Saturday, February 26, 2011

This is Amazing!

From BoingBoing: What does a Space Shuttle launch look like when viewed from an airplane? (video)
"Flying from Orlando, FL I had the rare opportunity to be able to watch Discovery's final launch as it embarks on STS-133," explains software developer Neil Monday, who shot this incredible video. Also spotted on MSNBC's Cosmic Log blog, with links to other great alternative shots. 

According to MSNBC, this is Discovery's last launch before America's most-used spacecraft (they used the term "spaceship"...I absolutely refuse) is transported to the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum.

I have a feeling that this footage will be used in documentaries shown in history classrooms in the future.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Response to "Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups"

Brian Jones writes an article for the Christian Standard entitled "Why Churches Should Euthanize Small Groups." It's worth a read, as his points are both relevant, useful, and said with the right heart. However, I have to disagree with it on many points. Before I share why, let me summarize what the article said. Here is an excerpt from the beginning:

“I haven’t really figured out the small group thing,” I confessed to [a pastor].
“Well, Brian, that’s because they don’t work. Small groups are things that trick us into believing we’re serious about making disciples. The problem is 90 percent of small groups never produce one single disciple. Ever. They help Christians make shallow friendships, for sure. They’re great at helping Christians feel a tenuous connection to their local church, and they do a bang-up job of teaching Christians how to act like other Christians in the Evangelical Christian subculture. But when it comes to creating the kind of holistic disciples Jesus envisioned, the jury’s decision came back a long time ago—small groups just aren’t working.”
“Finally,” I said, “I’ve met someone who’s got the guts to euthanize this small group sacred cow."
His main points are as follows:
  • The best small groups are formed spontaneously, not forced. What began as a staple venue of how Christians met was messed up by Americans trying to put too much structure to it.
  • Well-intentioned Christians, armed with the latest insights in organizational theory, let their pragmatic and utilitarian hearts delude them into thinking they could organize, measure, and control the mystical working of the Holy Spirit in community in order to consistently reproduce disciples in other contexts.
  • Small groups are too often led by baby Christians. "If you can read, you can lead"—referring to a list of study questions—is flawed. A baby Christian can't lead people to where they haven't themselves gone.
  • The Achilles’ heel of the modern-day small group movement is simple: Small groups don’t create disciples; disciples create disciples. And modern-day small groups are led, for the most part, by people who have attended the church, had a conversion experience, led a reasonably moral life, and can read the study-guide questions, but are not disciples themselves.
    American churches have lowered the bar of small group leadership to an absurd level. In fact, it’s so ridiculous most churches would be better off not even having small groups than to offer them with leaders who aren’t disciples.
  • Jesus wouldn't join your small group because he would be out talking to lost people instead.
Jesus would actually be doing what small groups say they want/should/need to be doing, but they can’t, because they’re too busy being a “small group” inside the confines of your small group’s ministry infrastructure.

The author seems jaded on the issue of small groups, and perhaps rightly so. He has probably seen small groups fail, dissolve, turn inward as people forget that they're supposed to be outward-focused, drive people backwards, or leave them the same instead of propel them towards spiritual growth. But I don't think it has anything to do with the system. How else were small groups so effective in small towns in the first century and later? How did they bring so many new people and start so many new small groups?

I think the problem is this: People are already coming in with the wrong attitude. They're not serious about growing spiritually, so it doesn't happen. They're not serious about helping their brothers and sisters, so they don't. And they're not serious about reaching out, so they don't. We simply cannot expect a system to do those things for us. As with anything, it requires real effort. Small groups are not magic.

Of course, each church is different, because each church is comprised of a different group of people. In the college group that I am a part of, Christians in Action (CIA) Tampa, we had the opposite happen than what the author described. To our surprise, more visitors were coming to the small group meetings than they were the supposedly "evangelistic" Debriefings, and we realized why: People were craving deep connection, and the Debriefings were intentionally watered-down to be "visitor-friendly." Naturally, new people gravitated toward our small groups when they realized that they had more to offer, and the more we watered down the Debriefings, the more they fizzled out. And looking back, the people who actually stuck around did so because they were a part of a small group.

