Monday, July 21, 2014

NAE Finds President's Executive Order Lacking

Press release:

The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) regrets President Obama’s decision, announced today, to omit an exemption for religious organizations in his executive order requiring federal contractors to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories in their employment policies.

“The President missed an opportunity to lead the nation toward greater tolerance and social harmony by respecting diverse viewpoints on divisive issues,” NAE President Leith Anderson said. “Religious groups that have longstanding and principled positions should be allowed to compete for federal contracts on an equal basis.”

As federal contractors, religious organizations provide overseas relief and development services in partnership with USAID, services on contract with the Bureau of Prisons, and research, technical assistance and other services for other federal departments and agencies. These organizations are often the best-qualified applicants for federal contracts or subcontracts. It is counterproductive to bar them from offering their services due to their religious convictions.

Last month President Obama announced his intentions to issue an executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from considering sexual orientation or gender identity in hiring decisions. The NAE met with White House officials to provide input, and leaders from a long list of organizations and denominations signed a letter to the president asking for robust religious freedom protections in any executive order. Another letter asked for similar protections. However, the president failed to include either group’s recommendations in the order issued today.

“Our entire society suffers when our government discriminates against religious groups and loses access to their services. Instead of bringing us together, the president’s actions today sow the seeds for continued polarization,” Anderson said.

The NAE calls on Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez to issue regulations that fully protect religious contractors.

For the Beauty of the Earth

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I sometimes get beauty-withdrawal in Texas. The state has some fantastic beauty, but not the kind that makes me feel I'm "home." I got a lot of that in Italy, and I'm still so grateful. That time provided deep soul-rest, and part of that rest came from the beauty that surrounded me day and night.

Here's the song I've been singing in gratitude. Savor.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Art + Bible = Salome

Stained glass windows. Flannelgraphs. Fill-in-the-blank studies with small groups. What's your favorite way to learn Bible stories? And have you given opera a shot? This fall you will get your chance.

"Salome"—it's a set-in-Judea, biblical tale of lust and betrayal in King Herod's court, and it reveals humanity at its most depraved. As you may recall, Salome's dancing led to the beheading of the one whom Jesus described as the most righteous man ever. Oscar Wilde wrote the rendition, and The Dallas Opera will tell it in song.

Tickets are on sale now for performances between October 30 and November 8.
John the Baptist was imprisoned in the bowels of this mountain before Salome
asked Herod for the prophet's head. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Three Documentary Recommendations

I spent a lot of time in the air over oceans recently, which means I had time to catch up on movie watching. "Monuments Men" is definitely worth seeing. But here are three documentaries you might not have heard about that you should also consider:  

Tim's Vermeer
Tim Jenison, an inventor, attempts to solve one of the greatest mysteries in all art: How did seventeenth-century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer ("Girl with a Pearl Earring") paint so photo-realistically—150 years before the invention of photography? He embarks on a research project in total-tech-geek fashion to test his theory, and he makes an extraordinary discovery. Spanning eight years, Jenison's adventure takes him to Delft, Holland, where Vermeer painted his masterpieces, on a pilgrimage to the North coast of Yorkshire to meet artist David Hockney, and even to Buckingham Palace to see a Vermeer masterpiece in the collection of the Queen. While he seems to have missed the whole point about art and beauty, he does have a fascinating theory. I'm a believer. 

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley

In this 2014 HBO documentary, Goldberg takes a look at the work and influence of the comedy pioneer with the floppy hat and toothless grin who tells it like it is. Moms Mabley rose to fame in the early decades of the 20th century on the chitlins circuit—comprised of stages that employed black entertainers during segregation. Her career went on to span five decades, during which time she pushed back against racial and gender barriers. Goldberg traces the comic’s life and features or talks with performers who were influenced by Mabley, including Sammy Davis Jr, Bill Cosby, Eddie Murphy, Joan Rivers, Sidney Poitier, and Harry Belafonte.

