Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Free Fundraising Thermometers

fundraising ideasIf you've read other blog posts of mine, here or at the Artistic Christians' Network, you know that the Christian Arts Initiative is the name of a project of mine, designed to empower artistic Christians to make the most of their talents in a variety of ways, some of which will require substantial fundraising efforts in order to be transformed from great ideas into realities.

Online fundraisers often require high quality "thermometer style" graphics in order to help give their supporters some idea of how things are progressing vis-a-vis fundraising. So I did a Google search just now, and found a site which offered an online generator for code which could be adjusted in order to show one's current donations in comparison with one's monetary goals. Here it is. The numbers shown here are somewhat arbitrary, but in the future, I plan to plug in some more carefully conceived numbers, along with explanations (or summaries) of what the money would be used for and why it would be needed.

Fundraising Ideas

Fundraising Thermometer Generator

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Favorite Type of Art

Ever since I was in high school, I've always admired a type of hyperrealistic art which was often seen on album cover designs in the late seventies, and which often involved the use of an airbrush (although that wasn't always the case).

One illustrator who is particularly good at that style of art is Jerry LoFaro. Another similarly talented artist is Frank Ordaz. The two artists aren't identical in style. Jerry's images are sometimes less realistic in terms of subject matter. Frank's images are influenced by his Christianity, and by his previous employment with Industrial Light and Magic (where he worked on films such as ET).

Both artists are extremely talented. To be candid, I admire their artistic styles and skills a lot more than some self-proclaimed "fine artists". If I had to choose a style of art I'd love to be able to create myself, I suppose that this style would come closest to my own aspirations.

Interestingly, LoFaro now creates his art mostly with Photoshop (and possibly other digital software programs). The same could also be said for the vast majority of illustrators currently specializing in fantasy and science fiction imagery. It shows how far digital art has come in the past few years.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mimic HDR with Topaz Adjust

HDR is an awesome technique which produces photos which capture a much wider dynamic range than standard photos, and which can in many cases look more like very expertly done paintings than photos. It does this by combining multiple photos which are taken sequentially with different exposure settings. (This is known as autobracketing.) So one photo might be exposed for the highlights and another for the shadows, and the HDR software would then combine the best of the two photos (or more than two) to create an image which looks better than either of them alone.

The main problem is that HDR really only works well when there aren't subjects which are moving substantially in-between the different shots. Some HDR software can help to "erase" such subjects to some extent, but HDR is still more of a technique for still life and landscape images than for action photos.

Fortunately, I've found a software program which seems to do a superb job of mimicking the look of HDR photos, without the need for multiple exposures. It's called Topaz Adjust. Needless to say, it's a real boon for action photographers, but also useful for older photos for which there are no bracketed exposures. Or for modern photographers who possess cameras which lack autobracketing capabilities. Here are some very impressive links regarding the program:

Topaz also makes some other cool programs, such as Simplify. Furthermore, their website has an aweseome online gallery showing just what the software can do in the hands of photographers and artists who know what they're doing. Check it out!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

So Much for Choice

Whenever one talks about the subject of abortion with someone who opposes the legal prohibition of that practice, one is likely to hear the "choice" buzzword. After all, it sounds so much better to say that one is in favor of "choice" than to say that one is in favor of allowing women to chop up their unborn children in utero, or to destroy them by scalding them in a saline solution, or to destroy their unborn progeny in other ways. The word "choice" is sometimes repeated obsessively, almost as if it's a magic mantra which is capable of answering any and all moral objections to the practice.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hope Versus Optimism

On his Facebook page, the highly talented and perceptive Christian author Jim Belcher wrote the following on 12/5/2009:
"Optimism is a matter optics, of seeing what you want to see and not seeing what you don't want to see. Hope, on the other hand, is a Christian virtue. It is the unblinking acknowledgment of all that militates against hope, and the unrelenting refusal to despair." Richard John Neuhaus (via Scotty Smith).
Here's the comment I left in response to that post from Jim:
Too many modern churches are what I like to describe as "happy face churches," in which folks think the best solution to serious problems is to pretend they don't exist, and to hope that doing so causes them to go away. ("Positive confession" churches are especially prone to this kind of thing.) To me, that sounds more like Neuhaus' definition of optimism than his definition of hope.

