Friday, May 14, 2004

I found a review by Aaron Sands who plays for the the band Jars of Clay. He is reviewing a book called "Expecting Adam" I think you will like this:

A month ago I dined in Boston with a group of about 10 people. A variety of backgrounds and worldviews were represented in this room as we discussed the topic of social justice. In particular, we were focused on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa and all of the issues surrounding it. We considered the vital roles of the global church regarding HIV/AIDS, and looked for ideas to help connect the church body to this opportunity to see God’s hand of mercy firsthand. One of the Harvard students shared how he is currently exploring Christianity because knowledge and reason were coming up short in and of themselves when considering social justice in this world. If one is to ignore the problems in society and simply dismiss them as defective and disposable, then why should he desire to change the world (recognize and work with the problems and find solutions) and make it a better place?

Later that evening I was challenged by another of the students to read Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. I was given a brief synopsis of the book: a true story about a family that has its world turned upside down, about the way real life events shape our view of the world more than the highest acclaimed education. The author and her husband have walked the Harvard road for years, caught up in an environment that gradually shuts out more and more of what they want to hold most dear. Despite the challenge, they are intent on surviving and winning the prize, breaking convention by investing in family and other “outside” interests while maintaining their path to certain success.

I tracked down a copy of the book and read it over two days, taking advantage of hours sitting in airplanes and airports, and I must admit that I devoured the book. It was difficult to put down, to remove myself from the beautiful and mysterious story of this family. Their Harvard journey took an unexpected turn as they found out they were expecting another baby. They were already looked down upon by faculty and peers for having of the distraction of one child at home, not to mention a marriage to sustain. The pregnancy also brought with it horrible effects on her body that she had experienced with the first pregnancy, greatly hindering her studies and ability to function in all parts of life. Then the still point arrived: Early in the pregnancy they were told that the baby had a high probability of having Downs syndrome.

For any mother and father this must be conflicting and confusing news. Why? How? What does it mean? The questions are endless and without much resolve. Considering all of their knowledge and learning, this family dealt with an extreme amount of pressure from all sides. Without a moment’s pause they should have an abortion, said the assumptions of faculty, mentors and colleagues. There should be no feeling involved because it is a matter of principle. Emotions only cause illegitimate confusion and headaches.

But the story is broader than simple facts and words. The subtitle is A Story of Birth, Rebirth, and Magic. From the first chapter Beck expresses the mystery and all-encompassing scope of this life-altering crisis. We learn about the love shown forth, often without provocation, by some new friends. There are visions and unexplained experiences that connect both parents to this baby before he is born. This is real life with real people in real time in a real place, and the answer is not cut and dry like it should be.

During the intense strain on her body during the pregnancy, Martha writes, “I am amazed at how flat-out stupid I was not to acknowledge, or even recognize, my body’s desperate attempts to communicate to me that something was seriously wrong. The only self-defense I have is that our entire society celebrates people who push themselves to extremes, who force themselves onward through pain, fatigue, and injury to achieve all kinds of improbable objectives…if you just try a little harder, bear a little more agony, ignore a little more of your desire to quit, you would be fabulously rich and successful and get away from the bad guys every time.” (150-151) The only thing on her mind was a story about a Harvard student who was told by his professor (and future Harvard president), “My boy, you will find that most of the great deeds in human history were accomplished by people who weren’t felling well.” (149) Harvard joins society in celebrating the Stoic, the unmoved in the midst of struggle and pain. Weakness is not an option. Failure is unacceptable.

But here are some glimpses into her journey from reason alone to her newfound faith: “In the face of such uncertainty, the only things that seem to us worth doing are the ones that allow us to experience the strange and eventful journey of life in its full richness.” (109) Further, “This is the part of us that makes our brief, improbable little lives worth living: the ability to reach through our own isolation and find strength, and comfort, and warmth for and in each other. This is what human beings do. This is what we live for, the way horses live to run.” (136) She has come to a conclusion that collides directly with everything she has treasured in her education and worldview thus far: “The meaning of life is not what happens to people…The meaning of life is what happens between people.” (186)

So perhaps it is cut and dry, just not the answer they expected. From the moment the news came from the doctor, Martha had little doubt about what to do…any doubt had more to do with the surrounding issues than the actual decision. Her husband John eventually felt the same, and not just because he wanted to support his wife and avoid confrontation. He too went through a transformation that personally changed his view of the situation and of the world.