Six by Sondheim
NBR gave high marks to “Six by Sondheim,” an HBO documentary that pays tribute to the Broadway composer and lyricist. The film includes performances of six of Sondheim's signature songs:

"Something's Coming" (West Side Story)
"Opening Doors" (Merrily We Roll Along)
"Send in the Clowns" (A Little Night Music)
"I'm Still Here" (Follies)
"Being Alive" (Company) 
"Sunday" (Sunday in the Park With George)

This film pays attention to “craft” in a rewarding way—especially satisfying for creative types.  

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Act Like Men: What Does Paul Mean?

This week's Tapestry post: 
A few weeks ago I received an announcement that an organization committed to teaching what the Bible says about being masculine and feminine had published an updated guide available for free.
Because the history of ideas about gender, especially within Christendom, is one of my fields of academic study, I eagerly downloaded and began reading. But only a few pages into chapter one, “Being a Man and Acting Like It,” an alarm went off. Here’s what I read:
“Paul writes to the leaders in the church at Corinth, ‘Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love’ (1 Corinthians 16:13–14).” His was using the ESV.
But the addressees in the apostle’s letter were not the leaders of the church. Paul addressed the entire congregation, establishing this in chapter 1, verse 2: “To the church of God that is in Corinth to those who are sanctified in Christ who are called to be saints.”
In the context of the actual verse quoted, which falls in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul has just finished his wonderful description of the hope for us all in the resurrection. And he is still speaking to the entire church, not a sub-group among them. Never does he narrow his audience.  
So what does he mean when he writes to everyone, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (emphasis mine)? It is worth noting that the NIV renders the phrase I italicized as “be courageous”; the NET goes with “show courage.” And indeed the emphasis is not about gender, but maturity—about being a grown-up. Paul made a similar contrast between “adult man” and “child” when he wrote three chapters earlier, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (13:11). So in summary, he contrasts being a man with being a child, not with being a woman. And he is not criticizing children. Children act like children! But adults are not supposed to do so.
Paul is consistent in his concern for maturity, not in pursing masculinity and femininity. In his letter to the Ephesians, he describes the ultimate end of discipleship: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13, KJV). Again, later translators have clarified that Paul is not suggesting some sort of transgender goal for women—that all women become perfect men. Rather, he has in mind full human maturity. Paul uses the idea of “man” to be fully mature, as opposed to being immature. He is not insulting women. Nor is he insulting children, whom we expect to act like children.
The writer in question, in explaining “act like men” (16:13), concedes that Paul includes a contrast with being children, but he goes on to say, “When Paul says to ‘act like men,’ he means something different from ‘act like women.’” The author says, “To ‘act like men’—or ‘be courageous,’ as the NIV puts it—is to act in a way that is somehow different from a boy, in terms of maturity, and is somehow different from a woman, in terms of gender.” Do you see the insult in this interpretation? It reminds me of how we disparage girls and boys when we say, “You run like a girl” or “You throw like a girl.” Have you seen this video? 
What, then, does Paul mean? The Greek word translated “act like men” or “be courageous”—andrizomai—occurs only once in the New Testament. But other uses of it outside of the Bible suggest it has to do with bravery and courage, which explains why the NIV and NET rendered the word the way they did.
This is how many church fathers have understood it. Consider this from Didymus the Blind, writing in the fourth century: Paul tells them to be courageous and strong, like an athlete or soldier of Christ, doing everything with love toward God and each other “ (Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church).
Writing in that same century, Ambrosiaster said of this verse, “They were to stand firm, being bold in confessing what they had been taught. They were to be strong in both word and deed, because it is the right combination of these which enables people to mature” (Commentary on Paul’s Epistles).
Paul’s point in the exhortation: Men and women alike are to be mature and courageous. He is not telling the women to act masculine, nor is he telling the men to avoid acting feminine. He exhorts both men and women to have courage. (As I have written elsewhere, courage is for women, too. Think of Esther, or of Peter’s exhortation to wives that they not be “frightened by any fear” [see 1 Peter 3].)
So through the apostle Paul in his word to the entire church at Corinth, God is not calling his people to act according to social norms of what is “masculine.” Rather, he wants all of his children to demonstrate the bravery and courage lacking in the immature in the faith.
Indeed, Paul’s vision was not for women to find some cultural ideal that is womanly. Nor did he envision men making as their goal ultimate masculinity, whatever that is. His vision was for all of us, male and female, to become mature adults in Christ. Our task, then, is not to pursue some nebulous change-with-the-times, stereotypical gender norms. Rather, our goal is to follow hard after him, to grow in maturity, and thus to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit—whether we are embodied as males or as females. 

