"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


"that's the change we seek"


"In the end, the argument we are having between the candidates in the last seven days is not just about the meaning of change. It’s about the meaning of hope. Some of my opponents appear scornful of the word; they think it speaks of naivete, passivity, and wishful thinking.

"But that’s not what hope is. Hope is not blind optimism. It’s not ignoring the enormity of the task before us or the roadblocks that stand in our path. Yes, the lobbyists will fight us. Yes, the Republican attack dogs will go after us in the general election. Yes, the problems of poverty and climate change and failing schools will resist easy repair. I know – I’ve been on the streets, I’ve been in the courts. I’ve watched legislation die because the powerful held sway and good intentions weren’t fortified by political will, and I’ve watched a nation get mislead into war because no one had the judgment or the courage to ask the hard questions before we sent our troops to fight.

"But I also know this. I know that hope has been the guiding force behind the most improbable changes this country has ever made. In the face of tyranny, it’s what led a band of colonists to rise up against an Empire. In the face of slavery, it’s what fueled the resistance of the slave and the abolitionist, and what allowed a President to chart a treacherous course to ensure that the nation would not continue half slave and half free. In the face of war and Depression, it’s what led the greatest of generations to free a continent and heal a nation. In the face of oppression, it’s what led young men and women to sit at lunch counters and brave fire hoses and march through the streets of Selma and Montgomery for freedom’s cause. That’s the power of hope – to imagine, and then work for, what had seemed impossible before."

- Barack Obama's final big Iowa speech


we interrupt this vacation...

As I was driving towards Little Rock late this morning, a text message from my father arrived, giving the news that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.

The implications of this are huge; Pakistan is arguably the most strategically important country in the fight against terrorism by Islamic extremists. It is also a nuclear power. The United States very badly needs a stable, cooperative government in Pakistan. This is why we've tolerated the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, which is anything but democratic.

The Bush administration had focused most of its diplomatic efforts on working out a power-sharing arrangement between Bhutto and Musharraf to ensure that there would be more stability and cooperation within and from Pakistan. Bhutto's assassination puts that progress towards democracy into serious doubt.

The big question is who will take her place as head of the Pakistan People's Party, two weeks before scheduled elections. Aitzaz Ahsan is one of several names being thrown about as a possible replacement. As far as I know, he's still under house arrest. I know his family would appreciate your continued thoughts and prayers.


one more thing...

My friend Ali's father was freed from prison in Pakistan on Friday, then arrested again within the day. Ali was held at gunpoint by a plainclothes policeman during the arrest.

Please keep them in your prayers and remember that not everyone is free to celebrate holidays in peace.

"...and hear the angels sing."

Merry Christmas, Texas in Africa readers. I'll be back to posting after the Wedding of the Century. In the meantime, here's something to think about this holiday.

"rest beside the weary road.."

"Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing."

- Edmund Sears (1849)


a christmas miracle

Thank-you, Jesus.

10 days...

The CPP made the AP wire! Woo-hoo!!!


seriously disappointing

So, as per usual, I am in Franklin for the holidays. It's great to be with my family and see old friends (and I even ran into my high school French teacher today and got to say "merci" for teaching a skill I use daily), but my trip thus far has been seriously disappointing in one respect: after a full 48 hours, there has yet to be a single story on the 10 o'clock news about Animal Control raiding a trailer in which a woman is keeping 97 cats, or a ferocious meerkat, or a team of sled dogs that threaten the health and safety of the neighborhood's children.

This does not happen in Austin, and I count on my trips to Nashville to get my semi-annual dose of redneck sensationalism. But, as my mother said when I mentioned this earlier, "just wait." It'll happen. And, anyway, there was a story tonight about a family who goes out in the yard on Christmas Eve and throws around flaming balls that have soaked in kerosene for two days.

election watch

Novak argues that since prominent Southern Baptists aren't (yet) supporting Huckabee, he has a problem.