The Bible commands Christians to bear one another's burdens. But I can attest from painful personal experiences that it's next to impossible to find anyone in a "happy face church" who will even allow one to tell him or her what one's burdens are in the first place. Pastors are sometimes the worst offenders, because they want to project an image of success, and the honesty of some believers can threaten that image.

How people are supposed to bear burdens when they're unaware of the nature of those burdens is anyone's guess. Meaningful problem resolution and healing is almost possible in such a superficial, uncaring environment.

Far fewer Christians would yield to despair if we had far more hopeful Christians (who therefore offered genuine help to hurting believers) and far fewer optimistic, heads-in-the-sand Christians.

A related and time-relevant note: I've heard that more people commit or attempt suicide during the Christmas season than during any other time of the year. Maybe what exacerbates their despair is their increased awareness of the huge discrepancy between what the church is and what it should be.
NOTE: Jim Belcher is also pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church ( in Newport Beach, California.

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Long Way Gone

Here's a link to information about a particularly fascinating book which has captured my attention lately.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Ghosts? Oooh, scary. (Not.)

Do you believe in ghosts? If so, you might be wary of visiting cemeteries. Personally, I'm not, because I've just never seen any evidence to support such silly claims.

I just came across a web page which stated the following, with regard to a cemetery in my home town:

The Springfield National Cemetery is also host to more than a few lingering spirits as well, according to some people. Late-night visitors to the cemetery have reported seeing gravestones that appeared to glow in the dark. Yet others have reported finding strange anomalies in photographs they took while inside the cemetery grounds. On occasion, some photographs even show what appears to be an apparition or form of some long-dead solider standing amongst the tombstones.

As it so happens, I grew up about a block away from that cemetery when I was a kid living at 2137 S. Delaware. Even then, I seem to recall walking through the cemetery on at least one or two occasions. Later, after my parents' divorce in 1972, my mother moved to 1520 E. Seminole, where she still lives today. I remember that when I was still in high school, my mother, my grandmother, my brother and I would sometimes walked through the National cemetery (where my father was buried when he died in 1999) as a shortcut on the way to the Battlefield Mall. It seemed safer than walking along the side of Glenstone Avenue, which didn't really have a decent sidewalk for that purpose.

I wasn't particularly spooked by the grave stones. To me, there wasn't much difference between that walk and a walk through one of the local parks. As often as we made that trip, I think that one of us would have noticed something if there had been glowing gravestones or apparitions of dead soldiers!

But hey, whatever it takes to bring more shoppers to the Battlefield Mall, I always say. Whatever's good for the economy of the region is likely to be good for the residents.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Forgive? Maybe. Forget? Never!

When one attempts to talk about past incidents which have negatively affected one's life, one is sometimes likely to be told that one should "get over it" and "move on with one's life" and "forgive and forget." Such glib and uncompassionate advice, which I've heard from Christian pulpits from time to time, treats regrettable past events as if there is never any logically or morally defensible reason to want or need to discuss such incidents with others.

That is simply false. As the southern novelist William Faulkner once wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past"

Traumatic events sometimes cause deep wounds and scars which can take a lot of time to heal. Yes, there are instances in which God miraculously heals painful memories instantly, but it's both insulting and presumptuous to assume that such exceptional incidents are or ought to be the norm. Counselors who don't give wounded people adequate time in which to heal from such events ought to be regarded as professionally incompetent.

Furthermore, even when complete healing has been achieved, it doesn't follow from that fact that remembering past events serves no other valid purposes. Prevention of similar events in the future, for instance, is a particularly valid purpose.

What did Faulkner mean when he said that the past wasn't even past? I believe that he meant that present realities are inextricably connected to past events, and it's naive to think that one can adequately address existing problems without a willingness to honestly examine and discuss the events which caused or led to those problems in the first place. Ignorance may be bliss, but only in the short term. In the long term, ignorance can lead to enormous problems. "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," said the philosopher George Santayana. If one is unable or unwilling to learn from past mistakes, how can progress ever be achieved? It is immature and idiotic to equate spiritual maturity with self-imposed amnesia.