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Monday, July 07, 2014

A Short Trip Report

Nothing puts one in touch with one's helplessness tech-wise quite like having (1) no ability to use one's laptop to get online and (2) having the power cord fray in one's suitcase, so when access finally happens, it can't happen.

But now I have both wifi and a working power cord. And I have so much to talk about!

For the past three weeks, my daughter was working on staff at a camp in Kansas that a couple of our friends run. (Thanks to those who sent her mail. She loved receiving it, and loved you for it!) While she was otherwise occupied, my husband and I took off for Sorrento, Italy, to celebrate 35 years of marriage. The city served as our base for four days that allowed us to see the Amalfi Coast and also generous vistas of Mt. Vesuvius. We chose the location because I wanted to get to Herculaneum, as the archeological dig there played a big role in my dissertation. But, um, guess what? A big storm that hit the day we arrived knocked that site out of commission for the general public. It remained closed until the day after we left. So I guess we must return….

Gary and me at 35 years in front of the Orvieto cathedral.
The bench was a temporary addition for Corpus Domini.
From Sorrento we took the train through Rome to Orvieto, a city atop a rocky Umbrian cliff that serves as home to one of Italy's finest cathedrals (and Italy has some great cathedrals).

In Orvieto, I participated in a two-week course on Medieval Christianity and the Arts and another on Spiritual Practices that featured the women mystics of the Middle Ages. Imagine two summer-school classes back to back with generous field trips. (I teach a couple of lectures on these women, so that part was a nice little foray into directly applicable professional development.)

The course was offered in Orvieto as part of a group from Fuller Seminary. I went to network with their Brehm Center folks and the faculty members teaching the course. Why? To find out what others in the field of aesthetics and theology are doing, and with a view to possibly partnering with them on a DTS Italy program.

Due to an administrative glitch, we got Gary set up nearby in a hotel for a few days before heading to Kenya, while I entered the convent with the rest of the students, all of whom were creative types. A Hollywood movie producer. A Disney animation supervisor. Some professional musicians. A liturgical dancer… Nine of us students plus three faculty and their three spouses. Think about that ratio—six for nine. Was that great? Absolutely.

I was assigned a roommate and a curfew—a flashback to dorm life. We all shared meals on most days, and one night we "kept the hours" like the monastic folks through the ages, waking every 180 minutes to pray for the world and the community around us. (Somewhere in the world, around the clock someone is praying for the sick, the brokenhearted, and all in need.) We even learned to chant and filled the convent with our sounds reverberating in the night. At dawn, we sang and danced together on the rooftop patio a thousand feet in the air at the edge of the cliff that serves as the monastery's outer wall.

Civitas was home to St. Bonaventure, who wrote the
authorized biography of St. Francis of Assisi, which we read.
As you read here, we explored Aquinas's church, walked all over Siena, trekked through Assisi, and celebrated Corpus Domini, the 750's anniversary of the Corpus Christi feast. Five of us women also hired a driver on our day off and went to the amazing city of Civitas, which requires crossing a long bridge by foot and ascending a long path. No cars in that city--only motorcycles and burros. There we shared a long meal with deep fellowship.

Added bonuses in Orvieto were free attendance to some outdoor medieval plays, both of which featured Orpheus. It was even worth the 75 mosquito bites I got for being outside at night with bare arms. The next day I walked through cobblestone streets, found the pharmacy, asked for itch cream, and paid in euros—all by myself. Another afternoon, I walked to the paper store and purchased supplies for a spontaneous writing workshop I led. By the time I left, Orvieto's tiny community felt like home, and they were patient with my pitiful Italian. We slept with the windows open, dried our clothes on the line, and walked nearly everywhere.

One student described the entire experience as "Christian sensitivity training," helping us understand why some people have been and still are into relics, icons, and deep traditions that might seem foreign to the uninitiated. We even learned how to read cathedral art—what some of the colors symbolize, and how the lower panels rank lower than what's happening in the high and exalted places.