Aside from the fact that Novak is wrong, wrong, wrong in his belief that there were seriously that many theological liberals in the convention (and that Huckabee was ever on their side - hello? All evidence suggests that he was more of a moderate, but clearly Novak only talked to the kind of Baptists who refer to all moderates pejoratively.) and that the Arkansas State Baptist Convention could ever have seriously been referred to as "liberal," it's an interesting argument. However, I don't believe that most Southern Baptists in the pews really care who gets Paul Pressler's endorsement, and that most of them are going to like Huckabee's pro-life, pro-death penalty stances. If it comes down to a choice between a Mormon, a northeastern moderate Republican, and Huckabee, they're going to go with Huckabee. If they vote at all.



It seems a bit of a stretch to call the Spice Girls "ladies," no?

25 cents worth, to be exact

A little justice for D.C.'s disenfranchised.

the only christmas for me

texas baptists in africa

John Hall at the BGCT has written an interesting story about Texas Baptists working in Africa. He points out that churches and individuals working on the continent share a common concern for social justice and for helping individuals. (He also quotes yours truly, for what it's worth. I believe this makes me famous, for a Baptist. :)

Also be sure to check out the companion article on social justice. I think what comes out of this article for me is that God doesn't just call us to pursue social justice - the call is to Biblical justice. And that's a lot harder than just doing acts of charity.



Which came first - the laws of physics or the universe? Fascinating.



joy to the earth

ah, christmas

trail of lights

time for politics

Well, the Iowa caucuses begin in two weeks, so it's probably time to start paying attention to the presidential race. Not that we don't pay attention in general, but I don't think there's much point in watching the polls until about a month before the election, or, in this case, the bizarre meetings that Iowans use to choose their candidates.

Speaking of the Iowa Caucuses, have you ever wondered how they work? It's a pretty wacky system. The Edwards campaign (of which I am definitely NOT a supporter) has put together this fairly informative film that I'm planning to show to my class (unless I find something less biased) that explains how it all works. I think it's a pretty good explanation (if a bit deceptive in suggesting that precinct captains tend to be pretty young things like "Jane"). Enjoy:


zilker tree

i kindof hate hp, but...

Check out this amazing catch by Michael Thatcher, Margaret Thatcher's grandson who plays for Highland Park. Highland Park won its 4A, Division II state semifinal game yesterday and will play Lake Travis for the championship on Saturday.

congo watch

More and more of a disaster in North Kivu:

"Eugenie Hasima sat on a hill nearby, trying to calm her daughter Ajira, 2, who screeched for food.

“'I have nothing to give her,' she said, breaking down in sobs as Ajira cried inconsolably. 'She has not eaten since yesterday, and she spent all day walking. We are all just so hungry.'” -
New York Times

"my carpet accepts your tears"


Call me cruel and callous for laughing at this. I don't care.


the strangest dream

Last night I watched the strangest thing on television. It was a college football game, somewhere in Tennessee, and it was a big football game. The words "national championship" kept being thrown around, and it all made sense, as the fans were excited even in the standing-room-only endzone, the coaching was intense, and the players were putting everything they had into the game. It was definitely some kind of championship.

But here's the thing: it seemed that the decision as to which teams would play in this game was not made by computers. Or polls. Instead, apparently, the teams had the right to be there because they had played other teams through some kind of single-elimination tournament system. The two teams that beat everybody else in this system then got to play each other, and the winner of that is considered the national championship.

I'm not sure what to think about this. It seemed so logical and intuitive and ... fair. Was it a dream?


soon it will be christmas day

Even though it's about shopping, I've always loved this song:

"socially constructed forms of oppression"

In today's Ethics Daily, I read about the SBC's new study that is apparently geared towards putting women in our places. (Let's note that it is not a "Bible study," but rather a "doctrine study." The question of since when Baptists have doctrinal studies is a good one that I'll leave to the Baptist historians.) Written by three men, the study emphasizes pretty much what you'd expect. Anyway, as it would probably cause me to say something not very nice, rather than react to this story directly, I'm just going to rerun this post from earlier this year:

Greatest Fulfillment
Well, thank God that Al Mohler knows what God has called me to do with my life.