It's important to discuss and remember horrific tragedies such as the Holocaust. That's why we have a United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Many people would like to just forget or deny that the Holocaust ever took place. But we need to be periodically and graphically reminded, so that such things will never happen again. We also need to be reminded of our great capacity for evil, so that we will better understand our moral depravity and our desperate need for God.

Writing about the Holocaust, Ellie Wiesenthal wrote, "For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time."

The same could be said about other large-scale tragedies, such as the terrorist attacks in 2001; and also to individual tragedies, such as the extreme child abuse to which author Dave Pelzer and many other children have been subjected.

If we took literally the advice of those who say that we should instantly forget the sins and crimes of the past, it would be impossible to seek justice in our nation's courts. Vicious predators would forever prey on innocent victims, and we would be partly to blame for subsequent crimes which they committed, on account of our moral cowardice. Remembering is essential if we want to be a society of laws, not anarchy.

I find it ironic that some Christians say that one ought not to ever "live in the past," inasmuch as the entirety of the Christian experience is based on a willingness to regularly remember and reflect upon incidents which took place more than two millenia ago. Jesus specifically told us, regarding the eucharist, to "take these in rememberance of me". Rememberance can be both good and necessary.

Yes, it's true that it can be unhealthy to continually wallow in sorrow, without making an effort to balance things out by thinking about positive things. But it's equally unhealthy to live in denial and to live a life which is devoid of authenticity and honesty. Pastors and other spiritual leaders who insist that the members of their congregation live in denial are guilty of abdicating their fundamental moral responsibilities towards the people in their care.

This is not a trivial matter. If our pastors insist on promoting simplistic ideas about forgiveness which make it impossible to adequately address problems or to hold people accountable for wrongdoing, then they are unworthy of our continual allegiance, no matter how many other good things we may be able to say about them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Poverty and Dignity

The November 16, 2009 issue of Newsweek features an article entitled "Seeing Dignity in Poverty: Dorothea Lange's Politics of Respect". It's a thought-provoking article pertaining to the idea that poverty-stricken people need more than just material help; they also need to be treated with respect, in a manner which instills them with hope for the future, and which doesn't presumptuously and self-righteously assume that the poverty which afflicts them is necessarily their own fault.

Some Christian charities and churches seem to understand the aforementioned concept. Others, sadly, do not.

NOTE: The aforementioned article argues that Lange demonstrates the dignity of her subjects by showing their stoicism. I agree that Lange's photos portrayed her subjects (such as the famous "Migrant Mother") with dignity. But I think that it's wrong, and potentially harmful, to think that overt demonstrations of understandable anguish, sadness or anger in response to adversity are undignified. After all, the scriptures teach that Christ's strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. There is nothing shameful about genuine tears or other intense negative emotions. Even Jesus wept and expressed anger from time to time. As Christians, we ought, above all, to be authentic and honest. There is nothing dignified about being treated in a dehumanizing manner, as if one's feelings are of no importance.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Doctrines Have Consequences

During the early days of the Jesus Movement, there was an attempt to get away from a vision in which people defined their Christian experiences primarily on the basis of dry intellectual doctrines which were considered to be devoid of life and vitality. Consequently, doctrines were often disparaged as unimportant. This was a symptom of the slow shift from modernism and its excessive emphasis on rationality to postmodernism and its excessive emphasis on mystical experiences. It was in some sense related to things going on in the larger culture, particularly in terms of the increased proliferation of hallucinogenic drugs. Jimi Hendrix's question, "Are you experienced?" seemed to emphasize subjective experiences, and was related to a simultaneous increase in the number of philosophers who questioned the existence of objective truth. Truth with a capital T was replaced by phrases such as "your truth" and "my truth". Multiculturalism and moral relativism can also be said to be related to the emphasis on subjective experiences over objective facts.

This made it very difficult to debate with unbelievers when comparing the relative merits of Christianity with the merits (or lack thereof) of other belief systems. Critical analysis of various belief systems was seen as passé, and being "tolerant" of various belief systems was equated with refusal to engage in such analysis.

Churches which emphasized personal subjective experiences, such as Pentecostal churches, were therefore more attuned to the new mentality than older, more established denominations, which I think helps to explain their rapid growth during that period and during subsequent decades. Jesus People sometimes adapted their evangelistic appeals to that mentality, using phrases such as "get high on Jesus" and "turn on to Jesus" in an attempt to connect with the youth subculture in a relevant way.