Indeed, I walked many miles. And I thrived on pasta and gelato. (In fact, by the end I actually craved a nice head of broccoli and a few carrots!)

Gary returned home from Kenya before I finished my time in Italy. And the next day, he dragged his jet-lagged bones into the car and drove eight hours to Kansas to pick up our girl. They were home when I collapsed into bed after my twenty-five-hour journey back.

I now have a mountain of paperwork and messages to answer. I got in some vacation time, but mostly I was working. I took 80 pages of typed notes, read a few thousand pages, and asked loads of questions. But being a woman, an artist, and a Christian theologian all welcomed in one place—what a joy!

Tuesday, July 01, 2014


Yesterday's schedule included a look at Ignatius of Loyola and Renaissance spirituality.

Tomorrow we explore museums and have our goodbye dinner. I catch an early train to Rome on Thursday, and I fly back to Dallas through Charlotte if all goes as planned. Pray for me!

Friday, June 27, 2014


Studies this week have focused on Hildegard of Bingen, as well as Francis and Clare of Assisi. Complementing the reading and lectures, a field trip today takes us to Assisi. In preparation, I read up on these people. Reading on St. Clare was interesting, because in my Dante studies at UTD, I focused on his thoughts on St. Clare.

With the new pope focused on St. Francis, I was interested to read the great man’s life in St. Bonaventure's Life of Francis.  The “Saint Francis cycle” in the Upper Church of San Francesco at Assisi, on the schedule for the day, tells in visual art the legend of Saint Francis, as recorded by Bonaventura. The cycle of 28 frescoes was painted between AD 1297 and 1300, at the same time as Giotto's Florentine master, Cimabue, painted the walls of the transept. Many attribute to the St. Francis cycle to Giotto himself. He was the best-known naturalistic painter of his period. I saw Giotto’s cycles on the life of Christ in Padua, Italy, back in December, so I’m thrilled to see the St. Francis paintings often attributed to him, as well.

Tonight we're scheduled to see a play, "The Harrowing of Hell." Doesn't that sound fun?

On the schedule for tomorrow: A visit to Orvieto's Chapel of the Corporeal within the Duomo; St. Benedict; and the Liturgy of the hours. We will keep "the hours" together at 7 PM, 10 PM, 1 AM, 4 AM and 7:30 AM. Then we get to nap and rest for the rest of the day on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I’ve been to Italy three or four times, and I’ve never made it to Siena. But today’s the day!

Siena is one of Italy’s most famous cities, and to visit there is often the highlight of visitors’ time in Tuscany. For years, I have special interest in the city’s most famous resident, Catherine of Siena (AD 1347–1380), since introduced to her by my late co-author, Bill Cutrer. I cover her life in a course I teach at DTS.

Along with St. Francis of Assissi, Catherine of Siena is a patron saint of Italy. And as preparation for my coursework in Orvieto, I became re-acquainted with her writings. She has penned some lovely prayers, and many of her letters survive, as well. From one I derived special comfort, as I have said goodbye to many friends this year, whether through death or moving away. Catherine noted that it must have been difficult for our Lord and his disciples to split up after the resurrection, after all they had been through together. But they did so for the sake of the gospel.

Our day includes a visit to Catherine’s House and a visit to the Cathedral. We are also scheduled to visit the Church of San Domenico, characterized by the massive architecture and the relic of the Holy Head of Saint Catherine. The most important part of the church is the St. Catherine Chapel.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of Corpus Christi is both popular and religious.

Orvieto is best known for “The Feast of Corpus Christi.” Because back in 1263 when Pope Urban IV was living in Orvieto, a devout German priest was finding it difficult to believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But when on his way to Rome he celebrated the Mass in Bolsena, and blood seeped from the consecrated Host and trickled over his hands onto the altar and the corporal. Shocked, he rushed to Orvieto, to tell the pope. Hearing this, Pope Urban requested that the Host and bloodstained cloth be brought to him. A procession indeed brought it, and the pope and religious dignitaries received it. Soon, they had the relics enshrined in the Duomo (cathedral). These items are still displayed there in a golden reliquary in the Chapel of the Corporal.

