China plans its own ‘Christian theology’


CHINESE authorities say they may try to create a theology based on Christianity – that integrates the religion with Chinese culture and is compatible with the country’s socialist beliefs..

Wang Zuoan, a senior official for religious affairs, says China supports the development of Christianity within the country. But “the construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition,” the state-backed China Daily website reports. His comments came at a conference in Shanghai.

Official 2010 figures put the number of Christians in state-sanctioned churches at 23 million believers, but The Pew Research Center estimated that 58 million Protestants in the country practiced the religion in 2011, along with 9 million Catholics counted the year before. The country also has vast numbers of believers who meet in secret.

Some experts say the total could be more than 100 million.

But China’s ruling Communist Party is officially atheistic and relations with the church have sometimes been strained. People are only supposed to worship in places approved by the government, but many underground churches operate in China too.

In Wenzhou – sometimes called China’s Jerusalem, where more than one in 10 people are Protestant – state authorities are cracking down on what they say are illegal church buildings, taking away or threatening to remove crosses at more than 130 Protestant churches and demolishing some entirely, the Taipei Times says. It cites experts and church leaders saying they believe the authorities are alarmed by the quick growth of Protestantism in the area, and are trying to suppress it.
Experts and church leaders say the government, which is skilled at heavy-handed persecution of religious believers, is scared by the massive growth of the Christian faith.

Least educated more likely to leave religion, study claims

Common wisdom is that higher education leads people way from organized religion. But according to a new study, that may no longer be true, Religion News Service reports.

Today, it’s the least-educated members of Generation X — people born roughly between 1965 and 1980 — who are “most likely to leave religion,” said Philip Schwadel, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

His study is published in the August edition of Social Forces.

Atheism as a Religion: A Book Excerpt

One sacred symbol to atheists is the ‘A’ that symbolizes atheism. Three ‘A’ symbols are prominent in atheism. One ‘A’ symbol was created in 2007 by Atheist Alliance International and has a circle around it. The circle is meant to symbolize the unity of all atheists and the inclusion of all other atheist symbols. As you can tell, not only are these symbols for atheism, there is atheist religious symbolism within them that only atheists or those who study atheism know.

A second popular ‘A’ symbol was created by Richard Dawkins and is a red letter ‘A’ on a right leaning slant. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) has adopted this symbol to represent it when they set up monuments to atheism. The third sacred ‘A’ symbol was created by the American Atheists and is placed in the middle of an atomic circle. The organization chose this as their symbol in 1963 to demonstrate their faith that science can save and free mankind. The letter ‘A’ stands in the middle of the atomic sign but rather than meaning atheism, it represents the first letter of the country in which the group is located. This obviously leads to problems since ‘A’ could stand for Austria, Algeria, Australia, and so on, but I suppose they weren’t thinking that far ahead. The Atomic A, as it is known, is allowed on gravestones of U.S. military personnel who are atheists. Atheism is so sacred to some atheists that they want the atheist ‘A’ to represent them to the world after their death.

Many atheists demonstrated just how sacred the symbol ‘A’ is to them in the Christmas of 2013. Since my hometown city of Chicago allows a Hanukkah Menorah and Nativity scene to display on government property during the holiday season, the atheists asked to display their own religious symbol so the government wouldn’t give the appearance to be endorsing one religion or the other. The monument the Freedom From Religion Foundation chose was a giant Richard Dawkins letter ‘A’ which stood 8 feet tall and lit up red at night for all to see. Countless atheists showed respect for the ‘A’ by making a pilgrimage to the site where the ‘A’ was displayed and having their picture taken with the ‘A’ which I’m sure will be kept as a cherished keep sake for many. Still, the giant red A was not enough. They also advocated for their atheist faith by erecting a sign that read, “There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

The atheist monument is further proof that atheism is a religion and in direct competition with theist religions for followers. Moreover, they have gone beyond telling people what they stand for and actually attack what others believe in. The FFRF sign is incredibly hateful towards all religions and actively tries to demean God and faith. The FFRF and many secular organizations like them are anti-faith, anti-God, and anti-religion. It is not enough for them to have their symbol and state what they believe in, as the Christian and Jewish symbols do. The FFRF must go one further to state what they dislike about other faiths. I just can’t imagine a Christian nativity scene ever placing a sign next to the nativity stating something cruel and hateful towards other religious faiths. For some reason, atheists at FFRF can still sleep at night doing this. This speaks very poorly of the character of leaders and members of the group. The positive message within atheism must be very weak if they must resort to such hateful, negative tactics.

An additional religious symbol is the atheist Darwin fish. The fish was traditionally a symbol of Christianity for early Christians to recognize each other and since many of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen who he would transform into ‘fishers of men.’ The atheists have usurped the symbol to declare their belief that Darwin’s theory of evolution proves God doesn’t exist. Since the fish is a creature from the natural world, it made for an easy transition to a symbol for atheism. Atheist’s display the fish with the word ‘Darwin’ across the middle or with feet on the bottom and proudly wear it on t-shirts and bumper stickers. While it may have started as a parody on the Christian fish symbol, it is now an easy way for atheists to recognize each other, mission to non-atheists, and show their gratitude and respect to the person whose scientific work they believe is the foundation for much of their atheist faith, Charles Darwin.