To be sure, there was more than an ounce of truth to criticisms of churches which appeared to have been sapped of their vitality by an excessive reliance on tradition and intellectualism. Some churches had clearly chosen to ignore large sections of the Bible which supported the idea that the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit were still available to modern believers. Many good things happened, in terms of church renewal, during the Jesus movement. But when the pendulum swung towards subjectivism, it sometimes swung too far.

Personal experience and doctrines are to authentic Christianity what yeast and flour are to the art of making leavened bread. Neither element is sufficient, but both elements are necessary.

Ironically, the idea that doctrine is unimportant is itself a doctrine. The manner in which we define our beliefs, in the form of written or unwritten doctrines, is vitally important, because it shapes our actions for better or worse.

Take, for example, the prosperity doctrine which has recently become popular in many Pentecostal churches, and also in some other large evangelical churches.

There's an interesting article in the December 2009 issue of the Atlantic magazine. (Here's a link to that article.) That cover story asks the provocative question "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?" But really, when you read the actual article, the author isn't claiming that Christianity itself caused the crash. Rather, Hannah Rosin argues that a particular subset of Christianity, consisting of people who subscribe to the "prosperity doctrine," was responsible in large part, because they had eschewed the historic Christian emphasis on thrift and fiscal responsibility in favor of a new doctrine which equates faith with undisciplined lifestyles which some others might rightfully regard as foolish.

As a committed Christian, my initial inclination when I saw the cover of that issue of the Atlantic was to think that it was just another example of how the secular media frequently seeks to find fault with the church in order to disparage Christianity itself. But after I'd read the article, I had to admit that the author had made some good points. (I was also pleased to see a separate article, in that issue, pertaining to Dave Ramsey and his attempts to call Christians to practice fiscal self-discipline.)

The article by Hannah Rosin didn't address every possible reason for objecting to the "prosperity doctrine". My own reasons for doing so include the ones listed in her article, but they also include the observation that such a doctrine diminishes an appreciation of the sovereignty of God, by treating God as if he's a cosmic vending machine who is obliged to deliver prosperity to anyone who follows a few simple principles. In that sense, the doctrine is insulting to God. (Admittedly, the insult is probably unintentional, but it's real nevertheless.)

That doctrine is also insulting to people who struggle with poverty, inasmuch as it implies that such struggles are invariably the result of lack of obedience to God. Since poverty is ostensibly always the fault of those who suffer from want, the doctrine becomes a convenient excuse for failing to offer meaningful and compassionate help to such people. Words such as "community" may be used with great frequency in such churches, but when you look beyond the attractive rhetoric, their pastors and other leaders rarely consider that they have any responsibilities to engage in traditional acts of charity in order to help people to overcome the seemingly insurmountable obstacles which hinder them from experiencing true prosperity. Rather, such pastors seem to believe that their responsibility begins and ends with teaching the principle of sowing and reaping, in self-serving ways which conveniently happen to expand the size of their offerings from week to week. If unbelievers see this as a form of exploitation, we should hardly be surprised, because it is.

None of this is to deny that we reap what we sow to some extent, but things are often more complicated than that. The story of Job teaches us that people are unbalanced in their views when they adopt simplistic explanations for situations which can conceivably have multiple causes. Job's "friends" blamed Job for his troubles, assuming presumptuously that God was punishing him for some sin. But those who have read the entire story know that that wasn't the case at all. If anything, Job was tried precisely because God was proud of Job's faith in God, and sought to demonstrate the depth of that faith to Satan, who had suggested that Job would serve God only as long as Job continued to prosper. In the end, God's faith in Job was rewarded.

The "prosperity teachers" say that God wants us to prosper, citing scriptures in support of that view. I don't disagree with them on that point; but the question is, how is that prosperity supposed to come about? The Bible teaches that when one member of the Body of Christ hurts, all members hurt. It logically follows that when one member prospers, all members prosper. In other words, we all have a vested interest in relieving the suffering of fellow Christians, and in doing everything possible to help one another to succeed and prosper.

Rather than blaming the victims whenever we're presented with evidence that some of our fellow believers are suffering, we ought to see that as God's voice calling us to take action to help those believers whenever we have the means with which to do so. Whereas individual Christians often lack the means, the church collectively has the means more often than not, provided that they're more interested in helping people in need than in empire building.