Affected by this miracle, Pope Urban commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the Proper for a Mass and an Office honoring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. The hymns Aquinas created include the traditional ones still widely used in Benediction. And a year after the miracle, Pope Urban IV introduced Aquinas’ composition and issued a papal bull instituting the feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) to be observed worldwide.

Well, we “just so happen” to be staying in Orvieto at the time when they celebrate this feast. And it’s quite the spectacle. This little city relives the solemnity with a ceremony that’s both religious and popular (think: Mardi Gras in Venice). On the Saturday before the big day, the nobles of the ruled territories march, followed by numerous ladies and courtiers. Actors perform in organized plays in the square, people engage in Medieval dances, and flag-wavers and falconers perform.

The following day, Sunday morning at 10:30 AM, the parade and the religious procession of relics intersect as people throw flower petals on the streets. Imagine 400 actors representing the history, culture, and traditions of what was once a powerful Medieval site. And their backdrop is the well-preserved Duomo along with monuments of the historic center. Add period costumes, drapes and banners, armors, helmets, and embroidery. And let’s not leave out songs, drums, and trumpets.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Today we're set to arrive in Orvieto, Italy. I'm studying with a group from Fuller Theological Seminary, and we're staying in a convent. As it happens, this their annual trip has fallen during the observance of the Feast of Corpus Christi. (More about that tomorrow.)

Visitors must climb to get to Orvieto. It sits on a high, volcanic-rock butte that requires the services of a funicular, a hillside train, from the valley.

Orvieto has a fascinating history. Its citizens in Medieval times, like those of ancient Sardis, thought they were safe, perched up there on high. If enemies tried to attack, the people had the advantage of gravity. Toss a few arrows or boulders, and—end of scuffle. Orvietans could even endure long sieges, as corn and cattle alike would grow up there. But what they lacked was water. They had to descend to get that. So the Romans tried to slay them with death-by-dehydration. But the clever people of Orvieto dug a well 248 steps deep.

The city was also a refuge for fleeing popes during the 13th century. Driving there from Rome takes about 90 minutes, so imagine how long it would have taken on horseback or foot. Consequently, the city has a “palace of the popes,” which contains many early frescoes.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Italy or Bust

Today I'm on my way to a two-week course on Medieval Christianity in Orvieto, Italy, and my hubby is on his way to Africa. But for a few days before we get to work, we plan to stop and play. (Our daughter is away on staff at a summer camp in Kansas.)

On Monday, he and I celebrate our 35th anniversary. So while a friend enjoys our house, and the A/C works overtime in Texas, we plan to be off on the Amalfi Coast of Italy for a few days before getting to work. Think Vesuvius and Herculaneum.

Because we booked separate work trips before we figured out a way to play together, we are scheduled to take different flights. I leave several hours before he does, and I change planes in Philly. He goes all the way to Amsterdam before changing flights. So on the front end, he's stuck waiting for his flight to start, and on the back end, I'm stuck for about four hours in the Rome termini waiting for him to arrive. Think I should spend the time making something like his gone-viral video?

All by myself from Richard Dunn on Vimeo.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some Little-Known Good News about Bad News

The child mortality rate in African countries is decreasing at record rates. The top rates of decline are faster than anywhere else seen in the world for at least the last 30 years, thanks to better health care and cleaner environments.

The World Bank's 2013 annual report indicates that economic output in sub-Saharan Africa increased by an estimated 4.7 percent. Poverty has declined, with the share of people of living on less than $1.25 a day falling from 58 percent in 1996 to about 46 percent in 2010.  The World Bank reports that higher commodities, increasing investment and a pickup in world economy will help economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa significantly outpace the global average over the next three years. And investment, which first outpaced aid in 2006, now doubles aid.

Today, 18,000 children under age 5 die each day from hunger and preventable disease. As heartbreaking as that number is, it's down 50 percent from where it was 20 years ago. We're also seeing radical progress against malaria, measles, and other vaccine-preventable diseases. And we've nearly eradicated polio. Waterborne diseases are dropping. We're seeing incredible progress in pretty much every indictor we look at.

Source: Compassion International

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Jordan: The Other Holy Land

My Tapestry post this week is about "the other Holy Land":

When people think about where God has set His redemption story, they usually think of Israel, as they should. But God also revealed Himself with relative frequency in a less-explored part of the Holy Land—Jordan.