I think that at first, it completely threw us for a loop. We were told to bring visitors to Debriefings, but not to small groups, because we were afraid that the material might be too deep. Of course, that proved not to be the case. I think that this is a mistake that kills a lot of small groups because of the paradigm that we set up. The definition that a lot of us have of a small group goes something like this: "A venue for Christians to help other Christians without the eyes of visitors on them, or without having to be careful about what you say, or without anyone but your trusted brothers and sisters to tell your problems to." Because non-Christians don't have problems, right?

What small-groupers need to realize is that there isn't going to be a venue where we can retreat from our Christian duties. That's supposed to be the thing that small groups are helping people to see. Thus,  I think it would be a problem if we differentiated an "evangelistic small group" from a "regular small group." Doing so would not only be severely limiting to the direction that God might have that small group go, but it's assuming that God has something in mind for the institutional non-evangelistic small group—which he probably won't bless.

Furthermore, I think people feel more comfortable when they get to hear Christians be honest about their struggles. Even psychologically, studies show that people are perceived as "nicer" when they reveal more of who they are. By continuing to have this intractable definition of small groups—whether for it or against it—we  deprive people of this opportunity to connect and perhaps soften their view of the "Christians are all hypocrites" notion, if they have it. That is, assuming we're doing with small groups what we claim we are doing with them, which is sharing our struggles.

For us, small groups have been helpful both for personal growth and for outreach. The caveat, though, is that the people in the small group must be willing to put effort into both being honest and putting things into practice like lifting other people up, whether Christian or not. Small groups allow us to practice loving our brothers and sisters in a controlled enough environment that we can go and use what we've learned with people in the world. I think of it in essence like a laboratory for real life. Does that mean that we can't use those skills a little early? (The reason I use this analogy is that sometimes your own brothers and sisters are a lot more forgiving!)

I admit, however, that our college group has been guilty of suffocating our small groups with a list of study questions. Not that it's always a bad thing when people actually answer the questions with real, deep answers and confessions,  but it severely limits a small group's potential in that if someone needs to get something off of their chest that might not be related, they are not given the opportunity. Really, I think that this is a serious problem, and I completely agree with his distrust of it.

To conclude, my point is that largely, the problem is not with the venue, but the people. How many times do we try to change the "venue" of church to make it more appealing to different groups—young people, for instance—and it doesn't work because people are there simply looking for Christ? I am willing to bet that Mr. Jones is largely right, in a broad sense. However, I feel that the blame is sadly misplaced. If the problem is with people's hearts, would banning small groups really help?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

McFalafel - Maoz Israel

Not gonna lie, this post by Maoz Israel Blog really makes me want to try falafel. Except, the real thing, not the McDonald's knockoff or the apparent "McInsult" to falafel makers everywhere.

And seriously, if you go to USF or know of the ATHΣNOS restaurant on Fowler, that little place has got to have the best authentic Mediterranean food in Tampa. There would be the first time I would try falafel. Even though I always read it like "Athesnos."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Christian Persecution in the United States

Oh, dear.

In June, five Christians were arrested for preaching about their faith outside an Arab Festival. A ninety-six page federal civil rights lawsuit was filed this morning by the Thomas Moore Law Center against the City of Dearborn, its Mayor, John B. O’Reilly; its Chief of Police, Ronald Haddad; 17 City police officers, and two executives of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, on behalf of Acts 17 Apologetics and the Christians arrested.

One of the missionaries, Dr. Nabeel Quareshi, was an Arab from Virginia who had converted from Islam to Christianity, and was caught peaceably engaging a group of Muslim youth in a discussion about the gospel and arrested on the spot. As you can see in the video, the kids are just asking him questions, and the officer asks him if he is legally allowed to be doing what he is doing.

According to Page 5 of the lawsuit,
"Plaintiff Qureshi is a former Muslim. His close family members, including his mother and father, are Muslims. Consequently, he harbors no ill will or hostility toward Muslims or Arab people in general. Plaintiff Qureshi’s decision to become a Christian was the single most important decision in his life. As a result, he has a strong desire and conviction to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with other Muslims so as to bring them to Christ."
According to Right Side News,
The first incident occurred on June 18, when police jailed four Christian missionaries when they witnessed Dr. Nabeel Qureshi, a Muslim convert to Christianity, peaceably discussing his Christian faith with Muslim youths. The other three, David Wood, Paul Rezkalla, and Negeen Mayel, were arrested along with Qureshi for allegedly “breaching the peace.” The Christians were led away in handcuffs by police to the applause and cheers of Muslim onlookers who just witnessed a victory of Sharia law over the Christians.

