film was made to focus attention on the problems of commercialization and materialism, the style of the film was problematic to me.

What Would Jesus Buy? is described as a documentary. It purports to follow a man named Reverend Billy and his choir as they essentially go on a mission trip across the country. Reverend Billy speaks in an exaggerated preachy Southern drawl reminiscent of people like Jimmy Swaggart. Reverend Billy is a white man with a big bleached pompadour hairstyle and outdated, flamboyant attire. He resembles a blonde Elvis in the King’s later years. Reverend Billy is shown to exorcise people by putting his hand on their heads and pushing back in a dramatic fashion. His effect is like something from an SNL skit lampooning Southern Evangelical preachers. In watching the film, I half expected Lorne Michaels to appear at some point.

Similarly, the members of the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir have a caricaturist style. Despite their message of anti-consumerism, they have elaborate matching long robes. They have rehearsed choreography to accompany their singing. And they flail about enthusiastically in (mock?) rapture when Reverend Billy preaches.

I try to be a good sport, and I think laughter is a gift. Satire can be helpful; it helps us see faults that we might not otherwise see. As a result, I’m certainly not opposed to poking fun at Christians. We should all laugh at ourselves from time to time. None of us should ever take ourselves too seriously. And it is insightful for us to see ourselves as others do.

But What Would Jesus Buy? goes beyond poking fun. The film blurs the lines between reality and satire. In watching the film, it is not clear whether Reverend Billy is a street preacher with sincere Christian faith or a mocking performance artist with a social conscience. It is also not clear if the “Church of Stop Shopping” is an actual religious congregation or the stage name of a group of performance artists who are trying to make a political statement.

The film includes footage of Reverend Billy and the choir in several churches. They seem to be leading a worship service, but the reaction of the folks in the pews was telling. The cameras show several with big, dopey grins. They appeared to be audience members enjoying a funny show, not religious worshippers. As a result, religion seems to be the butt of a joke. I’m not sure how that squares with the purported message of Reverend Billy. If the point of the crusade is to save Christmas, why is that goal of any importance if religion is merely a joke? A broader year-long crusade against materialism would make more sense.

Other scenes in the film are even more troubling. At one point, Reverend Billy speaks to several devout members of an African American church. He represents to them that he is a pastor of the Church of Stop-Shopping. They have a serious dialogue, but Billy seems to be taking advantage of their goodwill and hospitality. If he is a street performer mocking Christians, it seems rather mean-spirited to have represented himself as an actual Christian pastor. That portion of the film had a Borat-esque quality.

In another scene, Reverend Billy and the choir take their proselytizing/protest/show to a Wal-mart where they attempt to exorcise the store. After they are thrown out of the store, but while they are still lingering in the parking lot, Reverend Billy purports to baptize an infant of loving parents who are receptive to his message. A Christian baptism is a meaningful, sacred religious ritual, but in my opinion it was ridiculed by Reverend Billy’s spectacle in a sacrilegious way.

In the end, I appreciated the message and consciousness raising of What Would Jesus Buy? However, I was very disappointed by the disrespectful way the message was delivered.

Luke 18:32 (New King James Version)

For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What Would Jesus Buy? (2007) (Agreement with the Film’s Basic Premise)

The title of this documentary is a play on the phrase “What Would Jesus Do?” That phrase was coined a number of years back as a quick guide to help Christians discern the right choices to make in various situations. It was particularly embraced by Christian youth who wore “WWJD” wristbands, but the phrase became popular more widely in Christian circles.

As a result of this background, when I originally heard of this film, I thought it would be an examination of ethical shopping choices. I assumed there might be a focus on human rights of workers and the destruction of our environment due to practices employed in manufacturing many retail products. What Would Jesus Buy? does touch on those themes, but it is certainly not the main focus of the film. Instead, the film follows “Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir” as they go on a cross-country bus tour before Christmas to warn Americans of the pitfalls of consumerism and to “save Christmas from the Shopocalypse.”

The film was produced by Morgan Spurlock, who is better known for his assault on fast food in the documentary Super Size Me. I liked Super Size Me. In a simultaneously informative and comical way, the film examined a serious problem in our country: the disastrous effects of overconsumption of large portions of very unhealthy “fast food.” The film raised our consciousness while making us laugh. I’m down with that.

Similarly, I generally liked What Would Jesus Buy? As expressed in previous blog posts this year and last, I too have been disappointed and repulsed at the commercial exploitation of this important religious holiday. Christmas has been taken over by marketers in an effort to induce us to overindulge in material consumption. The irony of course is that the exploited holiday is the celebration of the birth of a man who taught us to not focus on material things, but to instead put our attention and energy into more lasting concerns. For that reason, I appreciate the basic concern of What Would Jesus Buy? It points out that Christmas shopping is really just emblematic of our culture’s wider year-long materialism and overconsumption, which the film equates (comically) to a religion unto itself. The filmmakers flag that this focus reduces us to worshipping material things. The film points out that on average Americans spend about 1 hour each week on spiritual pursuits, but about 5 hours each week shopping.

What Would Jesus Buy? explores the notion that Christmas is a marketing coup. Marketers have succeeded in equating childhood love with having material things. The film examines the myth of Santa, noting that parents go to extreme lengths to hide from their kids the fact that toys actually come from stores and do not have a magical origin. It is mentioned that other countries prohibit marketing to kids, but by contrast American kids absorb large numbers of hours of advertising each week and spend significantly less time in meaningful dialogue with their parents. The film mentions that child psychologists say that young children lack the developmental ability to distinguish between entertainment and advertising such that they are particularly receptive to marketing pitches. To illustrate these points, the film also interviews children who discuss the intense peer pressures of having the “right” brand labels on their belongings and the “right” clothes at school. The film also includes interviews with parents who are obsessed with giving their kids “quality” brand name presents, and having their kids celebrate Christmas with a slew of gifts. The film discusses the repercussions of such attitudes, including the financial vulnerability of overextended credit and the exploitation of workers in the developing world due to “big box” stores that emphasize an abundance of cheap merchandise.

Romans 1:25 (New Century Version)

They traded the truth of God for a lie. They worshiped and served what had been created instead of the God who created those things, who should be praised forever. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Christmas in Southern Louisiana

Having lived in the eastern part of Texas for so long, we’ve known so many people who were originally from Louisiana. In particular, we’ve known a lot of folks from New Orleans and small towns in southern Louisiana. Our family used to go to Louisiana for long weekends. And many evacuees came to our part of Texas after Katrina. As a result of these experiences, I have a special love and affinity for Louisianans, and have been devastated by what they have gone through since the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion last April.

Recently, I heard a really heart-breaking news story about the disaster’s economic impact to the local fishing industry in southern Louisiana. Interviewees spoke about the toll the economic situation had taken on their families. People had lost their homes, couples had broken up, children were stressed about such losses and the continuing uncertainty in their lives. You can read the story at the link below:

For more background, the following blog is dedicated to documenting the damage from the oil spill, and contains a tremendous amount of information:

My heart really breaks for the families in southern Louisiana. That region is not an area of affluence in the best of times. But in recent years, it has been hit hard by hurricanes, and now the local economy has been decimated by a new double whammy. The oil spill contamination in the waters has hurt the fishing industry, and frankly may impact it for generations. And the offshore exploration and development activities that have also been an important part of the region’s economy have been hit by the halt in petroleum industry activity in the wake of the BP disaster.

I wanted to make a donation to help provide relief for the people in that region, but when I did some research on the internet, it was surprisingly hard. Most relief efforts in the wake of the oil spill seem to have focused on the non-human animals harmed by ecological disaster. I love birds, fish and reptiles, but I love human beings more. From what I found in my research, there has not been a lot of humanitarian focus on the people suffering in the wake of the BP disaster.

The Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana, however, is the primary food bank serving the region in Louisiana most impacted by the oil spill. Their website is available at the link below. It contains information about the group’s efforts to assist people impacted by the repercussions of the oil spill, as well as information about how one can contribute to their efforts.

Matthew 25: 34-40 (New King James Version)

Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Christmas 2010

The weekend after Thanksgiving this year, our pastor gave an interesting talk. She mentioned that at this time of year people are always going around asking “Are you ready for Christmas?” And she noted what they meant was things like “have you put up your decorations?” or “have you bought all your presents?” She proposed a different response, “yes, I have prepared to banish evil in my life.” She thought that would really shake things up and get people’s attention. I think her point was that we should get back to the real reason for Christmas, which is not the flashing icicle lights, the eggnog or Gameboys. Amen!

Indeed, that point seems particularly apropos this year. The economy is in tatters. Unemployment is still a horrible problem. We have friends and family who have been out of work for well over a year, and have gone to heroic measures to find another job but to no avail. We have friends whose employers are not doing well and their jobs are not secure. And almost a year after the earthquake, the situation in Haiti is still desperate. The challenges and suffering seem to get worse for Haitians. Tropical storms struck people in tents last summer and now the cholera epidemic.

In such times, it particularly seems inappropriate to try to buy a lot of stuff to try to make merry. Many folks don’t even have the basics. Our family is trying to focus on the reason for Christmas. I know a lot of folks strive to do the same thing, but it is very hard to go against the grain. The mainstream culture is so influential and is very hard to escape. I thought it might be an encouragement to hear about the ways our family has found to reclaim Christmas. And I’m always open to new ways if readers have suggestions to share.

First, our kids’ Sunday School teacher gave all the parish’s families a “Jesse Tree” poster to help celebrate Advent. Every night we read a brief story from the Bible and place a sticker on the paper tree on the poster. The stories and stickers symbolize particular events from the Bible. Jesse was the father of David, so the Jesse Tree traces Jesus’s lineage and promise through the Old Testament. It is a simple and neat activity to help us remember the religious meaning of Christmas, and refocus on why it is such a special holiday. Christmas is the celebration of Christ coming into this world. It is a beautiful and awe-inspiring event particularly when we compare human existence before Jesus came to this Earth to live among us and teach us the Father’s ways. The link below provides some information about the Jesse Tree tradition:

Throughout the year our church frequently collects donations for a local food bank. Our family usually participates in them, but it seems particularly important to donate during the holidays. It is anguishing to be food insecure at anytime, but it is particularly hard when the rest of society is over-indulging. And this year in particular, the need seems to be so great. Like much of the country, the economy is really bad here in Arizona. We know plenty of folks who have lost their homes, who have been out of work or who are at risk to lose their job. In that context, donations to food banks have dropped off dramatically while the need has grown tremendously. Those who are fortunate enough to still have a job and a roof over our heads are particularly obligated to help. The following link has information on contributing to food banks in Arizona, but similar information for food banks in other communities is just a Google search away:

Our church is participating in the Angel Tree program, which is part of the Prison Fellowship ministry. Prison Fellowship ministers to the needs of incarcerated people. But incarceration does not just impact the convicted individual. No man or woman is an island. We’re all interconnected, so incarceration impacts families and communities. In our society’s emphasis on getting “tough on crime,” we often overlook the impact on the children of convicted people. They bear the emotional loss of the absence of their parent, the social stigma of being a child of a convict, as well as the economic insecurity and deprivation that often is associated with having a potential breadwinner incarcerated. At the holidays, the Angel Tree program aims to minister to children in that situation by allowing individuals to buys gifts for specific children. Our deacon purposely asked that our church be responsible for sponsoring older children this year because they are often overlooked. More people volunteer to buy gifts for babies and toddlers because they are cute, but not as many people volunteer to buys gifts for older kids. Our family is sponsoring two children this year—a 7 year old and a 10 year old. We have done this kind of sponsorship (through various programs) ever year, and always involve our kids in the shopping and planning. We don’t want to shelter them from the reality that our family is very privileged, and not everyone has the same material comforts and advantages. We should be grateful for what we have been given, and never taken it for granted. We are proud of our kids’ interest and contributions to the shopping experience, and we hope that as they get older, they will do the same sort of thing sua sponte. The link below has information about the Angel Tree program:

For several years, our family has made the World Vision Gift Catalogue a part of our family’s Christmas tradition. World Vision is a well-established and well-respected Christian humanitarian organization that works around the world to alleviate suffering due to poverty (and associated problems such as exploitation and disease). They have a catalogue of gifts at various prices that one can purchase to gift to people in need. The gifts are practical in nature and can make a wonderful difference in the lives of the recipients. You can choose to gift livestock, a water well, medicine, food, educational supplies, clothing, or a host of other needed things. Each year we give each of our children a budget and sit with them to go through the catalogue to let them choose how to spend their budgeted monies. It has brought tears to my eyes when they have chosen to buy things like ducks, blankets, seeds and mosquito netting for other families. I’m proud of the thought and reflection they put into the purchases. I’m also grateful that their own material needs are met, but I’m heart-broken for parents whose precious children are more vulnerable. More information on the World Vision Gift Catalogue is available at the link below:§ion=10389.

On several occasions in the last few years, our family has sent notes and care packages to men and women in the armed services who are serving overseas. The site provides a list of soldiers who are willing to act as the point person for their unit, and lists things that would be most useful and appropriate to send to that particular unit. It has been a privilege and a very moving experience when our family has sent things in the past at various times of the year. We plan on sending a package again this holiday season. Our family has known children whose parents are serving in the military abroad, and our own kids cannot image how tough it is to be separated from a parent like that. As a result, this activity is meaningful to our own family.

Like most families, our own financial resources are limited, so we certainly do other things to keep the focus on the meaning of Christmas. During the holidays, we particularly make a point to spend time with friends and family. Being together and enjoying each other’s company is a better gift than anything you could wrap and put under the tree.

This month, our kids are going to be in a holiday parade with a group of their friends, in which they are participating in a live nativity scene. Our kids and a friend of theirs were designated to portray the three Wise Men. In early January, they are also going to participate in our church’s annual Epiphany pageant, which is a lot of fun. My husband and I will be on hand to help the Sunday School director herd livestock (i.e., preschoolers) at appropriate times.

Our children enjoy the spectacle of Christmas lights, so throughout the holiday season, we take an occasional walk around the neighborhood to admire the light displays. It is fun to take a walk and get some exercise together. In our part of Arizona, the days are very pleasant because of all the sun, but when the sun goes down it can get a little nippy. We make a big to-do about putting on scarves and jackets and mittens when we go for our walks to admire the lights. We don’t otherwise have much occasion to get bundled up and wear such things. And we have to keep moving to keep the blood pumping. Then when we get home we sometimes make Mexican hot chocolate, which is a real treat. As opposed to traditional American hot cocoa, Mexican hot chocolate is a rich blend of chocolate and cinnamon. At our kids’ request, we add a couple mini marshmallows and/or sprinkle some ground up candy canes on top to really make it a party!

We make the long trek to Texas to be with our relatives in time for Christmas. Our family is from South Texas, where eating tamales on Christmas Eve is a tradition. My in-laws are from a small town and buy homemade tamales from someone they know for the Christmas Eve supper.

Our family is composed of people from different faith traditions, but we go to church on Christmas Eve. Before we were parents, my husband and I always went to midnight mass. That is way too late for our kids, so we go to an earlier service. Churches often have one geared for children’s short attention spans.

