Tuesday, April 30, 2013

All I'm going to say about Jason "Look At Me I'm Gay" Collins

Jason Collins is no Jackie Robinson.

In 1947 there was an institutionalized discrimination against non-white athletes playing in major league sports.  Jackie Robinson broke through that barrier not because he happened to have been a black man but because he was very, very good at playing baseball.

In 2013 there is no institutionalized discrimination against gay athletes, lesbian athletes, bisexual athletes or transgender athletes.

So what does Jason Collins think he is proving by telling everyone "I'm gay"?

Does that make him a better basketball player?  I thought the whole point of sports as a multi-billion dollar commercial venture was to hire the best players possible, manage the team to the best of your ability and turn a profit by winning lots of games, selling lots of tickets and letting fans buy lots of over-priced beer.

So where does "I'm gay" figure into the scheme?

I've worked many jobs over the years.  Including alongside individuals who were gay or lesbian.  I respected them because of their talents and their abilities, and even sought to emulate their skills as professionals.  What they did on their own time wasn't my business and they had the maturity to not make it anyone's business either.

I used to work in a sandwich shop.  What would I have thought if one of my co-workers declared to everyone in the place "Look!  I'm gay!"?  Not much, truth be known.  Maybe it's just me but I've never been able to tell the difference between a straight sandwich and a gay sandwich.

Jason Collins however may have shot himself in the foot with this one.  He has put the emphasis on himself and his sexual orientation, not on his abilities as a player.  That has never been a good thing for the morale of a sports team.  If I were the owner of an NBA team, I would have to deem Collins a liability to my franchise.  If Collins goes no further with his career, he'll get lauded as a "sports pioneer".  If he decides he wants to keep playing professionally well... that's the thing, isn't it?  How many team owners are going to turn Collins down at the risk of being branded "homophobe" by the media?  Even if bringing him aboard solely because of his orientation means surrendering legitimately superior talent?

"Culturally progressive"?  Whatever.  But it sure as hell isn't good business.

It used to be that a person's merit and identity was base on his talents, his abilities, his beliefs and his virtues.  Today the notion of "identity" has become diminished to the point of meaningless.  Too many people want to feel significant and important because they feel entitled to it and not because they've earned it.  And there is no more cheap and gutteral way of demanding respect for that alleged identity than to say "I'm gay!  LOVE ME!"

Jason Collins and too many others want acceptance for their choice of lifestyle, not appreciation for their talents.  It's enough to make this writer wonder how much talent Mr. Collins must have, at all...

End of an Era: THE RHINOCEROS TIMES is no more

When I first heard the news I didn't expect to be feeling this much heartbreak.  But I am.  Maybe 'cuz I'm understanding how much The Rhinoceros Times was an influence on my early years as a writer and for long, long after...

The Rhinoceros Times, The Rhino Times, The Rhino, newspaper, Greensboro, North Carolina, John Hammer, William Hammer
Just one of the many fine editions of
The Rhinoceros Times produced
between 1991 and 2013.
It was first reported this morning that The Rhinoceros Times is going out of business.  The issue on the stands right now is the final one that will be printed.

So for those not from this are who are wondering: The Rhinoceros Times (or simply The Rhino Times or just "The Rhino") found its origins in a bar called The Rhinoceros Club in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.  From a one-sheet newsletter started by John Hammer in 1991, The Rhinoceros Times fast found an eager audience among those who hungered for an alternative to the region's "mainstream" media outlets.  By the time the presses stopped the average issue of The Rhino boasted 150 pages.  Often way more than that.

The Rhinoceros Times was a free periodical: you could pick up a copy at many restaurants, grocery stores and other places of business throughout Guilford County and the surrounding area.  My favorite place to snag a copy was at the original PieWorks location at Pisgah Church Road and Lawndale Drive.  I'd order my pizza and breadsticks and enjoy The Rhino while waiting for the food to arrive.  I fast learned not to read it while eating, as the no-holds-barred style of John Hammer and the rapier-like wit of Scott Yost could cause one to choke from laughter.  The same held true for Geoff Brooks and his zany cartoons which were always dead-on target.

It was a very, very successful weekly news magazine (or "Greensboro's Only Newspaper" as the masthead declared for many years).  During its time The Rhino attracted such writing talent as Orson Scott Card and Jerry Bledsoe.  The letters to the editor were the liveliest and most passionate that I've ever seen in a local publication.  Then there was "The Sound of the Beep": you could call The Rhino's answering machine and leave a message for printing.  Some of those were downright kooky.  I made a few of them back in my college years (yeah some of the kooky ones too...).

This morning John Hammer posted a statement about The Rhino's closing down.  The website will continue for the foreseeable future but the print edition that started it all has been shuttered.  The fault is primarily the economy, the cost of running a newspaper and competition from the Internet which has hurt everybody in the business.  I'm rather surprised that many traditional newspapers in this area are still being published.  That The Rhinoceros Times lasted as long as it did is a testament to itself as a product and the people behind it.  I sincerely hope that it will continue to have an online presence for many more years to come and that it will keep boasting its fiercely independent spirit.  The way the press has become of late, we need The Rhino and other outlets like it more than ever before.

Going on twenty-two years is a good solid run.  Regardless of what happens next, John and William Hammer and their staff have much to be proud of.  And this blogger gladly takes off his hat in salute to a newspaper which broke the ground for many to follow after.

STAR WARS EPISODE IV getting a Navajo translation

Exemplifying how Star Wars is truly a universally beloved saga, this July is seeing the release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope dubbed in the language of the Navajo nation of Native Americans.

Star Wars, Navajo, language, translation, A New Hope, Native AmericanThe Navajo Nation Museum has been collaborating with Lucasfilm to translate the first Star Wars movie into Diné bizaad: a language currently spoken by nearly a quarter-million people, most of whom live throughout the American southwest.  And if you speak fluent Navajo you'll have a chance to get in on the action because auditions are slated to start later this week at the museum in Window Rock, Arizona.  For now everything about the Navajo script is being held close to vest (even the title, which TIME.com speculates could be Sǫʼ Baaʼ).  The classic phrase "May the Force be with you" could translate into "May you walk with great Power", or many other possible permutations.  It's much the same issue that was confronted by the Navajo code talkers who served in the American armed forces during World War II: there were no direct Navajo words for guns, bombs etc. so those became "tapes" and "eggs".  Australia became "Rolled Hat" after that country's signature headwear, and America was called "Our Mother".

So... how is terminology like "lightsaber", "hyperdrive" and "Grand Moff" going to work out in Diné bizaad?  Apparently the staff at the Navajo Nation Museum and the crew at Lucasfilm have figured it all out.

The entire effort is being called an "entertaining and educational" project toward preserving the Navajo language for future generations.  Maybe even a fun way for those who don't speak Navajo but who do know the Star Wars movies verbatim (raising hand here) to learn an indigenous American tongue!  Hey who knows: maybe next there can be a dubbing of a Star Wars movie into Aniyawiya for those of us who are Tsalagi or part Tsalagi (more commonly known as the Cherokee :-)

Very big thanks to Tilly Godbudak for finding this great story!

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS": Latest DOCTOR WHO felt like a trip wasted

Doctor Who, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, BBC, television, science fictionIn the past few days since watching it I've tried hard to make myself enjoy "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" and I simply can't.

The title of the latest episode of Doctor Who promised an awful lot.  I mean, how many times over the years have we gotten to see anything substantial of the TARDIS past the Console Room?  The only thing that comes to mind is "The Invasion of Time" from the Tom Baker era (how many times could a single episode use the same descending stairs in one scene?).  The Cloister Room has been shown a number of times, notably in the 1996 television movie.  And there was a fleeting look at the wardrobe in "The Christmas Invasion".  But that's shockingly little to be seen for a time/space ship that's at least as spacious as a skyscraper packed within an old-school police box can be...

So in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" we got corridors on top of corridors of the TARDIS' interior.  Clara comes upon the Library (and that tantalizing tome titled The History of the Time War).  We see the swimming pool (now much bigger than that little kiddie pool in "The Invasion of Time").  I noticed that the TARDIS also has an observatory (how it's supposed to work, I can't figure out).  And at long last we got to see the Eye of Harmony itself.  Which if you can ignore that whole "soul-sucking" business from the TV movie, was actually pretty cool.  There were a LOT of sounds and bits of dialogue from the entire span of Doctor Who (including at least one from "An Unearthly Child", the very first story from November 1963).

Speaking of which: books in the form of vials containing liquid.  Is this Doctor Who or Harry Potter?

Yes yes yes, all well and good.  But I still thought that "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was too flat of an episode than it should have been.

Maybe it was the heightened expectations about seeing the TARDIS finally revealing its full glory to us.  With more and more time since it was first broadcast/transmitted, I think the biggest problem with the episode was its execution.  Having the TARDIS picked up by salvagers and The Doctor conning them into helping him rescue Clara from the bowels of his own ship wasn't the best of plot devices.  Incidentally, I didn't feel much empathy for the Van Baalen Brothers, except for the very end of the episode.

Maybe the purpose of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was to tempt us with more of what I'm calling "mythos porn" in the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary special.  But there could have been better ways of pulling it off.  I remember one of the Doctor Who novels from the Nineties that had the TARDIS "exploding" into a vast city-scape that The Doctor had to navigate through in order to repair it.  This could have been an epic adventure filled with wonder and mystery, and instead it felt as thrilling as going down into the basement to fix the plumbing...

I'm going to give "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" Two and one-half Sonic Screwdrivers out of five possible, and that might be too generous.  There are only three episodes left in this season, including Neil Gaiman's next entry and then the eagerly-awaited finale "The Name of the Doctor".  Let's hope that Steven Moffat and crew can knock the next few out of the ballpark.

This week's Tammy Tuesday is a case of equine envy!

Poor Tammy.  Ever since I brought her home last year, she has often sat alongside the horse pasture next to our land and watched the horses.  I can't help but think that deep down, she believes she's going to grow up to be that big someday, too!

Tammy, miniature dachshund, dog, horse

I always tell her that she doesn't need to be a horse and I wouldn't want her to be one either! I mean, a horse can't snuggle up next to you on a sofa while you read a book. It can't play with you indoors. It can't sit patiently at the dinner table with those irresistibly cute eyes waiting for a tasty morsel of steak or barbecue chicken.  It can't lay against your bedroom door as you sleep at night, guarding you against monsters and the bogey-man.

And for my money, I think a miniature dachshund can outrun a horse any day!  For short distances anyway :-)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bullying from Boy Scout big-wigs?! Executives manipulating data?! Gay policy under fire from on high?!

If true... IF this is at all true... this represents the most insane turn of events that I have ever seen coming out of the Boy Scouts of America in my thirty-some years affiliated with the organization.

The honor of a Boy Scout, painting by Norman Rockwell
First, I wish to direct your attention to an article by Austin Ruse on the website for Catholic publication Crisis Magazine.  Titled "Something Rotten in the Boy Scouts", Ruse raises a red flag about apparent manipulation of data at the Boy Scouts home office regarding the possible change of policy that would allow boys of homosexual orientation to have membership in the Boy Scouts.

Awright, let me be put it this way: the home office is ignoring the data from its own survey!  From the article:
There’s deception going on in the front office of the Boy Scouts. It includes deliberate misrepresentation of polling data, and threats to pack an upcoming meeting with anonymous and unqualified voters so that the Boy Scout policy on homosexuality gets forced on the majority of Scouts and parents who don’t want it.
The Boy Scouts are considering changing their policy of not allowing open homosexuality in either their Scout or leadership ranks. The policy has placed the Boy Scouts in the buzz saw of the zeitgeist and up until recently they have resisted. There are some weak-kneed leaders who want to throw over the policy and appear willing to violate the Scout Law to do it.
The Scout front office released the result of a national survey and “listening” process that purported to show that the Scouts—boys, parents, leaders and donors—favor a change in the policy. The Boy Scouts say the process reveals great changes in attitudes and that a majority of those at all levels of Scouting “tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting.”
This was dutifully and even triumphantly reported in the mainstream press. The only problem is the news reports were wrong. And the news reports were wrong because the Boy Scouts misrepresented the results. One close observer of the Boy Scouts calls the poll “a pack of lies.”
The results of the BSA Membership Standards Survey:
A solid majority polled want NO change
to the current policy.
Do Scouting parents want to overhaul the policy and allow open homosexuality in the Scouts? The Executive Summary of the Poll says, “yes”, but the numbers say “no.” Fifty percent of Cub Scout parents support the current restrictive policy while 45% oppose it. A whopping 61% of Boy Scout parents support the current policy.
How did Boy Scout leadership get anywhere near the assertion that a majority of those in Scouting support homosexuality in Scouting? Part of what they did was what is known as a push-poll, a questionnaire designed not to elicit an accurate opinion but one designed to change opinions.
(snip)
What is going on here? Deception, that’s what. There is a small group on the Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts who want this policy to change. What they face is a membership that largely opposes the measure. So, they try to get their way by lying about a poll. But there is more deception than that...
The entire article cannot be recommended enough because Ruse's piece is by a wide margin among the best and most informative that I've found about the matter of homosexuality in the Boy Scouts.  Which, shouldn't be a matter at all.  The Boy Scouts are not meant to be a tool of politics.  Especially the politics of radical homosexuality.  The Girl Scouts of America let that happen to them and look at them now: a pitiful shadow of their former selves.  And one that has lost significant numbers of past and potential members to competing organizations for girls and young women.

But then comes this bit of information, which is even more full-tilt whacko.  A week ago I wrote about the Boy Scouts of America and how homosexuality is a concept which is in total conflict with the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  In that post I mentioned OnMyHonor.net: a group of Scouts, Scouters and supporters who "are united in their support of Scouting's timeless values and their opposition to open homosexuality in the Scouts."  OnMyHonor.net has become a significant presence in this discussion, its leaders appearing on nationally televised news broadcasts in recent days.

So look at what was posted on the official OnMyHonor.net Facebook page a short while ago...


"Today, top BSA officals contacted OMH coalition partners to ask them to stand down! LOL. (not a joke)."

What the...?!?!? 

Is this right?  OnMyHonor.net has been told to cool it by the executives of the Boy Scouts of America's national office?

How the hell is what the BSA head office doing honorable?  HOW is it at all honest, "morally straight", or respecting the Scout Law?

It is not.  It is NOT!!

