A Real Downer–Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From?


It looks like our government will once again spare us from burdensome regulations. We won’t even be bothered by labels telling us whether that packet of ground beef we are eating comes from a downer cow. That would really ruin your appetite!
According to the Washington Post,
“Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer told Congress yesterday that he would not endorse an outright ban on “downer” cows entering the food supply or back stiffer penalties for regulatory violations by meat-processing plants in the wake of the largest beef recall in the nation’s history.”

Although there are vegetarians in our family, and we respect that, Sonja and I are still carnivores. I don’t object to eating meat provided that,

  1. The animals are raised (and when the time comes, dispatched) in a humane manner.
  2. The whole livestock operation is conducted in a sustainable, environmentally responsible way.
  3. The resulting meat is natural and healthy.

I’m pretty sure animals experience emotions, enjoy pleasure, and suffer pain. I doubt that the spend time worrying about the future or feel the need to accomplish certain tasks before they die. They live life day to day, they don’t see life as a project.

We are all going to die anyway. When a human life is cut short, we feel the loss of a life uncompleted. I don’t think cows suffer from that–although I’m pretty sure they suffer from the conditions in the photographs provided by “Farm Santuary.” (There are worse photographs in their gallery, if you prefer to lose your appetite completely.)

In the Flint Hills where I live, the most sustainable, earth friendly use of the land is for grazing large animals. We enjoy the sight of the cattle on a thousand hills.

Lately we have been buying beef produced by our neighbors in the flint hills. Sometimes, my brother provides us with some of his grass-fed (not corn-fattened) beef. It is lean, fresh, and natural. I also enjoy bison from nearby herds. We are also still enjoying salsa from last year’s home-grown tomatoes and chilies.

It is good to know where your food comes from. They say “local is the new organic.”

Idolatry 1

I want to begin a series of posts on the topic of idolatry. The fact that idolatry is considered a sin in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity–maybe in some forms of other religions too–raises several interesting questions.

First, I want to point out what monotheism and the rejection of idolatry does not mean, at least in the religion of the Bible. It does not mean intolerance.

A few years ago, in an address at Harvard, Gore Vidal made this remark: “The great unmentionable evil at the center of our culture is monotheism.” Why? Because, in his view, monotheism is responsible for intolerance and therefore war and strife among nations.

The world has seen it’s share of religious intolerance, hatred, and war. The point I want to make, though, is this kind of intolerance is not based on the teaching of the Bible.

First, in the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Old Testament–the commandment against idolatry is given to people who have voluntarily entered a covenant relationship with the God of Israel, who is also the universal God of all people. When Israel is unfaithful to the covenant with God, God sends prophets to call them back to faithfulness. These prophetic indictments against unfaithfulness and idolatry are not given to other nations.

When the prophets speak to other nations, they call them to universal standards of justice and human rights. The prophets do not condemn other nations for practicing the wrong religion, but for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The New Testament does portray the mission of the early church with the apostles calling people from all nations to turn from “vain idols to the living god.” They use persuasion, not force to proclaim the good news. The Gentiles who worship their own gods defended the apostles: “These men are not blasphemers of our goddess.”

I am not saying that the Bible teaches tolerance for idols in the sense that serving idols is just as valid as believing in the God of Israel and of Jesus Christ. I am saying that it does not encourage violence against those who practice other religions.

Basketball on the Baltic

Lith BB team

Basketball is big in Lithuania. This is Lithuania Christian College’s team (in the white Jerseys). I wonder if number 13 (from China) would like to pose for a picture with Sonja?

See http://www.lcc.lt/ .

Sabbatical Plans


It’s hard to believe I’ve been at MCC for seven years, but here I am on sabbatical. Right now I’m studying at home, and enjoying time with Elijah when I can. Soon I will be leaving the country.

I will be working with a church in Buckie, Scotland, as interim minister and mentor and tutor to a young minister who will eventually be taking over full time. Scotland, as my former Colleague Scott Caulley says, “has a fine theological heritage.” Unfortunately, at least in the northern region near Buckie, there is a shortage of ministers. The church in Buckie has been served by American preachers for over thirty years. A young man from the congregation is now ready to take on the task of leading and guiding the church. I will be there from the last Sunday in March through the last Sunday in April.

Then I plan to spend a week in Tuebingen, visiting Scott Caulley at the Institute for Research in Christian Origins. While there I will present two papers to seminars led by Dr. Caulley. We also plan to worship with the church that has been planted by the mission that sponsors the Institute.

Sonja had planned on joining me for part of the time in Scotland and Germany.  We have decided that she needs to stay home to take care of the dogs and ‘possums, and I’m sure to spend some time with the new granddaughter Ariana Grace. I am going to learn where all the best shops and restaurants in Tuebingen are, and maybe next year the two of us will take a vacation trip there to visit with the Caulleys and wander in the Black Forest.

In May, I will go on to Klaipeda, Lithuania, to teach a class on epic literature.

Lithuania Christian College was founded in 1991 when the country gained its independence. After fifty years of communist oppression, the country’s leaders recognized communism was morally, spiritually, and economically bankrupt; so they asked Christian leaders to establish a Christian university that would train a new generation of leaders.

They want young people with a spiritual and ethical foundation and also an entrepreneurial spirit. They offer degrees in business and psychology and include a core curriculum of biblical and theological studies. The college has a good website: www.lcc.lt.