Though the journey is not necessarily safe, often uncomfortable, and very disorienting, it is hard to picture the story without all of its contents. Every small piece of the puzzle contributes to the end result and complete picture, and the reader embarks on the journey hand-in-hand with the Becks. Martha shares an early moment with Adam: “He looked back at me with steady eyes, and I knew what I had known—what I should have remembered—all that time: that his flesh of my flesh had a soul I could barely comprehend, that he was sorry for the pain I felt as I tried to turn him into a “normal” child, and that he loved me despite my many disabilities.” (71) Only the story as it is told in its fullness can explain such a worldview shift. Imagine the look on her professor’s face as she shares how this “defect” has brought her new life, not to mention other people as well.

This story of birth and rebirth is familiar in scope and effect to the experience of any human. The magic some may have difficulty with, since the supernatural can be an uncomfortable territory. Rightly so, perhaps, as Martha herself claims to fear the exclusivity of Christianity and sees her decision apart from the opinions of anyone else, possibly even God. “What mattered was that I had made a choice that felt as though, in the end, it would bring me to the place I needed to go.” (242) Later she adds, “the way back to my real environment, the place where my soul was meant to exist, doesn’t lie through any set of codes I will ever find outside of myself. I have to look inward.” (289) In light of her Harvard education and family background (which is explained in depth), turning inward is contrary to all that she has known her entire life. Yet only turning inward can be just as misguided as only looking outward.

The enchantment added tremendous validity and vulnerability to the story. There is a sense that even Martha doesn’t always understand the who, the why, the how; But she sees the mystery and magic as a valuable element of the story, the “real” aspects of the story. There is a unique and beautiful relationship between mother and fetus that no one except for the mother understands. Expecting Adam enhances that relationship while truthfully retaining the unknown and mysterious.

The Becks do pray for a miracle, especially towards the final days of pregnancy. Without losing joy and excitement even if the child has Downs Syndrome, they plead with God to “fix” their baby in the womb, recognizing that anything is possible and believing that God hears and answers prayers. After the child is born, John and Martha realize a miracle has taken place: “Maybe he didn’t need fixing. Maybe he’s the only one of us who was never broken.” (310) Their lives have been changed forever. The lives of family and friends surrounding them will never be the same. The power of love has been experienced and held fast. “Whoever said that love is blind was dead wrong. Love is the only thing on this earth that lets us see each other with the remotest accuracy."

Friday, May 07, 2004

I found this article by Al Mohler that gives some insight about young children and television

Television and Children---Rewiring the Brain?
From the very moment of its invention, television has been a focus of concern for America's parents--and for good reason. Research studies have consistently affirmed that the average child spends more time watching television than he spends in school, at church, or talking with parents. For many children, television is an electronic babysitter, and an entertainment engine of almost mesmerizing power.

Over the past three decades, a series of academic studies has considered the impact of television programming on children. The nation has gone through recurring waves of anxiety over television programming, concerned with the impact of violence, sensuality, and negative role models on young minds.

Just recently, attention has turned to a more fundamental question. Does watching television actually change the way children think, not just how they think? A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics should set off alarm bells around the nation.

Under the direction of pediatricians at the University of Washington, researchers considered the connection between exposure to television and a loss of attentiveness. After studying over two thousand five hundred children, the researchers determined that one hour of daily television exposure in children from birth to three years old is directly tied to as much as a ten percent loss of attentiveness when the children reach age seven.

The article, "Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children" traces the influence of early television exposure to the fact that "the newborn brain continues to develop rapidly through the first few years of life and that considerable plasticity exists during this period." In other words, the actual process of watching television tends to "rewire" the brains of very young children, so that they grow accustomed to visual stimulation and multiple visual exposures. As the researchers determined: "The types and intensity of visual and auditory experiences that children have early in life therefore may have profound influences on brain development."

