Courthouse Christmas displays gone mad

Christmas time is here, so it must be time for controversies over Christmas displays at the county courthouse.  Every year we have one here in Loudon County, Virginia.  Having a Nativity Scene, including one that had been donated by a local family and that had become a tradition, would seem to violate the separation of church and state.  Even Christmas trees have a Christian association.  So surely if the courthouse displays Christian symbols, it would be appropriate to display a Jewish menorah, since Hannukah takes place in the same season.  And we had better display an Islamic Crescent, even though no Muslim holidays are really at issue.  But now the imperative of being “interfaith” has given way to the imperative of including no-faith and anti-faith displays.

What the county officials did, to solve the annual controversy, was to agree to put up symbols of the first 10 people or groups to apply for a space.  So here is what we ended up with:

- The Welsh family nativity scene

- A sign calling Christian figures “myths” and promoting the Loudoun Atheists submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner promoting the separation of church and state by American Atheists and NOVA Atheists, submitted by a Leesburg resident

- A banner calling for “reason in the holiday season” submitted by a Lansdowne resident

- A holiday display possibly including the Tree of Knowledge from a Sterling resident

- A letter from Jesus submitted by a Middleburg resident

- A Santa Claus on a cross to depict the materialistic nature of the holiday, submitted by a Middleburg resident

- Two signs from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, one from a Leesburg resident and the other from a Reston resident

The tenth application, which may or may not be allowed to present a display, is Christmas-themed and submitted by Potomac Falls Anglican Church.

via WMAL 105.9 FM/AM 630: Stimulating Talk – Breaking News.

So in this Christmas display, there will be at most three Christian symbols (depending on what the “letter from Jesus” says, and depending on whether the Anglicans get their display accepted).  Maybe just one, the traditional Nativity scene.   The others will be signs from atheists, either directly attacking Christianity (saying that Jesus is a myth), or mocking God (“the flying spaghetti monster,” which atheists pretend to argue for, as just as valid as the arguments for the existence of God), or just being blasphemous (Santa Claus crucified on a Cross).

If the county is indeed advocating Christianity by allowing displays of its symbols to mark a Christian holiday, then by the same logic  the county is now advocating atheism.

Wouldn’t it be better not to have anything?  Is there some other solution, such as allowing different religious groups to have displays, but not groups that are, by definition, not religious?  Or just leave it to churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, cutting the government out of it, even though that, of course, is what the atheists are trying to achieve?

Replicating a Stradivarius

How’s this for a use of  technology?

A Stradivarius violin has been “recreated” using an X-ray scanner normally used to detect cancers and injuries, according to researchers.

The US-based group used a computerised axial tomography (CAT) scanner on the 307-year-old instrument to reveal its secrets.

They then used the data recovered to build “nearly exact copies”.

The team said the technique could be used to give musicians access to rare musical equipment. . . .

Scans of the older instruments revealed worm holes, small cracks and other damage that helped create their distinctive sounds.

Eventually the two men [Steven Sirr and John Waddle] borrowed a Stradivarius known as “Betts” from the US Library of Congress which still had an original label placed by its Italian creator, Antonio Stradivari, inside its body.

Teaming up with another violin maker, Steve Rossow, they proceeded to create three replicas.

To do this they took more than 1,000 CAT scan images from the original instrument and converted them into a file format used to resemble three-dimensional object in computer-aided design (CAD) software.

“We used the scans to determine the density of the woods that made up the violin – that could only otherwise be done if the violin was dissected and measured – and of course that would never happen,” Dr Sirr said.

The files were then fed into a CNC (computer numerical control) machine. It used the data to carve the violins’ back and front plates, neck and the “scroll” carving at the neck’s end using various woods picked to match the originals as closely as possible.

These were then assembled and varnished by hand.

“The copies are amazingly similar to originals in their sound quality,” said Dr Sirr.