On Christmas day, one of our family traditions is Jesus’s Birthday Cake. We enjoy making the cake together and letting the kids decorate it with left-overs from prior Christmas cookie baking. Truth be told, they generally go a little overboard with the sprinkles and icing, but we think Jesus takes it all in stride. What mere mortals may consider to be gaudy is surely a work of art in his eyes. We serve the cake with dinner on Christmas day. We turn out the lights, sing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, and blow out the candles for him. It is one of my favorite traditions—and not because I have a sweet tooth.

Isaiah 11:1-9 (Contemporary English Version)

Like a branch that sprouts from a stump, someone from David's family will someday be king. The Spirit of the LORD will be with him to give him understanding, wisdom, and insight. He will be powerful, and he will know and honor the LORD. His greatest joy will be to obey the LORD. This king won't judge by appearances or listen to rumors. The poor and the needy will be treated with fairness and with justice. His word will be law everywhere in the land, and criminals will be put to death. Honesty and fairness will be his royal robes. Leopards will lie down with young goats, and wolves will rest with lambs. Calves and lions will eat together and be cared for by little children. Cows and bears will share the same pasture; their young will rest side by side. Lions and oxen will both eat straw. Little children will play near snake holes. They will stick their hands into dens of poisonous snakes and never be hurt. Nothing harmful will take place on the LORD's holy mountain. Just as water fills the sea, the land will be filled with people who know and honor the LORD.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Black Friday

One thing that makes me very sad is the erosion of the focus of Thanksgiving. I don’t particularly mind the Macy’s Parade or the football games. Families and friends can fellowship to some degree while watching those types of things on television. But what really upsets me is the interference from Black Friday.

To be clear, I’m down with capitalism. I’ve spent most of my life working for for-profit enterprises. I appreciate the need of companies to make a profit. I don’t have a problem with Black Friday sales in a very general sense. Certainly, it is upsetting and offensive to me as a Christ follower that the religious celebration of Christmas has been perverted via retail exploitation. But I do pragmatically understand that retailers depend on the consumer indulgence between Thanksgiving and Christmas to stay in business. I don’t want anyone to lose their job. I appreciate that getting a good start to that important retail season is imperative. Therefore, I accept that retailers have to attract shoppers on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

But in recent years, retailers have been pushing up the start of that Christmas shopping season to an earlier and earlier point. Days after Halloween this year, our family was already seeing Christmas merchandise in a number of stores. We started our little backyard garden a bit late this fall and tried to buy some seeds the first week in November. Despite the fact that in our part of Arizona you can grow vegetables year round, a major national hardware store had already gotten rid of its gardening supplies to make room for a huge collection of Christmas lawn decorations.

Black Friday has also started earlier and earlier in recent years. Instead of opening their doors at a reasonable hour (like 9 or 10 a.m.) on the Friday after Thanksgiving, some retailers are now opening their doors in the wee hours of the morning, e.g., just after midnight, 4 a.m., etc. A week before Thanksgiving, the local news was running stories of how people were setting up tents outside a national electronics store (and others) to be first in line for great deals on Black Friday. And each year as Black Friday approaches, I get nervous because in recent years we hear about violence and loss of life as people fight each other for cheap merchandise or stampede when the store opens its doors.

Some retailers have apparently decided there is no need to wait until the day of Black Friday. Some have begun to open their doors for special sales on Thanksgiving Day itself. Some families now plan their holiday meal so they can down the turkey and still make it to the sales on the same day. It is very distressing. Wisely, the weekend before Thanksgiving this year, our pastor preached proactively on the topic and encouraged all of us to prepare ourselves ahead of time to avoid getting sucked up in the culture’s approach to the Christmas season.

I’m always incredulous and disheartened about the violence, the camping out in parking lots, and the rearrangement of one’s Thanksgiving schedule to accommodate shopping. It is just stuff. Stuff breaks. Stuff can be lost or stolen. Stuff cannot give you a hug or say something to make you laugh. Why do so many folks sacrifice so much for stuff? I just don’t get it. It really depresses me that our culture has become so materialistic that we’re trampling over Thanksgiving to pervert Christmas. Such attitudes are just fundamentally counter to my values as a Christian.

But to be clear, I don’t judge or condemn folks who get caught up in it. That would be counter to my Christian beliefs too. I’m not under any illusions that any of us live up to all of Jesus’s teachings. We all fall short. I know I certainly do. Instead of judging or condemning, I mourn deeply for people who get caught up in the materialism of our culture—particularly in the Christmas season. A plasma screen TV, an iPad or snazzy shoes cannot bring any of us lasting joy. Chasing after such things is a losing proposition. It is a distraction from what can bring us true happiness and peace. I really mourn for people who try to find fulfillment in things that will ultimately disappoint them. I would like all my brothers and sisters to find a more permanent source of happiness.

Matthew 6:19-21 (New King James Version)

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reflections on Thanksgiving

I have a confession to make. I don’t really like turkey, stuffing is not that exciting to me, and personally I find pumpkin pie to be gross. Even though I don’t really enjoy the traditional menu of Thanksgiving, I love the holiday itself. I love being with my family and other folks to spend time in fellowship, relaxing and enjoying a festive meal. I also like the time to focus on our blessings and to give thanks.

As a Christian, I know that being grateful for my blessings and giving thanks to God is an important part of my relationship with my Creator and is critical to my own spiritual development. But even if one takes a more secular approach to the holiday, psychologists have been telling us for years that people, who are cognizant of and grateful for the good things in their lives, tend to be happier and more resilient than the rest of the population.

When our family still lived in Texas, Thanksgiving was sometimes sort of stressful to me. In large part it was because neither my husband nor I are particularly adept at the culinary arts. Despite this gap in our skill set, we often hosted many different groups of relatives on Thanksgiving. They were coming from different parts of the large state, so they often arrived and left at very different times. That made it hard to time the meal. And invariably folks would try to visit with me while I was cooking, but I frankly cannot walk and chew gum. So, I’d end up leaving out the baking powder when making biscuits, losing count with respect to how many cups of sugar I had added to the cranberries, or I’d forget to set the timer for the pies.

Despite these stresses, I loved having our many different relatives come together to share the special day. It made me so glad that despite our differences in political affiliation, education, taste in music, and theological belief, we all came together to enjoy each other’s company. Heck, even my mom and dad (who have been divorced for 30+ years) shared the holiday together at our home on many occasions. I was always so proud that they and their spouses fellowshipped together. No pettiness. They came together for the sake of the rest of us. Amazingly, my parents and their spouses actually seemed to even enjoy visiting with one another. Coming together despite differences. That is what family values are all about in my opinion.

1 Chronicles 16:34

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Blog Post on the Death of Feminism

Last spring I posted a series of blog posts on feminism. I came of age after the feminist movement, and the word “feminist” had never had a lot of relevance to me. But upon invitation to associate with a feminist law professor group last spring, I began to ponder the term more.

I sought insight from a number of people of different backgrounds. It was really interesting to hear their varied insights. I noted in the resulting blog posts that the rather benign dictionary definition of “feminism” is so different from the modern connotations that have evolved. These days, in many quarters, the term is viewed very negatively and can inspire tremendous hostility.

I received a lot of interest and positive feedback from those blog posts on feminism. For those who continue to be interested in the topic, I thought you might enjoy the blog post at the link below; it was written by Stephen Prothero (a religion scholar at Boston University). It was posted on CNN’s “Belief Blog.”

Acts 5:29 (New King James Version)

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Drs. Diane E. Levin & Jean Kilbourne

The prior post noted my concern about the sexualization of children. Indeed, in the summer of 2009, I read a book on the subject and wrote an article reviewing it. The book was So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids by Drs. Diane E. Levin & Jean Kilbourne. The book was published in 2008 by Ballantine Books.