Television does not merely replicate everyday life and customary ways of experiencing the world. In the real world, our eyes are directed at objects around us, and we see from one perspective at a measured pace controlled by our own eye movements. Television, on the other hand, controls attention by offering multiple scene shifts, electronic visual stimulation, words accompanied by sound track, and stimulation by other visual cues presented on the television screen.

As the researchers explained the problem: "In contrast to the pace with which real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, television can portray rapidly changing images, scenery, and events. It can be over stimulating yet extremely interesting." In clinical terms, the researchers theorized "that very early exposure to television during the critical periods of synaptic development would be associated with subsequent attentional problems."

The research project verified the theory, and validated parental concern. The risk of television impact was actually greater than the researchers had feared. Exposure to television at age one was associated with as much as a 28 percent increase in the probability of having attentional problems at age seven.

The research data makes for compelling reading. Of the one-year-olds, thirty-six percent watched no TV, thirty-seven percent watched one to two hours daily, fourteen percent watched three to four hours each day, and the rest watched at least five hours of television each day. Those who watched from one to two hours demonstrated a twenty percent increased risk of attention problems. Those who watched three to four hours had an increased risk of from thirty to forty percent.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, the projects lead researcher and a pediatrician at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, explained to CNN, "The newborn brain develops very rapidly during the first two to three years of life. It's really being wired," he said. "We know from studies of newborn rats that if you exposed them to different levels of visual stimuli...the architecture of the brain looks very different." Television can fundamentally change the way the brain responds to visual stimulation, Christakis believes. An over stimulation of the brain during the critical period of early development "can create habits of the mind that are ultimately deleterious," the researcher explained.

Over the past several years, millions of American children--primarily boys--have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. As a matter of fact, the pervasiveness of attention deficit problems has reached epidemic proportions. While some of this can no doubt be attributed to over zealous diagnosis, the problem really does exist.

Television is one of the most influential technologies ever to be invited into the American home. For adults, the television offers what amounts to an intellectual break from every day life. That's why the television is often described as "video Valium." Generally speaking, television makes few demands of the viewer and stimulates the brain, providing the sensation of thinking without the discipline of actually using the mind's intellectual powers.

With children, the dangers are only increased. When television is used as a video babysitter or "electronic pacifier," parents put their children at risk. Even before issues of program content are brought into question, the physiological and neurological impact of television must already be a pressing concern. When issues of content, moral values, violence, and ideology are added to the mix, the full picture of television's impact comes into clearer focus.

Christian parents should be especially mindful of this problem. For years now, many Christian parents have sought to replace toxic children's programming with Christian alternatives, believing that the content of the television experience is of first importance. This new research should offer an additional and urgent caution. Exposure to television--regardless of the program content--can harm children by changing the way the mind works in receiving and processing information.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has offered an official advisory cautioning parents to protect children under age two from all television watching.

Another study raises an entirely new issue. Researchers can now document the impact on children overhearing programming watched by their parents. This problem of "secondhand television," like secondhand smoke, indicates that a spillover effect happens when young children overhear or see programming parents believe they are watching alone. Children are drawn to the visual and auditory stimulation of the television medium, regardless of the programming. When children are in the room, they will watch programming even when parents think the content is "over their heads" and unnoticed.

According to industry reports, as many as one third of all American children have a television in their bedroom. That probably says more about the state of America's families than we would like to know, but it represents a truly frightening statistic in itself. "The truth is there are lots of reasons for children not to watch television," Dr. Christakis argues. "Other studies have shown it to be associated with obesity and aggressiveness," as well as anger and intellectual passivity.