Many more, less popular symbols exist including the empty set symbol of mathematics, the invisible pink unicorn, and the flying spaghetti monster. As the atheist religion continues to fortify itself certain symbols will likely tend to dominate as they work for uniformity and cohesion amongst all atheists.

Atheists are also installing their own religious monuments across the United States. In July of 2013 the American Atheists erected a monument at a Florida courthouse that had allowed the displaying of the Ten Commandments. Ken Loukinen, an American Atheists director of state and regional operations stated “Christianity has had an unfair privilege for at least the last 150 years. We want to level the playing field by stripping them of privilege, and bringing them to equality with all other ideologies.” The group has said they will erect 50 more monuments in other locations where the Ten Commandments sit on government land. As Ken Loukinen admitted, the monuments are an effort for the faith of atheism to compete with the other religious faiths.

The monument has the atomic symbol with the letter ‘A’ in the middle to represent the group and atheism. A quote on the monument states, “An atheist believes a hospital should be built instead of a Church.” Little do they acknowledge it was religious temples in Greece, Egypt and other places that first served as hospitals, the numerous hospitals built by Christian charities in the United States, and that atheists have yet to build a hospital in the USA. In the article, the atheists are very explicit about where their priorities are: building 50 more religious monuments to atheism. Perhaps a better quote for the atheist monument would read, “An atheist is someone who says they want a hospital in place of a Church, but then settles for erecting a religious monument to atheism instead.” Not soon after this monument was erected, the Sunday Assembly began its cross-country trip across America raising money for…the atheist Church. Atheists may say they want a hospital instead of a Church, but as atheism in practice demonstrates, their first priorities are monuments and places of atheist worship.

This is an excerpt from the newly released book, Atheism As A Religion: An Introduction to the World’s Least Understood Faith, by Mike Dobbins.

Irreverent wits


THE best bit of unintentional spiritual humor I have heard is the last act of Empedocles, the fifth century Greek philosopher.
He so desired to be thought of as a god, he threw himself into the crater of Mt Etna so he might vanish from the world completely and thus lead men to believe he had achieved immortality.
Unfortunately, the volcano defeated this wish by throwing out one of his sandals.

Another last act story concerns the French Jesuit Dominique Bouhours, who was a strict grammarian – to the end.
On his deathbed, in 1702, his last words were: “I am about to – or I am going to – die. Either expression is correct.”

The best wit is unexpected, even by the one who delivers it.
William Lawrence, a respected American bishop, once came on a man swearing profusely as he tried to remove a flat tyre from the rim.
“Have you tried prayer my good man,” suggested the bishop.
The man immediately fell to his knees, clasped his hands together and lifted his eyes to Heaven.
He then picked up the tyre lever, inserted it and the tyre popped off.
“Well I’ll be Goddamned,” exclaimed the bishop.

Atheists Argue That They’re a ‘Religious Minority’


A HOLY war is breaking out between an atheist group in Florida and local politicians who reportedly contend that nonbelievers do not qualify under the umbrella of eligible individuals invited to deliver prayers before government meetings.

Following the Supreme Court’s recent Greece vs. Galloway decision that validates invocations at public meetings so long as citizens of all perspectives are invited to pray, David Williamson, leader of the Central Florida Freethought Community, wrote a letter to the Brevard County Board of County Commissioners asking if a member of his organization could “pray” at a future meeting.

“Note that Humanism is recognized as a religion under the First Amendment in numerous cases and excluding a particular faith group from consideration is unconstitutional” he said.

But Mary Bolin Lewis, chair of the commission, reportedly said in a draft letter yet to be sent to Williamson that the atheist group, which is a chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation and an affiliate of the American Humanist Association, doesn’t qualify and can, instead, speak for three minutes during the public comment portion at the end of these meetings.

Lewis added that invocations are for members of the “faith community,” according to Florida Today.

Williamson is pushing back, accusing the commission of discrimination and describing the Central Florida Freethought Community as a “minority religion.”

If atheism gets accepted as a religion it will only add fuel to the argument that atheism is a belief system based on faith

Spring has sprung early


SPRING pays no attention to calendars. Spring ambles in whenever she’s ready and this year she’s come early.

The neighbourhood is already ablaze with blossoms and fresh green tendrils. The soil smells different and the light is somehow more golden.

Henry David Thoreau reckoned you could measure the state of your health by your response to spring. If the prospect of an early morning walk in the sunshine and the warbling of a bluebird did not thrill you, you should check your pulse.

The poet Wallace Stevens said spring was “abhorrent to nihilists’’ _ those who think life has no meaning, purpose or intrinsic value. Spring is too full of hope. Too full of signs of God.

