Archive for July, 2017

Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

— Revelation 22:1-2

(TOOK THIS PHOTO of the Oldest Living Resident of Progresso, a quiet village on a lagoon in far north Belize, in December. Don’t remember his name, but he was 95 or so at the time. He worked in Syracuse, NY, during World War II. He was a very sweet man.)

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O sisters, let’s go down,
Let’s go down, come on down
O sisters, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O brothers, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
Come on, brothers, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O fathers, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O fathers, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O mothers, let’s go down
Let’s go down; don’t you want to go down?
Come on, mothers, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

O sinners, let’s go down
Let’s go down, come on down
O sinners, let’s go down
Down in the river to pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the robe and crown
Good Lord, show me the way!

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Oh wait.

Every week in America seems to get more bizarre than the previous week.

Which is to say that every week has more of the stories that make you go “Wow!”–and not in a good way.

This week was really out there, starting with the Fourth of July.

Public Radio (NPR) observed the day on Tuesday morning by tweeting out the Declaration of Independence, line by line, in 113 consecutive posts.

And for a good long while during the tweeting, a lot of Trump supporters totally lost their minds about it.

Well it does sort of fit him, but–LO!–this wasn’t about Darling Leader.

You’ll recall if you’ve read the Declaration of Independence since your school daze that it includes lines like this:

    He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

    A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Trump supporters who’ve been conditioned to hate all things NPR by Darling Leader jumped to the bizarre conclusion that the tweet, among many others, was NPR trashing Trump!

Others took to social media to report that PBS must have been hacked, since it was posting terrible things about Darling Leader.

You can’t make this stuff up. See more on the story here.

That’s the kind of knee-jerk, reactionary weirdness that makes you go, “Wow!”

The tweeting, by the way, was in keeping with NPR’s “Morning Edition’s” broadcast of a reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 4 each and every year–something the public radio station has done for almost 30 years.

But thousands of conservatives who think of themselves as patriots obviously aren’t very informed patriots when it comes to our nation’s greatest documents.

That said, they would know the Second Amendment in a tweet in a New York Trump Tower minute–the one part of the United States Constitution they know by heart.

But there was another story this week on the Christian front involving the popular retail giant Hobby Lobby, which got into trouble buying and smuggling a huge number ancient artifacts from Iraq.

Steve Green, president of the family-owned Hobby Lobby, is brazenly lying about his defense of him and his family and the company smuggling ancient artifacts out of Iraq by a lot of intentional, crooked means. He would never dream, of course, of robbing Israel of its ancient Christian artifacts because Israel isn’t Iraq.
(Photo by Brianna Bailey /The Oklahoman via AP, File)

Hobby Lobby, which doesn’t open on Sundays in observance of the Sabbath, is of course famously owned by fundamentalist Christian Steve Green and family.

If there were any justice, Green and family members would be in a federal pen with other blatant smugglers–drug smugglers, for example.

Green and company produce films with Evangelical biblical themes and operate a chain of Christian bookstores selling some theologically bizarre Christian books and movies.

The pious family is also spearheading the giant Bible Museum in Washington D.C. Its attractions will include–I am not making this up–a 1,045-pound Bible.(Learn more about it at this Business Insider story.)

This week’s story about Steve Green concerned his getting in hot water with the (Trump) Justice Department for smuggling more than 5,500 ancient artifacts from an unnamed dealer for $1.6 million.

A clay cuneiform tablet, one of the artifacts the owners of Hobby Lobby illegally imported into the United States from Iraq. Hasn’t Iraq suffered enough without rich American Christians stealing its stuff?

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday settled with Hobby Lobby in a sweetheart deal that requires the company to return all of the pieces, and to forfeit to the government an additional $3 million.

That, of course, is pocket change to the Greens and their $3 billion Hobby Lobby company.

This punitive (slap on the wrist) action was taken by the Trump-appointed Attorney General and his prosecutors in New York because the ancient artifacts from Iraq belong to the sovereign nation of Iraq, which has suffered enough at the hands of Americans without an American Evangelical Christian family stealing from it, hasn’t it?

I mean, we just can’t seem to crap on Iraq enough.

* * *

Lest you think this widely reported story about deplorable Holly Hobby and Mr. Green the popular Evangelical Christian is “fake news”–and even Trump can’t dismiss this as so much “fake news”– read the Trump Justice Department’s complaint about HH’s serious illegal smuggling on the Department of Justice page here.

But Mr. Green has his side of the story, of course.