One might describe this view as the "new prosperity doctrine" since it replaces the "old" doctrine which has caused so many problems in the church in recent years; but really, theirs is the newer of the two doctrines, since it has a shakier foundation insofar as scriptural support is concerned. The traditional biblical view promoted an understanding of the crucial role which believers individually and corporately play in meeting one another's needs, not just with specious rhetoric and spurious self-help theories, but with real acts of charity which promote human dignity.

When our doctrines deviate from the truths presented in the scriptures, the church suffers insofar as credibility is concerned. The history of the church is one of refinement in terms of our understanding of what is and is not biblical. In past centuries, bad doctrines have been used to rationalize the existence of monarchies (using the doctrine of the "divine right of kings") and slavery, just to name two examples of doctrines which we have now largely discarded as a result of deeper reflection on the requirements which can be found in God's word. We are fallible human beings, and we make mistakes, and we sometimes realize only in hindsight that our doctrines have had unintentional negative consequences. Maturity entails showing the humility to acknowledge one's mistakes and to do what is necessary in order to correct those mistakes. I pray that we will do so insofar as the prosperity doctrine is concerned.

For a downloadable printer-friendly version of this article, click the following link:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Maine Voters Get It Right

For those of you who haven't heard the good news from Maine, here's a link:

Virtually every time voters have had the opportunity to speak their minds about the issue of gay marriage, they've lost, even in some of the most liberal states in the union. It seems to me that that ought to mean something, but I'd be the last person to argue that political victory is invariably tantamount to legitimacy. If that were the case, Obama wouldn't be where he is today.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

My Geocities Site is Gone!

One drawback of using multiple companies for web hosting is that if one of those companies ceases to offer services, it can cause malfunctions on other sites which rely on files to be found on the site operated by the company which no longer offers services. That's the case with regard to graphic files of mine (and perhaps other files, too) which were hosted earlier by Yahoo! Geocities.

It isn't as if it caught me completely unaware; I'd known for some time that Yahoo! was closing down all of the free Geocities hosting accounts. But I'd hoped that they would at least continue to hold onto the files they already had, so that links I'd created in numerous places on this blog (and elsewhere) wouldn't become obsolete. Not so. Hence, if you're going through earlier blog posts on this blog site and you find missing images and other files, that's the likely explanation.

This blog post is an example of what I'm talking about. The text is still there, but the images previously displayed in the blog post are now gone! It's really annoying.

Fortunately, I do have those files elsewhere (on CD-R discs), since I've always made a habit of never uploading any files to a web hosting program without also backing up the files on CD-R discs or other media. Unfortunately, going through all my blog posts here and fixing things (by finding those files, then uploading them to a new host, and then changing the links so that they point to those new file locations) will be a very time-consuming proposition, and a potentially frustrating one, on account of the huge number of files I've burned onto various CD-R discs of mine. At present, my computer time is very limited, and it's much more important for me to address my economic situation by getting a job very soon; so fixing all of those links so that they work properly again is not one of my highest priorities.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting the Jump on Things

Today, just after noon, a woman living in my building tried to jump out of a 10th floor window in order to kill herself. I learned about it because I was on my way back from the first floor residents' lounge to my room on the 12th floor. The head security guard told me in an agitated tone of voice that I couldn't use the elevator because they had a "situation" which required that they commandeer the elevators. So I took the stairs, wondering what kind of situation would prevent residents from being able to use the elevators.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Not Attractive At All

About half an hour ago, I was sitting at a large table, waiting for the start of my second one-hour daily computer session here at the Harold Washington library. (I usually schedule a break of a half hour in-between those two sessions, for reasons pertaining to the necessities of human biology, in relation to the periodic elimination of waste products.)

At a table next to mine, I spotted a group of about seven people, probably in their late teens and early twenties, dressed in a style which could best be described as "post apocalyptic punk". In the case of the two young "ladies" traveling with the group, perhaps I should describe their style of dress as "post apocalyptic skank".