My friend Alex is going to join me the last week in Lithuania.  He is going to rent a car, so that we can take some short day trips in the afternoon, and some longer weekend trips.  I hope they don’t have an autobahn in Lithuania, because Alex likes to drive fast.  In his job as a pipefitter he is used to walking on narrow beams 30 stories in the air, carrying heavy pipes and equipment.  He doesn’t consider that living dangerously.

Alex’s ancestors are Lithuanian, and he is looking forward to seeing some ancestral places. He will also be sitting in on my class.  He is reading all the books now: Gilgamesh, Homer, Vergil, Dante, Beowulf.  Alex has a great love for life, and we plan on having a great time.

After returning home to check on the tomatoes Sonja will have planted, my plans include one more trip to Europe, this time to Prague for the Tenth International Bonhoeffer Congress, where I have the unique privilege of presenting a paper together with my daughter Tabitha. We are currently working separately on different parts of the research, but will compare notes and work together on compiling the finished paper.

My travel plans are an unusual combination of professional development and academic work, mission work, and personal vacation.

Every Idle Word

Michelle Obama
“I meant to say, as proud”
There’s is a verse in the Bible that says we will have to give account for every idle word we say.
It is true in politics. Sometimes words matter.

I find it interesting that sometimes a single idle word can destroy a political career, while at other times politicians have recovered from a faux pas.

Back in the 1976 campaign, Jimmy Carter remarked that sometimes it is desirable to preserve the “ethnic purity” of a neighborhood. To some that sounded racist, like an endorsement of segregation. Candidate Carter recovered by saying, “I meant ethnic heritage.”

Some politicians are so famous for slips of the tongue that, like Yogi Bera (“Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”) they are given a pass. Purists cringe when they hear the pronunciation nuc-you-ler, but it never cost George W. Bush a vote. Dan Quayle was quoted as saying, before a trip to Latin America, “I wish I had studied Latin harder in high school.” He was ridiculed, but his lapses like that, or inability to spell potato, are probably not what cost him and George H. W. Bush the re-election.

Jesse Jackson’s political ambitions were hurt by a careless ethnic slur. Trent Lott was forced to resign when he made a flattering comment at Strom Thurmond’s one-hundredth birthday party. He said if Thurmond had been elected president in 1948 the nation might have been spared “all these problems.” He forgot that Thurmond had run on a segregationist platform; and some journalists fluent in Southern speech detected a veiled euphemism in the cirumlocution “all these problems.”

The most striking case of a careless word derailing a promising career was Howard Dean’s “I have a scream” speech. He was not undone by a racial slur, or in fact by a word that offended anyone. It was the rising intonation of his “Yeah!” at the end of a geographical litany, that seemed undignified. For his exuberance, he was ridiculed into oblivion.

Maybe Michelle Obama simply left out a word. Maybe she meant to say, “I’ve never been as proud of my country as today.” Will she recover? Evidently the remark didn’t hurt her husband in the elections yesterday.

What Some Others Are Saying

We are getting used to Spanish as the second language in our country.  In Great Britain Arabic has that role.  You may have heard about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent remarks about the future place of Sharia law in England (here).  N.T. Wright explains that many people have misrepresented what Archbishop Rowan has said about a very complex issue (here).

Eboo Patel writes about the first time he visited Jim Wallis here.  Wallis has been urging Christians to get involved in finding practical solutions to problems of poverty, disease, and global climate change.  Patel says,

“Nothing substitutes for Jim Wallis in the pulpit (or, if you’re lucky, in a personal conversation on his porch), but his new book, The Great Awakening, comes pretty close.”

We live in a changing world.  Adapting to new neighbors is a challenge.  Hatred, fear, and suspicion are not the answers.

Allen Fieldhouse

Here are some photos we took at a recent event in Allen Fieldhouse. The Special Olympics players got to meet their favorite team, including a workout, and autograph signing. We appreciate the team taking time out for this community service event.

Our Niece Melissa with Coach Bill Self
Melissa and Bill


Melissa is not the only fan in the family.

Jayhawk fans

Sonja enjoys photography as much as basketball.

Sonja Photo


I’m fond of short women.

Sonja and Sasha

Sad Day

We just returned from the visitation and funeral of the teenage daughter of good friends of ours.  Christina may have been text-messaging when she had her accident.  The records showed she had sent four messages while driving to school that morning.

There may have also been some ice on the road–maybe the text messages were just a coincidence.  I’m not trying to establish blame; she was a good kid, and it was a tragic accident.

She was a popular kid and had lots of friends; we estimated that over a thousand came to the service.  The outpouring of support from family, friends, community, school, and church was comforting to our friends.

The minister who conducted the service was Christina’s former youth minister and a former student of mine, Kyle.  Coincidentally I remember a conversation I had a few years ago with my brother-in-law who works with Kyle’s father.  Kyle’s father was concerned that he had not chosen a more financially rewarding career.  I said at the time, “he will influence a lot of young people and be there for them at important times in their lives.”

It seem so innocent, multi-tasking, keeping in touch with friends.  The consequences are all out of proportion to the gravity of the offense.

Someone who knew nothing about Christina sent me a link this week about texting-and-driving.  It included graphic and disturbing images of accident victims.  I decided not to post the link.

I suppose I will be a little less judgmental about drunk drivers.  Driving while drowsy (which I’ve been guilty of) and driving while distracted (who hasn’t done it?) are also dangerous.   So I’m just saying, let’s be careful out there.  Don’t take any unnecessary chances.