He said that the Hobby chain’s collection of historical Bibles and artifacts was “consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible.” (A passion for the Bible that apparently includes robbing another country of its ancient Christian belongings.)

Of course, Mr. Green and company would never dream of smuggling ancient Christian out artifacts out of Israel, but plundering god-forsaken Iraq is OK.

Anyway, the Hobby Lobby company mission includes a lot of underhanded acts, like using a lot of incredibly blatant deception to get around U.S. Customs to get Green’s bootie into Oklahoma, where God resides when not in D.C at the Bible Museum or of course in the White House.

Green said the company had planned to display the items it bought in various museums and public institutions.

He pleaded ignorance of the law, saying that his family’s company is “new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process.”

He added that “regrettable mistakes” were made and that he should have “exercised more oversight.”

All kinds of crooks make “regrettable mistakes” when they get caught but anyway…….

Green’s defense is so much brazen lying, which the Bible somewhat clearly condemns as, you know… a sin.

Prosecutors noted that in 2010, as a deal for the tablets was being struck, an expert on cultural property law who had been hired by Hobby Lobby warned company executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law. (My italics for emphasis.)

Despite this warning, prosecutors said, Hobby Lobby bought the 5,500-plus artifacts–ancient tablets and clay talismans and so-called cylinder seals–from an unnamed dealer for $1.6 million in December 2010.

And, again, the smuggling required a lot of serious deception to get by US Customs that Green the family had a hand in.

This the kind of story that gives Christianity such a god-awful name.

It’s the kind of story that millions of people who’ve left the church and others who’ve become atheist activists to condemn all people of faith and say, “See! Those Christians are all hypocrites!”

It’s the kind of story that makes you go “Wow! What is it about the 1,045-pound Museum Bible, and supposedly being a follower of the Lord Jesus, is it that Holly Hobby and its company president just don’t get?”

The week has had plenty more stories that make you go “Wow!” in a bad way.

But you can bet next week will top it, so tune in here next Saturday for another edition of stories that will blow your mind.

This book, which won’t be on display in the Hobby Lobby Museum of the Bible in D.C.–which will feature a 1,054-pound Bible–will definitely NO be on display there. The book is available for you to buy online, however, at Amazon Books and at Barnes & Noble.

Chapters in The View From Down in Poordom, which Christian Bookstores owned by the Hobby Lobby Empire won’t sell and the author is glad.

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Since 2009, renowned marine biologist John Bruno and his teams have been surveying 16 reefs across the Belizean Barrier Reef, half of which are inside a protected reserve.
Bruno’s findings make his summers in Belize “depressing.”
(This photo of Belize’s famously beautiful “Great Blue Hole” is in today’s New York Times was taken by Michele Westmorland/Corbis via Getty Images. See the link to the Times John Bruno’s Op-Ed piece about Belize’s threatened coral reefs in the post for more photos.)

Genesis tells us that God created everything including this living planet Earth, and was so satisfied with His-Her handiwork that He-She declared, “It is good.”

Then humankind came along and trashed it so thoroughly that once-living mountains, forest, streams and oceans have become ecological graveyards.

Vast parts of the Caribbean, for example.

John Bruno, the renowned marine ecologist from the esteemed University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, is well known among conversationists–and expats in Belize like me who take global warming seriously–for his research here.

John Bruno: the acclaimed marine ecologist knows a thing or two about the ill effects of global warming here in Belize, in Australia and–in his own home state of Florida.

Go here to learn more about him.

(Belize and Belizeans take global warming very seriously, unlike the USA and so many Americans under the science-denying leadership of you-know-who.)

It so happens that Bruno has an opinion piece in The New York Times today about his “depressing summers in Belize.”

Belize me when I tell you, not many people come to Belize every summer and year-round and go away depressed. But Bruno has seen up-close and personal the adverse killer effects on the reefs in Belize and the Caribbean and in Australia, too.

Here’s Bruno’s take on the ill effects of warming on the reefs here and, increasingly, in his own home state of Florida:

Or you can link to the commentary as it appears in the Times here–this ain’t no “fake news.”

    When summer arrives, my friends and family inevitably roll their eyes when I tell them I’m packing for my fieldwork in the Caribbean. They picture a book and a white-sand beach. I do get a tan. But it’s no vacation.

    I study ocean ecosystems. The work is chronically underfunded, so food and housing is basic or worse. When we’re in Belize monitoring the health of coral reefs, about half the nights we sleep under the stars on a dock. When I can afford a roach- and gecko-infested room, it’s often so rustic that it’s preferable to sleep outside.