In the ancient church, mentors often encouraged believers to visit the places where redemption’s drama unfolded at least once in their lives. Seeing such sites, located as they are in time and space, added to the eyes of faith.

I love about Jordan that many of the biblical sites do not have shrines built on them. That makes it easier to imagine these places in Moses’s day or in Jesus’s time. So add Jordan to your bucket list. And make sure you see these sites:

Add to your bucket list "sunset on the Dead Sea."
The King’s Highway. Travelling along the 5,000-year-old King’s Highway, visitors see the route Abraham probably took on his journey from Ur. Centuries later Moses asked the King of Edom for passage along this flat plain (request denied), which serves as the world’s oldest continuously used communication route (see Num. 20).

Zoar. Near another thoroughfare—the Dead Sea Highway—visitors pass where Lot and his daughters fled during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Be sure to take a half day to float on the Dead Sea (“Salt Sea” in the Bible).

Mount Nebo. After the exodus, Moses stood on Mount Nebo and caught his first glimpse of the Promised Land. From the summit of this promontory pilgrims can gaze as he did across the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Jericho, and as far away as Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Petra. Jordan’s most-visited site is the rose-red city of Petra. While Jordan abounds in archaeological treasures, few places can beat a city carved completely from rock. Its canyons still echo with the voice of Obadiah condemning the Edomites for their arrogance.

Amman. The Bible refers to Jordan’s capital city, Amman, and its surrounding areas as “Ammon” or “Rabbah of the Ammonites.” Here the guilty King David had Uriah the Hittite sent to his death (2 Sam. 11).

Um Qais. Um Qais (ancient “Gadara”) is where the Lord performed the miracle of the Gadarene demon-possessed man (Matt. 8:28–32). On good-weather days visitors can gaze into Syria, Israel, and the Sea of Galilee—also referred to as Tiberias or the Sea of Tiberias (John 6 and 21).

Jerash. Travelers find the best-preserved remains from Roman times in the Decapolis city of Jerash. Nicknamed the “Asian Pompeii,” Jerash contains striking monuments, evidence of a once-powerful Roman Empire. The Decapolis, mentioned in Matt 4:25, Mark 5:20 and Mark 7:31, was a group of ten cities on the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire in Jordan, Israel, and Syria.

Bethany beyond the Jordan. About thirty minutes outside of Amman lies what is sometimes called the birthplace of Christianity—Bethany beyond the Jordan. (I have written about it here in the past.) This is my favorite place in Jordan because of its rich layering of biblical history. Here the children of Israel crossed into the Promised Land to see walls crumble at Jericho. According to tradition, Elijah lived here and ascended to heaven in a whirlwind on a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2). And following in Elijah’s footsteps, centuries later John the Baptist preached and baptized many here (John 1:28), including Jesus. That event marked the first recorded manifestation of the Trinity (Mark 1:9–12). Our Lord later taught at Bethany beyond the Jordan as well (John 10:40). Rustom Mkhjian, who serves as the site’s assistant commission director, asks, “Why was Jesus baptized at the lowest point on earth?” With a raised eyebrow, he offers a hint at the answer. “Maybe the same reason He was born in a cave?”

Mukawir. Otherwise known as Machaerus, Herod’s hilltop fortress is where Salome performed her fateful dance and where John the Baptist was imprisoned and beheaded. Beneath the mountain are caves, one of which doubtless housed John as he awaited his fate.

I hope you will make seeing this part of the Holy Land a priority. Because once you’ve looked across the Dead Seat at Bethlehem’s twinkling lights, you will marvel anew at how God chose to reveal Himself in that little town through a babe in a manger. And once you’ve seen the baptismal site and the wilderness where our Lord fasted for forty days, you can more fully appreciate that He left heaven’s glory to appear in the depths of the earth.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Pentecost Sunday

Today we have to say goodbye to friends with whom we have broken bread many times over the past three-and-a-half years. The Rouse family of six returns to Australia tonight to begin a new phase of life. What a gift their friendship is!

