Archive - Jul 2007
An interesting article in The Washington Post of the same title by Michelle Boorstein ran last Saturday. It examines a new "anti-proselytizing" policy at Georgetown University and the tension between "faith-sharing and intolerance." A few excerpts:
In adopting the policy, the Jesuit school joined a growing number of colleges and universities trying to spell out what constitutes acceptable evangelism in an America that is increasingly religiously diverse and less comfortable with absolutes.
John Borelli, special assistant for interreligious initiatives in the Georgetown president's office, was the main driver behind the new policy's language, which was announced in May. The difference is clear, he said, between evangelizing and banned actions, which include "moral constraint," and depriving people "of their inherent value as persons."
"It's not about the conversation being uncomfortable, it's about tearing down another person's church in order to show how superior yours is," he said.
Stephanie Brown, 22, who graduated from Georgetown in the spring, embraces the gist of the new edict: Respect other people's religious beliefs. The Kansas City, Mo., native takes seriously the Bible's edict to personally represent Jesus, so she doesn't want to offend anyone.
But as soon as she starts talking about the policy, which forbids "any effort to influence people in ways that depersonalize," the words seem to defy obvious translation. How do you express that Jesus is the only way to salvation without sounding judgmental? How do you deal with the question of what happens to a nonbeliever in eternity?
Terrence Reynolds, a Georgetown theology professor who chaired the advisory committee overseeing the development of the covenant, said the precise line between acceptable and unacceptable practices is not clear. For example, he said, what's the difference between saying that "Christ is the only way to salvation," and saying, "I believe if you don't accept Christ as the way to salvation, you will go to hell"?
David French, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund who advised InterVarsity during this dispute, said the "haziness" around the policy could still chill evangelicals from speaking about their faith.
"People talk about all kinds of other stuff -- politics, sports, all kinds of contentious things. Then someone bring up Jesus, and suddenly . . . "
But there is a difference when it comes to matters of faith, Borelli said. "You're talking about one's convictions as one relates to God," he said. "So you're talking about something profound to our being, our position of faith, to our relations with God. That would be the qualitative difference."
In the National Review Online, French invoked Martin Luther King as he questioned Borelli's logic:
In other words, talk about God â€” since it is "profound" â€” impacts people more and should receive less protection. Yet isn't the entire concept of free speech designed to protect expression that can truly impact (and, yes, change) individuals and cultures? When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," it was so powerful precisely because it related to "one's convictions as one relates to God."
I took Borelli's statement a different way. Not that religious speech deserves less protection because it is "profound," but that religious speech has more potential to inflict harm because it is more significant than other, more mundane issues that spark controversy like politics, sports, etc.
Admittedly, it's hard to precisely define religious speech that is acceptable vs. that which is harmful., but it probably isn't too hard to call it when you see it. Hopefully, these restrictions are more the Fred Phelps of the world who spew hate rather than love.
One of Jesus' primary missions was to minister to the downtrodden, the outcasts of society, the excluded...tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners. Driving around town the other day I noticed some construction workers standing across the street from the construction site smoking, probably because they're not allowed to do so at the work site. Then I noticed a couple workers standing in the back door of a store across the street from the post office and they were smoking. I've often seen people "hiding" there smoking. An article in today's Free Press describes an effort to ban smoking in all Michigan work places, including bars, restaurants, and casinos. It occurred to me that smokers are modern day outcasts. Don't get me wrong. I don't smoke and never have. I don't enjoy being around people who smoke. It seems like a nasty habit to me. That's kind of the point. But this observation about smokers as outcasts prompted to wonder if there are any special ways that churches can minister to smokers. I came across a recent article from the Minnesota Christian Chronicle that examined this issue:
Bud Moore doesn't go to his St. Paul church much anymore. Moore says he never thought he'd be a "backslider," but one of his habits has gotten in the way.
"I'm a smoker, a heavy smoker," he said. "I know most of the people at my church don't care about that, but there are some that look at me like a leper."
Some churches are looking for ways to make smokers feel more welcome to their congregation, some even putting ashtrays outside the buildings while others offer counseling to help kick the habit.
A recent study from John Hopkins University in Baltimore found that religious-based smoking cessation programs, whether at schools or churches, have a much better success rate than someone quitting on their own. The study found that nearly twice as many smokers were able to quit for the long-term than those who received no support from their church or pastor.
While smoking cessation programs are cropping up in small numbers, many churches are choosing to leave the touchy topic to those in the medical field.
The Centers For Disease Control estimates that 44.5 million people smoke at least one cigarette a day.