My book review was published this past summer in the American Journal of Family Law. That review is available at:

The journal trimmed some of the article for publication. The original, full-length article is available at:

My article essentially praises Drs. Levin and Kilbourne for bringing attention to this serious problem facing children and families today. However, I note that due to the ubiquitous nature of the problem, structural changes are needed. The one-off strategies the book’s authors suggest to parents are well-intentioned, but woefully inadequate. The authors’ discussion of the problem in their book, as well as my own experience as a mom and grade school teacher, leads me to the conclusion that parents dealing with this issue alone within their own family is analogous to the passengers on the Titanic trying to bail water with tea cups.

The full-length version of my article also takes issue with certain tactics of the book's authors. For example, I assert that they hurt their credibility at times by taking on small (and admittedly rather benign) fish when they railed against the horrors of the Disney Princess marketing behemoth. The Disney Princesses are much beloved by many and are relatively harmless. Citing them as examples of the problem of sexualization, the authors appear to be overly sensitive and alarmist. Such examples also potentially alienate readers who might otherwise be sympathetic to the authors’ general concerns about the impact on children of sexualized media and marketing.

Moreover, in their book Drs. Levin and Kilbourne needlessly alienate natural allies in the Christian community with dismissive and derogatory statements about the religious right. It is apparent in various references throughout the book that the authors have taken a firm stand on culture war issues, and they are not on the same side as Evangelicals and political conservatives. That is fine. Everyone is entitled to their own views. However, when the problem of sexualizing childhood is so ubiquitous and entrenched, it makes no sense to refuse to reach across the aisle and seek allies to make progress on this critical issue. It saddens me that in our current climate, people accept the political polarization and don’t even try to find common ground with people who have a different overarching philosophy or worldview.

2 Thessalonians 3:3

But the Lord is faithful,
and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Feminist Law Professors Blog

Although I don’t have time to follow it regularly, I enjoy the academic blog, “Feminist Law Professors.” It is accessible at: Contributors from a variety of scholars with a “feminist” perspective post essays and musings on a variety of topics. I don’t agree with everything on the blog, but some of it is interesting to me.

Two posts earlier this year particularly got my attention. One was about the gender divide in parenting. The other was about the underrepresentation and oversexualization of females in the media. Both are topics of great interest to me generally, and I thought both posts were worthwhile.

Issues affecting children and families are important to me. I have spent a good deal of my professional life and done a lot of volunteer work in the service of children. I have written two articles on issues involving children and the law, and have focused on children and families numerous times in this blog. Consequently, among other issues, I’m very interested in the role of fathers. For a variety of reasons, based on my own observations, I think that fathers are often undervalued in many families. (Sometimes they are undervalued by their own actions or inactions.) I wish more fathers had a greater role in parenting children. In my opinion, their contributions can be invaluable.

I’m also extremely concerned about the sexualization of women and girls in modern media. Particularly as a parent of daughters, this is a very disturbing trend. Such sexualization limits girls’ conceptions of who they are and forces them into adult roles prematurely. There are many aspects of being human. One’s sexuality is just one facet of one’s identity. Sexualization is a form of objectification, and denies the humanity of the individual. That is fundamentally inconsistent with basic Christian values.

Luke 12:7 (Contemporary English Version)

Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Blog Post on a Little Boy’s Choice of Halloween Costume

Around Halloween, a beautiful friend of mine sent me a link to a post from a blog I had never heard of. I don’t really have anything to add, but I recommend it highly. The link below brings up the post.

I love the power of blogs. People we don’t even know can share their life experiences to teach and enrich the rest of us. Blogging is such a democratic medium. You don’t have to be rich, powerful or have a slew of academic credentials to share your perspective with the world. I’m often amazed by the eloquence of everyday folks, people who don’t earn a living by putting together words to express ideas.

I love that this blogging mom, whom I’ll likely never meet, has broken my heart and given me a lot of food for thought. As a fellow mom, I could understand her fiercely protective love for her son and anyone who might hurt him in any way. I’m not exactly a fan of Sarah Palin, and I am not sympathetic to Tea Party politics, but I can certainly identify with the “Mama Grizzly” metaphor.

In a time when the bullying of LGBT kids and resulting suicides have (finally) begun to get mainline media attention, I thought the timing of this mom’s post was particularly poignant. Children learn so much from us, their parents. Every one of us needs to work harder to teach our children to love all their neighbors.

Luke 6:37 (New King James Version)

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Halloween and the Culture Wars

In recent years, Halloween has become one of the many battlegrounds in the culture wars. But for some reason, it seems to get less attention in the media than school prayer, public displays of Christmas decorations, and sexualized entertainment.

In our own family’s current social circle, there seems to be a real split of opinion on Halloween. Some families we know absolutely love Halloween, and the whole family gets in on the fun in a wholesome way. One family we know decorates their home elaborately for an annual party for parents and kids alike. Everyone dresses up. Another family we know has an adults only Halloween party. Costumes are mandatory, and the kids are left with sitters. The latter family are friends of ours from our church. They are strong Christians. The former family does not attend church regularly, but they do have pretty mainstream religious beliefs. Both families have wonderful values. One has adopted several special needs children and are foster parents to others. The other family volunteers extensively at our church. They are both great families, and we’re privileged to have such great friends.

Also in our social circle are families who feel very strongly that Halloween is ungodly. Because of the pagan roots of Halloween, and the themes these families perceive to be inspired by Satanism, such families have drawn a line in the sand and refuse to have any involvement with Halloween. We know plenty of conservative Christian families who don’t even utter the H-word aloud in the presence of their kids, and would never even consider dressing up or handing out candy. Although our family takes a different approach, I can definitely understand the views of families that embrace the anti-Halloween perspective.

It is also interesting that different Christian churches have a different take on their approach to Halloween. At our church, when Halloween fell on a Saturday last year, kids attending the Saturday night service were invited by the pastor and the director of religious education to wear their Halloween costumes so they could easily go from Bible class to trick-or-treating that evening. That night there were little ninjas, mermaids, and witches walking the corridors of our church campus and receiving communion with the rest of the congregation. My kids’ teacher was a great sport and also dressed in costume that night, much to the delight of her students. She was teaching the kids about All Saints Day (which is the day after Halloween), and came dressed as Saint Martha (a saint with which many modern moms can identify!).

But not all Christian churches are ok with the modern celebration of Halloween. Last year we knew a Catholic family whose parish was having a festival of saints; it took place on October 31st to coincide with (and offer an alternative to) Halloween. But the festival was technically to celebrate All Saints Day. The kids were supposed to come dressed as their favorite saint. Ninjas, mermaids and witches were not welcome. I appreciate the sentiment, but I also realize that frankly many little kids would rather pretend to be a super hero or a princess instead of noble real-life folks like St. Francis or St. Katharine Drexel.

Some other Christian churches take an even more hard-line approach. They refuse to celebrate Halloween in any way. One large non-denominational church in our area had a big fall party during the typical trick-or-treating time in the evening on the 31st to give families a non-Halloween alternative. It was open to the public and free. No costumes, but I understand they had fun activities and candy for the kids.

Significantly, it is not just the conservative Christians we know who are so turned off by the modern observance of Halloween. A very progressive, intellectual friend of mine, who is also a Christian, recently mentioned to me in passing that her family just doesn’t do Halloween. They disapprove of the occult themes of the festivities, so they just don’t participate. I shared with her that I could definitely understand that approach.