There is other information which in recent days I have been made aware of regarding next month's vote to keep or change the policy.  I haven't had enough corroboration about that information to confidently write about it but if there is any substance to those as well, in the mind of this blogger the executive are guilty of even more shameful acts, apparently for the cause of political correctness.

And if there is the least shred of truth to these assertions, if the Boy Scouts top executives are behaving in such a manner, then they should do the honorable thing and step down and leave the Boy Scouts of America.  They should make way for true leadership which is sincerely dedicated to the principles of Scouting which Lord Robert Baden-Powell knew were needed for young boys to become the responsible leaders that this world sorely needs.

Could it be?! ANOTHER picture of Lauryn AND Rachael?!?

It has been an unconscionably long time since my blog has seen a photo of either Lauryn or Rachael.  And some of you have been whining and crying for one all along.  Oddly enough they've all been guys.  Whenever one of these two cousins of mine have had their picture on this site, the traffic seems to ramp up considerably.  Funny, that...

Y'all owe Lauryn herself some thanks for this, boys!  Last night her grandmother, my aunt Billie (who also demonstrates how this family is unfairly blessed with lovely ladies) posted a photo of Lauryn and Rachael on Facebook.  I commented (not for the first time) how beautiful they are and a few minutes later Lauryn replied...
"Lol, Did we make the blog? ...It's been awhile ;-)"
Awright, she asked for it!!  And Rachael seems to be having fun with this too (but have a care fellas: she's now ENGAGED!  And her dad is a big, big dude along with being a pastor...)

You wanted it, you've got it!  Here are Rachael and Lauryn: two of the sweetest, most Christian and incredibly beautiful women you are ever likely to meet in this world...


And if y'all are really good, there might be more of them still to come :-)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Threading Through Byzantium: Visiting a Greek Orthodox Church

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Roanoke, Virginia
Icon of Jesus Christ on the ceiling of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church,
Roanoke, Virginia
What is "church"?  Jesus told Peter that he was "the Rock" and upon it "I will build My church".

My Catholic brethren hold that Jesus was entrusting Peter and his predecessors as the exemplars and leaders of the church.  There are others who contend that Jesus was speaking of Peter's faith, and how such faith would be the foundation of His body upon this earth.

My personal understanding of "the church" has grown and developed in recent years, especially as I have visited the congregations of brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I share the faith, but also have differing perspectives about that faith.  There are some who will claim that such divisions do not represent true Christianity, but I disagree.  In fact, I don't believe that "denominations" are a bad thing at all.  There is even biblical precedent for them.  The seven churches of Asia Minor we read about in the Book of Revelation were as unlike from each other as there might possibly be.  And yet, Christ did not cast any of them from His sight.  There were some He praised and some He castigated, but they were still counted as being of His flock.

It was the coincidental visits by two dear friends which opened my eyes to a beautiful truth.  One is a Baptist minister and the other is a true renaissance man of many skills.  It was the latter who noted, as we discussed some spiritual matters, that "we're having church right now".  Because as Jesus taught His disciples, "where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am also".

That is what "church" is.  A gathering of imperfect people in the name of the One who is perfect and covers all our transgressions.  And if we see Him in different ways but still strive to cast our eyes upon Him, I've no reason to believe that His grace isn't beyond such minor incongruencies inherent to our carnal minds.

Yet even so, the professionally-trained historian of my nature wonders: where is the long, long line of fellowship through the ages, before and beyond the ekklesia of our sanctuaries and meeting houses and little gatherings of two or three?  Is there such a thing, even?

A week and a half ago my girlfriend Kristen and I visited a Greek Orthodox church: something which I had never done before.  Kristen is pursuing a master's degree and one of her classes requires attending the worship services of a culture not one's own.  There are a number of congregations in the Roanoke area which fit that criteria.  In the end, she chose the Greek Orthodox one.  She had to visit it twice and I went with her the second time.

It was a worship experience unlike anything that I had ever had the pleasure of watching.  Indeed, more than a week later and I am still trying to take in the beauty, the tenderness and the devotion that I witnessed.

We arrived at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Huntington Boulevard in Roanoke at around 9:30 in the morning.  A gentleman greeted us in the narthex, and Kristen introduced us to him.  The first thing that I noticed was a kind of table to our right, laden with votive candles (I'm assuming that's what they are called in Orthodoxy).  Many were lit and placed standing in a rectangular area of white sand, at the center of which was drawn, as with a finger, a Greek-styled cross.  I didn't ask anything about it but it is something that has stuck with me since.

Incidentally, it is the narthex where Orthodox baptisms take place.  Why?  Because it is by baptism which one enters into the church.  And fittingly, it is through the narthex which one comes into worship as a church.

Kristen and I took seats in the furthest pew at the back of the sanctuary, and settled in to watch.  But I use the phrase "settled in" lightly.  It turns out that in Orthodox worship, if you are at all able to, you stand up... a lot!  And that's what we did for most of the two and a half hours that we were there for.

Obviously for those coming from the Methodist, Baptist or similar persuasion, this is something rather unheard of.

(And speaking of that: I met three people at Holy Trinity who are former Baptists.  One of them was among the ministers praying the Matins.  More on those in a sec, but I thought that was rather intriguing that there were quite a number of what are considered "Protestants" who have since become Orthodox, and these are far from the only ones.  For reasons which again, I shall examine shortly...)

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Roanoke, Virginia
Prayer Matins at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
So we were standing and the Matins were already well underway  This is... well, in my mind this is the primary part of Orthodox congregational worship.  It is a continuous time of prayers and chants - in our English vernacular as well as in Greek - which I saw three or five black-garbed ministers intoning at a podium toward the front of the sanctuary.  Kristen had asked me to keep my photography to a bare minimum and I agreed to do so... but even if she hadn't asked, I think I would have done so anyway.  And it was only because I wanted to write about it for this blog that I even felt a need to take pictures at all.  And why is that?

Because I was... and I still am... overwhelmed by the sense of wonder and majesty and piety and devotion that I saw and heard from the two and a half hours we spent there.  Most of that was because of the Matins.  I cannot recall ever hearing prayers so beautifully offered up to God.  They were praise and appeals and music and much more all in one, made melody from the heart.

(Something I noticed during the service and mentioned to Kristen: at no time did we see any musical instruments.  The Matins, if they are considered "singing" from our modern perspective, are strictly a cappella.  Musical instruments are a fairly modern innovation going back four or five hundred years or so, but Orthodoxy has never found a need for them.)

The reason for that is something that, as a student of history, I found most intriguing: that Orthodoxy is perhaps the one organized church which can claim a continuous, unbroken thread of form and worship to the times of the earliest New Testament-era Christians in the region of Palestine.

Let me be clear on something: my Orthodox brethren do not and have never claimed to be "the one true church".  In fact, such a boast would be completely alien, even sacrilegious to Orthodoxy!  Their tenet could be summed up as such: "Christians only, but not the only Christians".  There were certainly others who did not necessarily subscribe to "Orthodox" style (history indicates that the churches in India founded by Thomas the Apostle were independent of anything recognizable by European standards, as were those of Ethiopia which traced their beginnings to the eunuch converted by Philip recorded in Acts chapter 8).  Rather, Orthodoxy is a chain of followers of Christ sharing a singular form of worship, one end of which is what we witness today and at the furthest end, the Apostolic Fathers.

And there is considerable historical evidence for this.  I found it... most fascinating.  And I can readily understand the appeal that Orthodoxy has for many believers.  For those searching for worship of Christ in its purest and most native form, there is a lot of appeal to be found in Orthodoxy.

The Matins went on until noon.  People came into the sanctuary to pray (and to stand of course) and then... they left.  After however long their hearts led them.  Ya see, in the Orthodox church there isn't a set time of worship where everyone comes in and prays and worships and listens to sermons together.  It's a much more individual and reflective experience than what many of us are accustomed to.  And I can understand the appeal of that, also.  It's the thing about Orthodoxy that I find most appealing to myself, I must admit.  Prayer and devotion to God should be a matter between the person and the Lord.  And that isn't glossed-over in Orthodoxy.  It is, instead, one of the foremost items of worship.

At the front of the sanctuary there was a partitioned-off area with three open doors.  This is intended to be analogous to the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Tabernacle before it.  Only the priests and their attendants are allowed in this area, but it is completely visible from the sanctuary.  This is where the altar is placed, and upon it the church's copy of the Holy Bible: something which is maintained in special reverence and sanctity.  At least twice, the priests brought the Bible out and carried it around the sanctuary.  When this happens, everyone turns to face the Bible.  The acolyte parading in front of it walks backwards so that his own face is turned toward it.  So while standing Kristen and I and everyone else did a complete 360-degree turn.

Now, I gotta mention this, because it's become something that a lot of people have found, well... comical.  While the Matins are going on the priests are carrying a censure of incense around the altar.  This incense was some strong stuff.  I mean, REALLY strong.  Later we learned that it was probably burning sandalwood with roses.  A priest carries the censure and that incense before the Bible as it's being carried around the sanctuary.  And here is where things got funny...

I don't know what it was about that incense, and I did NOT see anyone else reacting this way.  PLEASE remember that!  But as for me personally, well... that smoke smelled incredibly lovely but it also made me high as a kite.  I mean it: for the first time in my life I felt stoned (I've never done marijuana or cocaine or any of that junk so I've no way to compare it but... there it is).  How much so?  Kristen saw me nearly stagger while standing.  And then there was the icon of Christ on the cross on the ceiling: so help me, I saw Him waving His arms up and down.

I'm absolutely certain that it was an allergic reaction.  I'm no doubt in a solid minority of those who might have that happen to.  And it's not the same incense that they use anyway: one person told me that there is a variety that gets used.  It wouldn't be the first time that something smoky has had an affect on me either: at a Boy Scout event in Indiana years ago the smoke needed to illuminate a laser show caused a reaction which sent me to the hospital a few days later.  So now I know I've a quirky allergy or something (along with all my other problems but anyhoo...)

At around 11:30 we heard a homily that I enjoyed immensely.  It was about how the worship in the sanctuary stretches across space and time, back to the early Christians.  That in our worship we truly are one body of believers in Christ.  The ekklesia as the body of Christ is something unbound and unfazed by geography or politics or the wear and tear of eons.  It is a mystical communion with those who have come before, and with those who will come after us.

Speaking of communion, this was the final part of the service.  In Orthodoxy, the Eucharist is reserved only for those baptized and joined to the church.  I understand why, and it is something I learned from a Catholic friend: that those partaking in communion must examine themselves before God, and find themselves worthy to share in the sacrament.  It's not meant to be something exclusive to Orthodoxy for exclusivity's sake.  Rather, it is a spiritual "safety mechanism" for the individual believer.  The Apostle Paul taught that we must be sure of our worthiness to take part in the communion, and in Orthodoxy (as well as Catholicism) this is a matter of grave policy.  However, there is also a "communion" of sorts with visitors not of the Orthodox persuasion.  The bread used in the Eucharist is deemed "consecrated bread".  But after the Eucharist is over, the non-Orthodox are offered the same bread... which is now considered to be "blessed bread".  I found this to be quite a joyful and unifying experience: that though Kristen and I were not Orthodox, we were still considered to be friends and brethren in the larger fellowship of Christ.

I would be remiss if I did not write about the Orthodox practice of kissing the Bible and the icons.  This is a sign of faith and devotion to God.  The Bible, I think many Christians will understand why.  But what of the icons: those beautifully painted depictions of Christ, Mary, the Apostles and the events of their lives?

Although we were never told so during our time at Holy Trinity, I think I can understand why, and it has to do with that "unbroken apostolic chain" spoken of earlier.  The premise of an icon is that it "transfers" from one to another.  That is, an icon produced in the present day has been presented and touched to an icon painted earlier.  And that icon has likewise touched an earlier icon.  And so on and so on, all the way back to the earliest days of the church.  Indeed, it is said that before the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that there were collected the earliest icons produced.  One was said to have been painted by Luke himself.

Now, THAT is something which I can't help but marvel at.  That the icon we saw the congregants kissing at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox in Roanoke might have a "lineage" descending from one made by an author of the Gospels.  Given what I've learned about Orthodoxy, it's altogether possible.  It's not that the icon is worshiped or is even a requisite of the faith.  It is, rather, evidence within our midst of the endurance of the church which was promised by Christ.

After the service, there was a meal in the fellowship hall.  Kristen and I got to meet and talk with many of the members of Holy Trinity.  As we left I made sure to pick up quite a number of brochures in the narthex about Orthodoxy.  The icon used in that day's service was also present on a stand.  I couldn't tell how old it was but it did look... well, old.  And again, as we were leaving I was left with another lasting impression of Orthodoxy and its history.

Every time that I have visited a church or denomination which I have not previously enjoyed fellowship with, I have come away... and I sincerely believe this... more edified and enlightened from the experience.  A few years ago I was invited to attend a Seventh Day Adventist service, and in retrospect I came away with a greater sense of how much I needed to have Christ-like love and humility in my life.  Then a few months ago I attended a Catholic Mass for the first time, and Christ as the mystery we still see through this glass darkly left an impression on my heart: that we should never cease to seek for Him.  The handful of Pentecostal congregations I have visited demonstrated the joy and the gladness that can only be found in the presence of God.

But it has been, and always will be I believe, a most unique experience that I had last week in those few hours with my Orthodox friends.  And though I may never become a member of that aspect of the body of Christ, I certainly respect, appreciate, even have great admiration for it.  For there is found the greatest evidence that I have discovered of the greatest promise that Jesus gave us...

"I am with you, even unto the end of the age."

A proposal for American citizenship

I have had an idea, which may or may not address a myriad of problems affecting these United States...

We should begin letting all natural-born Americans be citizens.  But only at age 18 can they become full citizens, with all the rights and privileges that comes with such citizenship.

However, for that to happen a person must be made to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that he or she is up to handling the responsibilities that comes with being a fully-functioning member of a democratically-elected republic.

Each individual would have to demonstrate basic knowledge of the Constitution, some simple geography (i.e. be able to find the United States in a world map) and basic English.  Perhaps along with some understanding of American history, economics and accounting.  Let the examinations be done in the randomly-applied style of the SAT, the GRE and similar tests.  It shouldn't be too hard but neither should it be ridiculously easy: people should be made to learn material which once was standard throughout America.

Once a person has shown such competence and understanding, only then can they become citizens with the right to vote.  With the right to run for office.  With the right to have access to resources like government college assistance, food stamps, Social Security etc.