Scientists have found that migrating songbirds can get to their breeding grounds in spring in astonishingly quick time, with some traveling up to 580 kms a day. They have a built-in God-given instinct.

Another team of international researchers traced changes in the bird’s brain and found that cells near the pituitary gland release a hormone during spring in readiness for attracting mates.

But spring can be dangerous for non-singing humans. Suicide rates go up in spring, according to a European study.

One theory suggests the reasons are biological, with the change of season after a period of prolonged darkness provoking some as yet unknown neurochemical imbalance.

Another theory is that seeing other people who appear happy may be especially hard for some to take at this time of year.

Despite economic crisis , wars and terrorism in the Middle East, personal tragedies, cancers and air crashes, spring always comes. The leaves always sprout and the tulips always bloom.

Winter is a perfect backdrop for the glory of spring. Spring is a time for rebirth and beginnings. A time to finally deal with regrets.

Regret can be an honest emotion, but not always. We dream of our past and think of the future we could have had. Regret can say that we should have acted differently.

Perhaps that’s right. But often it’s not too late to fulfill the dreams.

Eleanor Roosevelt said the future “belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams’’. She said fear was the dream stopper.

Irrational fear is lit by the fires of Hell. On the other hand, a few small positive choices can change the world

Dancing with ‘the enemy’

Many Israelis and Palestinians would hesitate to come together and talk right now with everything going on in Gaza — let alone dance together. But that is exactly what world champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine is getting them to do.

His students in Jaffa are Jewish and Palestinian Israeli children who come together for a 10-week course in Latin Dance, the trials and tribulations of which are documented in a new film by Hilla Medalia, “Dancing in Jaffa.”

As hard as it might be for some of the kids to get over their religious and cultural differences, plenty of opportunities for discussion and laughter arise as well, as the above trailer depicts.

The miracle of redemption


Redemption is the science and the song of all eternity—Robert Pollok

THE Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom, is one great story of love, forgiveness and redemption The Ten Boom family were imprisoned for work in the underground anti-Nazi movement. Corrie and her sister, Betsie, ended up at Ravensbruck death camp.
Eventually, four members of Corrie Ten Boom’s family would die as a result of imprisonment – her father, Casper, died ten days after his arrest, her nephew was sent to a different camp and was never seen again, her brother contracted spinal tuberculosis and died after the war, and her sister Betsie died in camp.
But Corrie Ten Boom survived her ordeal – not only physically, but spiritually as well. She wrote several best-selling books about redemption and forgiveness.
At 53, Corrie began a worldwide ministry – she travelled to over 60 countries and had numerous speaking engagements.
It was after speaking at a church service one night that she saw a former SS guard from Ravensbruck.
“He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time,” she later wrote. “And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
“He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein’, he said….His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
”Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus’, I prayed, ‘forgive me and help me to forgive him’. I tried to smile, I struggles to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness’..
”As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.”
And so redemption came unexpectedly to Corrie Ten Boom and to the Nazi guard.
There is great power in redemption. We were created to experience it. It is surely the most glorious of all the works of God.

The tale of Con

EVERYONE in the suburb seems to love Con. If you sit down for a chat with him outside the local pub, the conversation will be interrupted frequently by passersby stopping to greet him.
Con has a big smile, a big heart and a gift of the gab. He is one of the most positive people you could meet – a delight to be around.
It takes him a while to get down the main street in his wheelchair decorated in his football team’s colors. Not because he’s slow, but because so many want to stop him to have a chat. And Con, being the generous soul, is always ready to share time with others.
Con was born with cerebral palsy, but blessed with a loving family who encouraged him since he was young and an innate sense of his own worth, he has learned, in a sense, to embrace the disability.
“I never have walked so I don’t miss it,” he says.” “You go one of two ways when you have something like this – you can become bitter or get on with life and enjoy it”
I think Con is a great example of redemption. Born with a disability that could have crushed him, he made it a bridge instead of a wall. And that’s why he inspires others.
Redemption is the cornerstone of most of the major faiths, and particularly Christianity. Redemption shines all around us as the example of God’s grace.
Experience might indicate that some things, some people can’t change. But faith teaches us that it anything is possible. That God is at work in and around us and that people and situations can be transformed. We can all be rescued. If we choose to.
Hope gives us the power to look beyond circumstances that otherwise appear hopeless.

Student punished for saying ‘bless you’

A high school student in Tennessee claims she was suspended after saying, “bless you” to another student in class.

According to Tennessee outlet WMC-TV, Dyer County high school student Kendra Turner was reprimanded after she said, “bless you” to a student who had sneezed.

“She said [the teacher] that we’re not going to have godly speaking in her class and that’s when I said we have a constitutional right,” said Turner to the outlet.

After Turner defended her actions, she said she was sent to see an administrator and given an in-school suspension. Students in the class later sent the outlet a picture of a list of words the teacher had banned from the classroom. “Bless you” was on the list, along with “dumb” and “stupid.”

The school has not responded .