Another lovely friend of mine, who does not embrace a religious perspective, shared with me that she too gets a little weirded out by Halloween these days. She told me about a former co-worker who was an intelligent, sensitive person most of the year, but who got a little too into Halloween. She and her husband would have an over-the-top party with lots of scary effects. And they even let their toddler watch gory films like Friday the Thirteenth. My friend and I were horrified at the thought of anyone watching slasher films like that, but we were particularly concerned by the potential impact it would have on someone so young to become desensitized to violence and human pain so early in her development. What happens to kids like that who grown up throughout childhood being exposed to extreme violence against fellow human beings as a form of entertainment? Why is that entertainment to anyone?

Unfortunately, in the current cultural climate, even just asking such questions can provoke a pretty hostile response in some quarters. The questioner is attacked as an overly serious stick in the mud who needs to loosen up. Similarly, when parents and other adults question the sexualized nature of media offerings, children’s fashions and toys, they are attacked as up-tight prudes threatening sacred First Amendment rights.

Matthew 14:13

When Jesus got the news, he slipped away by boat to an out-of-the-way place by himself. But unsuccessfully—someone saw him and the word got around. Soon a lot of people from the nearby villages walked around the lake to where he was. When he saw them coming, he was overcome with pity and healed their sick.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Evolving Traditions of Halloween

In just my own life-time, popular attitudes towards Halloween have changed considerably. As a kid in the 1970s, my friends and I enjoyed dressing up in costumes and going trick-or-treating. We did worry a bit about wackos putting needles and razor blades in the treats, but as long as it was not a homemade treat and the factory seal on the candy was intact, mom wasn’t too concerned.

My elementary school always had a big daytime Halloween Festival on a Saturday before Halloween. We kids wore our costumes, played games, and without our parent’s knowledge sometimes bid on silent auction items. It was a lot of fun and was a big money maker for the PTA. At some point, however, they changed the name mid-season from the “Halloween Festival” to the “Fall Festival.” No one ever explained why. I had a vague sense that the prior name must have offended some folks. As a kid, I didn’t think too much about it, but guessed it was similar to how in music class we always made sure to sing both Hanukah and Christmas songs in December. And the songs chosen by our aptly named teacher, Mrs. Wise, were always pretty bland and avoided religious references. Instead of singing about miracles or Jesus, we sang about dreidels and Santa Claus. Back then I wasn’t sure how Halloween might have offended someone’s religion, but I had a general sense that was why the festival’s name was hastily changed.

At some point as I got closer to junior high, it was clear I was too old to still participate in the festivities and I didn’t think much about Halloween for a number of years. Halloween was baby stuff. But to my surprise, in college, Halloween experienced a resurgence in popularity among many of my peers. It was an excuse for some to put on costumes (togas were a popular one as I recall) and drink beer in massive quantities. Perennial nerd that I am, I did not go in for that sort of thing. Keg parties were just not my milieu. Instead, I hung out with friends in regular clothing on Halloween drinking lattes or eating Mexican food.

After undergraduate school, when I was an au pair in France in the 1990s, my French host family told me they admired the American holiday of Halloween. They had read about it in a magazine similar to National Geographic. They considered Halloween to be an interesting cultural difference between me and them. My French parents thought it was a really lovely tradition that children got to indulge their imaginations to dress in costumes and visit neighbors to receive sugary treats.

My French mother was no secular leftist; she was in fact a pretty conservative woman. She was a stay-at-home mom to five children and a practicing Catholic. One of her aunts was a nun serving in an overseas mission; one of her uncles was a priest who ministerd to a local community of Roma. My French mother had a pretty traditional view of the role of women. She also did not permit her children to watch T.V. except on rare occasions, and the family did not even own a VHS or DVD player. The only popular music in the house was the French equivalent of Raffi.

I had never thought about Halloween in quite the terms my French mother had described. It was interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective on my culture’s traditions. I remember my French mother was interested in trying to organize her neighbors into observing Halloween as a fun, community building event that the kids would enjoy. She asked for my advice in the logistics of Halloween, and I did my best to share my cultural insights.

I didn’t think too much about Halloween again until many years later when my husband and I became parents. When our first daughter was barely a year old, we had two different adorable costumes for her. She wore a comfy lion sweatshirt outfit at her nursery school. It had a hood with a mane, and the pants had a little fuzzy tail. Then we walked her around the neighbor in a Winnie the Pooh costume. It was fun. She was so cute.

Each year since then, our kids have gotten more involved in choosing their own costumes. They look forward to dressing up and getting candy. I’ve even made a few of their costumes though my sewing skills are quite limited. Fortunately, they’ve had mercy on me and chose to dress as Pocahontas, Peter Pan and Tinker Bell, i.e., characters who wore fairly simple smock type outfits that mommy could actually put together.

This year, our kids talked my husband and me into dressing up as well. At our kids’ direction, I went as a princess and my husband dressed as a pirate—complete with tiara and eye patch, respectively. We wanted to be good sports because we know the kids will not always want to dress up, and we were honored they even wanted to include us in the fun. At some point, they will undoubtedly be embarrassed to do things publicly with their nerdy parents. But on the other hand, my husband and I were a bit mortified to wear silly costumes outside the safe confines of our home, and we frankly hoped to not run into anyone we knew as we escorted our kids around the neighborhood to go trick or treating. We were grateful that trick or treating doesn’t begin until after dark!

Our family does enjoy Halloween, but it is not a huge deal for us. We never get around to decorating our home, though last year we did stick a pumpkin near our front door. We never got around to carving it, so it ended up staying there through Thanksgiving. It seemed to go with several fall holidays and never went bad.

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, however, our kids actually get a little nervous at the macabre approach that some folks take when celebrating the holiday. Grocery stores, drug stores and many other types of businesses decorate in pretty gory and spooky motifs to encourage Halloween sales. During that period, my husband has to be careful which aisles he goes down when he takes the kids grocery shopping.

He took them to a drug store for their flu shot last month. They were already nervous about being stuck with a needle, but at the sight of angry looking skeletons and threatening monsters all over the store, our younger child began trembling and screaming hysterically, refusing to go to the back of the store to get her shot. She is typically pretty brave, and has fearlessly apprehended spiders in our home with her bare hands. But skeletons and monsters are a different matter. My husband tried to keep calm at the public drugstore meltdown though this was quite a challenge.

On another occasion when they went to a party supply store to get a piñata for a birthday party, our younger child had to be carried through the scary stuff to get to the benign kiddy piñatas. She had to bury her face in my husband’s neck and shut her eyes tightly. My husband said the decorations at that particular party supply store were really over the top and even he was a little creeped out. If he hadn’t struck out with respect to the paltry piñata selections at several other stores, he wouldn’t have even gone to that party supply store.

And even just trick or treating can be a little dicey these days. A few of our neighbors decorate in such gruesome ways that we have to avoid their house when we trick or treat; our kids are too frightened to approach such homes even when Skittles or M&Ms are on the line. For example, one neighbor hung across the front of their home an absolutely humongous skeleton with an angry face, outstretched hands and ghost-like gauzy attire. The skeleton was much larger than a grown adult and was very ominous looking. Our kids wouldn’t go near that house; we had to walk (quickly) on the sidewalk across the street.

There was another house in our neighborhood that decorated with pretend butcher cleavers, knives and drills with fake blood dripping from them. On Halloween night, those same homeowners were blaring Marilyn Manson music, had some sort of contraption emitting smoke, had added more decorations of monsters, and had someone on the front yard dressed as Jason from Friday the Thirteenth. Our kids were terrified just walking across the street from that house, and refused to trick or treat at any of the more benign looking houses in the vicinity.