Sigh. You know, this has been a really good first week back to school. I'm confident about my dissertation again, and my classes are going well. I left today's lecture feeling that the students understood and are (mostly) engaged with the material. I had a great conversation with a younger colleague who's trying to figure out what direction his work should take. A friend and I caught up over lunch and marvelled at how we finally feel like our work is headed in the right direction. For the first time, I'm hearing the words with which I'll write my dissertation in the same way in which I hear words when I write an essay about poverty or injustice or laughter in the Congo.

I love teaching college students. I am certain that I'm making a difference in the world when I can help a friend think through his calling. I know that I'm a pretty good writer, and that on rare occasions, something inside me strings the words together in such a way that they move people to think, and, hopefully, to act. These are the things that make me feel the most alive, like I'm doing exactly what I'm meant to do.

What I've just described is usually known as "a calling." A calling is that sense that you are supposed to do something. It's the name we put on this idea that our talents, skills, background, and experiences have uniquely equipped us to do a task. Because I am a Christian, I believe that callings come from God. It is, as Frederick Buechner says, the task we are given to do at the place where our own "deep gladness" and "the world's deep need" intersect. For me, the fact that I feel so much joy when I am doing these things, serving others in these ways, is a sign that this is my calling.

Apparently Dr. Mohler believes that I am mistaken:

"Mohler said he believes the Bible is 'absolutely clear … that the first priority--where a woman is likely to find her greatest fulfillment in God's plan--is going to be in the home being a wife and a mom.'" - as quoted by Ethics Daily.

Let me be absolutely clear on this: I believe that being a stay-at-home wife and mother is an honorable calling. I'm not the sort of person who thinks that women who so choose (and who are so lucky as to be able to stay home) are betraying the feminist movement, blah, blah, blah. My sister and I were lucky that our mother was able to stay home with us when we were young, and I have no doubt that the fact that my mother read to me all the time has a lot to do with how I turned out. I hope that my career path will enable me to take time off to be with my children when they are small, and I hope that I'll be able to continue doing that which God has gifted and called me to do. If staying home with her children is what a woman wants to do, what she believes is best for her family, and what she believes God is calling her to do, then that is absolutely what she should do. I'm not against such choices.

What I am against, however, is the arrogance inherent in a stranger's assumption that he knows better than I that which constitutes my gifts, talents, and calling by God. What I am against is the selective reading of the inerrant Word of God that ignores Biblical examples of women who took leadership roles outside of the home in their societies. What I am against is someone who would argue that God has given me gifts that I am apparently not supposed to use, and who would tell me that I should be someone other than who I am created to be. What I am against is the fundamentalist hermeneutic that insists on limiting the power and capacity of Almighty God to do as He chooses.

For we are not just called to do, we are also called to be. To be a people who preach Christ crucified and risen again. To act justly and love mercy and walk in humility with the Lord our God. To be good neighbors to people we find distasteful. To be that which we are called to be.

Thank goodness obedience to God isn't dependent on the opinions of others.

things Texas in Africa does NOT want for Christmas

This is just wrong.


breaking news

Breaking news: the NYT runs a story on Congo and gets it semi-right. In other news, Texas in Africa faints.

Okay, sorry, it's just that after my summer of realizing that Nick Kristof prints things that are demonstrably false, I don't have much confidence in the old newspaper of record.

Anyway, this article on the growing fighting outside of Goma is not bad in its analysis. It veers towards oversimplification in reducing the conflict's causes to ethnicity and minerals, but the author also gets that it's about land (which is what it's primarily about. Ethnicity is important, but it's also fluid and tends to shift based on interests in the land.). More importantly, she gets the government's gamble right - Kabila has been gunning for a military solution all summer, despite the fact that it was obvious from the beginning that FARDC isn't strong enough to take out the rebels on its own - and now he's stuck.