Today is also a wonderful, special day in the Christian calendar. Today is Pentecost Sunday. On this day we celebrate that the Holy Spirit descended on the early church in fulfillment of Jesus' promise to send a comforter. Do you ever wish God would write his plans for you in the sky? The believer actually has a more intimate guide in the indwelling Spirit.

All whom the Spirit indwells are members of one body, the universal church. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives in us, empowering us to love in a supernatural way when we yield to his control. He gives us power not to rule others but to forgive them, to restore relationships, to overcome evil. And he unites us as one family with believers from Australia to Africa to Austria.

Pentecost was an especially wonderful day in women's history, because everyone prophesied, from old men to young maidens. And Acts 2 says one of the signs of the last days is that such an outpouring will happen again.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

What I'm Reading

I have a bunch of stuff on my nightstand right now.

My Bright Abyss, by Christian Wiman feeds my need for wedding art with deep thinking.  Check out Christian Wiman's interview with Mako Fujimura. Some of his comments around minute 15 intersect with other reading I'm doing that reminds me of how  believers wrestle with doubt but don't talk much about it.

I just finished reading select chapters in Spiritual Traditions for the Contemporary Church. It's on my reading list because I'm headed to Orvieto, Italy, later this month for a study program on Medieval Christianity. The program, sponsored by Fuller, includes a focus on some of the key women of that era such as Catherine of Siena and Clare of Assissi. The book introduces some spiritual practices common in the church before believers had a choice between "Catholic" and "Protestant." In other words, we can embrace some shared history.

I especially appreciated the section about John of the Cross, best known for writing Dark Night of the Soul. Often we connect his title to trials in general, but his focus is actually on a specific kind of trial: the anguish of experiencing God's silence. Have you ever heard, "If it seems like God is absent, guess who moved?" This little phrase beats up people wrestling with honest doubt.

We evangelicals don't talk much about doubt. I heard a well-known evangelical theologian tell Larry King that he doesn't have doubts. But most honest folks do. That's part of faith! Do I believe what I cannot see? To some degree doing so challenges our reason. But that's why we call it faith. Faith is believing in things hoped for, having assurance of things unseen.

John of the Cross, writing in the 1500s, suggested that sometimes we seek God merely for the consolations he brings. But imagine loving a spouse only for how he or she makes us feel. Dark nights of the soul can move us to more mature love. One of the disciples who walked with the in-the-flesh Jesus and saw miracles with his own eyes still begged, "Help thou my unbelief!"

Today's reading: Catherine of Siena: Passion for the Truth, Compassion for Humanity.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Travel: Prep for that Dream Trip

It’s June, and for many of us that means vacation. But if you’re like me, getting ready to travel can also cause stress. It doesn’t have to, though. Check out some ways to keep that dream trip from turning into a nightmare:

Avoid using black luggage. If you do so, tie a ribbon to the handle for easy identification. Also, purchasing a super bright bag that will get you targeted as an American. The same goes for clothing. Don't take a red ski jacket to Europe.

Keep a separate cosmetic kit for travel-only use. Fill it with all the usual stuff. But make sure you also include your travel insurance card, your vision Rx, and an empty pill bottle. The latter will remind you to pack your medications. When it’s time to go, fill the empty bottle and toss it in your carry-on. Always in your carry-on. Once—and only once—I packed my meds in checked luggage. When that bag got lost, I went a few days without allergy meds in a high-allergy environment. Not a fun way to spend Christmas. Never again….

Carry a little flashlight in your handbag. Store it with the batteries turned upside down so that you won't run them down if the light gets knocked into the "on" position.

Carry more than one kind of credit card. If Visa flags your account as having unusual activity, your Mastercard will keep you from having to do dishes at the restaurant after dinner.

Take your Starbucks card for international layovers. In some places you can use it to avoid changing currency just to buy a cup of joe.

Take a good story with you. And if you finish it while traveling, leave it behind for someone else to discover and enjoy.

Bon voyage!

Thursday, June 05, 2014

FREE Movie in the Park: Son of God

Dallas, Texas  – After grossing nearly $60 million in box office sales and earning a coveted “A” Cinemascore opening weekend, Son of God comes to Dallas.