Thinking it through: The atheist dilemma


Near the end of his life, existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre told his friend, the ex-Communist Pierre Victor: “I do not feel that I am the product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God.”

Pope Francis hints at early death or retirement

POPE Francis, 77, is one of the hardest-working world leaders, rarely taking breaks or vacations despite a punishing schedule. It appears that this lifestyle could be taking its toll, as the pope told reporters during a press conference that he feels he may only have a few more years left to live.

On his way back from a trip to Korea, Pope Francis told journalists aboard the papal plane that he is able to cope with his immense popularity because he knows that it will not last forever. In the full transcript provided by America Magazine, the pope said, “Interiorly, I try to think of my sins, my mistakes, so as not to think that I am somebody. Because I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father.”

Though he has not previously spoken publicly about his long-term physical health, the Guardian reported that a Vatican source said that he has told those close to him that he may only have a few years left in his life.

In response to a question about his busy schedule, the pope admitted that he has to be more careful about not becoming overworked.

“Yes, it is true, I had to cancel [engagements],” Pope Francis said. “The day I should have gone to the Gemelli [hospital], up to 10 minutes before I was there, but I could not do it. It is true, they were seven very demanding days then, full of engagements. Now I have to be a little more prudent.”

Pope Francis also addressed the prospect of his potential retirement, which could make him just the second pope to retire in over 600 years, following the resignation of Pope Benedict XIV, now known as the Pope emeritus. Pope Francis said:

“I think that the emeritus pope is already an institution because our life gets longer and at a certain age there isn’t the capacity to govern well because the body gets tired, and maybe one’s health is good but there isn’t the capacity to carry forward all the problems of a government like that of the church. I think that Pope Benedict made this gesture of emeritus popes. May, as I said before, some theologian may say this is not right, but I think this way. The centuries will tell us if this so or not. Let’s see.

But you could say to me, if you at some time felt you could not go forward, I would do the same! I would do the same. I would pray, but I would do the same. He [Benedict] opened a door that is institutional, not exceptional.”

This isn’t the first time that he has talked about retirement. In May, he said that he thinks that “Benedict XVI is not a unique case.”

Still groovin at Woodstock

FORTY-FIVE years ago- about a month after the U.S. sent a man to the moon, and as the Vietnam War was still raging – 500,000 people gathered For three days for the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair – billed as “three Days of Peace and Music”.

There were surprisingly few episodes of violence. A number of musicians performed songs expressing their opposition to the Vietnam War, a sentiment that was enthusiastically shared by the vast majority of the audience. Later, the term “Woodstock Nation” would be used as a general term to describe the youth counterculture of the 1960s.

Woodstock 1969 showcased such talent as the Grateful Dead, Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Santana, Janis Joplin, The Who, Sha Na Na and Jimi Hendrix.

And a very young Joe Cocker.

No More Christian Nice Guy

YOU have to wonder why so many atheists and non-believers are obsessed with Jesus.
They keep trying to put Christ back in his tomb, but he won’t stay there
It’s clear from the history that Jesus wasn’t a wimp. He was fearless and often brash.
His message talks about love. Yet, there is part of Jesus that is often overlooked. He was a tough guy who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind or face danger.
John Coleman, in his book The Unexpected Teachings of Jesus, points out that Jesus’s teachings were provocative and challenging, often making his listeners uncomfortable. Too many people sanitised Jesus and his message, Coleman wrote.
“We try to make Jesus cuddly,” he said.
In his book No More Christian Nice Guy, Paul Coughlin wondered what Jesus would say if he turned up unannounced in some of our churches today. Coughlin said Jesus might use some of the language quoted in the Bible. He might call some church people “hypocrites” and “white-washed tombs”.
“Given how nice the church expects Christians to be, I think we’d rush the pulpit and wrest the microphone from his hand.. ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk,’ we’d mutter scornfully. We’d wag our fingers, reminding him of the supreme importance placed on manners and appearances in this holy place. Some women, reaching for soap bars to wash out his mouth, would recite our unofficial church motto: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, Jesus, don’t say it at all’.”
Coughlin said not so long ago he would have joined the crowd in shushing Jesus. “That’s because I believed in a Savior who doesn’t really exist. Many of us believe in a wooden Jesus who was perpetually sombre, consistently robotic, consummately nice. He wouldn’t think of hurling sarcasm at anyone; his momma raised a Nice Boy with impeccable manners. Many sermons we hear are designed to make Jesus appear always approachable, always calm, and endlessly patient. That’s fiction right up there with The Da Vinci Code; this mild Jesus has more to do with Eastern mysticism than with the gospel record. “
The real Jesus, according to Coughlin and many others, did not remain “above it all,” emotionally hovering above us silly little humans. He got down in the muck and mire of life with us. He really lived; he really felt eye-watering joy and soul-crushing pain. He didn’t assume the Lotus, drinking tea and finding us mildly amusing while trying to clear his head of conflict and division. Jesus, the dissident, brought the world both–the kind of conflict and division needed to shake things up for our own good..