The report on the humanitarian front is sad and frightening. I have no idea where the NYT got the number 800,000 for displaced persons (they must be counting the total from all the regional conflicts of the last 15 years, and not the 400,000 or so who've been displaced this year), but the sheer magnitude of human suffering sounds overwhelming. Radio Okapi says that some who fled their homes on Tuesday have started back home since MONUC took control of the town, but Sake's people have fled many times before, and will probably have to flee many times again before it ends, if it will ever end.

This is a great article to read if you're interested in learning more about what's going on in the DRC. Even if you don't read it, check out Lynsey Addario's haunting photos. The one from the abandoned mission sums up Congo.

season's greetings

one of my favorites

This is the only version I could find:


This is an interesting opinion piece on the propensity of some members of the religious right to constantly create new so-called enemies of Christianity. Far from being harmless, the author argues, this tendency is instead frighteningly symptomatic of a fascistic outlook. It's not as simplistic as it sounds, and I encourage you to read his thoughtful analysis.


Have you been keeping up with Inspired to Action, a website that helps people of faith find ways to serve others in our communities and around the world? Check out my latest post.


a tejas christmas

congo watch

According to reports from the Red Cross, things in North Kivu are the worst they've been since 2001. Fighting between the government (with substantial support from MONUC) and Nkunda's rebels is in full swing.

My contacts in Goma aren't leaving the city, and last week the World Food Program stopped delivering food to most refugee camps outside the city due to insecurity. The UN has officially forbidden international NGO's from working outside of the city.

It's bad.

Today, "MONUC announced that more than 4,500 blue helmets have been deployed in North Kivu province, to ensure the defence of the towns of Goma and Sake."

That's good in one sense, but bad in the sense that MONUC is worried about the very real possibility of needing to protect Goma. Apparently, most international NGO's have evacuated their staffs from Goma. Heal Africa is still at work in the province.

I would appreciate it if you kept everyone there in your prayers.

paging dr. freud

Governor Goodhair messes up. Big time.

this is why i'm not catholic

So, according to the pope, apparently people are killing each other in the Congo and elsewhere because of abortion and same-sex marriage. You know, along with all those other reasons.


happy day

I am done. My dissertation chapter is in, discussed, and awaiting revisions after the Wedding of the Century. Finals are graded, grades are recorded, and I'm just waiting on two slackers before I hit "submit" for the final grades.

Now it's just a matter of how long it takes before the whining commences. So far, it's been 33 minutes and not a peep from the little snowflakes.

I hope they're all okay.



happy holidays


we are NOT okay with this

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

funny things my students wrote

In my courses, I am beta-testing some materials for an office that works on integrating technology into the classroom experience. As part of that testing, my students take a survey on their experiences with these materials and on what they've learned. These are responses to the question, "What is the most memorable thing up to now you have learned about Texas politics?" (They are not edited for correct content, grammar, or usage.):
  • "That the constitution is pretty much useless and that one of its sole purposes is to make it difficult for the executive branch to have power."
  • "If no one voted, then someone would still be elected and that is kinda disturbing."
  • "Some really strange things go on in Texas."
  • "sodomy is illegal in Texas."
  • "not much of anything interests me."

can i get an "amen" from the congregation?

Just a reminder for all Texas in Africa readers in the greater Austin area - a group is meeting at the Regal Arbor Cinema TONIGHT for the 7:30 showing of What Would Jesus Buy? All the cool kids will be there, and so should you!

still the best ever

one loaf of bread

Here is a story about one of the reasons I love Africa: people take care of one another. They share from what they have, not from their leftovers:

"Mohamed said she had exactly one loaf of bread and a few tomatoes for her own family when Ali [and her four children] arrived last month. She divvied it up."

