August 1st, 2011, by Sean Nixon

There were sighs of relief this week when a  Texas judge ruled in favor of Gov. Rick Perry’s controversial role in a major religious event.

Judge Gray Miller threw out a lawsuit filed by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The organization, which sued Perry, cited that his participation in the upcoming August 6 day of prayer is a clear violation of the separation of church and state.

Billed as ”The Response,” the day is designed to be a time of fasting and prayer in order to seek God’s help in the realm of political life.

While Judge Miller’s ruling states that Gov. Perry’s involvement in the event is constitutional, there are a few gray areas that deserve a closer look. Consider the following.

If Gov. Perry hosted a day of prayer event that was organized with the help of interfaith religious leaders, he would stand a greater chance of making the claim that the event is truly open to everyone who wants to participate. Yet, when the name of Jesus Christ is introduced as the sole name of the one you and others will be praying to, it becomes in fact an exclusionary event. Add to that fact you have a sitting governor endorsing the event and you have a state-endorsed religious ceremony.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation or any other organization has a right to call into question whether or not an elected official is putting a bias towards one religion – be it Christianity or any other religion. In this case, The Freedom From Religion Foundation was right to take legal action against Gov. Perry on this issue.

In the final analysis, I think both Gov. Perry got off lucky on this one.

August 1st, 2011, by Sean Nixon

Parents have long been concerned with the idea of what images their children are exposed to when playing video games. With kids spending exorbitant amounts of time online or gaming, there are concerns about how those images may affect them as they grow up.

Now occasionally, I’ll admit, that I enjoy the battles found in God of War, or going to a buddy’s house to play Halo.  But I’m not 16 anymore, and I’m not the one playing these games for up to 13 hours a week.

So, it’ not too far fetched to believe that parents in the Christian community who have children playing video games want games that, in some way, teach positive lessons and don’t somehow add to the level of chaos that already exists in mainstream pop culture.

Christian groups and game developers came together to discuss the possibility of new game play content and values at the Christian Game Developers Conference held earlier this month.

Taken from the National Journal Community of e-Experts and an excerpt at the Christian Game Developers Conference in July, “We live in a culture that is often being driven by entertainment. Culture is most defined by arts and entertainment because this is where people’s values can be shaped and games can play a major role in reinforcing Christian values,” said Os Hillman, president of  Marketplace Leaders and author of Change Agent.

“I challenge creators to develop games that provide a means of thinking differently by engaging in entertainment that can incorporate wholesome fun and stimulation for the mind, but also stimulate their thinking in new ways.”

For all intents and purposes, I think Mr. Hillman is right, but the final vote will really come down to dollars. If developers can strike the right balance between mayhem and morals, there are huge profits to be made. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait and see if the future of “gaming with a message” actually has a prayer.

Christian video games? Will anyone play them?

August 1st, 2011, by Sean Nixon

Are you a person of faith who invests? Do you know what companies your dollars are supporting? Many individuals each year unknowingly invest their dollars into companies that they may not support.

In an effort to remedy those concerns, one company has decided to take a biblical approach as the basis of their new investment strategy.

Tithe Capital, LLC  is a Christian based investment firm.  The company’s mission is to invest dollars in a Christian values-based manner.

For the record, companies like Tithe Capital have been around for some time, but are beginning to find their place more frequently in the investment market place due to both a real and perceived sense of trust.

Many are happy to invest their dollars into companies they see as morally sound. And, from a business standpoint, there definitely seems to be a market for people of faith who want to invest as well.

Faith based investment firms also provide a different avenue for those looking to invest their earnings, but are leery of so-called greedy tycoons and investors found on Wall Street.

For people looking to investing with firms that will be good stewards of their financial earnings, this may be just what they’ve been waiting for.

It’s really an interesting way to invest one’s money. One that will likely continue to grow for many years to come.

July 28th, 2011, by Sean Nixon

Often times, many people hear reports of anti-Muslim sentiment in communities across America. Members of the Muslim community have unfortunately been ostracized, vilified and, at times, outright hated since the attacks of September 11th.