"But Chris, what you're advocating will lead to taxation without representation!"  No it won't.  All eligible persons will be able to demonstrate that they can be represented.  This government already enforces income taxes on young people under the age of 18 but work part-time jobs... and they still can't vote yet.  I don't think it's unreasonable that if an individual desires to be represented, that there be obligated some measure of thoughtful competence in deciding the matter.

If we expect naturalized citizens to be sufficiently qualified before partaking of our government and its full complement of services, then we should expect everyone else to be qualified as well.

We've too many politicians who keep getting elected because of ignorant, irresponsible voters who only want a place at the public trough without contributing anything.

It is time to compel them to start contributing something. Even if it is only having responsible consideration about what it means to be a citizen in this society.

Lovecraft the prophet

The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft, Ryleh"That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return."
-- from The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
It was 1928 when Howard Phillips Lovecraft published The Call of Cthulhu: his seminal classic which forever altered the nature of horror fiction.

That passage has stuck with me from the first time that I read this short story in the fall of 1996.  And I've thought about it countlessly in the years since.  It has been difficult not to see mankind through the vision of those cultists waiting for when the stars are right: when the incomprehensible horror that is Cthulhu will arise at last from the cyclopean city of R'yleh far below the waters of the Pacific and lay waste to the Earth.  Until then dead Cthulhu waits, dreaming...

Mankind, "free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside."  Men "shouting and killing and revelling in joy."

It has been eighty-five years since Lovecraft wrote those words.  And with each passing year it seems as if humanity... or at least the civilized realm of it... is descending further and further into the barbaric, unrestrained frenzy of pleasure and pain that he described in his tale.

Slaying the innocent for sake of money and convenience.  Government gone lawless.  Men and women descending beneath their nature.  Wars without reason or end.  Conscience and ethics spurned utterly.  Good proclaimed to be evil, and evil to be good.

Perhaps more than we have realized... maybe more than we would like to acknowledge... H.P. Lovecraft had a prescience of far greater clarity than any prophet or futurist of this age.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mormon bishop with Samurai sword rescues woman from stalker, takes punk's ChapStick for DNA and screams "YOU ARE SO DONE!"

Read.  Just read.  From the Associated Press courtesy of TheBlaze.com...
Samurai Sword-Wielding Mormon Bishop Saves Woman From Attacker: ‘You Are So Done’

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Samurai sword-wielding Mormon bishop helped a neighbor woman escape a Tuesday morning attack by a man who had been stalking her.

Kent Hendrix, Mormon bishop, Samurai sword,
Hendrix and his weapon of choice (Photo Credit: AP)
Kent Hendrix woke up Tuesday to his teenage son pounding on his bedroom door and telling him somebody was being mugged in front of their house. The 47-year-old father of six rushed out the door and grabbed the weapon closest to him – a 29-inch high carbon steel Samurai sword.

 He came upon what he describes as a melee between a woman and a man. His son stayed inside to call 911 while he approached the man along with other neighbors who came to help. The martial arts instructor didn’t hesitate in drawing the sword and yelling at him to get on the ground.

“His eyes got as big as saucers and he kind of gasped and jumped back,” Hendrix said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “He’s probably never had anyone draw a sword on him before.”

The man ran down the street with the barefoot Hendrix and others in pursuit. Hendrix said he couldn’t catch the man before he fled in his car, but he picked up ChapStick that the man dropped and memorized his license plate.

“I yelled at him, ‘I’ve got your DNA and I’ve got your license plate: You are so done,’” Hendrix said.
The suspect, 37-year-old Grant Eggersten, turned himself in to police an hour later, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.
No wonder!  Hendrix said this was his first time in thirty years of martial arts instruction that he's ever had to draw his sword.

 Tip of the hat to the one and only Erik Yaple for such a wacky good find!

Strange and bizarre Russian ads from a century ago

It's stuff like this that reminds me of something: we're not all that different from people a century ago.  Far longer than that even.  We laugh at this sort of thing today, but a hundred years from now our great-grandchildren will be looking at our ads for vacuum cleaners and light beer and wonder: "What the hell were they thinking??"

I don't think geography has anything to do with it: humanity tends to do wacky things in the pursuit of profit no matter where it's at.  So it was with our Russian friends in the years leading up to the October Revolution and then the early Soviet era.  And now io9 has compiled a collection of "The Oddest Soviet Ads From The Late 19th And Early 20th Century".  There are many ads for cigarettes (see image) and other tobacco products,  but also for wine, gunpowder and soap.  One young lad brandishes a club as warning against taking his chocolate bar.  A babushka shows off her new galoshes.  An airplane threatens to bomb tsarist Moscow with beer.  And there's one tobacco ad that is a work of visual genius!  It's a great article to check out whether you're into Russian history or just want a good laugh :-)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thoughts about public prayer at the Rockingham County Board of Education

At last night's monthly work meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education, the proposal was put forth that the board should begin each session with prayer.  It's been a longstanding custom to have a moment of silence.  If the board approves of it at the May 13th meeting, that would be replaced with a public prayer before an official function of government.

Here's the story from today's News & Record...
Board members spent nearly an hour talking through the finer points of whether they should open meetings with prayer. It was discussion that at times became tense but never contentious.
The school board currently opens its meetings with a moment of silence. Board member Ron Price asked the board to consider adding prayers during the last meeting.
The members will vote on the issue May 13
The possibility of a lawsuit was brought up Monday night by board member Amanda Bell. She said she doesn’t want to put the school board at risk
Fellow member Leonard Pryor also echoed those concerns.
“It’s my firm opinion we’ll be sued,” Pryor said
Earlier this month, legislators proposed a bill allowing for the establishment of an official state religion. The bill, which died in committee, was a reaction to a recent lawsuit against Rowan County, whose Board of Commissioners insist on having explicitly Christian prayers before meetings
Forsyth County lost a similar lawsuit in 2011, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case last year
Guilford County commissioners are currently reviewing their prayer policy
Price said there is a way to have an invocation without crossing the legal line
“We have to have a format before we can say, ‘OK, we can do this without violating the court’s decision,’ ” Price said.
I'm of a few opinions about this, and they're not necessarily contradictory.

Of immediate concern is that adopting a policy of prayer before the meetings will make the Board of Education wide-open bait for a lawsuit.  And don't think that there are already "civil rights" lawyers who've already gotten a whiff of blood about it, too.  Are the board members prepared for a long, drawn-out legal battle which will cost the taxpayers of Rockingham County money which, I hate to say, we are sorely lacking at the moment?

However, I'm also of the mind that this should not be fodder for a lawsuit at all... because it's not really a matter for outsiders to come and meddle with at all.

I've never understood how something like prayer at events like public meetings, high school football games and the like could ever be an infringement of the rights of any person, or group of people.  We are a constitutional republic, one purpose of which is to defend the minority from the depredations of a majority.  It's why as a whole we aren't a pure democracy.  But so far as public prayer goes: what is there to be defended, at all?

It's like this: so long as it is not a violation of the rights and privileges a person has as defined by the Constitution, there is a lot of leeway for a local unit of government on such matters as choosing whether or not to open a hearing with prayer.  Or a moment of silence.  Or nothing at all.

The way it should be is that the people of Rockingham County will let the board members know what they - the citizens - wish in this regard.  And then the Board of Education will discuss and vote from there.  If by and large the people of Rockingham County approve of it, then there can and should be prayer before the meetings (preferably with a rotating roster of local clergy).  If people disagree, then they should lobby to change the policy.  If they believe it is important enough then individuals should take it upon themselves to run for seats on the Board of Education in the next election.  In fact, I would even suggest that the current board members be made aware of that... and in no uncertain terms!  There is a lot to be said of accountability from your publick officials when they realize their actions can lead to possible unseat-ment.

Again, this is a local matter.  One that we ourselves, the citizens of Rockingham County, should define for ourselves.  If there was a public school district in, say, a predominantly Catholic area in New Jersey and the board chose to reflect and respect the population it serves, it should be free to ask a Catholic priest to offer a prayer of invocation at its meetings.  Our friends in Utah should be free to let a Mormon minister do likewise at their hearings.  The same holds true for a predominantly Jewish community, if it would like a rabbi to bless each meeting.  In Rockingham County's case, it's safe to say that we are quite a melting pot of various perspectives about God... but for all intents and purposes this is a community that does have a faith in God.  We may not agree with all the particulars about Him, and whoever is asked by the board should understand and appreciate that.  But if we as a locality desire to ask for His wisdom and guidance in our public hearings, then we should be afforded that liberty... and without the fear of lawsuit from external interests!

However, there is one last thing I wish to be considered: that asking God for that wisdom and guidance doesn't begin with any action or permission within the halls of any earthly government.

I have no reason to believe that a public prayer before a school board meeting, a county commissioners meeting or a session of the United States Senate is going to be any more sacred than a prayer each and every person offers to God in quiet solitude at home, or beneath a tree, or wherever a person happens to feel they need to be for that communion.  We can let a minister speak to God on our behalf at a public meeting, but we listen to God best when we are alone with Him.

In other words: a public prayer is of little or no good if the people sanctioning it can not and will not pray to Him on their own.

It was once said that America is great because her people are a virtuous people.  But we have come to expect, even demand a "virtue by proxy".  Many of us petition and scream for public prayer, or a display of the Ten Commandments in the courthouses and schoolhouses, or that a Christian cross be put up in a city-owned park.

I have no problem with any of those things whatsoever.  I do however have a lot of problem when such material symbols take upon greater importance than the meaning behind them.  We have more desire to see a thing with our eyes than to have a thing inscribed upon our hearts...

...and that is what I would ask the members of the Rockingham County Board of Education to consider, as well as any who are considering similar measures.

This week's Tammy Tuesday is LIVE! IN COLOR!

It's the first ever video for Tammy Tuesday!  A coupl'a weeks ago my mini dachshund Tammy wound up at my cousin's house nearby for a play date with her sister and litter-mate Sassy.

So here are two miniature dachshunds running around and playing with an adorable little girl on a spring day.  If this blog had any more sweetness in one post, I'd have to offer free insulin!  By the way, Tammy is the dachshie with the red collar...


If Tammy can be still enough I'll try to post more videos of her soon :-)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Love and monsters done right: "Hide" a rollickin' good DOCTOR WHO horror story

I think the overall problem with this half-season of Doctor Who has been how every story thus far has been a high-stakes mega-tale.  "The Bells of Saint John" had the whole heapin' world threatened by Wi-Fi and last week's "Cold War" set Earth poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation.  Only "The Rings of Akhaten" really worked: mostly by being set on a distant alien planet and assaulting us with senses-overdriven spectacle the likes of which we haven't seen since Jack Kirby was around.

But "Hide" - this week's new episode of Doctor Who - brings the series back to the fine form its fans expect, nay, demand.  And it does it with a genre that Doctor Who has excelled at over the years: gripping horror... with a twist.

Doctor Who, Hide, Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, BBC, television
It was a dark and stormy night when The Doctor and Clara arrive at the doors of Caliburn House, somewhere on the misty moors of Britain circa late autumn 1974.  Psychical researcher Professor Alec Palmer and his empathic assistant Emma Grayling are investigating the spectral "Woman of the Well".  A phantasm known and feared since the time of the Saxons (the Celtic tribe, no relation to... you know), the ghost was known to terrorize American soldiers stationed at the house during World War II.  But it's not a confrontation with so mundane an enigma as a phantom which has drawn The Doctor to visit Palmer and Grayling.  Rather it is his pursuit of "the only mystery worth solving".

I'm not going to divulge much more about "Hide", because this really is the kind of story that a person deserves to go into pretty cold.  Suffice it to say I was far, far more entertained by this episode than anything we've previously seen since "The Snowmen" special on Christmas Day.  "Hide" is a much more intimate and personal story, set amid the harrowing halls of a truly haunted house.  It reminded me greatly of "Horror of Fang Rock" from the Tom Baker era, with a touch of "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" (one of the most beloved of the revived series).  In addition to how the story resolves, I thought the most delightful part of "Hide" was how Palmer and Grayling are intricate analogies of The Doctor and Clara.  And through them we gain a considerable insight into the relationship between the last Time Lord and his newest companion.

But as a longtime Doctor Who fan, I can not write a review of "Hide" without making note of the references to stories from the classic series.  To be fair the revived show has had them before but ever since "The Snowmen" they have been coming faster and harder.  Well, "Hide" hits us with the biggest barrage of them yet!  For the first time since the 1996 television movie we get a mention of the Eye of Harmony.  The cloister bell sounds.  The Doctor uses a Metebelis Crystal (last seen in Jon Pertwee's final story, "Planet of the Spiders").  The TARDIS is missing a certain item of furniture which was well-used by the Seventh Doctor.  And then there is what can only be a shout-out to "The Celestial Toymaker" and the E-Space Trilogy.

(I just had a thought: maybe Steven Moffat could eventually bring back the Great Vampires.  Heh-heh... yeah let's see the Eleventh Doctor go up against one of those things...)

Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman are growing their chemistry as The Doctor and Clara.  But the real catalyst at work in "Hide" is Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine as Professor Palmer and Emma Grayling.  I found their relationship with each other as enjoyable to watch as the one between The Doctor and Clara.  Maybe more so, even.

"Hide" is a little capsule of everything that a good Doctor Who story should be.  It's a limited cast of characters and only two or three real set pieces, but it pulls off an amazing tale rife with fear, laughs, and in the end, love and triumph.

I'll give "Hide" Four Sonic Screwdrivers out of five.  This was Neil Cross's second outing as a scribe on Doctor Who (the first being "The Rings of Akhaten") and already he's getting substantially better.  That episode was a visual feast and had some epic speech... but "Hide" is a tale which it's far easier to relate to.  And it's an awful lot of fun!

Transmitting next week on BBC and broadcasting on BBC America (gotta love those nuances between British and American terminology): "The Heart of the TARDIS".

Kristen dances a storm at Showcase Spring 2013!

Last week was the semi-annual Arthur Murray Showcase ballroom dance spectacular at the Hotel Roanoke, put on by the Arthur Murray Studio in Roanoke, Virginia. This was the fourth one I've been at to cheer on my girlfriend Kristen Bradford. And once again she was a thrill and a beauty to behold! Her routines garnered a wazoo of applause from the audience and some of them she kept as quite a surprise... even from me :-)

As usual I shot footage of her dancing, and just finished uploading it to YouTube for your viewing pleasure. So here is Kristen accompanied by her dance partner Jay Henderson pulling off some amazing performances...