If Americans did that, there wouldn't be poverty in this world.


christmas in austin

For those of you not fortunate enough to live in our fair city, you're probably wondering what on earth this is about. Well - only in our weird city - residents of West 37th Street go all-out with their holiday decorations each year. It's an Austin tradition to park illegally in a local business's parking lot and join the masses working their way down the street to see all the wacky displays. Although the wackiness has declined a little in the last couple of years because the guy with the crazy, lit up collections is gone, there's still a little bit of everything, from vaccum cleaners to a tree decorated with hundreds of empty PBR cans. My sister was in town earlier this week, so we stopped by to check everything out. We were particularly amused by this house, which featured a monopoly (get it?) board of Austin neighborhoods on the sidewalk:

This is my favorite:

They also have an 8 pound, 6 ounce newborn baby Jesus in the manger under the watchful eyes of Ricky Bobby:

an all-time favorite

Though not as good as the record, which features Beaker:

this is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen


45 seconds for $200,000

Well, it's about time.


We here at Texas in Africa just finished the dissertation work we had to get done before the holidays, and with the exception of 60 pesky finals to grade and a Monday meeting that's sure to be unpleasant, we're pretty much finished with the semester. So we are in full-swing Christmas mode, and will be posting some of our favorite Christmas songs every day from here on out. Why not start with Elvis?


There are 2007 un-dealt with emails in my inbox. Surely that's a sign of something...

congo watch

"After taking control of the town of Mushake on Wednesday, Congolese troops have moved further north. Intense fighting is underway in Kingi village.

"Aid workers fear that the army's use of imprecise long-range weaponry could lead to civilian casualties."


stop the shopacalypse monday

Okay, Austin readers, here's the plan: What Would Jesus Buy?, Monday night, 7:30 screening at the Regal Arbor Cinema in the Arboretum. Here's a map in case you've never been there.

Bring your friends, family, co-workers, whatever out for a thought-provoking, seriously funny night at the movies. It's definitely appropriate for teenagers, but kids younger than 13 will probably not quite get it. Let me know if you're coming so we can wait for you at the theater. And see you Monday!


Finally! What Would Jesus Buy?, opens today in Austin, Nashville, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, and Washington, DC!

I saw this film last spring at South by Southwest and cannot recommend it highly enough. The film documents the journey of Reverend Billy, an activist and performance artist who uses the hilarious antics of the Church of Stop Shopping to drive home a point: mindless consumerism and consumer debt are destroying America. Using the shopping madness of the Christmas season as a jumping-off point, Reverend Billy and his gospel-style choir travel across America to spread the message. They do an exorcism at Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas, speak in tonuges on the news, sing stop shopping carols in an upscale neighborhood, and Reverend Billy gets arrested at the Happiest Place on Earth.

For those concerned that this is offensive to churches and Christianity, I encourage you to see the film and take the medium through which the message is delivered with a grain of salt. After all, Christian groups like the Advent Conspiracy are already reminding us that our consumer culture distracts us from the true meaning of Christmas. Christianity Today has a great review in this regard here. As CT says, some of what hapens does come off as condescending and cheapening, "[b]ut the whole argument of the film is that our commodity culture has already cheapened Christianity." Although Reverend Billy's methods are somewhat...unorthodox, the point he makes is a good one, and the film is funny to boot. Again, I highly encourage you to check it out. In Nashville, What Would Jesus Buy? is playing at Green Hills. In D.C., it's at Dupont Circle. In Dallas, it's at the Magnolia. In Tucson, it's at the Loft. In Houston, it's at the Landmark Greenway. In Atlanta, it's at the Midtown Art. For other cities, look here.

Austinites! I want to get a group together to see the film at the Arbor. Would anyone be up for a Monday night screening? Let me know in the comments or by email.


oh happy day in may!

This will almost make turning 29-for-the-second-time bearable:

protect kids

My friend Sandy has one of the toughest jobs I know. Not only is she mom to two boys under age 4, she also works at Kristi House, an organization in Miami that works to help children who are victims of sexual abuse. Her specific job is to to help CSEC's, Commercially Sexually Exploited Children. In other words, children who are prostitutes, or whose bodies are used in pornography, or who are otherwise sexually exploited.