Beyond the sometimes disturbing decorations, some families also try to scare trick-or-treaters, even the real little ones, which makes the holiday a challenge. One year when we took our kids trick or treating, a teenage boy laid down in the middle of the sidewalk in front of his home pretending to be dead with fake blood on him. His parents were a few feet away handing out candy. As we walked by, my older daughter was very nervous and asked me “Is that boy ok?!?” I assured her that he was just pretending, but it freaked her out and we went home not long thereafter.

At another house that year, the parents were in the garage handing out candy in a seemingly benign setting. But out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there were several teenage boys in the dark by the side of that house dressed in scary costumes and about to pounce on us. Knowing this would terrify my kids (and not wanting to be woken up for many nights to come as my kids suffered nightmares), I called out to the hiding teenagers in a friendly voice, “Hi! How are y’all doing tonight? Happy Halloween!” This alerted my kids to the teens’ presence and diffused the possibility of a surprise attack. The teenagers were visibly annoyed that I had ruined the opportunity to terrorize pre-schoolers.

I just don’t get families like that. Why would parents let their kids terrorize little folks like that? I also just don’t understand the over-the-top approach many vendors take to increase Halloween sales. I also don’t get those gross haunted houses that spring up in October that are intended to scare teens and adults. What on earth is the appeal of all that? I’ve always thought of Halloween as a holiday for little kids, but it seems to have been taken over by older folks. In the process, at least in some contexts, it sometimes seems like little kids aren’t able to enjoy the holiday any more.

In my failure to understand these things, I sometimes feel that maybe our family is just really out of it. We don’t watch much TV and my kids get scared by things that don’t affect other more media savvy kids. Maybe our family is not in the mainstream culture, but I’m glad my kids (as well as my husband and I) are not desensitized to violence. And our own cautious acceptance of Halloween traditions makes my husband and me at least somewhat sympathetic to the growing number of families who refuse to celebrate Halloween at all.

Genesis 3:17

The ground will sprout thorns and weeds, you'll get your food the hard way, Planting and tilling and harvesting, sweating in the fields from dawn to dusk, Until you return to that ground yourself, dead and buried; you started out as dirt, you'll end up dirt."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Christian’s Take on Ghosts

In recent posts on the debate between those who embrace the Theory of Evolution and those who embrace Creationism, I noted that scientists tend to like certainty and focus their attention on ideas that can be proven empirically. By contrast, religious faith involves concepts that are not provable in the same way, and requires an acceptance that we humans don’t have all the answers. Around the time of Halloween, I read an interview where an author discussed similar themes. The link below contains the interview.

In the interview, the author, Gary Jansen, indicated he is a Christian. He also indicated that his family’s home was haunted. He apparently wrote a book about the experience expressing that the experience was initially frightening, but ultimately deepened his religious faith. I have no doubt the interview was considered by CNN as a Halloween fluff piece, but perhaps surprisingly I thought it was actually rather interesting. Not exactly the typical story of Christians at Halloween.

I’m not exactly an expert on the subject of ghosts, but it is interesting that the concept seems to exist in all human cultures. Both the Old and New Testament have references to the concept. I’m not a theologian, but the concept of ghosts doesn’t seem to jive with basic Christian theology. Nonetheless, I know at least a few Christians who have shared with me that they believe earnestly in ghosts due to first hand experiences.

Many years ago, my husband and I were also intrigued by a sermon given by our pastor at a church where we were once members in Houston. He gave the sermon just after Easter, and the topic of his talk was that Jesus’s resurrection gives us courage to face each day despite the knowledge that our life on this planet is finite. I forget how it was relevant, but the pastor began his sermon with a ghost story anecdote. In much more compelling detail than I can currently remember, he described how he and another priest were living in the priests’ quarters at the church, and they were woken up several nights in a row by music. As I recall, each thought the other was playing the piano at night and was trying to not be annoyed with the other. Finally, one night it was particularly loud and woke the pastor up. He went downstairs to the room where the piano was. No one was in that room and the other priest was in his bedroom upstairs. I’m not doing the story justice, and can’t remember all the details. But when the priest told the story, it was very creepy. My husband and I were amazed that this priest apparently believed in ghosts. He told the story in such a sincere and calm manner. It was parenthetical to the focus of his sermon on the resurrection. Our pastor was a very somber, intellectual man. He was a very lovely and gentle person, but he was so rational and cerebral. He was also a learned theologian. As a result, this pastor was the last person we would have imagined to endorse the concept of ghosts!

Isaiah 29:4
Then deep from the earth you will speak; from low in the dust your words will come. Your voice will whisper from the groundlike a ghost conjured up from the grave.

Luke 24:39
Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Evolution, Creationism, Intelligent Design...and Jesus

I was thinking more about the whole issue of Evolution and Christianity. Some people clearly think they are in conflict. There is the whole silly bumper sticker feud between the Christian fishes and the Darwin fishes that grow legs and eat the Christian fishes. And there are obviously much more protracted, serious feuds on school boards and elsewhere.

I don’t see Christianity and the Theory of Evolution as being in conflict, but I certainly respect Christ-followers who do. As I’ve mentioned previously, I love and admire many people who embrace such beliefs. However, there are also plenty of Christ-followers I know who are firm believers in the Theory of Evolution. But there are plenty more I know who have never indicated to me where they come down on this issue—if they have given it any thought at all.

I have never once heard even the most devoted Creationist or the most ardent supporter of Intelligent Design say that rejecting the Theory of Evolution is a key tenet of Christian faith. Further, I have never heard anyone say Jesus came to Earth to show up know-it-all scientists. Frankly, I believe he came here for much more important reasons. And in the whole debate on this topic, I get concerned that that key fact gets overlooked.

Jesus came here to show us tangibly that he loves us and to teach us about our Father so that we could be reconciled to him. To me, that is what the essence of the Gospel (i.e., the “good news”) is all about. I was in the car thinking about all this. (Yes, I do some of my most important pondering in the car; it is one of the few times a busy mom and professor has a few moments to herself.) It occurred to me what an incredible red herring the whole Evolution debate is. The debate often distracts Christ-followers from truly following our Savior. It seems like there are so many more fruitful things we could be doing with our time. After all, for the short time we’re on this Earth, we’re supposed to be Christ’s feet and hands to bring his love to a world of hurting people. We’re not supposed to waste our time bickering amongst ourselves over things that are relatively inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

If my jargon were more like that of my Evangelical brothers and sisters, I would not use the term “red herring.” If I were to use a more Evangelical way of speaking to express my belief, I would say the Enemy is trying to deceive, distract and divide the Body of Christ via the whole debate on Darwin. (Parenthetically, I tend to be hesitant to use such Evangelical word choice in part because I know secular people are turned off by it; such wording sounds paranoid and nutty to many non-believers, who then are often disinclined to listen to the substance of the speaker’s words.)

As I was driving (and pondering deep thoughts), I was also listening to a Christian music radio station. It occurred to me that the lyrics of our most popular Christian songs often express the most basic, most important aspects of our beliefs. That is probably why Christ followers can generally go to pretty much any Christian church, and participate in the “praise and worship” portion of the service without being offended or annoyed by the lyrics of the songs. The sermons can cause disagreement and controversy because that is where faith communities get into some of the specifics of their precise beliefs and interpretations of Scripture. Unfortunately, there is plenty of disagreement in the Body of Christ with respect to some of those details. But I have never heard of the lyrics of a mainline Christian song dividing Christ followers. Significantly, I’ve also never heard a Christian song about rejecting Darwinism. Maybe such a song exists, but it has not caught on because that is not a core part of who we are as Christ followers.

Maybe it is a stretch. Maybe I’m just looking for any lame excuse to share some good music. Regardless, I’d like to share a few songs that I think epitomize beliefs that are most important to Christians. The songs are available at the links below. I apologize that some of the videos have a high cheese factor. If the visuals are distracting, ignore them and just listen to the music. The lyrics are quite beautiful and convey some of the key truths cherished by Christ followers. Enjoy.

