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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

hierarchy of english adjectives

In an essay titled Rules no one teaches but everyone learns, Ruth Walker of the Christian Science Monitor says:

Time, manner, place. Time, manner, place.

That was my mnemonic when, as I high school student, I struggled to learn the rules for ordering German adverbs and adverbial phrases. "I love in summer with you down the Rhein to sail." The time phrase ("in summer") is followed by indicators of manner ("with you") and place" ("down the Rhein").

It seemed utterly wrong. The only way through seemed to be to memorize the rules. Hmph! We don't have rules like this in English – or do we?


It turns out that we do, and that they are much more complex than time, manner, place.

In 1899, when seven-year-old J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a short story about a dragon, his mother objected to his phrase "green great dragon." She told him the phrase should be "great green dragon". This gave the young Tolkien a desire to penetrate the mysteries of word order, which led to a lifelong fascination with language.

Today, textbooks for teaching English as a second language explain the entire hierarchy:


  • Opinion
  • Size
  • Age
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Origin
  • Material
  • Purpose


Whenever two adjectives are used to modify the same noun, they must appear in the proper order according to the hierarchy, or be separated by commas. A noun will not likely have all eight categories, but the ones it does have must be in the correct order. That's why "green great dragon" sounded wrong to J.R.R. Tolkien's mother. It's why we say "grumpy old man" or "big yellow car" rather than "old grumpy man" or "yellow big car". All native English speakers learn this, but not in the classroom.

That I find this fascinating probably makes me a language nerd. If you've read this far, you're probably a language nerd, too. Welcome to the club.

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Monday, April 27, 2009

gracepoint goes it alone

John Meunier points to a UM Portal story about the former GracePoint United Methodist Church in Wichita. For those who haven't been following the story, GracePoint pastor Bryson Butts announced in March that he and the rest of the GracePoint staff would be withdrawing from the United Methodist Church and starting a non-denominational church, to be known as GracePoint Community Church.

The UMC quickly appointed a new pastor for GracePoint UMC, but nearly the entire congregation moved to the new church. On Easter Sunday, GracePoint Community Church had 1200 worshippers, while GracePoint UMC had only seventeen.

Apparently the main point of contention between the GracePoint staff and the United Methodist Church was GracePoint's desire to expand to a second campus. GracePoint had twice tried to create a new worship service in another part of Wichita, and had run into trouble with other congregations.

GracePoint also created a stir with some of its advertising campaigns. GracePoint targeted young people who felt alienated from traditional churches, using slogans like "Church doesn't suck," and "No perfect people allowed." By all accounts, they have been successful at what they are trying to do.

And yet…

There seems to be a theme running through GracePoint's attempted expansion. In seeking to start something in another part of town, GracePoint consistently ignored the congregations that were already there. Bryson Butts doesn't seem to get that the United Methodist Church is a connectional denomination. Growth in the UMC is not about expanding your own congregation at others' expense. If you want a healthy church that is supported by the denominational leadership, you need to play well with others.

I lived in Wichita for 13 years, from 1993 to 2006. I joined East Heights UMC in Southeast Wichita in 1994 and still have my membership there. One of the things my East Heights experience has taught me to respect about the UMC is how congregations can work together for the common good.

In the mid 1990s, Wesley UMC (located in a poor neighborhood) started a back-to-school backpack program for kids who attended Vacation Bible School. East Heights members helped collect backpacks and supplies so that every child could have one. The second year of the program, the kids told all their friends, and VBC membership soared. This helped Wesley UMC re-establish its presence in the community, and provided an entry point for welcoming whole families into the church. By themselves, the congregation couldn't have accomplished this. But when several congregations pitched in to help, the program was a success. East Heights had no desire to establish our own presence in Wesley's territory; we simply realized that we are all in this together.

In the late 1990s, the leadership of East Heights joined with some other area churches to look into reopening the Hyde Park UMC, which had closed its doors due to dwindling membership. But in discussions with residents in the Hyde Park area, they found that what that neighborhood desperately needed was reasonably priced day care. So the empty church building was redesigned and reopened as a day care center. The church leaders who helped plan the transition saw that what they wanted wasn't really what was needed, and were humble enough to put their own ambitions aside and take care of the needs of the community.

East Heights also sent volunteers nearly every year to nearby Grace Presbyterian Church, to help with the phenomenally successful Alternative Gift Market. In the early 1990s East Heights hosted its own similar event, the Christchild Market, but I think it was evident to the organizers that it would be more effective to help with Grace Presby's much larger event than to try to compete. Partnerships with other Christians should not be limited to a single denomination.