I'm generally pretty tolerant when it comes to styles of clothing, hair, etc. After all, I started high school in 1970, a year after Woodstock, and even though my commitment to Christ precluded involvement in the drug culture or the so-called "free love" of the day, I did like the hippie styles, such as long hair, beards, "love beads", bell bottom jeans and tie dye shirts. (I never had a tie dye shirt back then. Now I have two, one of which has the word "Chicago" screen printed on the front.)

However, as "intolerant" as it might sound for me to say so, someone should inform one of the young women in the aforementioned group that even though moderate cleavage is arguably sexy when seen above a woman's waist, it's considerably less sexy when it involves a person's derriere. (Butt cleavage isn't attractive on men, either. I once witnessed that phenomenon frequently when living with an extremely obese roommate named Wes, who could not be bothered to buy or wear a belt or to pull his pants up when they started to droop.) This woman also had her midriff on full display, with her stomach protruding prominently, as if to defy folks to tell her to dress more tastefully.

Another one of the women in the group was likewise dressed in punk regalia, complete with fishnet stockings which looked as if she'd purposefully run them through an industrial strength paper shredder before she put them on.

Needless to say, heavy body piercings, tattoos, fluorescent hair and other similar adornments were liberally sprinkled among the various people in that little group.

Some people would say that when folks dress that way, they're doing so in order to make "a statement". I could hazard a guess regarding what they were trying to say, but the words might not be fit for publication. Suffice it to say that those words would consist of a verbal expression of the idea which is commonly expressed in some circles with an upraised middle finger. If I'd stared at them, I think that they'd have been inordinately pleased with the attention, since it seems to me that they dress that way purposefully in order to provoke and offend other people.

Nevertheless, Jesus loves them and he died on the cross for them. It's tempting to dismiss such people as being beyond any hope of redemption, but Christians cannot afford to do that. Regardless of cultural differences, we must reach out with love to those who are alienated from mainstream society, because that's what Christ would do.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The New Tolerance

For centuries, America has been known as a nation which places a high value on freedom, at least in theory. We've implemented those ideals rather poorly during various eras in our history, as historians and ancestors of slaves can attest, but the ideal of freedom has nevertheless formed the cornerstone of our system of government.

The idea of tolerance is closely connected with our emphasis on freedom. There have been obvious exceptions, but we've generally tried to live peacably with people with differing beliefs. I think that's admirable.

Unfortunately, the meaning of words sometimes mutates over time. Just as the word "gay" now has a radically different meaning from what it once meant to most people, the word "tolerance" has also come to mean something very different from what it once meant. There was a time when one could be regarded as tolerant without feeling pressured to abstain from saying controversial things. Vigorous debate was not forbidden, nor was criticism of others, provided that it didn't cross the line into obvious slander or libel. The phrase "political correctness" had not yet become a synonym for oppression of people who dared to think for themselves.

Obviously, that era has passed into the mists of history. These days, many liberals are likely to accuse one of being "intolerant" for no better reason than the fact that one openly admits that one believes in the existence of objective truth. In many circles, "tolerance" has become a synonym or code word for spineless moral relativism.


According to this article, Blogger is now in partnership with a company which enables one to turn one's blog articles into printed books.

As a one-of-a-kind "vanity" product or gift item, and as an alternative to writing one's journal articles out by hand or copying and pasting individual articles into one or more separate word processed documents, Blog2Print looks like a pretty cool option. However, as a means of publishing one's blog articles professionally (complete with the editing flexibility which one would need in order to do things such as turning links into footnotes or endnotes), it probably wouldn't work nearly as well.

Blog2Print apparently requires that one specify the blog articles to be printed by "date range", whereas it would make more sense, when converting one's articles into professional-quality books, to choose and then edit articles item-by-item, since some blog articles are fairly ephemeral, or unrelated to the topic of one's chosen book project.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Crackers and Prayer

I just came across this article, and I thought that it was noteworthy. It affirms once again that when people are in difficult situations, prayer can often make a big difference in their lives.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sexual Predators and Home Schooling

Recently, I was at the Barnes and Noble bookstore over at DePaul Universty, browsing through the magazines. I picked up a copy of The Economist, which had an interesting cover story entitled "America's Unjust Sex Laws". There's a truncated version of the story online, but you really should read the entire article (which is probably only available in print) in order to understand the basis for the claims being made in the article.