One in 10 do not have a close friend and even more feel unloved, survey finds

MILLIONS of people in the UK do not have a single friend and one in five feel unloved, according to a survey published by the relationship charity Relate.

According to The Guardian, one in 10 people questioned said they did not have a close friend, amounting to an estimated 4.7 million people in the UK may be leading a very lonely existence.

Ruth Sutherland, the chief executive of Relate, said the survey revealed a divided nation with many people left without the vital support of friends or partners.

While the survey found 85% of individuals questioned felt they had a good relationship with their partners, 19% had never or rarely felt loved in the two weeks before the survey.

“Whilst there is much to celebrate, the results around how close we feel to others are very concerning. There is a significant minority of people who claim to have no close friends, or who never or rarely feel loved – something which is unimaginable to many of us,” said Sutherland.

“Relationships are the asset which can get us through good times and bad, and it is worrying to think that there are people who feel they have no one they can turn to during life’s challenges. We know that strong relationships are vital for both individuals and society as a whole, so investing in them is crucial.”

Did this Robin Williams tribute go too far?


AS fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’s death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — best known, in many circles, as the people behind the Oscars — sent out an image (above) that some considered close to crossing the line.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that the “Genie, you’re free” image was not an ideal memorial for Robin Williams.

“If it doesn’t cross the line, it comes very, very close to it,” Moutier said when asked if the image violated “public health standards for how we talk about suicide.” “Suicide should never be presented as an option. That’s a formula for potential contagion.”

More than 270,000 people have shared the tweet, which means that, per the analytics site Topsy, as many as 69 million people have seen it.

The problem? It violates well-established public health standards for how we talk about suicide.

Moutier was referring to a well-documented phenomenon, better-known as “copycat suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way. Adolescents are most at risk of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like AFSP have also become particularly attentive to the role the Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.

The starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option, presents suicide in too celebratory a light, Moutier said.

Moutier has some advice for organizations and individuals talking about Williams’s death online: Be sure to acknowledge that suicide has underlying issues — and those issues can be addressed. The focus, she adds, should be on his incredible life. It certainly shouldn’t celebrate or glorify how he died.

If God texted the 10 commandments


Here in text shorthand are the 10 commandments as they may appear on modern Moses’ mobile or cellphone.

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.

2. dnt wrshp pix/idols

3. no omg’s

4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)

5. pos ok – ur m&d r cool

6. dnt kill ppl

7. :-X only w/ m8

8. dnt steal

9. dnt lie re: bf

10. dnt ogle ur bf’s m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.

M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.

ttyl, JHWH.

ps. wwjd?

AND meanwhile Blogger Jana Riess has the whole Bible on Twitter. Check The Twible.

Elephants in Galilee?

Detail, elephant mosaic, from the Huqoq Exploration Project, Jod

There are many amazing characters and creatures described in the Hebrew Bible, but elephants are not among them.

Imagine the surprise of a team of archaeologists who were in the midst of their fourth summer of excavations at an ancient synagogue in Israel’s Lower Galilee when they discovered elephants in a mosaic panel where they expected only to find biblical scenes.

There on the floor of a 5th century synagogue in the ancient Jewish village of Huqoq was an entire mosaic panel depicting non-biblical scenes, uncovered for the first time in 1,600 years. Until now, every other decoration archaeologists have discovered on an ancient synagogue has depicted scenes from the Hebrew Bible, as Director of the Huqoq excavations Jodi Magness from the the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) told HuffPost.

Three previous summers of excavations unearthed some fascinating but traditionally biblical discoveries, but during the 2014 dig season Magness and her team discovered an entire mosaic floor panel in the synagogue that depicted a three-part scene, which Magness said the creators likely intended as a story-telling decoration.

“The three registers probably depict a story that was meant to be ‘read’ from bottom to top,” Magness told HuffPost, “with the top register representing the culmination of the story.”

At the bottom of the panel is a depiction of a dying soldier pierced by a spear and holding a shield and a dying bull, who is also pierced by spears. The middle section shows a row of male figures dressed in ceremonial white tunics and mantles, Magness said, each framed by an arch. The central figure is elderly and bearded and holds what Magness said appears to be a scroll. The other men are young and hold swords or daggers.

At the top of the panel there are two large, bearded male figures depicted in the center. One is a Greek military commander and ruler, which Magness said is indicated by his elaborate military attire, purple cloak and corded diadem, leading a bull by the horns. The other is an elderly bearded man — apparently the same one depicted in the middle scene. To the left of the elderly man are young men in white tunics and mantles, as in the middle section. To the right of the commander is a row of soldiers and, surprisingly, battle elephants with shields tied to their sides.

Shut up and listen

ALBERT Einstein was a late talker. He was four before he uttered a word. According to one story, surely apocryphal, at the dinner table one evening, he finally broke his long silence: “The soup is too hot,” he complained. His parents, greatly relieved, asked him why he had never spoken before. “Because,” he replied, “up to now everything has been in order.”

