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October 29, 2005

Is DNA foolproof?

It sounds like an open-and-shut-case. A clear DNA match is made between semen from a serious sexual assault and a blood sample from a man known to police. But he did not commit the assault. Years earlier he had received a bone marrow transplant from the real perpetrator, and in doing so, inherited some of his DNA. Cases such as this are rare, but as forensic DNA databases grow and more people undergo bone marrow transplants, the risk of a miscarriage of justice increases...

Read the rest here.

Moral: Always be prepared to question the conventional wisdom of your time.

Posted by gary at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

Keeping it Succinct - The Bible in 378 words

The Guardian recently reproduced the text of a summarised bible, authorised by the Church of England, in which the text is reduced to fewer than 400 words. Crace has adopted and adapted the story format, using some interesting and quaint (from an Australian perspective) British expressions. Some of it sounds a little sarcastic/cynical along the way. It is interesting that he truncates the story with the ascension of Jesus.

The church has endeavoured to summarise the bible many times throughout history: witness the creeds and church doctrinal statements which litter its pages. Crace's use of the narrative form is to be commended.

In 378 words, what would you consider important/essential and what would you deem less relevant? When you've made up your mind, check out the text of Crace's bible in the extended entry.

Here is John Crace's Bible in 378 words:

God created heaven and earth in six days. He then made Adam, quickly followed by Eve when he saw that Adam was bored. Their descendants proved a real disappointment, so he flooded the world and started again.

But God continued to have a lot of problems. Abraham was OK, but Jacob cheated on his brother and Joseph was such a prima donna that his brothers sold him into slavery. Moses tried to lay down the law but it took an almighty strop for anyone to notice. Joshua killed a lot of people; so did Gideon; in fact most of the judges and kings were lying psychopaths. Understandably the Jewish people needed to relax, so they sang psalms to the tune of Kumbaya.

Back in the action and it was still looking grim. A few grumpy prophets apart, it was bloodletting on a grand scale all the way. Things improved when an angel got Mary pregnant in 1BC. Joseph was very understanding about this and nine months later Jesus was born. Various shepherds and wise men paid their respects before Jesus was whisked out of town to escape Herod. He spent the next 30 years chilling out before beginning his ministry when John the Baptist was arrested. Jesus tried to avoid publicity but it was hard to keep a low profile when he was pulling off stunts like raising the dead. So it wasn't long before he collected some disciples, and from these he chose his main crew, the apostles.

Much of Jesus' teaching was captured when he spoke about the meaning of humility during the Sermon on the Mount. Apart from forgiving sins, he also said that anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery. These views made him extremely unpopular, but calling himself the Messiah was the last straw. When he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday he knew his days were numbered. On the Thursday night he was betrayed by Judas and taken before Pontius Pilate, who offered the Jews a chance to reprieve him. They refused and he was crucified and buried. He rose from the dead on Easter Sunday. Jesus reassured his followers he was for real and over the next 40 days he made a number of other appearances before going up to heaven.

Posted by gary at 08:20 PM | Comments (0)

October 17, 2005

It's all been a little quiet over here...

Entries in the blog have been few and far between of late. I am immersed in a research project, perhaps absorbing all my writing energies. I'm not sure how many readers would be interested in the topic, which examines the impact of having an extremely premature infant on the parents and wider family. It's something of a personal journey as well as an academic one, given the arrival of our third child at just over 24 weeks back in 1997.

On the church front we have been studying hell - anticipating summer? - going through scripture from beginning to end, and exploring the journey between. How we moved from the OT Sheol to Gehenna in the new and the version of hell popularly held today has been an interesting discussion. We pause this weekend for the local community festival (Spring Fling) and come back the following week to begin a broader questioning of life after death.

What has been interesting in the discussion on hell has been the discovery of the ways in which The Simpsons pick up and embody much of the popularised teaching on hell, as well as some good biblical examples. Thoughts of the ever-burning tyre dump very much appreciated as a Gehenna-type image brought many smiles and nods.

But the best line comes from the episode Lisa vs The Eighth Commandment when Bart is reproved for using the word "hell". After explaining it was the topic in Sunday Schoo, Bart takes his usual liberties, which prompts Marj to say "Bart, stop swearing. You're not in Sunday School any more!"