Arguably, it has been a mountainous walk of faith to show compassion towards people who continue to demean and discriminate against their beliefs.

One can only imagine how difficult it is to walk by faith in a world that looks to condemn or suspect you for your religious beliefs. But what happens when someone takes a persistent level of hatred and puts it into action because of that faith?  How does your faith come into play at that point? Well, one man surprisingly answered that question in a way that should make us all examine what it means to be a person of faith.

Mark Anthony Stroman was sentenced to death for the killing of two people in a Dallas, TX convenience store in 2001. Stroman killed the men out of a spirit of aggression and retaliation just days after the September 11 attacks.

By the time you read this, Stroman will most likely be dead.

The only survivor of Stroman’s attacks was Rais Bhuiyan, a Muslim man. Rais Bhuiyan was shot by Stroman in the face, leaving him partially blind. Reports indicate that Stroman attacked these individuals not just because he was angry, but because he thought they were from the Middle East.

What the gunmen didn’t know is that none of his victims actually were from the Middle East, adding yet another layer of hurt to an already tragic occurrence.

By most accounts, Bhuiyan could have been consumed by grief and agony. Many would think he might turn bitter  because of Stroman’s actions.  But rather than become filled with aggression and seek revenge, Bhuiyan was filled with something else — his faith and God.

Instead of petitioning to have his shooter killed, he lobbied to have him removed from death row — a shocking act of compassion and forgiveness on the part of Bhuiyan.

Bhuiyan credits his faith in God and his Islamic teaching that allow him to show compassion towards Stroman. Many have written on how Bhuiyan’s faith is an illuminating demonstration on what redemption and forgiveness can yield when one’s heart is in the right place.

The larger story is that Bhuiyan’s actions should make us all examine how deep our faith truly is. Do we simply profess our faith and never show it, or do we demonstrate it in times of despair and tragedy?

How well do we really forgive? What lengths would we go to in order to show compassion for someone else’s life when they’ve hurt us? No matter what your religious convictions might be, Bhuiyan’s actions set the bar for us all to remember how powerful faith can be when you put it into action.

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
July 27th, 2011, by Staff

This week, production for Tavis Smiley on PBS began its annual hiatus. Tavis will use the month-long break to not only get some much-needed rest and continue his Foundation’s annual Leadership Institute in Los Angeles, but also to kick off a 15-city national Poverty Tour to raise awareness about the plight of the poor.

Did somebody say something about Tavis getting some much-needed rest?

Our Web site staff did manage to track him down for a few summer reading recommendations. Because Tavis has conversations with so many authors on his television and radio shows, we were curious to know which books he thought we should add to our summer reading lists.

Check out his recommendations below, and be sure to watch his conversation with each author. Tell us what you’re reading this summer as well!

1) The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
This literary phenomenon and New York Times best seller is the story of a poor Black woman whose cancerous cells were used for science without her permission.

“I think that the story had been told over and over in little magazine articles and newspaper articles, and it was always the same little nugget of the story – this one woman’s cells taken without her knowledge – became this important thing in medicine,” says Skloot. “Nobody really saw much; what the story’s about is her family. That moment in history, it’s ethically complicated, but it was really common to take cells without people’s knowledge in the ’50s.”
Watch the full conversation

2) Area 51: An Uncensored History of America’s Top Secret Military Base, by Annie Jacobsen
Jacobsen’s New York Times best seller addresses what is happening at the Nevada air force base and attempts to explain what could be so secretive that U.S. presidents are denied entrance.

According to Jacobsen, “You’ve got all kinds of government presence in the desert, none of which the government will talk about what’s going on there. They still, to this day, will not officially say that Area 51 exists.”
Watch the full conversation

3) Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned, by John Farrell
Focusing on iconic American, Clarence Darrow, Farrell brings to life one of this country’s grandest defense lawyers.