At the risk of seeming as if I'm defending sexual predators (which is definitely NOT the case!), I must say that I thought the aforementioned article made some good points. Among other things, the article discussed laws which prevent sex abusers who've been released from prison from living within close proximity to public schools or school bus stops. Here was the author's conclusion on that subject: "Restricting where sex offenders can live is supposed to keep them away from potential victims, but it is doubtful that this works. A determined predator can always catch a bus."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Food for Thought Regarding Submission

Sooner or later, if a Christian dares to criticize an authority figure or another person within the Body of Christ, one is likely to be accused of "divisiveness" even though it's most often the case that such criticism merely calls necessary attention to disunity which already exists, rather than creating the disunity in the first place. In my experience, criticisms of that nature are often disingenuously used in order to prevent or shut down honest, mature, biblically centered conversations about problems which badly need to be addressed.

I acknowledge that there are cases in which it's legitimate to criticize people for being needlessly divisive or needlessly critical. Note, however, that the act of criticizing someone simply for being critical, regardless of whether or not that person's criticisms are valid, is an inherently self-contradictory act. If indeed it's invariably wrong to criticize others, then it is hypocritical to criticize people for being critical, inasmuch as one is doing the very thing which one claims is wrong.

Criticism for its own sake or criticism which is motivated by malice or jealousy is indeed destructive and worthy of condemnation, but not all forms of criticism fall into that category.

Without the freedom to criticize, Christians are unable to fulfill their biblical responsibilities to "test the spirits". There are some who think that such responsibilities are the exclusive domain and prerogative of people who hold privileged (and usually paid) positions of authority within the church. I am aware of no scriptural evidence to support such a claim.

I find it ironic that many of the people who make such claims are the same people who praise church reformers such as Martin Luther. There is something strange about Protestants who argue that Christian pastors and leaders within their own churches are somehow exempt from criticism. The word "protestants" is derived from the word "protest". Without the willingness of men such as Luther to protest the unbiblical teachings and practices of existing church leaders, there would be no Protestant churches today.

It's interesting to me to notice the relationship, in I John 4:1, between a failure to test the spirits and an inability to prevent false prophets from going out into the world.

What is the mark of a false prophet? In the Old Testament, false prophets were typically "ear ticklers" and "man pleasers". In the modern vernacular, they were "yes men". False prophets told leaders who had gone astray what those leaders wanted to hear, not what they needed to hear. False prophets were afraid of being accused of "rocking the boat" and "being divisive," so they chose to lie in the name of God rather than speaking the plain and honest truth. True prophets spoke the truth. They were not jerks, but they were not afraid of stepping on a few people's toes if necessary, nor did they allow themselves to be intimidated by bogus appeals to authority into staying silent.

What was their earthly reward for speaking the truth? In Luke 13:34, Jesus said that many of the prophets were stoned to death in Jerusalem. ("O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!")

Biblically, stoning was supposed to be reserved for false prophets. But it's clear from the aforementioned passage that the ones being stoned in Jerusalem by the religious leaders of the day were the true prophets, not the false ones. It caused Jesus to openly grieve. True followers of Christ should likewise grieve when we see examples of the oppressive misuse of authority.

Does this mean that Christians ought not to submit to authority? No, of course not. But we ought to have a better understanding of the biblical meaning of submission.

Unfortunately, when some people use the term "submission," it calls to mind images of hierarchical and inherently unequal relationships. But a clear reading of the scriptures (in which Paul told married people to submit "to one another") ought to refute the idea that that's what the Bible means when it talks about godly submission.

The unbiblical manner in which Christians have sometimes defined the term "submission" has led to abusive situations, or to the perpetuation of such situations. It has led to situations in which the key component in those relationships has been power, not love.

In the Bible, the word "submit" is used in a manner which has nothing to do with dominance of other people or disregard for their feelings or needs. The Bible emphasizes mutual submission (in which each person genuinely cares about the well being of the other person), as opposed to the lopsided type of submission which gives one person a disproportionate amount of authority over another person.

The mutuality of biblical submission ought to be applicable to all human relationships, whether one is talking about the relationships between pastors and laity, employers and employees, teachers and students, or even parents and children. People who exercise power without regard for the feelings and needs of others are not acting with God's authority. Such people are bullies, pure and simple, and they ought to be treated as such.