Posted by gary at 09:13 PM | Comments (0)

October 07, 2005

The Imp and the Crust

by Leo Tolstoy - A folk tale retold
A poor peasant set out early one morning to plow, taking with him for his breakfast a crust of bread. He got his plow ready, wrapped the bread in his coat, put it under a bush, and set to work. After a while when his horse was tired and he was hungry, the peasant fixed the plow, let the horse loose to graze and went to get his coat and his breakfast

He lifted the coat, but the bread was gone! He looked and looked, turned the coat over, shook it out – but the bread was gone. The peasant could not make this out at all.

“That’s strange,” thought he; “I saw no one, but all the same some one has been here and has taken the bread!”

It was an imp who had stolen the bread while the peasant was plowing, and at that moment he was sitting behind the bush, waiting to hear the peasant swear and call on the Devil.

The peasant was sorry to lose his breakfast, but “It can’t be helped,” said he. “After all, I shan’t die of hunger! No doubt whoever took the bread needed it. May it do him good!”

And he went to the well, had a drink of water, and rested a bit. Then he caught his horse, harnessed it, and began plowing again.
The imp was crestfallen at not having made the peasant sin, and he went to report what had happened to the Devil, his master.

He came to the Devil and told how he had taken the peasant’s bread, and how the peasant instead of cursing had said, “May it do him good!”

The Devil was angry, and replied: “If the man got the better of you, it was your own fault – you don’t understand your business! If the peasants, and their wives after them, take to that sort of thing, it will be all up with us. The matter can’t be left like that! Go back at once,” said he, “and put things right. If in three years you don’t get the better of that peasant, I’ll have you ducked in holy water!”
The imp was frightened. He scampered back to earth, thinking how he could redeem his fault. He thought and thought, and at last hit upon a good plan.

He turned himself into a laboring man, and went and took service with the poor peasant. The first year he advised the peasant to sow corn in a marshy place. The peasant took his advice, and sowed in the marsh. The year turned out a very dry one, and the crops of the other peasants were all scorched by the sun, but the poor peasant’s corn grew thick and tall and full-eared. Not only had he grain enough to last him for the whole year, but he had much left over besides.

The next year the imp advised the peasant to sow on the hill; and it turned out a wet summer. Other people’s corn was beaten down and rotted and the ears did not fill; but the peasant’s crop, up on the hill, was a fine one. He had more grain left over than before, so that he did not know what to do with it all.

Then the imp showed the peasant how he could mash the grain and distill spirit from it; and the peasant made strong drink, and began to drink it himself and to give it to his friends.

So the imp went to the Devil, his master, and boasted that he had made up for his failure. The Devil said that he would come and see for himself how the case stood.

He came to the peasant’s house, and saw that the peasant had invited his well-to-do neighbors and was treating them to drink. His wife was offering the drink to the guests, and as she handed it round she tumbled against the table and spilt a glassful.

The peasant was angry, and scolded his wife: “What do you mean, you slut? Do you think it’s ditchwater, you cripple, that you must go pouring good stuff like that over the floor?”

The imp nudged the Devil, his master, with his elbow: “See,” said he, “that’s the man who did not grudge his last crust!”

The peasant, still railing at his wife, began to carry the drink round himself. Just then a poor peasant returning from work came in uninvited. He greeted the company, sat down, and saw that they were drinking. Tired with his day’s work he felt that he too would like a drop. He sat and sat, and his mouth kept watering, but the host instead of offering him any only muttered: “I can’t find drink for every one who comes along.”

This pleased the Devil; but the imp chuckled and said, “Wait a bit, there’s more to come yet!”

The rich peasants drank, and their host drank too. And they began to make false, oily speeches to one another.

The Devil listened and listened, and praised the imp.

“If,” said he, “the drink makes them so foxy that they begin to cheat each other, they will soon all be in our hands.”

“Wait for what’s coming,” said the imp. “Let them have another glass all round. Now they are like foxes, wagging their tails and trying to get round one another; but presently you will see them like savage wolves.”

The peasants had another glass each, and their talk became wilder and rougher. Instead of oily speeches they began to abuse and snarl at one another. Soon they took to fighting, and punched one another’s noses. And the host joined in the fight, and he too got well beaten.
The Devil looked on and was much pleased at all this.

“This is first-rate!” said he.

But the imp replied: “Wait a bit – the best is yet to come. Wait till they have had a third glass. Now they are raging like wolves, but let them have one more glass, and they will be like swine.”