“He had this amazing sense of empathy and compassion,” Farrell says. “When given the choice between taking one route, making a lot of money and joining corporate America or doing something like defending an indigent person who was really stuck, Darrow would come, time and time again, on behalf of … the damned in American life.”
Watch the full conversation

July 19th, 2011, by Sean Nixon

The level of ambiguity in reporting today on a candidate’s faith is providing a unique opportunity for 2012 candidates looking to break free from the noise of a one-size-fits-all Christianity. It provides an opportunity for candidates to have a more candid discussion about their faith and religious beliefs that doesn’t fit that description, but an authentic look at how faith informs them as potential decision makers for our country’s future.

Candidates willing to go beyond soundbytes in their expression of faith will most likely set themselves apart  from an already crowded pack of candidates and may be the sign of leadership and distinction voters today are looking for.

Over at GetReligion.org, reporter Bobby Ross writes about the ambiguous use the term  “evangelical Christian” and how it lacks giving any candidate a real description of his or her faith or religious beliefs. It’s an interesting look at how a multitude of different religious beliefs can be painted with broad strokes — making it all the more important that candidates speak up and share their faith more openly.

So this lack of real specificity in reporting on a candidate’s Christianity or faith may be the answer to some candidates’ prayers. Having the chance to stake out territory in a competitive nomination process is a gift any candidate would hope for. In the coming months, we will all see voters not only get to learn more about their candidate’s faith, but candidates actually feel more comfortable sharing it.

July 9th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

Samantha Celera on Flickr

One of the great things about this Internet age in which we live is the fact that no matter what you’re into, be it model trains or hang gliding or other, weirder things, you’re never more than a few clicks away from a community of like-minded enthusiasts online. Food is and always has been a big interest of mine; so it’s always a bit of a thrill to discover a new culinary blog–of which there are a seemingly endless supply.

In the world of food blogs there are a few different categories. First and foremost are the so-called “food porn” sites, aptly named for their lustrous photos of meals, desserts and beverages. If you’re hungry, these are a good place to start (or not–depending on how hungry you are). There’s Food Porn Daily, which, as its name suggests, features a new semi-erotic gourmet photo every day. Then there’s FoodPorn.net, which is essentially the same thing in a different format. The Perth, Australia-based blog, The Food Pornographer, offers a slightly wider variety of content, as well as commentary on the foods in the pictures and–unlike the other two–an occasional recipe. My favorite, however, is TasteSpotting, which combines artful photography with links to recipes of all the dishes pictured. It’s a great place to get inspired, or just while away a few minutes admiring delicious things. Mmm… squid and watermelon salad.

The second big category is food specialty blogs, which specialize in one food and one food only. There’s Bread Basketcase, devoted entirely to the baking of bread, a disproportionate number dedicated solely to bacon and many more, for everything from cupcakes to oysters. Deserving of a special mention in this category is Murray’s Cheese, run by the famous Greenwich Village fromagerie, which is without a doubt one of my favorite shops in the world.

The third category is the general food enthusiast sort, and these tend to be my favorites, as they combine the best elements of the other two. Of these, I’m quite partial to Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini, a compendium of recipes, anecdotes and photos documenting the author’s adventures in food. Dusoulier, who is now a full-time food writer, lives in Paris and has a life of which I’m more than a little jealous.

Do you have a favorite food blog? Drop me a line if you want to tell me about it!

July 7th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

I’ve been on a bit of a world music kick recently, thanks in no small part to blogs like African Gospel Church and Dream Beach Records, both depositories of unusual and danceable tunes from obscure corners of the globe. It was on the latter that I came across one of the most unusual (and catchiest-sounding) artists yet, Kenya’s Joseph Kamaru, who in his cowboy hat and bolo tie, looks like he stepped out of a Nashville honky-tonk.