Sandy writes a great blog about the issues facing CSEC's and the prevalence of this problem in our society (Did you know, for example, that Atlanta has more child sex workers than any other city in America?). Check it out, get informed, consider making a donation to Kristi House or to other organizations working to protect children in your city, and help make a difference in these children's lives.

congo watch

"Lucianne remained for treatment at Panzi. She had contracted a sexually transmitted disease and was pregnant herself. When she tried to return home, her husband had abandoned her, and her family farm had been occupied by others.

"After delivering her child, she tried working on a different farm, but the soldiers came again. "I wanted to hide myself, and they told me, 'Why do you hide? You are Lucianne, and you have our baby.' " She recently saw two of her captors in the market. "Since that day I have never spent the night in the house, because of fear."

"Lucianne -- who is young and lost and should be loved -- now sleeps with her child in the cassava fields near Walungu to avoid being captured again."

- Michael Gerson in the Washington Post

let the whining begin!

Ah, the pleas filling my inbox at the end of the semester:

"With my current final grade being an 86 is there ANY possible way to get that 86 up to an A?"

"I am very upset with my grade."

"If there is anything I can do to better my grade before grades have to be in, would you let me know?"


My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Reverend Lady Texas In Africa the Idle of Leg over Wallop
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title


it's not dead yet

If you haven't yet had a chance to listen to today's Supreme Court hearings on habeas corpus and Guantanomo Bay, I strongly recommend listening to NPR's coverage here. The justices took the unusual step of allowing recording devices in the Court, so instead of listening to Nina Totenberg reenact the arguments, you actually get to listen to them.

My feelings on this situation are well known to readers of this blog, and one of my closest friends is involved in the defense of the detainees. I think these arguments - particularly the ones about the problem that detainees have no chance to claim or prove their innocence - speak for themselves.

ah, the last week of school

My students applauded the course at the end of the last lecture today.

It was sweet.

It almost makes me feel bad for thinking this is so funny.

congo watch

"The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has suspended the delivery of food aid to as many as 300,000 vulnerable people because of renewed fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, officials said." - IRIN

That official is my friend A. I imagine she's having a pretty rotten week.


funny things my students wrote

a continuing series:

"Someone's right to wear a crucifix ends right before that icon is going to be stabbed into my eye."

crowned all in white

We all need something beautiful in our lives at Christmastime:

last night in live music: baylor chamber singers

I first saw the Baylor Chamber Singers Christmas Concert in 1999 with Skip. Just before racing over to the Armstrong-Browning Library for the show, I ran into my friend Charlene. When I told her where I was going, and when she learned that I hadn't seen the group before, she exclaimed, "Oh! You will see God."

Charlene was right. The Chamber Singers are perhaps Baylor's most talented vocalists, and their mostly acapella Christmas concert blends haunting Latin pieces from the Renaissance with beautiful modern compositions. I have seen the Chamber Singers many times in the last eight years, but it is always a treat, and last night was no exception. From the incredibly strong soprano who opened "Once in Royal David's City" to two lovely versions of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" to newer John Rutter arrangements of classic songs, the show was, as always, nearly perfect.

Last night was particularly poignant because this is the final year that Donald Bailey is conducting the Singers. Bailey has taught at Baylor for 41 years and will retire at the end of this academic year, and one had the sense that for this final Chamber Singers performance, he chose his very favorites. Coupled with the presence of Chamber Singers founder and Conductor Emeritus Robert H. Young, who directed "The Blessed Son of God" as he always does, it made for a poignant evening of remembering the group's history and looking forward to its future.