“When we make the violin we copy the changes that have occurred over more than 300 years including the shifts in the wood – the small deformations in the front and back plates that occur over time because of the forces of the strings and the other parts of the violin.”

Dr Sirr said he hoped to repeat the process with other antique instruments and hoped that his work would one day pave the way for students to have access to “nearly exact copies” of the originals.

The dean of the world-famous Juilliard school in New York, welcomed the possibility.

“Every string player graduating from any great conservatory faces an immense crisis of how do you obtain a violin that is at the level that you need to have a really first rate career,” said Ara Guzelimian.

CAT scanner CAT scans are more commonly used to diagnose tumours, cancers and infections

“With the inflation of prices of rare old violins – and obviously Stradivari at the top of that list – it’s far out of the reach of anyone but investors and investment trusts. So if there was a way of putting a superb violin in the hands of a young violinist at a fraction of the cost it would be a huge step forward.”

A well-preserved Stradivarius known as the Lady Blunt was sold in June for $15.9m (£10.2m) at a charity auction.

via BBC News – Antique Stradivarius violin ‘replicated’ by radiologist.

Cain’s non-denial denial

Here is Herman Cain’s initial statement about an Atlanta woman’s contention that she has had an ongoing affair with him:

“Mr. Cain has been informed today that your television station plans to broadcast a story this evening in which a female will make an accusation that she engaged in a 13-year long physical relationship with Mr. Cain. This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace – this is not an accusation of an assault – which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate.

Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults – a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door.

Mr. Cain has alerted his wife to this new accusation and discussed it with her. He has no obligation to discuss these types of accusations publicly with the media and he will not do so even if his principled position is viewed unfavorably by members of the media.”

via The PJ Tatler » Atlanta Woman Alleges 13-Year Affair with Herman Cain (Update: Cain Issues Second Statement).

What is missing in this statement?  (Hint:  Does he say it isn’t true?)

In subsequent statements, Cain has come closer to a denial, referring to “events that never happened” and “I did nothing wrong.”  But I’m not sure those are out-and-out denials either.

One might argue that consensual relationships should be private and have nothing to do with a person’s fitness to hold public office.  But Cain is a married man.

Some of you Cainites  (Cainanites?) rejected the earlier accusations of sexual harassment against him.  Is this any different?  Are you still supporting him?

Living in two times

The post about “Happy New Year,” referring to the beginning of Advent and asking about why the last days of the church year aren’t really noted, made me realize that the church year is not supposed to cover everything.  Christians are under two calendars, just as they live their lives in two times.  There is the secular calendar, the time of the world, that progresses from season to season, along with its distinct cultural and national holidays, such as in the USA Independence Day and Thanksgiving.   And then there is the liturgical calendar, commemorating the life of Christ and of the Church.  The church calendar is superimposed on the secular calendar.  Christians participate in them both, just as they participate in both of God’s Kingdoms, His hidden rule over all of the created secular order and His revealed spiritual rule in Christ as manifested in the Church.

We shouldn’t follow the church calendar alone, rejecting the secular calendar,  with its pagan nomenclature from Roman and Germanic deities (January from the two-faced god Janus; Wodin’s day, Thors’ day, Freya’s day), since we must live out our faith in this world.  Nor should we follow the secular calendar alone, since Christ became incarnate in time.  Sometimes the two time sequences counter each other, such as one of the most joyous days of the church year–Christmas– comes at the gloomiest point of winter.  Sometimes they complement each other, as when the other most joyous day of the church year–Easter–comes at one of the most joyous times of the secular calendar, the season of Spring.  And sometimes the church calendar crosses over into the cultural calendar, as Christmas does, just as Christianity has influenced the cultures in which it finds itself, and as Christ did when He became incarnate in human history.