Some silences are too full for words. The medieval mystic Meister Eckhard once suggested that nothing so much resembled the language of God as silence.

Sarah Maitland noted in her book A Book Of Silence that Christian scholars in the Middle Ages argued that the devil’s basic strategy was to bring human beings to a point where they are never alone with their God, nor ever attentively face to face with another human being.
We have forgotten the beauty and power of silence.

Jesus frequently headed away from the crowds to find some solitude and peace to just pray.

Silence does not come easily.. There are so many noisy external factors around us that are almost beyond our control. New technology keeps the noise right at everyone’s fingertips each and every moment. Our lives continue to get busier and busier.

This does not mean that silence is unattainable. It merely means that we have to be intentional about seeking it out.

Mahatma Gandhi used to have “silent Mondays” when he would not speak and avoid anyone who wanted to converse with him.
Perhaps that’s a bit extreme. Finding the silence starts with perhaps spending four or five minutes in the morning without turning on any noisemakers – including family members – and just listening..

Some things take time. We have to learn to shut up and listen.

Our musical great dies

HE had a uniquely Australian sound and became our most acclaimed contemporary composer.

Peter Sculthorpe, who died this weekend, had a distinctly emblematic Australian voice that reflected the sparseness of our landscape. It resonated both at home and internationally.

I had the privilege to interview Sculthorpe and found him to be a charming, imaginative, humble man with a beautiful artistic spirit.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s classical music critic Peter McCallum said today that Sculthorpe’s passing was a loss for the music world. “His charm mixed with an instinct for austerity, spareness and an imagination for the sounds of a lonely Australian place created a uniquely distinctive musical voice.”

“Sculthorpe was the first Australian composer to create a distinctly Australian sound and style . Before Sculthorpe, most educated Australians could not have named an Australian composer. His genial influence on students and composers encouraged generations of composers to look inward rather than abroad to discover their own voice,” said McCallum

Here’s a brief example of this great man’s work. There’s plenty more on youtube if you wish to liste n

Monkey in selfie copyright battle


A WILDLIFE photographer is taking legal action to reclaim the copyright on a selfie that a cheeky monkey took using his camera.

British photographer David Slater was on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2011 to snap the crested black macaque when one of the animals made off with his camera.

Mr Slater recovered the camera to discover hundreds of “selfies”, including one of a grinning female macaque.

The image quickly spread around the world, appearing on websites, newspapers, magazines and television shows.

But Mr Slater now faces a legal battle with Wikimedia Commons, a copyright-free online collection of more than 22 million images and videos that can be used by anyone without paying royalties, London’s Telegraph reports.

A recent transparency report by the company detailing removal requests shows editors decided Mr Slater did not own the copyright because it was the monkey, not the man, who pushed the shutter.

Why Christ, Mao And The Buddha Are Making A Comeback In China


THE dominant political narrative in China today is one of resounding triumph: targets for economic growth achieved, rival countries overtaken, an Olympics successfully hosted. Yet in the telling of a philosophy professor at a prominent Shanghai university, many of these supposed victories have proven hollow for the Chinese people.

“On the surface we’ve achieved the goals, but no one is happy,” the professor, who goes by the English name Luke, told The WorldPost. “There’s no love, no hope. For more than 100 years we Chinese have been trying to catch up with Western countries. We want science, technology and military power. But the most important thing is the soul of the culture. The mind is based on the soul, and we’ve lost our souls.”

Luke, who asked that his Chinese name not be used because he worships in one of China’s many illegal underground churches, isn’t alone in his concern for the state of the country’s soul. As a convert to Christianity, he is one of a growing number of Chinese who are turning to a variety of faiths as they grapple with what they say is a gaping moral abyss in society.

“People today are afraid of showing ×love, afraid of being laughed at by other people,” Luke lamented. “That spells the end of society.”

China’s Christian population has been expanding at rates that rival its awe-inspiring GDP growth, with one scholar predicting that by 2030 China will be home to more Christians than any other country on earth. Many Chinese are also seeking solace in traditional belief systems such as Buddhism and Confucianism, in what they describe as a reaction to China’s transformation from a poor agricultural society to an urban-industrial powerhouse. Yet others have found spiritual comfort in a return to Communist ideology and view Mao Zedong, former chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, as a savior who will help them revive communal bonds.

“Many people perceive a moral and spiritual crisis in China today,” wrote the editors of the Review of Religion and Chinese Society, a new academic journal dissecting China’s religious revival. “The foundation of a better future for China is believed by many people to be a spiritual renewal.”

The Cultural Revolution robbed China of a decade of development, demonized traditional Chinese religious practices — and, in the process, discredited Maoism for millions. Since then, 35 years of economic reform have more than quintupled both rural and urban income levels. But China and its people are currently at the “lowest of lows,” according to Luke.