Visiting the Armstrong-Browning Library was also a bit bittersweet for me this year as it's the first time I've been there since Ann Miller passed away. She introduced me to the library, and I think of her every time I am in that magnificent space, especially sitting in the main room under the quotation, "Youth is the only time to think and to set a great course." As the Singers' voices soared on the final "kyrie" of "The Blessed Son of God," I couldn't help but think that Professor Miller was there, listening and loving and reminding us that we only get one chance to set our courses and make our ways, so we'd better take advantage of it.


how Baptists ought to disagree

Broadway Baptist in Fort Worth has postponed its vote on whether to include homosexual couples' pictures in its new church directory. Bob Allen at Ethics Daily has good coverage here of a story that is going to become more and more commonplace in moderate Baptist life.

As many are pointing out, what's going on at Broadway will inevitably hurt someone in the end, but I'm glad that the church is dealing with the situation according to the historic Baptist principles of church and soul freedom. Instead of following a dictate from on high, they are discussing the issue and trying to understand what's going on in hopes of figuring out what God would have their congregation do. Allen's story quotes Pastor Brett Younger's sermon in this regard:

"Some of the most committed conservative Christians in our congregation are baffled by this whole episode," Younger said. "They're seeking the best they know how to be faithful to Scripture and follow Jesus. They've been taught all of their lives what the Bible says on this issue, and those who read the Scriptures in a different way don't seem to be taking the Bible seriously. The verses in Leviticus seem straightforward on homosexuality. How can the majority opinion throughout 2,000 years of church history suddenly be wrong? It's hard for these gracious Christians to understand how anyone could disagree."

"But there are other thoughtful Christians who feel differently," he continued. "They are seeking the best they know how to be faithful to Scripture and follow Jesus. They know the Bible has been used to defend polygamy, slavery and the oppression of women. They look at the compassion of Jesus and the way he included everybody, and it seems clear that we should do the same. How can anyone who knows Jesus believe that God condemns people to the way they were born? It's hard for these gracious Christians to understand how anyone could disagree."

"Both sides feel so certain that any real compromise can feel like being asked to give up something close to the center of their faith," Younger said. "Many feel so strongly about this issue that a church directory in which gay couples are pictured together seems dishonest. And others feel just as strongly that a church directory in which gay couples are pictured separately seems dishonest."

Although my understanding of the debate at Broadway is that not all those involved have behaved in such a manner, Younger paints a picture of the way Baptists ought to disagree about issues - in respectful, loving, serious ways. There's no need for slander and anger to control the debate when all parties involved just want to serve God.

congo watch

"Rapes, looting and other forms of violence against civilians have increased sharply in eastern Congo, reaching a scale not seen since the height of the country's civil war seven years ago, the International Red Cross said Thursday." - IHT, 11/29

"DR Congo rebels take eastern town" - BBC, 12/3

The fight we were waiting for all summer has started in earnest now. The army offensive against Nkunda's men began today.

Lots more people will flee their homes and lose their lives because of this fighting. Please keep the Congo in your prayers.

bollywood for obama

This is sixteen kinds of Bollywood awesomeness:



I spent a lot of time sitting in the dark last summer. Electricity isn't so reliable in Bukavu (or anywhere else in the Congo, for that matter) and so if it's after dark and the power goes out, there isn't much you can do about it. Even if you are, say, in the middle of cooking dinner on an electric stove or feeding the dog or watching a DVD on your laptop for the 400th time or reading a cultural history of science. Of course, you can light a candle or two, and if it's urgent, turn on your headlamp. But a candle doesn't do much, and those precious batteries need to be saved in case something worse happens. And a candle can't do much to dispel the reality that it is dark.

Darkness in the Congo is not like darkness in Austin, Texas, where light always creeps in one way or another. It's not even completely like the darkness in an isolated place like Big Bend, which is, to be sure, darker than dark.