That type of partnership seems to be missing from GracePoint Community Church's leadership. In all their efforts to build a second campus, they've tried to go it alone. I can't help but think that that's not the way to further the kingdom of God.

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monday music: wake up

This tune, from the 2004 album Funeral by the Quebecan indie rock band Arcade Fire, has been given new life.



The song has been remixed for the trailer of the upcoming Where the Wild Things Are movie, coming in October.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

monday music: outside of a small circle of friends

Inspired by the story of Kitty Genovese, who was murdered outside her apartment while dozens of other residents watched, this social commentary by Phil Ochs looks at the apathy that infects American life. Over forty years later, this song is more relevant than ever.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

the stumbling block

I don't think the title was meant to be humorous.

Marcia Segelstein has a guest column at OneNewsNow, titled Intelligent Design for dummies. (Ron Britton at Bay of Fundie replies, Why Yes! Yes It Is!)

Segelstein claims not to be interested in the whole debate over ID:

As far as I was concerned, all that mattered was my belief that God created the universe and everything in it. How He did it, when He did it, and what complex processes were involved were beyond my extremely limited understanding. They still are. And what continues to matter most to me is that God get the credit for creation.


And yet, she is drawn to the story of one Brian Westad. His experience

made me understand how the predominance of Darwinism can be a stumbling block to faith, even for believing Christians.


In short, Westad learned about evolution in college, but had trouble reconciling it with his belief in an active God. He leaned toward theistic evolution for a while, but began to drift toward atheism.

Then Westad began a research project with another student who introduced him to ID and to Michael Behe's book, Darwin's Black Box. Behe is the originator of the hypothesis of "irreducible complexity," the idea that some things in this world — the rotating flagellum of certain types of bacteria, the blood clotting cascade found in most vertibrates — simply would not work until all the parts were assembled.

Behe's ideas gave Westad a reason to believe again. Westad is now the Executive Director for the IDEA Center, a non-profit organization for promoting ID in schools.

Blech.

Segelstein's article contains some glaring errors: She calls Phillip Johnson "a leading I.D. scientist," though he is by profession an attorney, a college professor, an author, and a leading strategist for the ID movement. He is not, however, a scientist. Segelstein refers to "the fact that the bacterial flagellum could only function when all its components were present simultaneously." [emphasis mine] Unfortunately, other scientists have discovered ways in which the flagellum could have been built in stages.

But that's really beside the point. The point of Segelstein's article is that "Darwinism" can be a stumbling block to faith, and that ID is more sympathetic toward Christianity.

This view is disturbing on more than one level.

First, and most basic, is this: We are not allowed to choose our science based on how easily it integrates with our faith. It doesn't matter whether ID meshes better with what we want to believe. What matters is which hypothesis gives us a more complete understanding of the workings of the natural world. Just by the way the hypothesis was formed, ID cannot win that battle; it insists that some things are just too complicated to explain.

But ID is disturbing at a deeper level as well. Segelstein's article makes a big deal about Westad's difficulties reconciling evolution with faith in God. Yet, for me at least, ID presents the greater challenge.





Proponents of ID ask us to believe in a creator who went to great lengths to build a rotary motor to help H.pylori and E.coli bacteria navigate our digestive tracts. Yet this same creator sits idly by while 25,000 children die every day, most from preventable diseases.

The ID proponents say their hypothesis tells us nothing about the creator. I disagree. We can infer from the ID hypothesis that this creator cares more about germs than humans. I don't see any way of reconciling the implications of ID with Christianity.

I grant that if Christians accept the modern evolutionary synthesis, we still have to grapple with a God who lets 25,000 children die every day. Still, that is a problem for Christians of all stripes, including those who believe in young earth creationism and those who maintain that we can't possibly know how we got to this point. But only the ID proponents propose a model in which the creator shows such loving care for the little germs that can make us sick or kill us.

If that's not a stumbling block for Christians, I don't know what is.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

monday music: shaving cream

On the lighter side...

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

no greater love: dietrich bonhoeffer

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer



Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, son of Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer. Karl was a prominent psychiatrist in Berlin, and Paula home schooled their eight children. Dietrich was a precocious child who excelled at academics. His parents expected him to follow his father into psychiatry, but Dietrich was more interested in theology. He attended the Universities of Tübingen and Berlin, and was awarded a doctorate in theology at age 21. Because church regulations did not allow him to be ordained before age 25, he traveled to the United States where he studied for a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York. While he was there he made frequent trips to Harlem to visit the Abyssinian Baptist Church, where he learned many African-American spirituals. He took a collection of these back to Germany.