Asked to identify the low point for Chinese society, Luke and many other Chinese point to Oct. 13, 2011. That was the day Wang Yue, the 2-year-old daughter of migrant shopkeepers in southern China, wandered into an alley behind her father’s store and was run over by two vehicles. For seven minutes she lay crying and bleeding in the street as 18 pedestrians, one by one, delicately made their way around her body without doing anything to help. It wasn’t until a woman scavenging for trash came upon her mangled body that Wang was taken to a hospital, where she died eight days later.

The entire event was captured on closed-circuit television, and this bone-chilling display of indifference to human suffering was the second most viewed video of the year in China. What became known as the “little Yue Yue incident” stirred up a wave of soul-searching and hand-wringing among Chinese people, and strengthened Luke’s conviction that China needs God’s grace.

Police search for ‘Holy Grail’

BRITISH police raided an English country pub this week in search of a stolen wooden relic believed by some to be the Holy Grail – a cup from which Jesus is said to have drunk at his final meal before crucifixion.

The Grail has captivated religious experts for centuries, spawning myriad theories about its location and inspiring numerous fictional accounts from the Middle Ages onwards.

The object of the police search, which was unsuccessful, was a frail wooden bowl known as the Nanteos Cup that has been attributed with healing powers since the 19th century, attracting pilgrims and others who believe it may be the Holy Grail itself.

After receiving a tip-off, a team of eight officers and a police dog arrived on Sunday morning at the Crown Inn, a village pub in the rural English county of Herefordshire.

“They turned the place upside down. They came with fiber optic cameras to look in all the corners and nooks and crannies, and under the floorboards … they were clearly serious about it,” the pub’s landlady, Di Franklyn, said.

Police said the relic, a dark wooden cup kept inside a blue velvet bag, had been stolen from a house in the area about a month ago. Photographs available online show a bowl-shaped vessel with around half its side missing.

The cup takes its name from Nanteos Mansion, a country house in Wales where the vessel is reported to have been stored until 1952 after 16th-century monks fleeing King Henry VIII’s dissolution of England’s monasteries sought refuge there.

The cup was said to have been brought to Britain after Jesus’ death by Joseph of Arimathea, the biblical figure who provided Christ with a tomb and, according to legend, brought Christianity to Britain.

It’s bad luck to be superstitious


WE humans are a funny lot. When I was growing up even the non religious carried little St Christopher medals in their cars as some sort of superstitious protection from harm. Even after the Vatican ‘de-sainted’ Christopher, on the grounds that he had never really existed anyway, the medals still sold well.
A US company is selling a toaster that takes your daily bread and burns the image of Jesus or the Virgin Mary onto it. It’s a success. The inventor hopes to expand by introducing more religious icons.
In India, owls are in danger of becoming extinct because the superstitious believe wearing parts of the bird around their necks will ward off bad spirits.
An Associated Press poll found that one in five people in western nations admit to being at least somewhat superstitious and the most likely admitted superstition was finding a four-leaf clover.
All religious beliefs and practices may be considered superstition by unbelievers
But another poll showed that traditional Christians are about four times less likely than agnostics/atheists to believe in astrology, pseudo science and “luck”.
Belief in superstition seems to have little to do with intelligence or status. President Franklin D Roosevelt refused to sit at a table with thirteen guests, President Woodrow Wilson believed that 13 was his lucky number. Indeed, on one occasion, Wilson ordered a ship to slow down – so that he could arrive in Europe on the 13th of the month.
Famed tenor Enrico Caruso’s life was ruled by superstitions. He refused to travel on Fridays and insisted on slipping a coin into his right-hand pocket before donning a new suit.
Although he smoked up to 60 cigarettes a day, he was convinced that he could protect his health by keeping a dried anchovy suspended over his chest, hanging from a necklace
And many avoid walking under ladders because it is “bad luck” and hold their breath when driving by cemeteries.
The New Age movement carries the silliness to extremes. It teaches that crystals have all kinds of powers when, in reality, they are only pretty paperweights.
Jesus recognized that superstition was all about ignorance and fear.
The religious leaders at Jesus’ time had an immensely complicated system of rituals before meals and even before prayers. Jesus encountered the superstitious and said “Don’t be afraid”.
A belief in superstitions gives people an illusion of control in an uncertain world.
True faith is not about bringing you luck. It is about sharing in the loving relationship that exists between God and his creation. It requires an open mind.
It involves trust but also evidence; it is not, like superstition, blind faith. It is objective faith – the most centered act of the human mind.
Superstition, unlike faith, has no substantial basis; nor are its conclusions reached by logical deductions.
True faith is not the basis of the religion of fear, to protect people from the nightmares of existence, but to awaken people to their greatest dreams. 

Lifestyles of the Rich and Pious

CNN’s Belief Blog has a revealing rundown on the lavish homes of some American Catholic archbishops.

CNN reports that “10 of the 34 active archbishops in the United States live in buildings worth more than $1 million.” The median home value in the U.S. is $174,200.