Awright, I better share this as well: at Showcase Kristen asked me to wear the official Doctor Who/Eleventh Doctor bow tie that she gave me for Christmas a few months ago.  Kristen thought it was a great new look for me.  So did our family and friends, one of which said it made me look "powerful!"

Is this the start of a new fashion trend for Yours Truly?!  I might have to get more of these.  After all: "I like bow ties!  Bow ties are cool!" :-P





Friday, April 19, 2013

Why the Boy Scouts can NEVER be compatible with homosexuality

The Boy Scouts of America has been a part of my life since I was eight years old, in the fall of 1982.  That was more than thirty years ago.

I started in the Cub Scouts.  I earned my Bobcat, Wolf and Bear ranks.  In fifth grade I graduated to the Webelos Scouts and earned the Arrow of Light.  A few months later I became a full-fledged Boy Scout.  And that was one of the happiest points of my childhood.

It was like choosing to be a part of something with high ideals that I would always be striving to understand and fulfill.  I guess you could say it was like being a medieval squire, doing his best and learning all he could and gaining skills and experience.  Until the day when he would be dubbed at last a knight and forever honored as an avatar of virtue, honor and courage.

And then, at long last... I earned the rank of Eagle Scout.  Something that less than 1% of all Boy Scouts earn.  And that became the supreme moment of achievement in my young life.  My Eagle Scout ceremony was in August of 1992 and every day... every day... since then, I have carried my Eagle Scout card in my wallet.

For the first time in my life, I am considering carrying that Eagle Scout Card no longer.  Because the Boy Scouts is ceasing before our eyes to be the organization of principles and steadfastness that have defined it since its founding by Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

The Boy Scouts of America has announced today that it's putting forth a proposal to change its policy toward homosexual membership.  If approved by voting members next month, the new policy would not deny membership to youths "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone".  The current policy would still apply toward adult leaders and other members, however.  Here is the resolution which was issued today and here's the summary of the proposed change:
Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.
As best I understand it the breakdown is this: a boy with homosexual desires could be a Boy Scout, so long as he does not behave in a manner which violates the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  Homosexual adults would still be banned.

Homosexuality is not, has never been and can never be compatible with the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  In more ways than I can readily tick off the concept of the two not being direly exclusive of each other is so wildly incredible that in all sincerity, I have to wonder if those supporting this measure have any understanding of the Oath and the Law at all.

Consider the Scout Oath.  The one that millions of young men and their leaders have taken since a time predating the first World War:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake, and morally straight.
As a Scout, the first duty we vow to strive to fulfill is that to God.  The Boy Scouts of America has never been discriminatory against sects or denominations.  In my years of Scouting I have met fellow Scouts who have been from my own Protestant background, but also a great many Catholics.  And Jews.  And Mormons.  Boy Scouting is not a "pro-Christian" movement.  However it is one which affirms and holds to the belief that morality and virtuous principles come to us from God and not man.

And here already, homosexuality is not compatible with Scouting.  Because no monotheistic faith in the entire modern history of the world has ever preached sexual permissiveness.  Ever.  And that means any and all inappropriate sexual behavior.  The traditional and time-honored belief across all sincere faiths is that to dishonor and abuse the gift of sexuality which God has given us is to dishonor God.

I won't deny it: a young boy in the throes of adolescence often feels consumed by thoughts of the opposite gender which he has never known before.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I'm strongly of the belief that such thoughts and feelings are normal, healthy, and not sinful at all.  The Boy Scouts are not an order of celibate monks and I've never known any adult leaders who have thought we should be that way either.

However having those desires does not mean that we must succumb to them!  To the contrary: we believe that God requires of us that we learn to control those desires... so that they do not control us.  This demands an ongoing self-discipline and personal restraint which is fully at odds with the carnal world around us.  Our God is not anti-sex.  He has made it that sex is good, that sex is beautiful, that sex is a gift... and it is a gift which MUST be enjoyed solely between one man and one woman within the bounds of marriage.  No exceptions.

If we disregard that, if we can not commit to that kind of self-restraint and discipline which does not hurt us but instead strengthens us and builds us up, then we have already failed God.  If we are true to God as best we understand Him, regardless of which aspect of that faith we adhere to, then our sexuality is a sacred thing consecrated to Him and made holy.  And that is not possible with homosexuality.  Or with pre-marital and extra-marital sex of any kind.

It has nothing to do with homosexuality itself. It does have to do with being responsible with the bodies and minds that God entrusted us with. It is against the principles of the Boy Scouts to engage in ANY sexual activity outside the confines of marriage. To do otherwise is to violate the sacredness of our physical, mental and emotional well-being. There can no more be a homosexual Boy Scout or a bisexual Boy Scout than there can be a Boy Scout who has sex with his girlfriend, with multiple girlfriends or engage in necrophilia.

And if Scouting is to acquiesce to homosexuality then it must also be prepared to do likewise with cocaine, heroin and animal sacrifice.  If Scouting becomes tolerant of everything, then Scouting will stand for nothing!

The twelve points of the Scout Law are: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.  If the Boy Scouts of America proceeds with this proposal, then we will have failed that Law in so many ways that it will be rendered absolutely meaningless.
Do not take this to be a judgment on homosexuals, because it is not that. If gay, lesbians and bisexuals wish to continue their activities, not I or anybody else can stop them. But those activities are NOT compatible at all with the Boy Scouts as Lord Baden-Powell intended them to be.  If homosexual men and boys wish to have their own organization, then let them.  They can make their own oath and law and comply with them however they wish.  But they shouldn't ask the Boy Scouts of America to endorse their behavior by changing our own principles!
And that is what this is really about: people trying to extort or enforce approval and endorsement of their behavior by those who earnestly believe that said behavior is immortal, unhealthy, self-abasing and legitimately dangerous.  Scouting can not capitulate to this!  "On MY honor I will do MY BEST" is how the Scout Oath begins.  To do our duty to God and our country and its people.  To put others before ourselves.  To keep ourselves "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight".  But there is NOTHING mentally awake or morally straight about this resolution.
If the Boy Scouts of America votes to approve this change, then what else will be changed in time?  Where does it end?  Where does it stop?  At what point do we have the conviction to say "To this point, and NO further..."?
Again I must make clear: this has nothing to do with disliking or hating homosexuals.  A real Scout or Scouter can not do that.  Scouting also instills the values of respecting and extending courteous and cheerful friendship toward others even if we do not approve of their behavior.  Ultimately, that is something which they alone must answer for.
What this is about is what WE as Scouts and Scouters must answer for in terms of the morals and the values which we have taken a solemn oath to demonstrate in our lives.
"Brave" isn't the sole province of rescuing someone from a burning house or a sinking boat.  It doesn't mean a denial of fear.  But true bravery and courage is knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and holding true to that.  It means, if need be, standing one's ground... and standing defiant... when the world tells you to move.  To change.  To do what it tells you to believe or disbelieve.
True courage is having the strength, the mind, and the morality to tell the world "No.  I will not be disloyal to God, to my country, and to myself.  I can do no other.  I will not move.  You move."
That is not the popular thing to do in this day.  But it is what we have sworn or affirmed to do in taking the Scout Oath.
And I choose to spend the rest of my life striving to do my best to live by the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  Even if doing so means that I can never again be a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
I can do that.  Sometimes one must lose a thing in order to save it.
I took an oath.  I promised to keep the twelve points of the Scout Law.  I will continue to do those.  Even though it looks as though doing so will lead me and no doubt many others to sever our affiliations with the Boy Scouts of America.
Ironic?  Yes.  Regrettable?  Yes.  Honorable?
If we are true to the Oath and the Law, we have no choice but to be so.  We must be loyal to God and our virtues, regardless of how the organization espousing them chooses to be loyal.
There has been formed a group of concerned Scouters, Scouts and others who are gravely concerned about the direction the Boy Scouts of America is tilting toward, and if you are as well I would seriously recommend that you check out OnMyHonor.net.  It describes itself as "the official coalition of concerned parents, Scout Leaders, Scouting Donors, Eagle Scouts and others affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America who are united in their support of Scouting’s timeless values and their opposition to open homosexuality in the Scouts".  Earlier today OnMyHonor.net posted a response to today's resolution, and the entire website addresses these concerns far more succinctly and eloquently than I possibly could.

The title of this season's finale of DOCTOR WHO is...

Doctor Who, The Name of the Doctor, Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, BBC, television, science fiction

That has to be the most ominous title of a Doctor Who story in the entire history of the franchise. My spine shivered when I read that this morning.

"The Name of the Doctor"...



The question. The first question. The oldest question of all. The question that must never be answered. Hidden in plain sight. The question he has been running from all his life...

"Doctor who?"

"The Name of the Doctor" transmits on BBC and BBC America on May 18th. Steven Moffat should start making plans to go into hiding from fans for the next several weeks after its broadcast.

Don't want to marry your sister? There's an app for that!

Incest is a terrible thing.  But when you're one person among a population of 300 thousand, your odds of contributing to genetic bottleneck go substantially up.  That's the problem in Iceland, where just about everyone is related to everyone else and some downright... creepy... marital relations have inadvertently come about.

(I'm assuming those were inadvertent anyway...)

Enter App of Icelanders, a new app for Android-based devices.  Utilizing a database called Book of Icelanders that has data on 95% of the country's native population going back 300 years, smartphone users can find information about their family with the touch of a finger.  But the real gimmick is what the developers have named the "Incest Prevention Alarm": by merely touching your Android smartphone with another also loaded with App of Icelanders, the software automatically determines if you and the other person are cousins.  Or brothers.  Or sisters.  Or parent and child...

(Hey, it happened to Oedipus didn't it?!)

The developers have come up with a catchy ad slogan for their product: "Bump in the app before you bump in the bed".  If you have an Android phone and you're Icelandic, you can find it here.

Bump here for more about this app, which is no doubt being coded-up even as we speak for segments of the population in certain quarters of Appalachia...

Apple should jump on this for iOS gadgets.  It could be called iNcest!

(I'll just leave by the back door...)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Star Wars movies EVERY year beginning in 2015

Whoa!!  Looks like "Weird Al" Yankovic was a prophet when he wrote his song "Yoda" those many years ago...

"But I know that I'll be coming back some day
I'll be playing this part 'till I'm old and gray
The long-term contract I had to sign
Says I'll be making these movies till the end of time
Oh with my Yoda
Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda"

It was officially suggested the day the Disney/Lucasfilm deal was announced but now there's solid confirmation.  It was announced at CinemaCon in Las Vegas today that Disney and Lucasfilm will be releasing a new Star Wars movie EVERY year, beginning in 2015.  That's the summer we'll get Star Wars Episode VII.  The next year will see the first Star Wars "stand-alone" film, then Episode VIII and so on alternating.  Presumably after the Skywalker saga wraps up there will continue to be Star Wars movies from now 'til doomsday.

A new Star Wars movie every year?!  I'm more than perfectly fine with that! :-)

(Unfortunately this also means that Mickey Suttle AKA SuperShadow will never, EVER retire... but one must take the bad with the good :-P)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MAN OF STEEL trailer, and the last one for STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

I've a theory: Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan Noonien Singh. In the post-Kelvin altered timeline the Botany Bay was found years earlier than it was in the original Star Trek series, and Khan wound up working for Starfleet's black ops. Then years later he comes back for revenge for something or 'nother and that's when he and Kirk will tangle for the "first" time.

But if he's an entirely new character, I'm down for that too. Either way from the looks of this final trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, it's gonna be a toad-strangler of a movie!

Meanwhile the new trailer for Man of Steel swooped onto the Intertubes a short while ago...

I will believe this Superman can fly :-)

And this movie has had some of the most beautiful trailers that I have seen for a summer tentpole in a long, long time.

Tammy Tuesday this week is love at first sight!

Last week my mini dachshund Tammy became one year old!  I don't care what her age is: she'll forever be my baby.  I'm always calling her "Tammy the pup" (okay, along with other nicknames like "Tammy the Troublemaker", "Tammy the Terror", "Tammy the Tripper" and too many others to count...)

But this week marks the one-year anniversary of the first time she and I met.  And the first time my eyes fell on her, I was madly in love with that fuzzy little ball of concentrated cuteness!

So I thought that for this installment of Tammy Tuesday, I'd post photos of that very first encounter between Tammy and I...

Tammy and her litter-mates

It was four weeks later that I got to bring her home. Y'all can't imagine how eager I was to have at long last a female miniature dachshund to run around the place :-)

I still can't get used to that mischievous little grin she's always had.  Even since that first meeting, Tammy has looked like she's smiling.  Or smirking.  Or something.  She certainly lives up to it!

Well, it's been one year with my girl.  Here's looking forward to many more to come ! :-)

Richard LeParmentier - Admiral Motti in the first Star Wars movie - has passed away

Star Wars fans worldwide are saddened today to learn that Richard LeParmentier has passed away at the age of 66.

Richard LeParmentier, Star Wars, Admiral MottiLeParmentier was an American residing in Great Britain, and making quite a career for himself as a television and film actor.  And then the fickle finger of the Force (along with a casting director and George Lucas) chose him to portray Admiral Motti in what became Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: the film that started it all.

It is Motti, you will remember, who is the first person we ever see getting on the business end of Darth Vader's "Force choke".  Motti had been boasting of the Death Star's destructive power while mocking Vader's "sorcerous ways" and his "sad devotion to that ancient religion" when the Dark Lord of the Sith chose to give Motti a first-hand demonstration.  Fortunately for Motti, Grand Moff Tarkin told Vader to cool it and let go of the arrogant admiral's throat.  LeParmentier was in only two scenes of the movie, but he made an immortal impression upon all who have enjoyed the Star Wars saga through the decades.

I got to meet Richard LeParmentier twice: at Dragon-Con in 2001 and then at Star Wars Celebration II.  He was a very nice guy, and exceptionally happy to make time to meet and greet his many fans.

Thoughts and prayers going up for his family.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

All I'm going to say about Jason "Look At Me I'm Gay" Collins

Jason Collins is no Jackie Robinson.

In 1947 there was an institutionalized discrimination against non-white athletes playing in major league sports.  Jackie Robinson broke through that barrier not because he happened to have been a black man but because he was very, very good at playing baseball.

In 2013 there is no institutionalized discrimination against gay athletes, lesbian athletes, bisexual athletes or transgender athletes.

So what does Jason Collins think he is proving by telling everyone "I'm gay"?