The second incident occurred on June 20, as two missionaries, Rezkalla and Josh Hogg, stood on the public sidewalk handing out the Gospel of John to passersby willing to take them. The Christians were there for approximately 5 minutes when eight City police officers descended upon them, seized them, and brought them to the police command trailer located inside the festival where the Christians were admonished, photographed, and ordered to stop their peaceful religious activity.
Here is the video of the second incident.

Among those arrested was a young, 18-year-old Afghan woman, for not turning off her camera fast enough after a police officer asked her to. The group Acts 17 records some of their evangelistic encounters to put them on their website.

I bet you're wondering why the Mayor and City of Dearborn are listed as defendants. According to the Thomas Moore Law Center (TMLC), a law group that defends people of faith and is spearheading this case,
“Dearborn is considered home to the largest Muslim population in America.  As a result, many City officials, including the Mayor, engage in official action solely to please this significant voting bloc.  In this case, police effectively replaced our constitutional guarantees of Free Speech with Sharia law, which forbids Christians to proselytize Muslims.”

Additionally, I'm sure you'd be curious to read a statement regarding the case by John B. O'Reilly, the Mayor of Dearborn, claiming that the Christians were there because they were trying to get arrested, and that they "pretended to get arrested." I wouldn't rule this out, but I will say that I felt the statement was unprofessional—to the extent that I was surprised to see the Mayor's signature at the bottom.

And here is the article by Detroit News.

Dearborn, Michigan has had a history of Christian persecution. In July 2009, a Christian wrestling coach was fired by a Muslim principal, allegedly irate that a Muslim student was baptized into Christ by the assistant coach at a summer wrestling camp.

Thankfully, at least for now, the Constitution is still on our side.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Valentine's Virus

Okay. I know I have a weird sense of humor. This is a Muslim cleric ranting about how Valentine's Day is corrupting Muslim youth—a legitimate religious point, since he is speaking to other Muslims. But it's still funny.

The discourse is from beginning to 2:23. After that is commentary. The commentary is not bad. You don't have to watch the commentary, and of course, you don't have to like it either, but it is worth watching. Personally, I thought the commentary was hilarious. But like I said, I have a weird sense of humor, and these are the videos I watch for leisure.

You might also enjoy another Egyptian comedian, the middle-aged swine flu pop singer.

Oh, and I'm sorry I didn't post this on Valentine's Day. I was busy catching the Ebola—I mean, the Valentine's Virus.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Donald Trump as President?

Will Donald Trump run for the presidency in 2012?

The businessman made a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. yesterday to announce his potential bid, saying that he is "seriously considering it" and that he will make a decision "sometime prior to June." He even verbally shooed Ron Paul aside in typical "Donald Trump from The Apprentice" fashion, and was met by a mixture of boos and cheers.

Most journalists I read made this out to be a joke. Here is all that AP had to say:
Trump Says He'll Decide By June (Yahoo News)

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump may want you to hire him.
The real estate magnate and "The Apprentice" host made a last-minute appearance at an annual gathering of conservatives and said he would decide by June whether to run for president.
He says he may run because the United States has becoming what he calls the whipping post for the rest of the world. He says the country is becoming — quote — "the laughingstock of the world" and he's worried about its future.
Trump says the country needs an accomplished president. And he all but offered himself up as the answer.
And the CPAC speech, frankly, was done in a very joking manner. Donald Trump knows that his TV personality is the guy that everyone hates, and he became famous for it. The presidency in America has already become a celebrity status. Could you imagine the former host of an actual reality show becoming president?

Or could there be some legitimacy to this? Trump was interviewed on CNN by Piers Morgan—apparently his former winning "Apprentice" (I've never watched the show)—about what he would do if he became president, and he offered some pretty good points, actually. I mean, this is a guy who really knows economics. He is an expert in business and knows how to manage large companies well, so why not a nation? And if our economy needs fixing, then why not elect someone who is very smart about managing large amounts of money?

In his interview with Piers, Trump said that the first thing he would do is implement a 25% tax on Chinese goods. After being led, he said that he views China as the economic "enemy," because American companies can no longer compete with cheaper imports that come in from China. But, he says, America makes a better product, and competition is possible if there is someone in the White House with some know-how and the willingness to be tough.