So Christians can celebrate the new church year, beginning with Advent, which–as my pastor explained today–seamlessly follows the end of Pentecost, which also looks forward to Christ’s return.  The church year is cyclical.  It doesn’t count the number of years from Christ’s life, but rather keeps re-enacting them.  Ironically, the secular calendar does count the number of years from the time of Christ, as the years forge linearly ahead.  So Christians can also celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day when the secular calendar turns over.  Christians live in two times, just as they live in two kingdoms.

The megachurch bubble?

There was the dot.com bubble and, more recently, the real estate bubble, markets that grew and grew until they they burst.  Some experts are saying that we may be in for a megachurch bubble:

In the 1970s, only a handful of churches drew more than 2,000 people on Sundays. Now they number in the thousands.

But the collapse of the Crystal Cathedral near Los Angeles, which is being sold to pay off more than $40 million in debt, has prompted fears that the megachurch bubble may be about to burst.

Most megachurches — which earn that label around the 2,000-attendance level — are led by baby boomer pastors who soon will hit retirement age and without suitable replacements in the pipeline. And some fear the big-box worship centers with lots of individual programs no longer appeal to younger generations.

Skye Jethani, a senior editor of Leadership, a prominent evangelical magazine for pastors, compared megachurches to the real estate market of a few years ago.

“If you asked people back in 2007 if the housing market was doing well, people would have said yes,” he said.

Jethani said megachurches have become so big that their economics are unsustainable. They often have multimillion-dollar mortgages and hundreds of staff members. That works while a church is growing.

But churches often shrink when a longtime minister leaves, Jethani said.

“If you are a church of 400 people and you lose 200 people, you can still keep going,” he said. “If you are a church of 10,000 and you go down to 5,000, you may not be able to survive.”

via Some fear megachurch bubble may soon burst | The Tennessean | tennessean.com.

The article goes on to quote other people who deny that megachurches are creating a bubble ready to pop.  What do you think?

HT: Tim Challies

Pakistan erupts against U.S.A.

NATO planes bombed  a Pakistani military base, killing 24 soldiers.  (Afghans claim that the Pakistanis were firing on them as they patrolled with NATO troops.)  So the country is refusing to allow allied convoys into Afghanistan and the people are rioting.

Hundreds of enraged Pakistanis took to the streets across the country Sunday, burning an effigy of President Barack Obama and setting fire to US flags after 24 soldiers died in NATO air strikes.

The rallies were organised by opposition and right-wing Islamist groups in major cities of the nuclear-armed country of 167 million people, where opposition to the government’s US alliance is rampant.

In Karachi, the port city used by the United States to ship supplies to troops fighting in Afghanistan, more than 700 people gathered outside the US consulate, an AFP photographer said.

They shouted: “down with America, stay away Americans, Pakistan is ours, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our army”, while Pakistani riot police were deployed near the consulate.

Outside the press club in Karachi, dozens of political activists burnt an effigy of President Obama, an AFP photographer added.

In the central city of Multan, more than 300 activists loyal to the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, as well as local traders took to the streets, burning US and NATO flags.

They carried placards and banners, and shouted: “down with America,” “down with NATO,” “Yankees go back”, “vacate Afghanistan and Pakistan” and “stop drone attacks” — a reference to a CIA drone war against Islamist militants.

Speaking at the rally, opposition lawmaker Javed Hashmi demanded that the government end its alliance in the US-led “war on terror”.

In Islamabad, at least 200 activists of the radical Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party held a rally in the middle-class I-10 neighbourhood.

“We strongly condemn the attack and the killing of our soldiers,” local JI chief Mian Aslam told the rally in reference to the air strike early Saturday, as protestors chanted “Pakistan is America’s graveyard.”

Pakistan has reacted with fury over the killings, and has called the attack by NATO helicopters and fighter jets on two military posts close to the Afghan border “unprovoked”.

In response, Islamabad has sealed its Afghan border to NATO supply convoys and is reviewing its alliance with the United States and NATO, mulling whether to boycott a key international conference on Afghanistan next month.

via Enraged Pakistanis burn Obama effigy, slam US – Yahoo! News.


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