No, darkness in the Congo is darker than even that. It's not just that you can't see your hand in front of you (although you can't). It's more than that. It's the sense that all is not right outside, that the social order has been so disrupted that darkness means yet another innocent is having to endure something so awful that it is beyond naming.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the day we think about, and light a candle for, hope. My pastor's Advent series is about the Magi, and while we were all pondering how he's going to get four sermons plus Epiphany out of that short text, he said something pretty important. Somewhere in talking about the wise men wandering all over the known world without a map, we reach a point, he said (more-or-less), where we've been disappointed so many times that we don't want to hope anymore. More disappointment would be too much. And yet, he said, there's still this little bit of Advent in us that won't give up hope of finding the one that can sustain our adoration and keep our hope alive.

That's what that star the Magi were chasing is about. This little point of light that sometimes can barely be seen, that hardly makes a dent in the blackest dark, is nothing, and, yet, is everything.

Growing up at camp, there was a song we sang that began with the words, "Darkness around me / sorrow surrounds me." I never really liked that song, but the idea it begins with, that we live surrounded by sadness and sorrow, has been true in many respects in my life. The suffering of our neighbors, both here and on the other side of the world, is beyond bearing sometimes. It's everywhere.

But. But. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it," wrote John, and that's what we're supposed to do as well. Keep hoping when the sorrow is overwhelming. Keep believing that that star points to something greater than our disappointment. And keep lighting candles - even in the darkest of nights.


friggin' OU

Well, we finally have a nightmare scenario for the BCS. I hope the presidents are happy.

world aids day

"Thus in silence in dreams' projections,
Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals;
The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand,
I sit by the restless all dark night - some are so young;
Some suffer so much - I recall the experience sweet and sad..."

- Walt Whitman, "The Wound Dressers"

names and faces

Today is World AIDS Day.

The statistics on HIV/AIDS are staggering. In Africa, the region of the world I know best, there are more than 12 million children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. The rest of the world brings that total to over 15 million. In 2007, 1.6 million Africans died due to infection. That's this year. AIDS is the leading cause of death for adults in the countries of sub-Saharn Africa.

HIV/AIDS isn't just a problem in Africa. Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control released a report that notes that the number of Americans infected with HIV is growing at a rate 50% higher than previously believed. This doesn't mean that all is hopeless in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not a big fan of the Bush administration, but I give the president credit for his willingness to increase our country's commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS abroad. The strategy is far from perfect, but it's more than any previous administration did. I never would've imagined seeing a picture like the one above (photo: Washington Post) during a Republican administration, but this president seems to understand that fighting AIDS is a moral issue.
Statistics are good in that they help us keep track of what's going on, who's most likely to be infected, and where the disease is spreading. Good statistics help doctors and nurses and epidemiologists and community leaders to plan a response. They help donors to know where to direct resources, and they help those who have been infected to know that they are not alone.

But statistics are only part of the story, and I'm wary of using them for the simple reason that statistics are abstract. And it's easy to ignore things that are abstract, and easy for us to forget that HIV/AIDS is not just an epidemic of numbers and data. HIV/AIDS affects people. And all of those millions of people affected by this disease have a name, and a face, and a story to tell.
My first real encounter with the effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on a community came in a rural village in Kenya in 1998, where whispers and nuance told us why someone had died. Later that year, living with a family in the Nairobi suburbs, my hostess showed me pictures of her nephew who had died of the disease. He was thinner and thinner in each picture, and it obviously broke her heart that nothing could be done to help a young man who had been so full of life.
HIV/AIDS is real, and it changes the lives of real people. So today, for World AIDS Day, I want to share some pictures of those I know who are living with AIDS. The pictures of individuals on this post are those who live with the reality of this disease every day. The picture below is of some friends who work hard to help those who are suffering from HIV/AIDS to regain their life through the use of anti-retroviral drugs.
HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, but there aren't nearly enough anti-retroviral drugs to go around to help all those who are infected. Please keep the victims of HIV/AIDS in your prayers today and every day. And if you're so moved, consider donating to the work of my friends at Global Strategies for HIV/AIDS Prevention, who help the poorest of the poor to prevent and fight this dreadful disease.