Does that make him a better basketball player?  I thought the whole point of sports as a multi-billion dollar commercial venture was to hire the best players possible, manage the team to the best of your ability and turn a profit by winning lots of games, selling lots of tickets and letting fans buy lots of over-priced beer.

So where does "I'm gay" figure into the scheme?

I've worked many jobs over the years.  Including alongside individuals who were gay or lesbian.  I respected them because of their talents and their abilities, and even sought to emulate their skills as professionals.  What they did on their own time wasn't my business and they had the maturity to not make it anyone's business either.

I used to work in a sandwich shop.  What would I have thought if one of my co-workers declared to everyone in the place "Look!  I'm gay!"?  Not much, truth be known.  Maybe it's just me but I've never been able to tell the difference between a straight sandwich and a gay sandwich.

Jason Collins however may have shot himself in the foot with this one.  He has put the emphasis on himself and his sexual orientation, not on his abilities as a player.  That has never been a good thing for the morale of a sports team.  If I were the owner of an NBA team, I would have to deem Collins a liability to my franchise.  If Collins goes no further with his career, he'll get lauded as a "sports pioneer".  If he decides he wants to keep playing professionally well... that's the thing, isn't it?  How many team owners are going to turn Collins down at the risk of being branded "homophobe" by the media?  Even if bringing him aboard solely because of his orientation means surrendering legitimately superior talent?

"Culturally progressive"?  Whatever.  But it sure as hell isn't good business.

It used to be that a person's merit and identity was base on his talents, his abilities, his beliefs and his virtues.  Today the notion of "identity" has become diminished to the point of meaningless.  Too many people want to feel significant and important because they feel entitled to it and not because they've earned it.  And there is no more cheap and gutteral way of demanding respect for that alleged identity than to say "I'm gay!  LOVE ME!"

Jason Collins and too many others want acceptance for their choice of lifestyle, not appreciation for their talents.  It's enough to make this writer wonder how much talent Mr. Collins must have, at all...

End of an Era: THE RHINOCEROS TIMES is no more

When I first heard the news I didn't expect to be feeling this much heartbreak.  But I am.  Maybe 'cuz I'm understanding how much The Rhinoceros Times was an influence on my early years as a writer and for long, long after...

The Rhinoceros Times, The Rhino Times, The Rhino, newspaper, Greensboro, North Carolina, John Hammer, William Hammer
Just one of the many fine editions of
The Rhinoceros Times produced
between 1991 and 2013.
It was first reported this morning that The Rhinoceros Times is going out of business.  The issue on the stands right now is the final one that will be printed.

So for those not from this are who are wondering: The Rhinoceros Times (or simply The Rhino Times or just "The Rhino") found its origins in a bar called The Rhinoceros Club in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina.  From a one-sheet newsletter started by John Hammer in 1991, The Rhinoceros Times fast found an eager audience among those who hungered for an alternative to the region's "mainstream" media outlets.  By the time the presses stopped the average issue of The Rhino boasted 150 pages.  Often way more than that.

The Rhinoceros Times was a free periodical: you could pick up a copy at many restaurants, grocery stores and other places of business throughout Guilford County and the surrounding area.  My favorite place to snag a copy was at the original PieWorks location at Pisgah Church Road and Lawndale Drive.  I'd order my pizza and breadsticks and enjoy The Rhino while waiting for the food to arrive.  I fast learned not to read it while eating, as the no-holds-barred style of John Hammer and the rapier-like wit of Scott Yost could cause one to choke from laughter.  The same held true for Geoff Brooks and his zany cartoons which were always dead-on target.

It was a very, very successful weekly news magazine (or "Greensboro's Only Newspaper" as the masthead declared for many years).  During its time The Rhino attracted such writing talent as Orson Scott Card and Jerry Bledsoe.  The letters to the editor were the liveliest and most passionate that I've ever seen in a local publication.  Then there was "The Sound of the Beep": you could call The Rhino's answering machine and leave a message for printing.  Some of those were downright kooky.  I made a few of them back in my college years (yeah some of the kooky ones too...).

This morning John Hammer posted a statement about The Rhino's closing down.  The website will continue for the foreseeable future but the print edition that started it all has been shuttered.  The fault is primarily the economy, the cost of running a newspaper and competition from the Internet which has hurt everybody in the business.  I'm rather surprised that many traditional newspapers in this area are still being published.  That The Rhinoceros Times lasted as long as it did is a testament to itself as a product and the people behind it.  I sincerely hope that it will continue to have an online presence for many more years to come and that it will keep boasting its fiercely independent spirit.  The way the press has become of late, we need The Rhino and other outlets like it more than ever before.

Going on twenty-two years is a good solid run.  Regardless of what happens next, John and William Hammer and their staff have much to be proud of.  And this blogger gladly takes off his hat in salute to a newspaper which broke the ground for many to follow after.

STAR WARS EPISODE IV getting a Navajo translation

Exemplifying how Star Wars is truly a universally beloved saga, this July is seeing the release of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope dubbed in the language of the Navajo nation of Native Americans.

Star Wars, Navajo, language, translation, A New Hope, Native AmericanThe Navajo Nation Museum has been collaborating with Lucasfilm to translate the first Star Wars movie into Diné bizaad: a language currently spoken by nearly a quarter-million people, most of whom live throughout the American southwest.  And if you speak fluent Navajo you'll have a chance to get in on the action because auditions are slated to start later this week at the museum in Window Rock, Arizona.  For now everything about the Navajo script is being held close to vest (even the title, which TIME.com speculates could be Sǫʼ Baaʼ).  The classic phrase "May the Force be with you" could translate into "May you walk with great Power", or many other possible permutations.  It's much the same issue that was confronted by the Navajo code talkers who served in the American armed forces during World War II: there were no direct Navajo words for guns, bombs etc. so those became "tapes" and "eggs".  Australia became "Rolled Hat" after that country's signature headwear, and America was called "Our Mother".

So... how is terminology like "lightsaber", "hyperdrive" and "Grand Moff" going to work out in Diné bizaad?  Apparently the staff at the Navajo Nation Museum and the crew at Lucasfilm have figured it all out.

The entire effort is being called an "entertaining and educational" project toward preserving the Navajo language for future generations.  Maybe even a fun way for those who don't speak Navajo but who do know the Star Wars movies verbatim (raising hand here) to learn an indigenous American tongue!  Hey who knows: maybe next there can be a dubbing of a Star Wars movie into Aniyawiya for those of us who are Tsalagi or part Tsalagi (more commonly known as the Cherokee :-)

Very big thanks to Tilly Godbudak for finding this great story!

"Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS": Latest DOCTOR WHO felt like a trip wasted

Doctor Who, Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS, BBC, television, science fictionIn the past few days since watching it I've tried hard to make myself enjoy "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" and I simply can't.

The title of the latest episode of Doctor Who promised an awful lot.  I mean, how many times over the years have we gotten to see anything substantial of the TARDIS past the Console Room?  The only thing that comes to mind is "The Invasion of Time" from the Tom Baker era (how many times could a single episode use the same descending stairs in one scene?).  The Cloister Room has been shown a number of times, notably in the 1996 television movie.  And there was a fleeting look at the wardrobe in "The Christmas Invasion".  But that's shockingly little to be seen for a time/space ship that's at least as spacious as a skyscraper packed within an old-school police box can be...

So in "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" we got corridors on top of corridors of the TARDIS' interior.  Clara comes upon the Library (and that tantalizing tome titled The History of the Time War).  We see the swimming pool (now much bigger than that little kiddie pool in "The Invasion of Time").  I noticed that the TARDIS also has an observatory (how it's supposed to work, I can't figure out).  And at long last we got to see the Eye of Harmony itself.  Which if you can ignore that whole "soul-sucking" business from the TV movie, was actually pretty cool.  There were a LOT of sounds and bits of dialogue from the entire span of Doctor Who (including at least one from "An Unearthly Child", the very first story from November 1963).

Speaking of which: books in the form of vials containing liquid.  Is this Doctor Who or Harry Potter?

Yes yes yes, all well and good.  But I still thought that "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was too flat of an episode than it should have been.

Maybe it was the heightened expectations about seeing the TARDIS finally revealing its full glory to us.  With more and more time since it was first broadcast/transmitted, I think the biggest problem with the episode was its execution.  Having the TARDIS picked up by salvagers and The Doctor conning them into helping him rescue Clara from the bowels of his own ship wasn't the best of plot devices.  Incidentally, I didn't feel much empathy for the Van Baalen Brothers, except for the very end of the episode.

Maybe the purpose of "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" was to tempt us with more of what I'm calling "mythos porn" in the lead-up to the fiftieth anniversary special.  But there could have been better ways of pulling it off.  I remember one of the Doctor Who novels from the Nineties that had the TARDIS "exploding" into a vast city-scape that The Doctor had to navigate through in order to repair it.  This could have been an epic adventure filled with wonder and mystery, and instead it felt as thrilling as going down into the basement to fix the plumbing...

I'm going to give "Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS" Two and one-half Sonic Screwdrivers out of five possible, and that might be too generous.  There are only three episodes left in this season, including Neil Gaiman's next entry and then the eagerly-awaited finale "The Name of the Doctor".  Let's hope that Steven Moffat and crew can knock the next few out of the ballpark.

This week's Tammy Tuesday is a case of equine envy!

Poor Tammy.  Ever since I brought her home last year, she has often sat alongside the horse pasture next to our land and watched the horses.  I can't help but think that deep down, she believes she's going to grow up to be that big someday, too!

Tammy, miniature dachshund, dog, horse

I always tell her that she doesn't need to be a horse and I wouldn't want her to be one either! I mean, a horse can't snuggle up next to you on a sofa while you read a book. It can't play with you indoors. It can't sit patiently at the dinner table with those irresistibly cute eyes waiting for a tasty morsel of steak or barbecue chicken.  It can't lay against your bedroom door as you sleep at night, guarding you against monsters and the bogey-man.

And for my money, I think a miniature dachshund can outrun a horse any day!  For short distances anyway :-)

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bullying from Boy Scout big-wigs?! Executives manipulating data?! Gay policy under fire from on high?!

If true... IF this is at all true... this represents the most insane turn of events that I have ever seen coming out of the Boy Scouts of America in my thirty-some years affiliated with the organization.

The honor of a Boy Scout, painting by Norman Rockwell
First, I wish to direct your attention to an article by Austin Ruse on the website for Catholic publication Crisis Magazine.  Titled "Something Rotten in the Boy Scouts", Ruse raises a red flag about apparent manipulation of data at the Boy Scouts home office regarding the possible change of policy that would allow boys of homosexual orientation to have membership in the Boy Scouts.

Awright, let me be put it this way: the home office is ignoring the data from its own survey!  From the article:
There’s deception going on in the front office of the Boy Scouts. It includes deliberate misrepresentation of polling data, and threats to pack an upcoming meeting with anonymous and unqualified voters so that the Boy Scout policy on homosexuality gets forced on the majority of Scouts and parents who don’t want it.
The Boy Scouts are considering changing their policy of not allowing open homosexuality in either their Scout or leadership ranks. The policy has placed the Boy Scouts in the buzz saw of the zeitgeist and up until recently they have resisted. There are some weak-kneed leaders who want to throw over the policy and appear willing to violate the Scout Law to do it.
The Scout front office released the result of a national survey and “listening” process that purported to show that the Scouts—boys, parents, leaders and donors—favor a change in the policy. The Boy Scouts say the process reveals great changes in attitudes and that a majority of those at all levels of Scouting “tend to agree that youth should not be denied the benefits of Scouting.”
This was dutifully and even triumphantly reported in the mainstream press. The only problem is the news reports were wrong. And the news reports were wrong because the Boy Scouts misrepresented the results. One close observer of the Boy Scouts calls the poll “a pack of lies.”
The results of the BSA Membership Standards Survey:
A solid majority polled want NO change
to the current policy.
Do Scouting parents want to overhaul the policy and allow open homosexuality in the Scouts? The Executive Summary of the Poll says, “yes”, but the numbers say “no.” Fifty percent of Cub Scout parents support the current restrictive policy while 45% oppose it. A whopping 61% of Boy Scout parents support the current policy.
How did Boy Scout leadership get anywhere near the assertion that a majority of those in Scouting support homosexuality in Scouting? Part of what they did was what is known as a push-poll, a questionnaire designed not to elicit an accurate opinion but one designed to change opinions.
(snip)
What is going on here? Deception, that’s what. There is a small group on the Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts who want this policy to change. What they face is a membership that largely opposes the measure. So, they try to get their way by lying about a poll. But there is more deception than that...
The entire article cannot be recommended enough because Ruse's piece is by a wide margin among the best and most informative that I've found about the matter of homosexuality in the Boy Scouts.  Which, shouldn't be a matter at all.  The Boy Scouts are not meant to be a tool of politics.  Especially the politics of radical homosexuality.  The Girl Scouts of America let that happen to them and look at them now: a pitiful shadow of their former selves.  And one that has lost significant numbers of past and potential members to competing organizations for girls and young women.

But then comes this bit of information, which is even more full-tilt whacko.  A week ago I wrote about the Boy Scouts of America and how homosexuality is a concept which is in total conflict with the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  In that post I mentioned OnMyHonor.net: a group of Scouts, Scouters and supporters who "are united in their support of Scouting's timeless values and their opposition to open homosexuality in the Scouts."  OnMyHonor.net has become a significant presence in this discussion, its leaders appearing on nationally televised news broadcasts in recent days.

So look at what was posted on the official OnMyHonor.net Facebook page a short while ago...


"Today, top BSA officals contacted OMH coalition partners to ask them to stand down! LOL. (not a joke)."

What the...?!?!? 

Is this right?  OnMyHonor.net has been told to cool it by the executives of the Boy Scouts of America's national office?

How the hell is what the BSA head office doing honorable?  HOW is it at all honest, "morally straight", or respecting the Scout Law?

It is not.  It is NOT!!

There is other information which in recent days I have been made aware of regarding next month's vote to keep or change the policy.  I haven't had enough corroboration about that information to confidently write about it but if there is any substance to those as well, in the mind of this blogger the executive are guilty of even more shameful acts, apparently for the cause of political correctness.

And if there is the least shred of truth to these assertions, if the Boy Scouts top executives are behaving in such a manner, then they should do the honorable thing and step down and leave the Boy Scouts of America.  They should make way for true leadership which is sincerely dedicated to the principles of Scouting which Lord Robert Baden-Powell knew were needed for young boys to become the responsible leaders that this world sorely needs.