The Barna Research Group in Ventura, Calif., breaks down the CDC's numbers in a report that estimates that 39 percent of the unchurched smoke, while 20 percent of born-again Christians smoke.
The United States isn't the only place where smoking and the church are an issue.
Grady Higgs, a U.S. missionary who ministers to South America and Russia said that while in America smoking is just seen as a bad habit, in many foreign countries, Christians view it as a disgrace to their belief system.
"If you lit up in front of a church, in some of the churches I visit you would discredit your testimony in a heartbeat," Higgs said. "But, it's not like you'll go to hell for it, but you'll just smell like you've been there and back."
We've had some millipedes invading our house lately. Speaking of pests, check out this story about what's going on in China. It's hard to imagine. From the current issue of The Week magazine:
Billions of mice are swarming across Hunan province, devouring rice paddies and clogging village paths. The mice were driven from their holes last month, when officials opened the sluice gates on Dongting Lake to relieve flooding from other waterways. The annual occurrence usually displaces thousands of mice, but this year, because of the major flooding, the swarm is many times larger. "They are like troops advancing," said farmer Zhang Luo. Villagers have killed an estimated 2 billion mice so far, beating them with shovels or using homemade poison. Tons of mouse corpses are now rotting in the fields and must be collected and buried. The poison has also killed hundreds of cats and dogs.
Today while Elliot was at Nature Camp, Finn was hanging out in the backyard by himself. After a while I called out to him inviting him to come in the house . i figured he was lonely out there. As he approached the door, he says "your name is Laura". I laughed and asked him why my name was Laura, He said," my mom is in England and you are my babysitter". We giggled about it.
Lisa has been having fun lately rabble-rousing and working against a coal-fired power plant proposed for Midland. Here's the email she sent out to friends today:
Hello friends. I hope all is well with you and your families. If you haven't already heard, Midland is entertaining the idea of a new coal power plant. Jonathan and I feel strongly that a decision such as this, having the potential to affect so many people, should be taken seriously. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lack of information out there. So if you are unfamiliar with the details, we would like to inform you so that you too can voice your opinion to the decision makers if you so desire. I have read up on the issue and I went to the company open house. Since plans seem to be proceeding so quickly in the local government, I decided to get an email out to friends with our information and concerns about it. I am including several links to articles and documents so you don't just have to take my word on it.
The plant is proposed on land at the corner of Saginaw Rd and Gordonville Rd (Waldo) across from the fishing ramp area just south of town. According to statements made by the company, the plant will burn "pulverized coal" using the latest technology to help reduce emissions (required by law). They will be a privately owned firm that could sell its power at "wholesale rates" to clients like the Dows and Hemlock Semiconductor. They could also sell to the "grid" but would not be selling to the public. The list could include clients out of state or country. The plant will provide up to 1200 jobs during construction time (though not necessarily local bids). The plant will provide 100 permanent jobs. Here are a couple of links to the announcements and details of the proposed plant:
1. Our biggest concern: We would rather see renewable energy and energy efficiency be the focus. If coal is inevitable, however, then we should insist on the cleanest and most efficient coal technology available. Midland, the City of Modern Explorers, should be a leader in this arena. The type of coal plant the company plans to build is NOT the cleanest coal plant possible. Pulverizered coal is the old technology. The company plans to "meet or exceed" all government regulations by utilizing the best technology associated with pulverized coal plants. However, a cleaner and more efficient type of coal plant that uses a technique called Intergrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) exists and is in operation today. It turns the coal into a gas before burning it, practically eliminating emissions and potentially allowing for an easier capture of carbon dioxide. This technology is cutting edge and being proposed in many other states. According to the companies that have developed and improved the IGCC, the technology is available "turn-key" and guaranteed. The start up cost for an IGCC plant is approximately 20% more (though the projection is to drop to 10% in the near future). Studies show that over the life of the plant the IGCC cost could be comparable to a pulverized coal plant, especially when considering the likely increased environmental regulations and predictable negative health effects.
Here are some links, including one from last week in the Bay City Times, that discuss the difference between the two technologies.
Also, if you do a google news alert for "IGCC" you will get hits daily.
Link Basic facts and comparisions between pulverizered coal and IGCC
Link "Clean or Clean Enough" Bay city article
Link Article from Alma with interesting details about our plant compared an IGCC plant going in at Alma
Link DOE report and IGCC program performance goals
Link EPA report on IGCC
Link Report on the economic benefits of renewable resources specific to Michigan
Link Article reporting on the progress of an IGCC plant in Arizona and the responsible way those city officials are leading, taking a stand, handling their decision process.