The next time parents scratch their heads wondering about a lack of attentiveness in their children, perhaps they should look in the living room and see the real culprit, blaring away in living color.
Famous quotes from Augustine:

“You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in You.” Confessions

“Trust the past to God’s mercy, the present to God’s love, and the future to God’s providence.” City of God

“Love God, and then do what you like.” Confessions

“Too late I love you, beauty so old yet always new. Too late I loved you. And lo, all the while you were within me—and I, an alien to myself, searched for you elsewhere.” Confessions

“Where there is not that justice by which the One Supreme God rules over a city obedient to His gracious will, there is not a fellowship of people united in a common sense of right and community interest. And where that does not exist, there is not a people—nor is there a state, because where there is no people there is no commonwealth.” City of God

“It is all too possible to want gifts from the Lord, but not the Lord Himself—which seems to imply that the gift is preferable to the Giver.” Commentary on Psalms

“He could have come down from the cross, but He preferred to rise up from the tomb.” Enchiridion

“To see God is the promised goal of all our actions and the promised height of all our joys.” City of God

“The things of the Spirit do not come naturally to us like our mother tongue. We are fallen, and the things of God are therefore strange to us. Of course, interest, joy, and delight will help me learn, but behind them there needs to be the divine compulsion, the pressure of the Holy Spirit’s firm but loving discipline.” Confessions

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

I was reading George Grant's blog on Islam the other day and I found it very fascinating.

"A flurry of new books on Islam and its prophet, Mohammed, has led to a surprising revelation among historians: most of what we thought we knew about the fierce tribal cult is probably false. Indeed, according to I.M. al-Rawandi, the life of Mohammed chronicled in the Sira and the Hadith is likely “baseless fiction.” It was made up. The prophet never lived in Mecca. He never fled to Medina. He never instituted the haj. He never taught a group of disciples principles of faith. He was never really a religious leader at all. Instead, al-Rawandi argues in The Mythic Origins of Islam, Mohammed (which was originally a title not a name) was probably "just a bandit chieftain named Ubu’l Kassim who lived in what is now southern Jordan."

But that is not all. Scholars are beginning to realize that the Koran was probably made up as well. It may simply be a series of stories and quotations from scores of varying sources and authors stitched together over the course of a century or two by succeeding sultans and caliphs--for the purpose of justifying the terrifyingly brutal conquests of their militant Arab imperial armies. According to a host of historians, including Mohammed Ibn al-Warraq, John Wansbrough, Kenneth Cragg, Michael Cook, John Burton, Andrew Rippin, Julian Baldick, Gerald Hawting, and Suliman Bashear, the evidence is more than a little compelling.

The very first sources for the Sira, the Koran, the Hadith, or any of the other early Islamic texts actually appear no earlier than two to three centuries after Mohammed supposedly gathered his motley followers under the shadow of Mount Hira. According to Patricia Crone, formerly Lecturer in Islamic Studies at both Oxford and Cambridge and currently Professor of Near Eastern History at Princeton, "textual and historical evidence for Koranic authenticity is altogeter non-existent. The documents were cobbled together many centuries after the events they purportedly describe." She argues in The Meccan Trade and the Rise of Islam, that Mecca was not the center of the Arab world at any time within two hundred years of Mohammed's life, that it was chosen simply for symbolic and mythic reasons much later, and that the militant ideas of ji'had are thus merely aspects of a much more recent "propaganda effort created by Caliphate militarism."

If these suppositions are true, they would certainly help to explain Islam's perpetual impulse to violent, revolutionary, and imperial terror. According to Craig Winn the narratives compiled by Islam's founding ideologues in the eighth and nineth centuries were essentially tools of war, inducements for further conquest, and thus are purposely "immoral, criminal, and violent." In Prophet of Doom, Winn takes the words of the prophet, as recorded in the five primary Islamic holy texts and shows that instead of portraying Mohammed as a great and godly man, "They reveal that he was a thief, liar, assassin, mass murderer, terrorist, warmonger, and an unrestrained sexual pervert engaged in pedophilia, incest, and rape. He authorized deception, assassinations, torture, slavery, and genocide. He was a pirate, not a prophet." Osama has quite some model, eh?

So, is Islam a pernicious myth after all? It appears that a growing number of reputable historians around the globe are actually beginning to think so. Gee. Waddaya know!

For more information on these ideas visit these sites: Ji'had Watch, Dhimmi, Daniel Pipes, Prophet of Doom, To the Point, Islam and the Church, and Tell the Truth.