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has chosen to present this film during an outdoor family event this Saturday, June 7, at Klyde Warren Park. And it's FREE.

Just follow the link to RSVP. Then grab the kids, the cooler, and some lawn chairs, and head downtown to screen this film. In addition to special musical performances, the event will feature giveaways and testimonies. Spread the word!

What: Son of God film

Who: The whole family

When: Saturday, June 7 at 7:00 PM–11 PM (movie begins at dusk)

Where: Klyde Warren Park, 2012 Woodall Rodgers Fwy., Dallas, TX 75201

All attendees must RSVP.

The Blu-ray and DVD editions of this film released two days ago.

Update: Christian musicians Kyle Sherman and Amber Rose will be performing right before the screening.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Organic mentoring

Check out what one of my writing students has to say about intergenerational friendship. She's my guest columnist at Tapestry this week. Go to Sheryl's blog post.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Market for Writers: An Expert Speaks

Meet Mark Kuyper, the pleasant and interesting President and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).

The ECPA is an international non-profit trade organization comprised of member companies involved in the publishing and distribution of Christian content worldwide. (Think of all the Christian book publishers you've ever heard of, and then some.) ECPA helps publishing folks to network, share information, and benefit from advocacy on behalf of the industry. can imagine that the person leading that group might know a few things about the publishing industry, right?

When he and I talked last month at the Evangelical Press Association national meeting in Anaheim, we discussed the need for both online and physical book store models. Case in point: He recently tried to buy a Bible as a gift for someone, and online ordering didn't cut it. It's not that easy to order the size, color, binding, and translation you want online. Bible selection requires way too many options for the one- or two-click model, especially when it comes to buying the world's most important book. We need stores.

And get this: I asked him what he thought about "the market" from the perspective of writers. And the president and CEO of the ECPA told me there has never been a better time to seek publication. And this is the best time ever for writers.

So take heart, okay? Keep writing.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bioethics in the News This Week

Thanks to the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity for flagging these and other stories in the news this week: 
Measles Outbreak Sets Record 
(Washington Post) The measles outbreak has reached a record for any year since the disease was eliminated in the US 14 years ago, with 288 cases of the potentially deadly infection reported in 18 states. The largest measles clusters are in Ohio (138 confirmed cases), California (60) and New York (26), according to the CDC. Almost all have been brought by travelers, mainly Americans, who contracted the infection abroad.
Orlando Woman Oldest-ever IVF Mom 
(Orlando Sentinel) A 46-year-old from Orlando has become the oldest woman to have a baby through IVF using her own fresh biological eggs.
Researcher Behind Stem Cell Controversy Agrees Retraction 
(Science) After steadfastly defending her work against accusations of falsified data, the lead author on two controversial stem cell papers published in Nature has reportedly agreed to retract one of them.
Women’s Contraceptive Use Influenced by Education and Moral Attitudes
 (Medical Xpress) Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and unplanned pregnancies are associated with poorer health and lower rates of educational and economic achievement for women and their children, according to the CDC. But the desire to avoid pregnancy does not necessarily increase women’s use of contraceptives. Levels of prior sex education and moral attitudes toward contraception influence whether women use contraceptives.
E.U. Commission Rejects Plea to Block Stem Cell Research Funding
 (Science) The European Commission today turned down a request by pro-life organizations to block E.U. funding for research using embryonic stem cells.
Quanity, Not Quality: Risk of Sudden Cardiac Death Tied to Protein Overproduction
 (Science Codex) A genetic variant linked to sudden cardiac death leads to protein overproduction in heart cells, scientists report.  
Medicine of the Future? (New York Times) It’s a growing field: bioelectronics. Today researchers create implants that can communicate directly with the nervous system to fight everything from cancer to the common cold. The idea is to manipulate neural input to delay the progression of cancer, says a researcher who discovered a link between the nervous system and prostate tumors.

Iran’s Population Drive Worries Women’s Rights, Health Advocates 
(Reuters) Iran’s supreme leader has called for a population increase, in an edict likely to restrict access to contraception that critics fear could damage women’s rights and public health. In his 14-point decree, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said increasing Iran’s 76 million-strong population would “strengthen national identity” and counter “undesirable aspects of Western lifestyles.”