The peasants had their third glass, and became quite like brutes. They muttered and shouted, not knowing why, and not listening to one another.

Then the party began to break up. Some went alone, some in twos, and some in threes, all staggering down the street. The host went out to speed his guests, but he fell on his nose into a puddle, smeared himself from top to toe, and lay there grunting like a hog.

This pleased the Devil still more.

“Well,” said he, “you have hit on a first-rate drink, and have quite made up for your blunder about the bread. But now tell me how this drink is made. You must first have put in fox’s blood: that was what made the peasants sly as foxes. Then, I suppose, you added wolf’s blood: that is what made them fierce like wolves. And you must have finished off with swine’s blood, to make them behave like swine.”

“No,” said the imp, “that was not the way I did it. All I did was to see that the peasant had more corn than he needed. The blood of the beasts is always in man; but as long as he has only enough corn for his needs, it is kept in bounds. While that was the case, the peasant did not grudge his last crust. But when he had corn left over, he looked for ways of getting pleasure out of it. And I showed him a pleasure – drinking! And when he began to turn God’s good gifts into spirits for his own pleasure – the fox’s, wolf’s and swine’s blood in him all came out. If only he goes on drinking, he will always be a beast!”

The Devil praised the imp, forgave him for his former blunder, and advanced him to a post of high honor.

1886

Original Source

Posted by gary at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

October 06, 2005

Only in.... Britain!

The Breakout Trust is sending a film to every primary school in Britain after hearing of a boy who asked his teacher why Mary and Joseph named their baby boy after a swear word. The film, entitled It's a Boy! is an animated feature, which can be previewed at its web site. The strong British accents might take a bit of getting used to...

Posted by gary at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2005

Threshhold of the Future

I read Mike Riddell's Threshold of the Future a couple of years back, and had another look at it recently. It is an insightful book, retaining its value with the passing of years. Two aspects are worth noting here:

His view of holiness as relational rather than related to separation raises some interesting questions. Holiness is not a function of what we do or do not do, but of our relationship with God – it is based in identity, not behaviour. It is Christ within who makes us holy. Jesus’ presence in many places traditionally considered unholy is explained by the fact that his holiness is not diminished by his contact with the unholy. Holiness is tied to the presence of God, not places, or events.

The second aspect comes from a couple of conversations and reflections, as much as from the book. It is the reality of incarnation, and its implications. To incarnate faith and spirituality in language and body (perhaps that is the wrong order) means to take on the form and culture of the community in which one incarnates. Thus to incarnate is to risk losing one’s identity. To be seen as risking one’s life is of the essence of Christ, not the absence.

One note in Riddell’s book jumped at me - he talks of ‘the more blasphemous suggestion that God causes or at least willingly permits such ravages” (horrendous suffering). While I understand the emotion of this comment, for me it lacks integrity with the biblical data, and the theological implications. If God has not the power to halt or limit suffering, then how can he redeem it? If he is powerless to act in the face of it, how does he find power to act in the wake of it? To acknowledge the sovereignty of God in the face of suffering means also to acknowledge his sovereignty in every part of it. That sovereignty therefore places some responsibility at his feet for its occurrence – a feature of the psalms, which place the responsibility squarely at God’s feet, and surrenders afresh to God and His purposes. This is not to say that God has caused the suffering, only that he has failed to restrain it. Either way he is complicit in it, but not without the ability to redeem it. God is either sovereign or he is not. To reach the latter conclusion has far-reaching implications, beyond the apparent horror of implicating God in tragedy. Did not Jesus indicate that the power was his to stop his own crucifixion? Yet he did not. Why? Through that suffering would come a greater good. Admittedly, we have done much to downplay that suffering in the light of its redemptive symbolism, yet one cannot exist without the other.

Food for thought...

Posted by gary at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

October 03, 2005

Jim Knight - Life Member

Congratulations to Jim Knight, longstanding member of our community (and Deacon) on his appointment to Life Membership of the Kangaroos (North Melbourne Football Club) in the AFL. Jim has served faithfully as a trainer for 25 years, and was honoured alongside club playing legends Ross Glendinning and Brent Harvey at the Best and Fairest count. Jim's modest, unassuming and caring manner is a real blessing to us, and to many.

Congratulations Jim!

Posted by gary at 09:07 PM | Comments (0)

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