Could it be?! ANOTHER picture of Lauryn AND Rachael?!?

It has been an unconscionably long time since my blog has seen a photo of either Lauryn or Rachael.  And some of you have been whining and crying for one all along.  Oddly enough they've all been guys.  Whenever one of these two cousins of mine have had their picture on this site, the traffic seems to ramp up considerably.  Funny, that...

Y'all owe Lauryn herself some thanks for this, boys!  Last night her grandmother, my aunt Billie (who also demonstrates how this family is unfairly blessed with lovely ladies) posted a photo of Lauryn and Rachael on Facebook.  I commented (not for the first time) how beautiful they are and a few minutes later Lauryn replied...
"Lol, Did we make the blog? ...It's been awhile ;-)"
Awright, she asked for it!!  And Rachael seems to be having fun with this too (but have a care fellas: she's now ENGAGED!  And her dad is a big, big dude along with being a pastor...)

You wanted it, you've got it!  Here are Rachael and Lauryn: two of the sweetest, most Christian and incredibly beautiful women you are ever likely to meet in this world...


And if y'all are really good, there might be more of them still to come :-)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Threading Through Byzantium: Visiting a Greek Orthodox Church

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Roanoke, Virginia
Icon of Jesus Christ on the ceiling of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church,
Roanoke, Virginia
What is "church"?  Jesus told Peter that he was "the Rock" and upon it "I will build My church".

My Catholic brethren hold that Jesus was entrusting Peter and his predecessors as the exemplars and leaders of the church.  There are others who contend that Jesus was speaking of Peter's faith, and how such faith would be the foundation of His body upon this earth.

My personal understanding of "the church" has grown and developed in recent years, especially as I have visited the congregations of brothers and sisters in Christ with whom I share the faith, but also have differing perspectives about that faith.  There are some who will claim that such divisions do not represent true Christianity, but I disagree.  In fact, I don't believe that "denominations" are a bad thing at all.  There is even biblical precedent for them.  The seven churches of Asia Minor we read about in the Book of Revelation were as unlike from each other as there might possibly be.  And yet, Christ did not cast any of them from His sight.  There were some He praised and some He castigated, but they were still counted as being of His flock.

It was the coincidental visits by two dear friends which opened my eyes to a beautiful truth.  One is a Baptist minister and the other is a true renaissance man of many skills.  It was the latter who noted, as we discussed some spiritual matters, that "we're having church right now".  Because as Jesus taught His disciples, "where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am also".

That is what "church" is.  A gathering of imperfect people in the name of the One who is perfect and covers all our transgressions.  And if we see Him in different ways but still strive to cast our eyes upon Him, I've no reason to believe that His grace isn't beyond such minor incongruencies inherent to our carnal minds.

Yet even so, the professionally-trained historian of my nature wonders: where is the long, long line of fellowship through the ages, before and beyond the ekklesia of our sanctuaries and meeting houses and little gatherings of two or three?  Is there such a thing, even?

A week and a half ago my girlfriend Kristen and I visited a Greek Orthodox church: something which I had never done before.  Kristen is pursuing a master's degree and one of her classes requires attending the worship services of a culture not one's own.  There are a number of congregations in the Roanoke area which fit that criteria.  In the end, she chose the Greek Orthodox one.  She had to visit it twice and I went with her the second time.

It was a worship experience unlike anything that I had ever had the pleasure of watching.  Indeed, more than a week later and I am still trying to take in the beauty, the tenderness and the devotion that I witnessed.

We arrived at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Huntington Boulevard in Roanoke at around 9:30 in the morning.  A gentleman greeted us in the narthex, and Kristen introduced us to him.  The first thing that I noticed was a kind of table to our right, laden with votive candles (I'm assuming that's what they are called in Orthodoxy).  Many were lit and placed standing in a rectangular area of white sand, at the center of which was drawn, as with a finger, a Greek-styled cross.  I didn't ask anything about it but it is something that has stuck with me since.

Incidentally, it is the narthex where Orthodox baptisms take place.  Why?  Because it is by baptism which one enters into the church.  And fittingly, it is through the narthex which one comes into worship as a church.

Kristen and I took seats in the furthest pew at the back of the sanctuary, and settled in to watch.  But I use the phrase "settled in" lightly.  It turns out that in Orthodox worship, if you are at all able to, you stand up... a lot!  And that's what we did for most of the two and a half hours that we were there for.

Obviously for those coming from the Methodist, Baptist or similar persuasion, this is something rather unheard of.

(And speaking of that: I met three people at Holy Trinity who are former Baptists.  One of them was among the ministers praying the Matins.  More on those in a sec, but I thought that was rather intriguing that there were quite a number of what are considered "Protestants" who have since become Orthodox, and these are far from the only ones.  For reasons which again, I shall examine shortly...)

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, Roanoke, Virginia
Prayer Matins at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
So we were standing and the Matins were already well underway  This is... well, in my mind this is the primary part of Orthodox congregational worship.  It is a continuous time of prayers and chants - in our English vernacular as well as in Greek - which I saw three or five black-garbed ministers intoning at a podium toward the front of the sanctuary.  Kristen had asked me to keep my photography to a bare minimum and I agreed to do so... but even if she hadn't asked, I think I would have done so anyway.  And it was only because I wanted to write about it for this blog that I even felt a need to take pictures at all.  And why is that?

Because I was... and I still am... overwhelmed by the sense of wonder and majesty and piety and devotion that I saw and heard from the two and a half hours we spent there.  Most of that was because of the Matins.  I cannot recall ever hearing prayers so beautifully offered up to God.  They were praise and appeals and music and much more all in one, made melody from the heart.

(Something I noticed during the service and mentioned to Kristen: at no time did we see any musical instruments.  The Matins, if they are considered "singing" from our modern perspective, are strictly a cappella.  Musical instruments are a fairly modern innovation going back four or five hundred years or so, but Orthodoxy has never found a need for them.)

The reason for that is something that, as a student of history, I found most intriguing: that Orthodoxy is perhaps the one organized church which can claim a continuous, unbroken thread of form and worship to the times of the earliest New Testament-era Christians in the region of Palestine.

Let me be clear on something: my Orthodox brethren do not and have never claimed to be "the one true church".  In fact, such a boast would be completely alien, even sacrilegious to Orthodoxy!  Their tenet could be summed up as such: "Christians only, but not the only Christians".  There were certainly others who did not necessarily subscribe to "Orthodox" style (history indicates that the churches in India founded by Thomas the Apostle were independent of anything recognizable by European standards, as were those of Ethiopia which traced their beginnings to the eunuch converted by Philip recorded in Acts chapter 8).  Rather, Orthodoxy is a chain of followers of Christ sharing a singular form of worship, one end of which is what we witness today and at the furthest end, the Apostolic Fathers.

And there is considerable historical evidence for this.  I found it... most fascinating.  And I can readily understand the appeal that Orthodoxy has for many believers.  For those searching for worship of Christ in its purest and most native form, there is a lot of appeal to be found in Orthodoxy.

The Matins went on until noon.  People came into the sanctuary to pray (and to stand of course) and then... they left.  After however long their hearts led them.  Ya see, in the Orthodox church there isn't a set time of worship where everyone comes in and prays and worships and listens to sermons together.  It's a much more individual and reflective experience than what many of us are accustomed to.  And I can understand the appeal of that, also.  It's the thing about Orthodoxy that I find most appealing to myself, I must admit.  Prayer and devotion to God should be a matter between the person and the Lord.  And that isn't glossed-over in Orthodoxy.  It is, instead, one of the foremost items of worship.

At the front of the sanctuary there was a partitioned-off area with three open doors.  This is intended to be analogous to the Holy Place of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Tabernacle before it.  Only the priests and their attendants are allowed in this area, but it is completely visible from the sanctuary.  This is where the altar is placed, and upon it the church's copy of the Holy Bible: something which is maintained in special reverence and sanctity.  At least twice, the priests brought the Bible out and carried it around the sanctuary.  When this happens, everyone turns to face the Bible.  The acolyte parading in front of it walks backwards so that his own face is turned toward it.  So while standing Kristen and I and everyone else did a complete 360-degree turn.

Now, I gotta mention this, because it's become something that a lot of people have found, well... comical.  While the Matins are going on the priests are carrying a censure of incense around the altar.  This incense was some strong stuff.  I mean, REALLY strong.  Later we learned that it was probably burning sandalwood with roses.  A priest carries the censure and that incense before the Bible as it's being carried around the sanctuary.  And here is where things got funny...

I don't know what it was about that incense, and I did NOT see anyone else reacting this way.  PLEASE remember that!  But as for me personally, well... that smoke smelled incredibly lovely but it also made me high as a kite.  I mean it: for the first time in my life I felt stoned (I've never done marijuana or cocaine or any of that junk so I've no way to compare it but... there it is).  How much so?  Kristen saw me nearly stagger while standing.  And then there was the icon of Christ on the cross on the ceiling: so help me, I saw Him waving His arms up and down.

I'm absolutely certain that it was an allergic reaction.  I'm no doubt in a solid minority of those who might have that happen to.  And it's not the same incense that they use anyway: one person told me that there is a variety that gets used.  It wouldn't be the first time that something smoky has had an affect on me either: at a Boy Scout event in Indiana years ago the smoke needed to illuminate a laser show caused a reaction which sent me to the hospital a few days later.  So now I know I've a quirky allergy or something (along with all my other problems but anyhoo...)

At around 11:30 we heard a homily that I enjoyed immensely.  It was about how the worship in the sanctuary stretches across space and time, back to the early Christians.  That in our worship we truly are one body of believers in Christ.  The ekklesia as the body of Christ is something unbound and unfazed by geography or politics or the wear and tear of eons.  It is a mystical communion with those who have come before, and with those who will come after us.

Speaking of communion, this was the final part of the service.  In Orthodoxy, the Eucharist is reserved only for those baptized and joined to the church.  I understand why, and it is something I learned from a Catholic friend: that those partaking in communion must examine themselves before God, and find themselves worthy to share in the sacrament.  It's not meant to be something exclusive to Orthodoxy for exclusivity's sake.  Rather, it is a spiritual "safety mechanism" for the individual believer.  The Apostle Paul taught that we must be sure of our worthiness to take part in the communion, and in Orthodoxy (as well as Catholicism) this is a matter of grave policy.  However, there is also a "communion" of sorts with visitors not of the Orthodox persuasion.  The bread used in the Eucharist is deemed "consecrated bread".  But after the Eucharist is over, the non-Orthodox are offered the same bread... which is now considered to be "blessed bread".  I found this to be quite a joyful and unifying experience: that though Kristen and I were not Orthodox, we were still considered to be friends and brethren in the larger fellowship of Christ.

I would be remiss if I did not write about the Orthodox practice of kissing the Bible and the icons.  This is a sign of faith and devotion to God.  The Bible, I think many Christians will understand why.  But what of the icons: those beautifully painted depictions of Christ, Mary, the Apostles and the events of their lives?

Although we were never told so during our time at Holy Trinity, I think I can understand why, and it has to do with that "unbroken apostolic chain" spoken of earlier.  The premise of an icon is that it "transfers" from one to another.  That is, an icon produced in the present day has been presented and touched to an icon painted earlier.  And that icon has likewise touched an earlier icon.  And so on and so on, all the way back to the earliest days of the church.  Indeed, it is said that before the fall of Constantinople in 1453 that there were collected the earliest icons produced.  One was said to have been painted by Luke himself.

Now, THAT is something which I can't help but marvel at.  That the icon we saw the congregants kissing at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox in Roanoke might have a "lineage" descending from one made by an author of the Gospels.  Given what I've learned about Orthodoxy, it's altogether possible.  It's not that the icon is worshiped or is even a requisite of the faith.  It is, rather, evidence within our midst of the endurance of the church which was promised by Christ.

After the service, there was a meal in the fellowship hall.  Kristen and I got to meet and talk with many of the members of Holy Trinity.  As we left I made sure to pick up quite a number of brochures in the narthex about Orthodoxy.  The icon used in that day's service was also present on a stand.  I couldn't tell how old it was but it did look... well, old.  And again, as we were leaving I was left with another lasting impression of Orthodoxy and its history.

Every time that I have visited a church or denomination which I have not previously enjoyed fellowship with, I have come away... and I sincerely believe this... more edified and enlightened from the experience.  A few years ago I was invited to attend a Seventh Day Adventist service, and in retrospect I came away with a greater sense of how much I needed to have Christ-like love and humility in my life.  Then a few months ago I attended a Catholic Mass for the first time, and Christ as the mystery we still see through this glass darkly left an impression on my heart: that we should never cease to seek for Him.  The handful of Pentecostal congregations I have visited demonstrated the joy and the gladness that can only be found in the presence of God.

But it has been, and always will be I believe, a most unique experience that I had last week in those few hours with my Orthodox friends.  And though I may never become a member of that aspect of the body of Christ, I certainly respect, appreciate, even have great admiration for it.  For there is found the greatest evidence that I have discovered of the greatest promise that Jesus gave us...

"I am with you, even unto the end of the age."

A proposal for American citizenship

I have had an idea, which may or may not address a myriad of problems affecting these United States...

We should begin letting all natural-born Americans be citizens.  But only at age 18 can they become full citizens, with all the rights and privileges that comes with such citizenship.

However, for that to happen a person must be made to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that he or she is up to handling the responsibilities that comes with being a fully-functioning member of a democratically-elected republic.

Each individual would have to demonstrate basic knowledge of the Constitution, some simple geography (i.e. be able to find the United States in a world map) and basic English.  Perhaps along with some understanding of American history, economics and accounting.  Let the examinations be done in the randomly-applied style of the SAT, the GRE and similar tests.  It shouldn't be too hard but neither should it be ridiculously easy: people should be made to learn material which once was standard throughout America.

Once a person has shown such competence and understanding, only then can they become citizens with the right to vote.  With the right to run for office.  With the right to have access to resources like government college assistance, food stamps, Social Security etc.

"But Chris, what you're advocating will lead to taxation without representation!"  No it won't.  All eligible persons will be able to demonstrate that they can be represented.  This government already enforces income taxes on young people under the age of 18 but work part-time jobs... and they still can't vote yet.  I don't think it's unreasonable that if an individual desires to be represented, that there be obligated some measure of thoughtful competence in deciding the matter.