…And even if you are a serious person who doesn’t go in for frivolities like music, I encourage you to give these songs a listen. Music is very powerful. It speaks to us in ways that nothing else can. I remember after the horrific tragedy of 9/11, Oprah’s first show was simply a compilation of Gospel music performances. She chose to feature such music because it spoke to her and helped her heal after that tragedy; she thought it would minister to others as well. I myself am essentially tone deaf, sing off-key, and honestly have to concentrate pretty hard just to clap to the right beat in songs. Though I have no discernible musical talent of my own, I enjoy Christian music tremendously and it is a meaningful part of my worship experience at church, at home or even in my little car.

Amy Grant’s “El Shaddai”

Dolly Parton’s “He’s Alive”

Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God”

Mary Mary’s “Shackles”

“I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”

Genesis 1:1-3 (English Standard Version)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

Matthew 4:16 (New Living Translation)

“The people who sat in darkness
have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow,
a light has shined.”

Matthew 5:16 (Wycliffe New Testament)

So shine your light before men, that they see your good works, and glorify your Father that is in heavens.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (Extreme Views of Darwinism)

The first half of the film focused on the issue of academic freedom, which I found pretty intriguing and compelling. But then the film took a rather odd turn. After a promising start, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed became more of a documentary in the Michael Moore style. Ben Stein purported to investigate questions, but had a pretty obvious political aim by the second half of the film. After the mid-way point, the focus shifted from an exploration of the persecution of the scientists who embrace or even just explore intelligent design concepts to a full-on attack on Darwinism and Darwinists. And at times, the attack was pretty over the top.

Particularly in the second half of the film, Stein spoke with scientists whose study of science led them to lose all faith in religion. Some of those interviewed even went so far as to express rather shocking hostility towards religion, and the desire to have it rigidly contained or wiped out entirely. It is explained in the film that Darwinism leads to believing that evolution simply occurs, there is no life after death. And from there, it is an apparently simple extension to decide life is not really all that important, it just comes and goes. Essentially, it is explained that an embrace of Darwinism leads to a belief that there is no sanctity of life and no basis for morals. Although they had me with the persecution of dissenting scholars and the restrictions on academic freedom, the film lost me when it came to conclude that Darwinism leads ipso facto to such a nihilistic view of the world.

Interestingly, it is then extrapolated in the film that Darwinism leads to viewing human beings in merely economic terms; the branch of Darwinism called eugenics springs forth naturally. It is noted that Margaret Sanger was a believer in eugenics and founded Planned Parenthood. It is insinuated that the mere availability of birth control is a conspiracy to form a master race. From there, Mr. Stein then goes to Germany to visit Nazi death camps to learn about the Nazis’ embrace of Darwinism and eugenics to exterminate “useless feeders” and those who were viewed to be of lesser genetic pools that were holding back the human race. I’m not kidding. With a straight face, Stein seems to suggest that when we embrace the Theory of Evolution, it is just a matter of time before we start rounding up “undesirables” in torture camps and committing genocide.

It is subtle but the film mentioned briefly that these repulsive views of rabid atheistic scientists and the eugenics supporters are based on just a very radical and extreme notion of Darwinism. I find it hard to believe that more mainstream understandings of the Theory of Evolution lead ipso facto to atheism and genocidal tendencies.

There have been many surveys over the years that indicate most scientists are atheists or agnostics. The reasons for this are not clear, at least to me. I’ve always suspected that it had something to do with the personality type of someone who is attracted to the sciences. Science involves proving laws of nature via evidence-based tests. I have sometimes found chatting with scientists on even non-religious topics to be irksome because if something cannot be proven, they often don’t believe it to be true.

That attitude goes against my orientation as a lawyer. In my discipline, we rarely have absolutes and we live in the grey areas. When opposing parties argue a case, there is not one absolute truth as to who has the winning side. In many respects, it depends on how persuasive the lawyers are in arguing their positions and how inclined the finder of fact is to accept one side or another. Indeed, we have several stages in the appellate process, and different courts often come to different conclusions. And we have nine justices on the Supreme Court. Rarely do they all agree on how a case should be decided; unanimous opinions are quite uncommon.

In light of these observations, I personally doubt that it is Darwinism that leads scientists to be more skeptical of religion. I rather suspect that the sorts of folks who are most skeptical of religion and other beliefs that are essentially not provable and require faith, are the same sorts of folks inclined to like the black or white nature of science. As a result, it seems a stretch to me to argue that Darwinism must lead to atheism. I also don’t particularly see how one can argue with a straight face that believing in the Theory of Evolution leads one to devalue of human life. Unless they were leading a secret double life, none of the science-y folks I’ve know over the years have been sociopathic or genocidal.

And as noted before, not all Christians reject the Theory of Evolution. As mentioned previously, my first high school biology teacher, who taught me what I know about evolution, shared early in the school year that he was a Christian and active in his church. As I recall, he shared that information with us so we would know he did not see his religious faith and his scientific expertise as being in conflict. I think he meant it as an encouragement for anyone in the class who might have been concerned about a potential conflict between their own faith and the subject matter of the course.

Though out my adulthood, I have had a number of friends at churches I’ve belonged to who were scientists. I remember one friend, who was a Ph.D. candidate in physics at the time. He shared with a group at our church that it was sometimes lonely at school because most of the other grad students and professors were non-believers. Yet he described quite beautifully how his study of science fed his religious faith. He explained that the more he learned about the way the universe was organized, the more convinced he was that it did not just come into being by accident but was the deliberate crafting of a higher being.

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed seemed to align sanctity of life issues with an anti-Darwinist agenda. As I watched the film, it occurred to me that it was odd that some folks can be so passionate about the sanctity of human life when it comes to issues like abortion and euthanasia, but then that same passion somehow does not carry over to other issues involving economic justice and human rights. Apparently, a slower death from food insecurity, a lack of (safe) housing and inability to access medical care do not always merit similar sanctity of life concerns. Issues involving an affront to human dignity but not death (e.g., torture, hate crimes) also do not seem to warrant the same type of passionate response. I find it highly ironic that some who are passionately opposed to Darwinism in the scientific arena don’t seem to mind Darwinism in the economic context. I don’t understand that, it does not seem to be consistent. And that inconsistency makes me suspicious of a political manipulation of issues like abortion and euthanasia for the benefit of those who would not benefit from similar attention paid to economic social justice issues. Perhaps it is thought that if we in the electorate are encouraged to spend our time on just a few sanctity of life issues, we won't have the time or energy to also focus on other issues that impact the sanctity of human life.

Genesis 4-25

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he madeinto a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man."
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (Academic Freedom)

Having explained my own perspective in watching the film, it is hopefully easier to understand my reaction to it. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed does not interview fundamentalist preachers or homeschooling parents whose religious faith leads them to reject Darwinism without any scientific training to support their beliefs. That is the typical stereotype of Creationists, but the film takes a more sophisticated and more interesting approach to the subject by exploring the belief of some who have apparently studied the issue in great depth and rejected Darwinism.

The film explains that the Theory of Evolution is accepted to some degree by virtually all scientists—everyone agrees there is adaption within species. But the film describes that some scientists believe the Theory of Evolution has limits; it does not explain sufficiently how life first came into being from primordial soup. It also does not explain sufficiently how different species came into being. Per the film, this is really where the academic debate is rooted.

To develop these points, the film interviews a number of scientists who have expressed openness to the concept that there are limits to the insights we can glean from Darwin. A central theme in the film is that such scientists have had their careers ruined because of persecution for a lack of conformity to the prevailing academic consensus about Evolution. People have been denied tenure and/or lost their jobs because of voicing openness to “intelligent design” concepts.