Additionally, Trump said that instead of diplomats to negotiate things with other countries that can affect the economy, he would use "the killers on Wall Street." "We would do very well," he says. "We have the greatest businesspeople in the world, but we don't use them." I watched the video twice and it helped me better understand his positions. I would recommend doing the same.

What do you think? Good for our economy? Bad for our reputation? Tough enough? Too tough?

Some questions I have:
  • How are people going to feel about such a big change in our domestic ways? Will some business owners feel that he is taking too much power too fast? What will Congress do?
  • How long until we can generate enough supply to meet the increase in demand for American goods? Will it be gradual enough, or will we face a very expensive interim period before that really happens?
  • How many people will take the culturally unpopular mindset that the solution is not going to be a silver bullet and it may be difficult, take time, and require effort? Are we going to even be willing to focus on our own economy, or would we rather blame everything else?
  • How does Trump feel about other issues of foreign policy, or will he draw us inward to allow us to focus on mostly domestic issues while he is in office?
  • Will the "war on Wal-Mart" bring back entrepreneurship in small towns?
I am obviously not an expert on economics; these are just the things that are running through my mind. Most of what I can foresee if Trump becomes president is that he will be more focused on domestic issues than on foreign issues (unless they are related, as in the case of China), and that no matter what he does, he will be a controversial president. I would love to say that because he wants to focus on the economy, he will be a very apolitical president, but knowing human nature, I'm not sure if that's even possible for us. I would genuinely hope for the latter, though.

Some other probable things I foresee:
  • Opponents will play the "business tycoon = evil" card in multiple ways, and his greatest strength will be their most effective attempt to vilify him.
  • Another attempt to vilify could be a claim that he is against all Chinese people, which I would be willing to guess is not true.
  • Both of these are going to be very bad since he has decided that if he ran, it would be on the Republican ticket.
  • No matter what he tries to do in the realm of foreign policy (withdraw or be tough, or both), we will be near civil war over it, as usual (I am exaggerating).
  • This one is probably more of a stretch, but he could be pretty good in dealing with the Middle East when it comes to oil.
  • Wal-Mart will hate him, at least initially, which means that America might have something to say as well. All people will be able to see if they're not informed is "Trump→higher prices at Wal-Mart→bad economy→BAD." And if people don't see an 80% improvement in 4 years, he has the potential of being the most vilified president in history, which is kinda sad if you think about it.
  • My personal opinion is that his TV personality either has to become endearing or it has to go. He can probably run on it, but I don't think he can stay on it for long, or he will open himself up to being intensely vilified by those who already don't like him.
Donald Trump fits the stereotype of a Republican that I have never before actually seen in real life. But yet, he may actually offer what we need. I would like to see him run and win just so I can observe the amount of literary irony that occurs as a result. Will Democrats be more forgiving since they've seen him before on TV and better know who he is—or better yet, because he can do something that we all want? Or will they even abandon Sarah Palin to attack Donald Trump? I have no idea—and it may also depend on what the media does.

But you can't deny that he has skill. He has already proven his credibility. And other TV and movie actors have made it into politics before, rather intelligently: Ronald Reagan, who became one of the best loved presidents of the 20th century because of his ideals and charm, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the current governor of California, who acted in some of the most ridiculous 1980s movies ever, but actually became a pretty respectable governor—at least from the outside looking in.

Overall, I think Trump has the potential to be someone I could support. I think he fits a more historical definition of what a president should be. I can also respect his economic "savvy."

I also think he should run on the word "savvy." It would be better than "maverick."

Further reading:
The Daily Mail: Donald Trump gets boos (and some cheers) at conservatives summit a day after he talks of running for president
CNN Politics: Trump makes surprise stop at CPAC
Huffington Post: Donald Trump CPAC Speech Stirs Buzz
The Daily Caller: Donald Trump at CPAC: Ron Paul ‘has zero chance of getting elected’

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Since it's about to be the Super Bowl...

I've always wondered about the sexual culture built around sporting events. Why do girls go to games dressed the way they do? Why do I feel like every time I go to a game, I'm seeing a strip show, and nobody is saying anything, because it's culturally accepted? Do certain men love sports because it makes them feel like they've conquered something, and conquering a woman is a similar feat? Is getting drunk and screaming your lungs out part of the sporting experience because of something other than a love for watching sports? Are we sports-obsessed because we are power-obsessed, and do sports give us a culturally accepted opportunity to do things we otherwise wouldn't do, like break somebody's jaw or lift up your shirt during tailgating?