If we expect naturalized citizens to be sufficiently qualified before partaking of our government and its full complement of services, then we should expect everyone else to be qualified as well.

We've too many politicians who keep getting elected because of ignorant, irresponsible voters who only want a place at the public trough without contributing anything.

It is time to compel them to start contributing something. Even if it is only having responsible consideration about what it means to be a citizen in this society.

Lovecraft the prophet

The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft, Ryleh"That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return."
-- from The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft
It was 1928 when Howard Phillips Lovecraft published The Call of Cthulhu: his seminal classic which forever altered the nature of horror fiction.

That passage has stuck with me from the first time that I read this short story in the fall of 1996.  And I've thought about it countlessly in the years since.  It has been difficult not to see mankind through the vision of those cultists waiting for when the stars are right: when the incomprehensible horror that is Cthulhu will arise at last from the cyclopean city of R'yleh far below the waters of the Pacific and lay waste to the Earth.  Until then dead Cthulhu waits, dreaming...

Mankind, "free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside."  Men "shouting and killing and revelling in joy."

It has been eighty-five years since Lovecraft wrote those words.  And with each passing year it seems as if humanity... or at least the civilized realm of it... is descending further and further into the barbaric, unrestrained frenzy of pleasure and pain that he described in his tale.

Slaying the innocent for sake of money and convenience.  Government gone lawless.  Men and women descending beneath their nature.  Wars without reason or end.  Conscience and ethics spurned utterly.  Good proclaimed to be evil, and evil to be good.

Perhaps more than we have realized... maybe more than we would like to acknowledge... H.P. Lovecraft had a prescience of far greater clarity than any prophet or futurist of this age.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mormon bishop with Samurai sword rescues woman from stalker, takes punk's ChapStick for DNA and screams "YOU ARE SO DONE!"

Read.  Just read.  From the Associated Press courtesy of TheBlaze.com...
Samurai Sword-Wielding Mormon Bishop Saves Woman From Attacker: ‘You Are So Done’

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Samurai sword-wielding Mormon bishop helped a neighbor woman escape a Tuesday morning attack by a man who had been stalking her.

Kent Hendrix, Mormon bishop, Samurai sword,
Hendrix and his weapon of choice (Photo Credit: AP)
Kent Hendrix woke up Tuesday to his teenage son pounding on his bedroom door and telling him somebody was being mugged in front of their house. The 47-year-old father of six rushed out the door and grabbed the weapon closest to him – a 29-inch high carbon steel Samurai sword.

 He came upon what he describes as a melee between a woman and a man. His son stayed inside to call 911 while he approached the man along with other neighbors who came to help. The martial arts instructor didn’t hesitate in drawing the sword and yelling at him to get on the ground.

“His eyes got as big as saucers and he kind of gasped and jumped back,” Hendrix said by phone Tuesday afternoon. “He’s probably never had anyone draw a sword on him before.”

The man ran down the street with the barefoot Hendrix and others in pursuit. Hendrix said he couldn’t catch the man before he fled in his car, but he picked up ChapStick that the man dropped and memorized his license plate.

“I yelled at him, ‘I’ve got your DNA and I’ve got your license plate: You are so done,’” Hendrix said.
The suspect, 37-year-old Grant Eggersten, turned himself in to police an hour later, said Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal.
No wonder!  Hendrix said this was his first time in thirty years of martial arts instruction that he's ever had to draw his sword.

 Tip of the hat to the one and only Erik Yaple for such a wacky good find!

Strange and bizarre Russian ads from a century ago

It's stuff like this that reminds me of something: we're not all that different from people a century ago.  Far longer than that even.  We laugh at this sort of thing today, but a hundred years from now our great-grandchildren will be looking at our ads for vacuum cleaners and light beer and wonder: "What the hell were they thinking??"

I don't think geography has anything to do with it: humanity tends to do wacky things in the pursuit of profit no matter where it's at.  So it was with our Russian friends in the years leading up to the October Revolution and then the early Soviet era.  And now io9 has compiled a collection of "The Oddest Soviet Ads From The Late 19th And Early 20th Century".  There are many ads for cigarettes (see image) and other tobacco products,  but also for wine, gunpowder and soap.  One young lad brandishes a club as warning against taking his chocolate bar.  A babushka shows off her new galoshes.  An airplane threatens to bomb tsarist Moscow with beer.  And there's one tobacco ad that is a work of visual genius!  It's a great article to check out whether you're into Russian history or just want a good laugh :-)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Thoughts about public prayer at the Rockingham County Board of Education

At last night's monthly work meeting of the Rockingham County Board of Education, the proposal was put forth that the board should begin each session with prayer.  It's been a longstanding custom to have a moment of silence.  If the board approves of it at the May 13th meeting, that would be replaced with a public prayer before an official function of government.

Here's the story from today's News & Record...
Board members spent nearly an hour talking through the finer points of whether they should open meetings with prayer. It was discussion that at times became tense but never contentious.
The school board currently opens its meetings with a moment of silence. Board member Ron Price asked the board to consider adding prayers during the last meeting.
The members will vote on the issue May 13
The possibility of a lawsuit was brought up Monday night by board member Amanda Bell. She said she doesn’t want to put the school board at risk
Fellow member Leonard Pryor also echoed those concerns.
“It’s my firm opinion we’ll be sued,” Pryor said
Earlier this month, legislators proposed a bill allowing for the establishment of an official state religion. The bill, which died in committee, was a reaction to a recent lawsuit against Rowan County, whose Board of Commissioners insist on having explicitly Christian prayers before meetings
Forsyth County lost a similar lawsuit in 2011, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear the case last year
Guilford County commissioners are currently reviewing their prayer policy
Price said there is a way to have an invocation without crossing the legal line
“We have to have a format before we can say, ‘OK, we can do this without violating the court’s decision,’ ” Price said.
I'm of a few opinions about this, and they're not necessarily contradictory.

Of immediate concern is that adopting a policy of prayer before the meetings will make the Board of Education wide-open bait for a lawsuit.  And don't think that there are already "civil rights" lawyers who've already gotten a whiff of blood about it, too.  Are the board members prepared for a long, drawn-out legal battle which will cost the taxpayers of Rockingham County money which, I hate to say, we are sorely lacking at the moment?

However, I'm also of the mind that this should not be fodder for a lawsuit at all... because it's not really a matter for outsiders to come and meddle with at all.

I've never understood how something like prayer at events like public meetings, high school football games and the like could ever be an infringement of the rights of any person, or group of people.  We are a constitutional republic, one purpose of which is to defend the minority from the depredations of a majority.  It's why as a whole we aren't a pure democracy.  But so far as public prayer goes: what is there to be defended, at all?

It's like this: so long as it is not a violation of the rights and privileges a person has as defined by the Constitution, there is a lot of leeway for a local unit of government on such matters as choosing whether or not to open a hearing with prayer.  Or a moment of silence.  Or nothing at all.

The way it should be is that the people of Rockingham County will let the board members know what they - the citizens - wish in this regard.  And then the Board of Education will discuss and vote from there.  If by and large the people of Rockingham County approve of it, then there can and should be prayer before the meetings (preferably with a rotating roster of local clergy).  If people disagree, then they should lobby to change the policy.  If they believe it is important enough then individuals should take it upon themselves to run for seats on the Board of Education in the next election.  In fact, I would even suggest that the current board members be made aware of that... and in no uncertain terms!  There is a lot to be said of accountability from your publick officials when they realize their actions can lead to possible unseat-ment.

Again, this is a local matter.  One that we ourselves, the citizens of Rockingham County, should define for ourselves.  If there was a public school district in, say, a predominantly Catholic area in New Jersey and the board chose to reflect and respect the population it serves, it should be free to ask a Catholic priest to offer a prayer of invocation at its meetings.  Our friends in Utah should be free to let a Mormon minister do likewise at their hearings.  The same holds true for a predominantly Jewish community, if it would like a rabbi to bless each meeting.  In Rockingham County's case, it's safe to say that we are quite a melting pot of various perspectives about God... but for all intents and purposes this is a community that does have a faith in God.  We may not agree with all the particulars about Him, and whoever is asked by the board should understand and appreciate that.  But if we as a locality desire to ask for His wisdom and guidance in our public hearings, then we should be afforded that liberty... and without the fear of lawsuit from external interests!

However, there is one last thing I wish to be considered: that asking God for that wisdom and guidance doesn't begin with any action or permission within the halls of any earthly government.

I have no reason to believe that a public prayer before a school board meeting, a county commissioners meeting or a session of the United States Senate is going to be any more sacred than a prayer each and every person offers to God in quiet solitude at home, or beneath a tree, or wherever a person happens to feel they need to be for that communion.  We can let a minister speak to God on our behalf at a public meeting, but we listen to God best when we are alone with Him.

In other words: a public prayer is of little or no good if the people sanctioning it can not and will not pray to Him on their own.

It was once said that America is great because her people are a virtuous people.  But we have come to expect, even demand a "virtue by proxy".  Many of us petition and scream for public prayer, or a display of the Ten Commandments in the courthouses and schoolhouses, or that a Christian cross be put up in a city-owned park.

I have no problem with any of those things whatsoever.  I do however have a lot of problem when such material symbols take upon greater importance than the meaning behind them.  We have more desire to see a thing with our eyes than to have a thing inscribed upon our hearts...

...and that is what I would ask the members of the Rockingham County Board of Education to consider, as well as any who are considering similar measures.

This week's Tammy Tuesday is LIVE! IN COLOR!

It's the first ever video for Tammy Tuesday!  A coupl'a weeks ago my mini dachshund Tammy wound up at my cousin's house nearby for a play date with her sister and litter-mate Sassy.

So here are two miniature dachshunds running around and playing with an adorable little girl on a spring day.  If this blog had any more sweetness in one post, I'd have to offer free insulin!  By the way, Tammy is the dachshie with the red collar...


If Tammy can be still enough I'll try to post more videos of her soon :-)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Love and monsters done right: "Hide" a rollickin' good DOCTOR WHO horror story

I think the overall problem with this half-season of Doctor Who has been how every story thus far has been a high-stakes mega-tale.  "The Bells of Saint John" had the whole heapin' world threatened by Wi-Fi and last week's "Cold War" set Earth poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation.  Only "The Rings of Akhaten" really worked: mostly by being set on a distant alien planet and assaulting us with senses-overdriven spectacle the likes of which we haven't seen since Jack Kirby was around.

But "Hide" - this week's new episode of Doctor Who - brings the series back to the fine form its fans expect, nay, demand.  And it does it with a genre that Doctor Who has excelled at over the years: gripping horror... with a twist.

Doctor Who, Hide, Matt Smith, Jenna-Louise Coleman, BBC, television
It was a dark and stormy night when The Doctor and Clara arrive at the doors of Caliburn House, somewhere on the misty moors of Britain circa late autumn 1974.  Psychical researcher Professor Alec Palmer and his empathic assistant Emma Grayling are investigating the spectral "Woman of the Well".  A phantasm known and feared since the time of the Saxons (the Celtic tribe, no relation to... you know), the ghost was known to terrorize American soldiers stationed at the house during World War II.  But it's not a confrontation with so mundane an enigma as a phantom which has drawn The Doctor to visit Palmer and Grayling.  Rather it is his pursuit of "the only mystery worth solving".

I'm not going to divulge much more about "Hide", because this really is the kind of story that a person deserves to go into pretty cold.  Suffice it to say I was far, far more entertained by this episode than anything we've previously seen since "The Snowmen" special on Christmas Day.  "Hide" is a much more intimate and personal story, set amid the harrowing halls of a truly haunted house.  It reminded me greatly of "Horror of Fang Rock" from the Tom Baker era, with a touch of "The Empty Child"/"The Doctor Dances" (one of the most beloved of the revived series).  In addition to how the story resolves, I thought the most delightful part of "Hide" was how Palmer and Grayling are intricate analogies of The Doctor and Clara.  And through them we gain a considerable insight into the relationship between the last Time Lord and his newest companion.

But as a longtime Doctor Who fan, I can not write a review of "Hide" without making note of the references to stories from the classic series.  To be fair the revived show has had them before but ever since "The Snowmen" they have been coming faster and harder.  Well, "Hide" hits us with the biggest barrage of them yet!  For the first time since the 1996 television movie we get a mention of the Eye of Harmony.  The cloister bell sounds.  The Doctor uses a Metebelis Crystal (last seen in Jon Pertwee's final story, "Planet of the Spiders").  The TARDIS is missing a certain item of furniture which was well-used by the Seventh Doctor.  And then there is what can only be a shout-out to "The Celestial Toymaker" and the E-Space Trilogy.

(I just had a thought: maybe Steven Moffat could eventually bring back the Great Vampires.  Heh-heh... yeah let's see the Eleventh Doctor go up against one of those things...)

Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman are growing their chemistry as The Doctor and Clara.  But the real catalyst at work in "Hide" is Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine as Professor Palmer and Emma Grayling.  I found their relationship with each other as enjoyable to watch as the one between The Doctor and Clara.  Maybe more so, even.

"Hide" is a little capsule of everything that a good Doctor Who story should be.  It's a limited cast of characters and only two or three real set pieces, but it pulls off an amazing tale rife with fear, laughs, and in the end, love and triumph.

I'll give "Hide" Four Sonic Screwdrivers out of five.  This was Neil Cross's second outing as a scribe on Doctor Who (the first being "The Rings of Akhaten") and already he's getting substantially better.  That episode was a visual feast and had some epic speech... but "Hide" is a tale which it's far easier to relate to.  And it's an awful lot of fun!

Transmitting next week on BBC and broadcasting on BBC America (gotta love those nuances between British and American terminology): "The Heart of the TARDIS".

Kristen dances a storm at Showcase Spring 2013!

Last week was the semi-annual Arthur Murray Showcase ballroom dance spectacular at the Hotel Roanoke, put on by the Arthur Murray Studio in Roanoke, Virginia. This was the fourth one I've been at to cheer on my girlfriend Kristen Bradford. And once again she was a thrill and a beauty to behold! Her routines garnered a wazoo of applause from the audience and some of them she kept as quite a surprise... even from me :-)

As usual I shot footage of her dancing, and just finished uploading it to YouTube for your viewing pleasure. So here is Kristen accompanied by her dance partner Jay Henderson pulling off some amazing performances...



Awright, I better share this as well: at Showcase Kristen asked me to wear the official Doctor Who/Eleventh Doctor bow tie that she gave me for Christmas a few months ago.  Kristen thought it was a great new look for me.  So did our family and friends, one of which said it made me look "powerful!"