I have no idea if this persecution really has happened or if these incidents have been contrived by the filmmakers to serve a political purpose. But I am inclined to believe that some of the scientists interviewed really were persecuted as they claim. There were a lot of them, and the testimonial evidence they offered seemed credible to me. If their claims are true, this is truly a frightening trend even if one is a devoted Darwinist. Academic freedom is so important to colleges and other institutions devoted to intellectual pursuits and the advancement of human knowledge.

As mentioned in another blog post this year, I value the marketplace of ideas concept that underpins the First Amendment. I believe that truth will make itself known eventually. Repressing the expression of a person’s ideas does not alter this fact. I believe that only those who are threatened and fearful of other ideas try to silence their opponents. As a professor, I for one value academic freedom because it helps us discern as a community the most valid ideas in our respective disciplines. It is frightening to hear from academics, like those in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, who claim to have lost their jobs and had their professional reputations ruined because of openness to or outright embrace of ideas that are not popular within their discipline.

In the so-called “culture war,” conservatives often complain that media and academic elites look down on them and try to prevent the expression of conservative beliefs. In July of this year I blogged about the film Rated R: Republican in Hollywood, which focused on the former type of elitism. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed focused on the latter type. To the extent the sort of blacklisting described in these two films does go on, it would be very tragic. In supposedly “liberal” communities, openness to new ideas and an embrace of heterogeneity are purportedly embraced. Such values are inconsistent with demands that everyone in the community share the same “liberal” beliefs.

Matthew 5: 23-24 (New Century Version)

"So when you offer your gift to God at the altar, and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go and make peace with that person, and then come and offer your gift.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed (2008) (My Own Experiences with the Evolution v. Creation Debate)

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed is a film that purports to expose the hypocrisy and persecution of non-Darwinists in the science academy. When I first popped the film into the DVD player, I have to admit that I thought this was going to be a film with a rather paranoid, over-the-top perspective. But I try to have an open-mind and listen to different perspectives. So, I must admit that (somewhat to my surprise) I found parts of this film to be rather compelling.

To avoid misunderstandings, let me first make a few things clear about my own perspective on this debate between Creationists and Darwinists. I am no scientist. I took a couple years of biology in high school, along with a fair amount of geology and a bit of chemistry in college. But I was not particularly interested in (or adept at) science. I was a liberal arts major after all. I have studied the Theory of Evolution at a basic level, but that was many (many!) years ago and I cannot say that I ever studied it in depth or pondered its implications deeply.

In the past and the present, I have known plenty of Christians who embrace Creationism and think “Darwin” is a four letter word. Some such folks are people I love and admire very much. I must say though that I’ve never understood the Creationist perspective. When I accepted Christ and decided to be baptized, I did so in the Catholic Church, which is a denomination that does not teach a literal interpretation of the Bible and has no opposition to Darwin. (Maybe the church learned its lesson after persecuting Galileo over the flat v. spherical earth debate?)

In speaking with Christians who embrace Creationism, they have often expressed to me that their belief is rooted in the notion that the Bible is sort of a touchstone for all human knowledge—even scientific knowledge. That perspective does not jive with the faith traditions of the two churches to which I have belonged (i.e., Catholic and Episcopal). Instead, in those traditions, the Bible is viewed as the central text containing God’s spiritual truth as revealed over many hundreds of years to multiple people. Though incredibly important to discern spiritual truths, the Bible does not necessarily purport to have scientific truths to teach. As a result, I have never viewed the Bible and Darwinism as being in conflict, and I’m not alone. I remember vividly that when I was still an atheist, my first high school biology teacher (at a public school) began the school year explaining briefly that he was a Christian who accepted that the Theory of Evolution was well-proven scientifically. And as a conservative Christian homeschooling mom our family knows recently stated, “I keep my son’s Bible study and science curriculum separate!”

I’m cognizant that the Holy Bible came into being in a very different manner than the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an, for example. Those books are considered to be holy scripture by the LDS church and by Muslims, respectively. As I understand, it is believed that the Book of Mormon was given by God (through an angel) to the first LDS prophet as an intact text; Joseph Smith just had to translate and transcribe God’s word. It is my understanding that the Qur’an is believed to have been the memorialization of words spoken by God directly to Mohammed. Per my understanding, in both faith traditions, the belief is that God provided direct revelation to human beings, who wrote down those revelations for others to read and understand God’s words.

But the Christian scripture came into being in a very different way. The Old Testament was in oral form for hundreds of years before it was ever written down. While in oral form, it changed (one might say evolved!) over time and was not a static text. The New Testament had a very different “genesis.” It consists largely of correspondence from the early church fathers to fledgling church communities around the Mediterranean. St. Paul wrote the lion’s share of the text. As I’ve often heard mentioned from the pulpit, Paul didn’t know he was writing a sacred text, he was dealing with real life problems with a far flung set of believers during the infancy of the church. Other portions of the New Testament are memorialized summaries of the life and ministry of Jesus to explain to readers why he is recognized as Messiah. Those summaries—the four Gospel books—were written later in time than Paul’s letters, so they are not written by witnesses with first hand accounts of Jesus’s life. Instead, the early church believed Jesus’s second coming was imminent, so they did not initially feel the need for written accounts of his teachings. The Gospel books are memorializations by four different individuals of stories of Jesus's earthly life that were initially shared orally in the early Christian communities after Christ's resurrection and ascension. As a result of this history, many Christians would never think to rely upon the Holy Bible as a touchstone for all questions, and specifically would never look to it for scientific insights. I have tried but just do not understand the perspective of Christians who look to the Bible for scientific insights.

It is interesting because this issue of the scope of insight provided by the Bible causes a good deal of tension. I have known non-religious people who are very turned off to Christianity—though they often know very little about Jesus and his teachings—because they understand incorrectly that all Christians believe the Bible to contain literal truths such that they deny all modern scientific insights. I have also known wonderful Christ-followers, who initially had a hard time embracing Christianity and finding a church home, because they could not stomach belonging to a faith community that rejected Darwinism. It is interesting to me because the folks I have known in both groups were not scientists. Just as I don’t understand the perspective of non-scientist Christians who embrace Creationism with incredible zeal, I also don’t understand others who lack scientific training who embrace Evolution with unwavering dedication.

So, the upshot of all this is that I have never been aligned with the side of “Creationism.” I certainly believe God created the physical world we know, but I don’t believe the two creation stories from Genesis are literally true. As I have been taught in churches to which I belonged, the two creation stories reflect metaphorically truths about our omnipotent and loving Creator, but they aren't to be understood as insisting that God created the world in six 24-hour days. Personally, I don’t know the details of how God created the world, I'm not a scientist. But on some level, I also have a certain skepticism that any of us can ever know all the details, no matter how much science we use. Maybe I'm wrong.

I guess I tend to favor some form of Darwinism because I understand it to be the overwhelming majority consensus among scientists. I tend to have a lot of respect for those who have studied a subject in great depth. I recognize that until one delves deeply into a subject, one’s understanding and insights might be limited and even incorrect. In my opinion (based on my own life experiences), the opinions people form based on lengthy study of and experience with a particular topic tend to be better informed and more accurate.

Nonetheless, I never feel comfortable fully endorsing positions when I am not terribly knowledgeable about the subject matter. That is my M.O. in the area of science and pretty much every other discipline. Any other approach would require blind faith in the conclusions of other human beings, which just does not suit me.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 (English Standard Version)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear." And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth." And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so. And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens." So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its 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 birds multiply on the earth." And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then 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 birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.