Or, buy sex from an underage minor who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution? 

The Christian Post: Anti- Sex Trafficking Efforts Stepped Up Ahead of Super Bowl—
Over 100,000 fans will be heading to Arlington, Texas, for the big game. There, hundreds of girls and women are expected to be trafficked into prostitution. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott noted that there is a “looming potential explosion of human trafficking around the Super Bowl.” 
Organizations such as Traffick 911, Love 146, and Walk a Mile in Her Shoes have also committed themselves to combating child sex slavery for profit during the Super Bowl. They have been holding informational events at churches and theaters ahead of the game. 

You heard right. There is an increase in demand for prostitutes—both underage and of age—at the Super Bowl.
Sexual exploitation and trafficking is the fastest growing illegal trade and is expected to surpass drug trafficking in the next two years, according to Traffick 911. Up to 300,000 people are currently exploited in the U.S. each year. And research shows that a major sporting event such as the Super Bowl can increase the demand for sexual trafficking by up to 80 percent.

And guess what happened in my own city during Super Bowl 2009?
Rebecca Project for Human Rights recently found an ad for child sex trafficking on the Village Voice Media’s The ad silently posted nude pictures of a 14-year-old girl looking for clients. Although it doesn’t promote it for the Super Bowl, it has similarities with a Craigslist ad for the 2009 Tampa game. That posting advertised “Super Bowl Special” with a 14-year-old girl. The man posting the ad was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison late last year.
Two dozen children were sex trafficked during the 2009 game in Tampa.
Additionally, there was also concern earlier last year about a rise in sex trafficking preceding the World Cup.

Did you know that the United States is in the top five countries for sex trafficking?

I'm sure you remember the ACORN sting when a couple of college students posed as a pimp and a prostitute trying to market 13-year-old girls from El Salvador to the United States for sex. They told an ACORN worker that they needed a way to claim the money on their taxes without it looking suspicious. Much to their surprise (and the rest of our dismay), ACORN helped them out without a single opposition, and the hidden camera video that was in the kid's ridiculously pimpish hat (they were both white and definitely looked like college students) was posted all over the Internet. After that sting, the stunt was tried at least two more times at ACORN offices in different states to make sure that it wasn't an isolated case, ALL with the same results.

If the ACORN thing isn't bad enough, this is, IMHO, much worse. This is a manager in a New Jersey Planned Parenthood clinic not only helping the actors (different people, NPR) with a hidden camera out, but actually giving them ideas. And, might I add, we're not just talking about taxes here. At one point, the "pimp" asks when these 14-year-old girls can begin being sexually active again after an abortion ("They still gotta make money, you know?"). She tells them "two weeks" (whaa?)...when asked "what can they be doing in the meantime?" these were her exact words:
AMY WOODRUFF: "Waist up."
PIMP: "Waist up?"
AMY WOODRUFF: "Waist up. Or just be that extra action walking by."
You can find that moment beginning at 9:45.

Big Government:
We are calling on Congress to immediately freeze all funding of Planned Parenthood. We request that the Department of Justice and FBI launch a full-scale investigation of Planned Parenthood and prosecute the aiding and abetting of human trafficking.
We are also calling on state authorities to immediately revoke the licenses of all Planned Parenthood clinics found covering up sex abuse.
It was announced yesterday that Amy Woodruff was fired from her job at Planned Parenthood. Additionally, you can find the full, unedited footage here.

I don't mean for this to be partisan. I'm sure we're all against sex trafficking in some way. But THIS is how accepted sex trafficking is. Amy was a woman herself and still had no conscience whatsoever about what was purported to be going on. At no point did she even flinch and think, "Wait a mean you're kidnapping 14 and 15-year-old girls from Asian countries and ruining their lives by having them be repeatedly raped, forced to act in porn, and forced to do acts that they never consented make you money? Hang on. I think this might be a crime or something." How many more people in the United States have this same heartless, indifferent attitude? How many Christians?

So, with all this in mind, go enjoy the Super Bowl. But make sure that in doing so, you are not selfish, but you think to invite other people to your party who haven't heard the gospel. Don't be rude or curt to the girls around, but show special respect to them. Don't make football your god. And maybe turn around and talk to people when the cheerleaders or the sexy beer commercials come on. We can't afford to be acting like the rest of the world—not when all of this is happening right under our noses.