Not surprisingly, that list includes some of the nation’s most outspoken conservative bishopswho seem to take the whole “prince of the church” thing more literally than some of their fellow prelates. Here’s a rundown:

• New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan lives in this 15,000-square foot neo-Gothic mansion on Madison Avenue appraised at $30 million.


• Cardinal Francis George of Chicago lives in a “one of a kind,” 19-chimneyed mansion in the heart of Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood conservatively valued at $14.3 million. And he is waited on by three nuns who live in a nearby coach house.

• Seattle Archbishop James Sartain lives alone in a charming three-story brick Victorian home valued at $3.84 million.

• Baltimore Archbishop William Lori lives in a 11,5000-square foot historic mansion that dates back to the first Catholic bishop of the United States.

• And l Newark Archbishop John Myers, who has come under fire for the diocese’s failure to supervise a known predator priest and has been an outspoken opponent of John Kerry and other pro-choice Catholics, is adding a $500,000, 3,000-square foot wing to his $800,000, 4,500-square foot weekend/retirement home nestled on 8.2 wooded aces in New Jersey’s tony Hunterdon Country.

He needed the extra space for “an indoor exercise pool”—the house already has a large outdoor pool—“a hot tub, three fireplaces and a library.”

Pope Francis lives here, in a small suite in the Vatican guesthouse.

Francis has talked about a “church which is poor and for the poor.” And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the “psychology of princes.”
“God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!” Francis said in his blueprint for the church.

The Vatican last year fired German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst — aka “The Bishop of Bling” — who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad.

Science Proves: Pop Music Has Actually Gotten Worse


WELL, not worse exactly. That’s subjective. But a wide-ranging study has found that pop songs these days are becoming more and more similar

The study also found that most modern pop songs use less chords and less adventurous melodies than those of the 1960s.

The group of researchers undertook a quantitative analysis of nearly half a million songs to look for widespread changes in music’s character over the years.

The study also found that pitch content has decreased – which means that the number of chords and different melodies has gone down. “Musicians today seem to be less adventurous in moving from one chord or note to another, instead following the paths well-trod by their predecessors and contemporaries,” Scientific American explains.

Joan Serrà, a postdoctoral scholar at the Artificial Intelligence Research Institute of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona, and his colleagues examined three aspects of those songs: timbre (which “accounts for the sound color, texture, or tone quality,” ; pitch (which “roughly corresponds to the harmonic content of the piece, including its chords, melody, and tonal arrangements”); and loudness.

After peaking in the 1960s, timbral variety has been in steady decline to the present day, the researchers found. That implies a homogenization of the overall timbral palette, which could point to less diversity in instrumentation and recording techniques. Similarly, the pitch content of music has shriveled somewhat. The basic pitch vocabulary has remained unchanged—the same notes and chords that were popular in decades past are popular today—but the syntax has become more restricted. Musicians today seem to be less adventurous in moving from one chord or note to another, instead following the paths well-trod by their predecessors and contemporaries.

And music, generally, has become a lot louder in the past half-century. Serrà and his colleagues found that the loudness of recorded music is increasing by about one decibel every eight years.

For years audiophiles have decried the “loudness wars”—the gradual upping of recorded music’s loudness over time, in an apparent effort to grab listeners’ attention. Loudness comes at the expense of dynamic range—in very broad terms, when the whole song is loud, nothing within it stands out as being exclamatory or punchy.


Remembering the One and Only Satchmo

IT’S the birthday of that pioneering jazz musician Louis Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo or Pops. The man who Bing Crosby called “the beginning and the end of music in America.”

It is sometimes claimed that Satchmo, the grandson of former slaves, invented scat singing. As the story goes, he dropped his lyric sheet while recording the hit song “Heebie Jeebies.” Without dropping a beat, he just kept going with what must have seemed as random gibberish. This introduced his musical “language” to millions, inspiring future scatters like Ella Fitzgerald and Bobby McFerrin

Armstrong’s biggest hit What A Wonderful World, was released in 1967, when America’s southern states were fighting desegregation, as the Vietnam War was raging and the Cold War was well underway in Eastern Europe.

And of course the Israelis were at war with their Arab neighbours. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. would both be assassinated the following year.

Hardly a wonderful world! Yet Armstrong explained how he could sing this song – “It seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad, but what we’re doing to it. All I’m saying is: See what a wonderful world it would be, if only we’d give it a chance.”

7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict

BY definition, tribal conflicts thrive and survive when people take sides. Choosing sides in these kinds of conflicts fuels them further and deepens the polarization. And worst of all, you get blood on your hands.

So before picking a side in this latest Israeli-Palestine conflict, consider these 7 questions:

An excerpt:

Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years — more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan.

This doesn’t, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimes outright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world’s opposition to Israel isn’t just about the number of dead.

Yes, there’s an unfair and illegal occupation there, and yes, it’s a human rights disaster. But it is also true that much of the other side is deeply driven by anti-Semitism. Anyone who has lived in the Arab/Muslim world for more than a few years knows that. It isn’t always a clean, one-or-the-other blame split in these situations. It’s both.