    There are also the tropical diseases we acquire (dengue, for instance), the insects that lay eggs under our skin (bot flies), stinging jellyfish, scorpions hiding in our shoes and, of course, feisty sea turtles (on one trip an enormous loggerhead turtle bit one of my graduate students on the rear). It’s also physical work, made harder by the intense heat and humidity. One former undergrad in my lab was in the National Guard. After she was deployed to Kuwait, she emailed us to say that the assignment was easier than fieldwork with us.

    Down in Belize’s Great Blue Hole.

    Still, I love all of it. One of the big rewards is the wonders you stumble into by just spending so much time in nature, the kind of things you see in BBC documentaries narrated by David Attenborough. Last summer I woke up in the middle of the night, looked over the dock and saw a dozen spotted eagle rays slowly circling beneath me. It looked like a mobile you’d hang over a baby’s crib. We’ve also come across mating leatherback turtles (awesome, but not so sexy), orcas and manta rays in the Galápagos Islands, a huge tiger shark in Moorea and fields of tiny eels peeking out of their holes on the sandy seafloor in Palau.

    Like many of my peers, I’ve walked away from the type of purely basic academic science I was trained to do to focus on trying to understand and slow the rapid changes underway in ocean ecosystems. My team has been working on determining whether protection from fishing and pollution in well-policed marine reserves can moderate or reverse the loss of Caribbean corals, the small invertebrate animals that build up reefs over thousands of years.

    The once living and vibrant reefs in Australia are being “bleached out,” making it a coral graveyard. Here in the Caribbean, a disease linked to ocean warming wiped out about 99 percent of elkhorn coral colonies across the entire Caribbean. Literally hundreds of millions of corals disappeared in a matter of months. John Bruno reports that this species and closely related staghorn corals had dominated Caribbean coral reefs for at least 5,000 years.

    Since 2009 we’ve been annually surveying 16 reefs across the Belizean Barrier Reef, half of which are inside a protected reserve. We typically survey two reefs a day, filming the seafloor with video cameras and counting and identifying every fish in 100-foot-long bands.

    Unfortunately, we’ve found local conservation is ineffective in stopping coral loss. Dozens of other studies around the world have reported the same finding. The most striking example is probably mass bleaching and coral mortality on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in 2016 and again this year. This well-protected reef, relatively isolated from human activities, is nevertheless susceptible to global warming. I was a co-author of a paper last year that found (to my surprise) that the world’s most isolated reefs were no healthier than those adjacent to coastal cities. Even the most remote marine ecosystems in the Central Pacific and the North Atlantic and around Antarctica are being radically altered as oceans warm and become more acidic.

    The Caribbean has warmed by about two degrees Fahrenheit during my lifetime. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases act as a sort of blanket around the earth, trapping heat that would otherwise be lost to space. Incredibly, 94 percent of this extra heat is going into the oceans, and it’s not just coral reefs that are being affected. Thousands of species are rapidly migrating away from the Equator, trying to stay cool. This is creating new mixtures of plants and animals that are interacting in new and unpredictable ways.

    Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

    Our goal as scientists isn’t to save only endangered invertebrates like coral but to preserve the reefs that hundreds of millions of people depend on. Food, jobs, tourism revenue, recreation and buffers from coastal storms are just some of the value coastal communities get from healthy reefs.

    I grew up in South Florida in the 1970s, when the reefs of the Florida Keys were still relatively healthy. Snorkeling just a foot or two above acres of golden elkhorn corals was like flying over golden fields of wheat. That is what inspired me to spend my life learning and teaching about the oceans. I was about 10 years old then.

    By the time I graduated from high school, most of that coral splendor was gone. A disease linked to ocean warming wiped out about 99 percent of elkhorn coral colonies across the entire Caribbean — literally hundreds of millions of corals disappeared in a matter of months. This species and closely related staghorn corals had dominated Caribbean coral reefs for at least 5,000 years.

    Things aren’t getting any better. A few days ago, a colleague, Bill Precht, a coral reef scientist with an environmental consulting firm, sent me a note describing what he saw on a recent dive at Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. It’s typical of my summer correspondence from fellow scientists. Depressing.

    “This reef is a coral graveyard,” he wrote. “Lots of recently dead colonies now covered with a thin veil or sediment and turf algae.”