In 1931, Bonhoeffer was ordained as a Lutheran pastor. Only two years later, Adolf Hitler came to power. Bonhoeffer became concerned by the Nazis' attempts to infiltrate church leadership, and by the failure of many Christians to take a stand against them. Bonhoeffer joined a small, committed group that included theologians Karl Barth and Martin Niemöller, in establishing the Confessing Church.

Bonhoeffer realized that he had two roles to play, that his pastoral care and his work as a resistance leader were both important. He studied the writings of Mohandas Gandhi, and for a time publicly advocated nonviolent resistance. But the fact that he spoke of resistance at all drew the attention of the Nazis. He was banned, first from preaching, then from teaching, then from all public speaking.

Bonhoeffer became convinced that nonviolent resistance would not work, that the only way to stop Hitler was to kill him. He became involved with resistance leaders who were plotting Operation Valkyrie, an attempt to assasinate Hitler.

Bonhoeffer was arrested in April, 1943, after it was discovered that he had helped fund the escape of Jews to Switzerland. On July 20, 1944, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg carried out Operation Valkyrie by detonating a bomb in a briefcase during a conference between Hitler and his top military leaders. The bomb killed four men and injured many others, but Hitler survived.

The Nazis arrested 7,000 people associated with the plot. From secret documents uncovered in September of that year, the Nazis learned of Bonhoeffer's association with the conspirators. He was transferred first to a maximum-security prison, and ultimately to Flossenbürg concentration camp.

On April 8, 1945, Bonhoeffer was sentenced to be hanged. The following morning at daybreak, Bonhoeffer and other conspirators were stripped naked, ridiculed, and led to the gallows. Lacking proper equipment for hanging, the Nazis improvised by using nooses of piano wire attached to meat hooks.

Two weeks later, U.S. troops arrived at Flossenbürg and liberated the camp.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

monday music: amazing grace

…by Pete Seeger and friends. And if that's not your thing, the video also includes Sailing Up, Sailing Down.

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Thursday, April 02, 2009

the challenge of climate change

Recently, the Cato Institute published an ad (pdf) in some of the United States' remaining newspapers, taking issue with President Obama on climate change.

The ad quotes Obama as saying, "Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear."

This quote apparently came from a speech the then President Elect gave to the Governors' Global Climate Summit hosted by Arnold Swartzenegger last November.

The full text of the speech, and a YouTube video, can be found here.

The Cato ad does not pull any punches. The response begins:

With all due respect, Mr. President, that is not true.
We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated.


…and continues with a rant about surface temperatures, property values, and computer models. I'm not going to discuss the Cato Institute's specific climate claims; I'm not a climate scientist. But the folks at the Real Climate blog are, and they have provided a point-by-point reply.

The thing is, the Cato Institute's criticisms in the ad had nothing to do with President Obama's actual speech. Here, in context, are his words:

Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We’ve seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.


Now that last phrase is not accurate. Maybe "each passing hurricane season" was meant as rhetorical flourish, but one thing it is not, is a statement of fact. In the past three years we have seen nothing to match the intensity of the hurricanes of 2005.

The rest of Obama's statement, however, is true. Sea levels are rising and coastlines are shrinking. We've seen record drought and spreading famine. And, as a general trend, hurricanes are growing stronger. The Cato ad did not dispute any of these facts.

Obama continues:

Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.


This is taken from a report titled National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, and prepared for the U.S. Department of Defense by the CNA Corporation in 2007. Again, these facts are not disputed, even in the Cato ad.

And while the Cato ad states clearly that there's no reason for alarm, President Obama is not advocating alarm. Instead, he vows to provide leadership:

My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.


He then goes on to outline the basics of his plan. Now perhaps the Cato Institute would like to take issue with the specific solutions the President is proposing. But with this ad, they missed their opportunity. By focusing on disputes over computer models and property values, they have cut themselves out of the policy discussion. It's their choice, and it's their loss.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

blogging retirement

All good things must come to an end. Perhaps this was inevitable. Really, it's been nearly two years since I was able to post on a regular basis. I'd like to keep going, but I just don't have the time or the energy to devote to the blog anymore. Lately, too, I've been hit with a large number of spam comments on my older posts, and it's been a lot of work tracking them all down to delete them.

For what it's worth, I've enjoyed "meeting" all of the nice people who have left comments here. Often, the comments have helped me see a new perspective. Other times, I've been encouraged by your kind words. Leaving the blogosphere will not be easy, but perhaps I'll run into you elsewhere on the Internet — like Facebook.

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