Is this the start of a new fashion trend for Yours Truly?!  I might have to get more of these.  After all: "I like bow ties!  Bow ties are cool!" :-P





Friday, April 19, 2013

Why the Boy Scouts can NEVER be compatible with homosexuality

The Boy Scouts of America has been a part of my life since I was eight years old, in the fall of 1982.  That was more than thirty years ago.

I started in the Cub Scouts.  I earned my Bobcat, Wolf and Bear ranks.  In fifth grade I graduated to the Webelos Scouts and earned the Arrow of Light.  A few months later I became a full-fledged Boy Scout.  And that was one of the happiest points of my childhood.

It was like choosing to be a part of something with high ideals that I would always be striving to understand and fulfill.  I guess you could say it was like being a medieval squire, doing his best and learning all he could and gaining skills and experience.  Until the day when he would be dubbed at last a knight and forever honored as an avatar of virtue, honor and courage.

And then, at long last... I earned the rank of Eagle Scout.  Something that less than 1% of all Boy Scouts earn.  And that became the supreme moment of achievement in my young life.  My Eagle Scout ceremony was in August of 1992 and every day... every day... since then, I have carried my Eagle Scout card in my wallet.

For the first time in my life, I am considering carrying that Eagle Scout Card no longer.  Because the Boy Scouts is ceasing before our eyes to be the organization of principles and steadfastness that have defined it since its founding by Lord Robert Baden-Powell.

The Boy Scouts of America has announced today that it's putting forth a proposal to change its policy toward homosexual membership.  If approved by voting members next month, the new policy would not deny membership to youths "on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone".  The current policy would still apply toward adult leaders and other members, however.  Here is the resolution which was issued today and here's the summary of the proposed change:
Youth membership in the Boy Scouts of America is open to all youth who meet the specific membership requirements to join the Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Sea Scout, and Venturing programs. Membership in any program of the Boy Scouts of America requires the youth member to (a) subscribe to and abide by the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law, (b) subscribe to and abide by the precepts of the Declaration of Religious Principle (duty to God), and (c) demonstrate behavior that exemplifies the highest level of good conduct and respect for others and is consistent at all times with the values expressed in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone.
As best I understand it the breakdown is this: a boy with homosexual desires could be a Boy Scout, so long as he does not behave in a manner which violates the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  Homosexual adults would still be banned.

Homosexuality is not, has never been and can never be compatible with the principles of the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  In more ways than I can readily tick off the concept of the two not being direly exclusive of each other is so wildly incredible that in all sincerity, I have to wonder if those supporting this measure have any understanding of the Oath and the Law at all.

Consider the Scout Oath.  The one that millions of young men and their leaders have taken since a time predating the first World War:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
And to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
Mentally awake, and morally straight.
As a Scout, the first duty we vow to strive to fulfill is that to God.  The Boy Scouts of America has never been discriminatory against sects or denominations.  In my years of Scouting I have met fellow Scouts who have been from my own Protestant background, but also a great many Catholics.  And Jews.  And Mormons.  Boy Scouting is not a "pro-Christian" movement.  However it is one which affirms and holds to the belief that morality and virtuous principles come to us from God and not man.

And here already, homosexuality is not compatible with Scouting.  Because no monotheistic faith in the entire modern history of the world has ever preached sexual permissiveness.  Ever.  And that means any and all inappropriate sexual behavior.  The traditional and time-honored belief across all sincere faiths is that to dishonor and abuse the gift of sexuality which God has given us is to dishonor God.

I won't deny it: a young boy in the throes of adolescence often feels consumed by thoughts of the opposite gender which he has never known before.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  In fact, I'm strongly of the belief that such thoughts and feelings are normal, healthy, and not sinful at all.  The Boy Scouts are not an order of celibate monks and I've never known any adult leaders who have thought we should be that way either.

However having those desires does not mean that we must succumb to them!  To the contrary: we believe that God requires of us that we learn to control those desires... so that they do not control us.  This demands an ongoing self-discipline and personal restraint which is fully at odds with the carnal world around us.  Our God is not anti-sex.  He has made it that sex is good, that sex is beautiful, that sex is a gift... and it is a gift which MUST be enjoyed solely between one man and one woman within the bounds of marriage.  No exceptions.

If we disregard that, if we can not commit to that kind of self-restraint and discipline which does not hurt us but instead strengthens us and builds us up, then we have already failed God.  If we are true to God as best we understand Him, regardless of which aspect of that faith we adhere to, then our sexuality is a sacred thing consecrated to Him and made holy.  And that is not possible with homosexuality.  Or with pre-marital and extra-marital sex of any kind.

It has nothing to do with homosexuality itself. It does have to do with being responsible with the bodies and minds that God entrusted us with. It is against the principles of the Boy Scouts to engage in ANY sexual activity outside the confines of marriage. To do otherwise is to violate the sacredness of our physical, mental and emotional well-being. There can no more be a homosexual Boy Scout or a bisexual Boy Scout than there can be a Boy Scout who has sex with his girlfriend, with multiple girlfriends or engage in necrophilia.

And if Scouting is to acquiesce to homosexuality then it must also be prepared to do likewise with cocaine, heroin and animal sacrifice.  If Scouting becomes tolerant of everything, then Scouting will stand for nothing!

The twelve points of the Scout Law are: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.  If the Boy Scouts of America proceeds with this proposal, then we will have failed that Law in so many ways that it will be rendered absolutely meaningless.
Do not take this to be a judgment on homosexuals, because it is not that. If gay, lesbians and bisexuals wish to continue their activities, not I or anybody else can stop them. But those activities are NOT compatible at all with the Boy Scouts as Lord Baden-Powell intended them to be.  If homosexual men and boys wish to have their own organization, then let them.  They can make their own oath and law and comply with them however they wish.  But they shouldn't ask the Boy Scouts of America to endorse their behavior by changing our own principles!
And that is what this is really about: people trying to extort or enforce approval and endorsement of their behavior by those who earnestly believe that said behavior is immortal, unhealthy, self-abasing and legitimately dangerous.  Scouting can not capitulate to this!  "On MY honor I will do MY BEST" is how the Scout Oath begins.  To do our duty to God and our country and its people.  To put others before ourselves.  To keep ourselves "physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight".  But there is NOTHING mentally awake or morally straight about this resolution.
If the Boy Scouts of America votes to approve this change, then what else will be changed in time?  Where does it end?  Where does it stop?  At what point do we have the conviction to say "To this point, and NO further..."?
Again I must make clear: this has nothing to do with disliking or hating homosexuals.  A real Scout or Scouter can not do that.  Scouting also instills the values of respecting and extending courteous and cheerful friendship toward others even if we do not approve of their behavior.  Ultimately, that is something which they alone must answer for.
What this is about is what WE as Scouts and Scouters must answer for in terms of the morals and the values which we have taken a solemn oath to demonstrate in our lives.
"Brave" isn't the sole province of rescuing someone from a burning house or a sinking boat.  It doesn't mean a denial of fear.  But true bravery and courage is knowing what you believe, why you believe it, and holding true to that.  It means, if need be, standing one's ground... and standing defiant... when the world tells you to move.  To change.  To do what it tells you to believe or disbelieve.
True courage is having the strength, the mind, and the morality to tell the world "No.  I will not be disloyal to God, to my country, and to myself.  I can do no other.  I will not move.  You move."
That is not the popular thing to do in this day.  But it is what we have sworn or affirmed to do in taking the Scout Oath.
And I choose to spend the rest of my life striving to do my best to live by the Scout Oath and the Scout Law.  Even if doing so means that I can never again be a member of the Boy Scouts of America.
I can do that.  Sometimes one must lose a thing in order to save it.
I took an oath.  I promised to keep the twelve points of the Scout Law.  I will continue to do those.  Even though it looks as though doing so will lead me and no doubt many others to sever our affiliations with the Boy Scouts of America.
Ironic?  Yes.  Regrettable?  Yes.  Honorable?
If we are true to the Oath and the Law, we have no choice but to be so.  We must be loyal to God and our virtues, regardless of how the organization espousing them chooses to be loyal.
There has been formed a group of concerned Scouters, Scouts and others who are gravely concerned about the direction the Boy Scouts of America is tilting toward, and if you are as well I would seriously recommend that you check out OnMyHonor.net.  It describes itself as "the official coalition of concerned parents, Scout Leaders, Scouting Donors, Eagle Scouts and others affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America who are united in their support of Scouting’s timeless values and their opposition to open homosexuality in the Scouts".  Earlier today OnMyHonor.net posted a response to today's resolution, and the entire website addresses these concerns far more succinctly and eloquently than I possibly could.

The title of this season's finale of DOCTOR WHO is...

Doctor Who, The Name of the Doctor, Matt Smith, Steven Moffat, BBC, television, science fiction

That has to be the most ominous title of a Doctor Who story in the entire history of the franchise. My spine shivered when I read that this morning.

"The Name of the Doctor"...



The question. The first question. The oldest question of all. The question that must never be answered. Hidden in plain sight. The question he has been running from all his life...

"Doctor who?"

"The Name of the Doctor" transmits on BBC and BBC America on May 18th. Steven Moffat should start making plans to go into hiding from fans for the next several weeks after its broadcast.

Don't want to marry your sister? There's an app for that!

Incest is a terrible thing.  But when you're one person among a population of 300 thousand, your odds of contributing to genetic bottleneck go substantially up.  That's the problem in Iceland, where just about everyone is related to everyone else and some downright... creepy... marital relations have inadvertently come about.

(I'm assuming those were inadvertent anyway...)

Enter App of Icelanders, a new app for Android-based devices.  Utilizing a database called Book of Icelanders that has data on 95% of the country's native population going back 300 years, smartphone users can find information about their family with the touch of a finger.  But the real gimmick is what the developers have named the "Incest Prevention Alarm": by merely touching your Android smartphone with another also loaded with App of Icelanders, the software automatically determines if you and the other person are cousins.  Or brothers.  Or sisters.  Or parent and child...

(Hey, it happened to Oedipus didn't it?!)

The developers have come up with a catchy ad slogan for their product: "Bump in the app before you bump in the bed".  If you have an Android phone and you're Icelandic, you can find it here.

Bump here for more about this app, which is no doubt being coded-up even as we speak for segments of the population in certain quarters of Appalachia...

Apple should jump on this for iOS gadgets.  It could be called iNcest!

(I'll just leave by the back door...)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Star Wars movies EVERY year beginning in 2015

Whoa!!  Looks like "Weird Al" Yankovic was a prophet when he wrote his song "Yoda" those many years ago...

"But I know that I'll be coming back some day
I'll be playing this part 'till I'm old and gray
The long-term contract I had to sign
Says I'll be making these movies till the end of time
Oh with my Yoda
Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda"

It was officially suggested the day the Disney/Lucasfilm deal was announced but now there's solid confirmation.  It was announced at CinemaCon in Las Vegas today that Disney and Lucasfilm will be releasing a new Star Wars movie EVERY year, beginning in 2015.  That's the summer we'll get Star Wars Episode VII.  The next year will see the first Star Wars "stand-alone" film, then Episode VIII and so on alternating.  Presumably after the Skywalker saga wraps up there will continue to be Star Wars movies from now 'til doomsday.

A new Star Wars movie every year?!  I'm more than perfectly fine with that! :-)

(Unfortunately this also means that Mickey Suttle AKA SuperShadow will never, EVER retire... but one must take the bad with the good :-P)

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

MAN OF STEEL trailer, and the last one for STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS

I've a theory: Benedict Cumberbatch is playing Khan Noonien Singh. In the post-Kelvin altered timeline the Botany Bay was found years earlier than it was in the original Star Trek series, and Khan wound up working for Starfleet's black ops. Then years later he comes back for revenge for something or 'nother and that's when he and Kirk will tangle for the "first" time.

But if he's an entirely new character, I'm down for that too. Either way from the looks of this final trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness, it's gonna be a toad-strangler of a movie!

Meanwhile the new trailer for Man of Steel swooped onto the Intertubes a short while ago...

I will believe this Superman can fly :-)

And this movie has had some of the most beautiful trailers that I have seen for a summer tentpole in a long, long time.

Tammy Tuesday this week is love at first sight!

Last week my mini dachshund Tammy became one year old!  I don't care what her age is: she'll forever be my baby.  I'm always calling her "Tammy the pup" (okay, along with other nicknames like "Tammy the Troublemaker", "Tammy the Terror", "Tammy the Tripper" and too many others to count...)

But this week marks the one-year anniversary of the first time she and I met.  And the first time my eyes fell on her, I was madly in love with that fuzzy little ball of concentrated cuteness!

So I thought that for this installment of Tammy Tuesday, I'd post photos of that very first encounter between Tammy and I...

Tammy and her litter-mates

It was four weeks later that I got to bring her home. Y'all can't imagine how eager I was to have at long last a female miniature dachshund to run around the place :-)

I still can't get used to that mischievous little grin she's always had.  Even since that first meeting, Tammy has looked like she's smiling.  Or smirking.  Or something.  She certainly lives up to it!

Well, it's been one year with my girl.  Here's looking forward to many more to come ! :-)

Richard LeParmentier - Admiral Motti in the first Star Wars movie - has passed away

Star Wars fans worldwide are saddened today to learn that Richard LeParmentier has passed away at the age of 66.

Richard LeParmentier, Star Wars, Admiral MottiLeParmentier was an American residing in Great Britain, and making quite a career for himself as a television and film actor.  And then the fickle finger of the Force (along with a casting director and George Lucas) chose him to portray Admiral Motti in what became Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope: the film that started it all.

It is Motti, you will remember, who is the first person we ever see getting on the business end of Darth Vader's "Force choke".  Motti had been boasting of the Death Star's destructive power while mocking Vader's "sorcerous ways" and his "sad devotion to that ancient religion" when the Dark Lord of the Sith chose to give Motti a first-hand demonstration.  Fortunately for Motti, Grand Moff Tarkin told Vader to cool it and let go of the arrogant admiral's throat.  LeParmentier was in only two scenes of the movie, but he made an immortal impression upon all who have enjoyed the Star Wars saga through the decades.

I got to meet Richard LeParmentier twice: at Dragon-Con in 2001 and then at Star Wars Celebration II.  He was a very nice guy, and exceptionally happy to make time to meet and greet his many fans.

Thoughts and prayers going up for his family.