    So what can be done to protect corals and other marine animals from ocean warming? The obvious solution is to switch to solar and wind energy, now a cheaper source of electricity than coal. Although our economy is already making this shift, it’s happening too slowly to avoid catastrophic warming. A revenue-neutral carbon tax is one effective mechanism to promote renewable energy sources. This solution has been championed by a bipartisan patchwork that includes the former NASA scientist James Hansen; the Republican elders James A. Baker, George P. Shultz and Henry Paulson; and my dad.

    Despite all the loss and the looming threats, there is still so much left to conserve. Like the amazingly healthy Orbicella coral reefs I saw in the crystal-clear waters of the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, a few years ago, and the staghorn coral reefs within swimming distance of the beachfront hotels of Fort Lauderdale that are now threatened by an Army Corps of Engineers dredging project. There are also a few reefs at higher latitudes or in other lucky locations that are warming much more slowly and could hold out for decades or centuries.

    I really don’t know how this will all turn out. Corals and other creatures could adapt to their changing environments. People could radically reduce their carbon emissions. Yet both outcomes are unlikely, and reality is draining my ocean optimism. It isn’t too late, but we need to act very soon.

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Dozens Accept America As Lord And Savior At First Baptist Dallas Service!”

— From The Babylon Bee, a funny and incisive Christian website

Walter Brueggemann: The Church of Christ pastor and Old Testament scholar writes often and well about all that ultra-conservative Christians get oh-so-wrong about the Bible.

Your Wednesday Wisdom is from America’s best Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, who says this:

    “The crisis in the U.S. Church has almost nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has everything to do with giving up on the faith and discipline of our Christian baptism and settling for a common, generic U.S. identity that is part patriotism, part consumerism, part violence, and part affluence.”

That’s a most relevant quote in the wake of First Baptist Church of Dallas continually putting America and patriotism and the worship of Donald Trump ahead of God.

And if there is one God hates it’s idolatry and this we know because the Bible and Ten Commandments tell us so.

This horrific case of Trumpianity (Idolatry Div.) is being lead by First Baptist preacher Robert Jeffress.

See the story on a recent worship service at the megachurch here ….

That Sunday worship service praising America was followed up by Jeffress and the church hosting the Jeffress hero who is the unrepentant occupant of the White House, for now, at a weekend “Celebrate Freedom” event in D.C.

First Baptist’s choir and orchestra premiered a new song composed to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan with these lyrics:

    Make America great again…
    Make America great again…

    Lift the torch of freedom all across the land
    Step into the future joining hand in hand
    And make America great again.

Pastor Jeffress can’t get enough love from his hero, and his hero can’t seem to get enough Jeffress love.

Charles Wesley–you remember him as he’s the greatest Christian songwriter who ever lived–rolled over in his grave.

And here is the perfect barb thrown at First Baptist Church of Dallas from always funny and incisive Babylon Bee:

    DALLAS, TX—After an hour-long service commemorating Independence Day at First Baptist Church in Dallas, a beaming Pastor Robert Jeffress reported that “dozens and dozens” in attendance accepted the United States of America as their lord and savior.

    The service’s patriotic songs, political message, and readings from the Founding Fathers all came together to powerfully convict many of their need to place all of their trust in the modern-day nation.

    “When the massive flag unfurled behind the choir singing ‘Make America Great Again,’ I couldn’t deny my need any longer,” one emotional man told reporters after the service. “I surrendered my life then and there to the United States of America. May this great country change my sinful heart and make me into a new person.”

    “I even wrote the date in the front of my Bible so I’d never forget it,” he added.

    All of the new converts reportedly went forward after an impassioned altar call delivered by Jeffress and received a miniature American flag and red commemorative “Make America Great Again” hat, before being asked to recite the nation’s Pledge of Allegiance to seal the deal.

More on Brueggemann here

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Ladies and Gentlemen, please stand for the Star Spangled Banner.

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“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Dr. James Currie (28 January 1786)

“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted, when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Marquis de la Fayette (November 4, 1823)

“I am … for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.
Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Elbridge Gerry, January 26, 1799

“No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Judge John Tyler (June 28, 1804)

“I have been for some time used as the property of the newspapers, a fair mark for every man’s dirt.
Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Fitzhugh, 1798

“[I have seen] repeated instances of the publication of what has not been intended for the public eye, and the malignity with which political enemies torture every sentence from me into meanings imagined by their own wickedness only… Not fearing these political bull-dogs, I yet avoid putting myself in the way of being baited by them, and do not wish to volunteer away that portion of tranquillity, which a firm execution of my duties will permit me to enjoy.”
Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807

Signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Have a large Independence Day.

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