Kamaru may or may not ever have been to Nashville, but one thing is for sure: he loves country music, and uses that most-American of genres, along with more traditional Kenyan influences, as inspiration for his work. As Dream Beach points out, much of his music isn’t as blatantly country-influenced as this swinging track, but from the multitude of Kamaru videos on YouTube, it all seems to be pretty swinging.

Called “the king of Kikuru pop,” Kamaru has been recording since the late 1960s and, according to AllMusic.com, became renowned for performing “x-rated, adult only” spectacles, which came to an end when he became a born-again Christian in 1993. Can’t seem to find any of those on YouTube, but perhaps that’s for the best.

 

July 6th, 2011, by Sean Nixon

The Pew Research Center recently released its poll results showing that evangelical leaders are losing their influence in the United States. That’s pretty interesting when you think about the founding of this country that, in part, is set on the idea of a free expression of religion.

However, I can’t say that I’m surprised. Americans have arguably been facing a moral decline for decades and have been seduced by the allure of material possessions and influences that only allow temporary highs.

We live in a culture where, through the use of technology, we can splinter and siphon out what we want to hear, when we want to hear it and who we hear it from. We constantly seem to hear reports about “religious men” found in compromising situations with minors and can’t seem to stem the moral tide of corruption that is constantly eroding our values on a day-to-day basis.

Statistics are only a telling of what has been developing in the country for quite some time. No one should seem surprised or shocked.  But rather than merely look at the headline that brought this news to my attention and ask the question, “What’s going on?” I’d offer a few suggestions for the Americans who, statistically speaking, aren’t listening anymore.

1. Don’t be too quick to write someone off as phony just because they’re an evangelical leader. There’s a true message of God out there, but you can’t hear it if you’re not listening.

2. Don’t allow the trappings of success to steer you away from God. Personal success, at times, can make us pay less attention to the needs of those around us and a bit more selfish and less giving. Sometimes, having it “too good” can lead you to stray from God. When everything is going perfect in your life for too long, and you think it’s because of you and how great you are, it could be setting you up for a false sense of independence from God.

3. Remember that life is short. Scripture points out in James 4: 14 that life is like a vapor that appears for a short time and then vanishes away. So, choose how you spend your time wisely. The voices of bold evangelicals will always be around; you’ll have to do your part to make God a priority in your life.

Will evangelicals increasingly be drowned out in a culture with so many other things fighting for our attention?

STAFF & GUEST BLOG
May 26th, 2011, by Jeremy Freed

Remember in 2003, when Arnold Schwarzenegger was running for governor, how a bunch of women came forward saying he’d groped them and otherwise behaved in a matter unbecoming of a public figure (or a decent human being)? Turns out they may not have been Democrat shills after all. Hunh.

I was living in California at the time and remember being quite surprised that the allegations were so easily and effectively swept under the rug. Even if half of the claims were true, what kind of behavior was that for the leader of America’s most populous state? I wondered why it didn’t bother the people voting for him.

In any case, as we all know, he won. Twice. And most of those women were never heard from again… until now. It seems that the whole secret-lovechild-with-the-housekeeper thing did more than ruin the Governator’s marriage. As a recent post on Jezebel reminds us, the affair with his domestic helper may have been consensual, but that appears to be the exception.

Meanwhile, California Democratic Party Chair Eric Bauman is calling for an investigation into whether Schwarzenegger used government funds to pay off his maid/lover. “During Arnold’s campaign when women came forward and raised issues about his sexual advances and activities he and his minions denied them vociferously and actually accused the women who came forward of being liars and manipulators,” said Bauman, “What a shock that it was we Californians who were lied to and manipulated by Arnold.”

And while this may seem like a nice bit of publicity for one Democratic Chair, it seems to have the ring of truth to it, at least according to this statement from a hotel security officer, who claims to have repeatedly seen Schwarzenegger using government vehicles to transport his mistresses to and from his hotel suite.

It’s hard to know if this scandal will quietly disappear as these things tend to do, but at least those of us who suspected this guy wasn’t on the level can feel slightly vindicated. Even so, it’s not a very satisfying feeling.

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