Link A very encouraging article from April 2004 on how concerned citizens in Manistee joined together to defeat a proposed coal power plant in their town.
The above is our biggest concern, however, the most effective way to express concern right now would be to address the zoning issues...
2. We are opposed to rezoning Residential Land to Heavy Industrial when this parcel borders other residential land. Although not our top concern, the rezoning issue is the first step to approving the plant and a first opportunity to express concerns to the city officials. In response to LS Power's request, the Midland Planning Commission has recommended to the City Council rezone 2 parcels of land. Petition No. 542 requests a parcel that is currently "Residental A-1"and borders other residential land to be rezoned to "Heavy Industrial B". Not only would this rezoning be a large jump in rezoning categories (bypassing the "Light Industrial A"), it would also inappropriately allow for "Heavy Industrial B" to border remaining residential land. Drive down to the area. You'll see that there are several families living very close to the location. Of course, as Jonathan says, the smoke stack will spew it too high to effect these people; it's the ones in Freeland and Auburn that need to be concerned! The other petition, No. 543, to rezone light industrial to heavy industrial seems reasonable.
3. We are opposed to changing the text of the Heavy B zoning ordinance to include "electrical generating station" as a "Principle Permitted Use" (Amendment No. 144-A)....this mean any kind of electrical generating plant (coal, nuclear, wind, etc) would be permitted by right to build in any Midland Heavy B industrial Zone. The Planning Commission's recommendation to the City Council on this petition was to decline the petitioners request for "principle permitted use" in favor of an amendment that adds "electrical generating station" as a Conditional permitted use. That's good news! However, the City Council does not have to honor the Planning Commission's recommendations and instead could not include conditions. We are in support of the planning commissions recommendation for "conditional use" due to the special circumstances and obvious potential negative impacts of certain stations that fall under this category. We feel it is important for Midland to have conditions on the land permits for projects of such magnitude and scale. This "conditional use permit" is common practice and should be utilized here. Conditions could potentially include things such as the environmental/health impacts, a need for special buffers near residents or even a requirement that the best technology be used. You can watch and listen to the planning Commission's interesting discussion of this petition and Scott Gaynor's plea to add "conditional use permit" to the amendment.
Link you can "jump to" zoning text amendent 144A
In my opinion, this zoning text amendment is even more important than the zoning itself. If Midland gives electrical generating stations permission "by right", then we may be eliminating future opportunities to regulate what comes to Midland. Our hands will be tied so to speak.
4. Questions about LS Power practices and experiences. I have come across some interesting information about the petitioning company. They are lobbying against Renewable Energy mandates and writing "improper" letters to the Iowa state representatives threatening to withdraw contributions to the university research program if the mandate passes........sounds sleezy to me. Link In addition, LS Power has never operated a coal plant before. They have 4 coal plants in the development stage and 1 in the very early construction phase, but none in operation.
The need for new jobs and more base-load energy in Michigan seems to be a well-documented fact. However, we are not convinced that a coal plant using old technology, run by a company who opposes renewable energy legislation, giving Midland a reputation that in embraces the past and not the future, creating only 100 permanent jobs, while spewing tons of pollution to our air is best for the City of Midland. Jonathan and I have written a letter to the Midland City Council expressing our concerns. If you are also concerned, we encourage you to do the same. At a minimum, please write to ask the Council to thoroughly consider the implications of their actions, to educate themselves on the topic using a variety of resources in addition to those provided by the company and to proceed slowly. For some reason they seemed rushed to get this done as evidenced by the fact the Planning Commission used only 15 of the 60 days they had to consider the rezoning and text amendment petitions.
The City Council members' names and addresses are found here Link . They are to hear a "first reading" on the zoning and text amendment petitions at the July 23rd council meeting. A public hearing will most likely be held on August 13th. Letters should be sent before August 6th.
I have a friend who recently spoke to one of the councilmen about this issue. After he told her of the positive aspects of plant (need for jobs in our community and energy in the state) she asked him what he thought about the potential environmental and health effects. He actually responded by saying that he had not even considered them!!!! I have no doubt that these men want what is best for our community, but they must become informed on both sides of the issues. You can encourage them to do this.
If you would like a copy of the letter we sent to the City Council regarding the rezoning and text amendments to use as an example, let us know and we can email it to you. We plan to send another letter with more specific concerns about the plant itself once a site plan is put before the planning commission. The group MidlandCARES (clean and renewable energy solutions) will soon have a website full of more information at www.midlandcares.org . If you have any questions or comments, please write to us. If you think we are overlooking an important point, please feel free to bring it up.