In Luke 12:42-48, The Bible says, "To whom much is given, much will be required." As an example of what is meant by that statement, the passage gives the example (beginning in verse 42) of a servant or steward to whom a household has been entrusted. But the steward abuses his authority, "and begins to beat the male and female servants" (NKJV). How does the master of the house respond? "(T)he master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers." Folks, this is serious stuff! According to the preceding passage of scripture, abusive leaders will be harshly punished by God, even to the point that they will be treated as if they had been unbelievers. How will unbelievers be treated? According to the scriptures, they will be damned to hell. I'm not making that up, it's in the word of God.

Authority is not a blank check to treat people however we feel like treating them. Authority is a stewardship from God, and people in positions of authority will be held accountable for how they treat other people. Leaders are not exempt from the Golden Rule.

Even Jesus, who was certainly entitled to throw his weight around if he'd chosen to do so, demonstrated that he saw leadership as a position of service to others, not as an authorization for riding roughshod over the feelings and needs of others.

Whether one is talking about the home, church or the workplace, we need more humble leaders who understand that they are called to serve. Arrogance is not a trivial offense which we can afford to overlook when assessing the qualifications, or lack thereof, of pastors and other leaders.

One final relevant comment: I recently attended a church which, in most respects, seemed to be a great church. However, two of the three pastors had made a couple of comments from the pulpit, and I was bothered by those comments, because they suggested that the pastors had very little empathy for people who were suffering (as I had recently suffered) from depression in relation to negative circumstances. So I went to the lead pastor and attempted to address these issues, hoping that he'd alleviate my concerns by assuring me that if I was depressed for some reason, I could talk to him without fear of condemnation. Instead, he cut me off almost as soon as I'd begun to express my negative feelings about what he'd said from the pulpit. "If you don't like the way we do things here," he said, "then leave here and start your own church."

Maybe it's just me, but that statement didn't seem to exhibit the type of humility which ought to be exhibited by Christian leaders. So I wrote a letter of complaint to the district superintendent of the denomination of which that church was a part. The letter was completely ignored. My followup e-mail, in which I asked why there had been no response to my letter, was also ignored.

Apparently, both the pastor and the superintendent felt threatened by anything resembling criticism, so they considered that they were exempt from criticism, and that they had no obligations to respond to such criticism with anything resembling humility.

Starting my own church, contrary to the pastor's insinuations, was not an option for me. (I was, and am, barely paying the rent on my own tiny room at the YMCA.) But leaving that church, as he'd suggested that I should do, was an option. So I did. And so should you, if you find yourself in a similarly abusive relationship. Yes, you should pray for reconciliation, and you should be willing to forgive if there's an indication of genuine repentance on the part of the person who has abused your trust. But you have no biblical obligation to be anyone's doormat. Not even a spouse's or a pastor's.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Options for Hand Engraving

I've always loved the look of line art created with wood engraving techniques, associated with artists such as Albrecht Durer, Thomas Bewick and others. I also like the look of linocut printing, even though it typically doesn't have as much fine detail.

Here are some cool powered handheld tools which could be used for the purpose of carving end grain wood blocks, linoleum blocks, etc. for relief printing:

EK Success Inscriblio: This appears to be the least expensive option. Battery powered, and more portable, but on the flip side, I suspect that it's considerably less sophisticated than the other two units shown here in terms of various bits and suitability for fine detail. Still, it might be useful for certain applications.
Turbo Carver II: More expensive than the Inscriblio, but less expensive (I believe) than the 400 XS.
SCM 400 XS

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Legacy of Roe v Wade Continues

Even for a person with a strong stomach, it's hard to read the recent Associated Press story about Otty Sanchez without losing one's lunch. Apparently, Sanchez murdered her 3 1/2 week old infant, Scott Wesley Buchholtz-Sanchez, whereupon she then decapitated the baby, tore his face off, chewed off three of his toes and ate his brain. She says that the devil told her to do it. Well, duh! Good people know how to say no to the devil. Evil people such as Otty Sanchez do not. Using lame excuses such as "postpartum depression" in order to shield the perpetrators of such heinous acts from justice is morally unacceptable.

I don't recall reading stories like this in the news when I was growing up. I'm not saying that things were all peaches and cream back in the sixties and early seventies. But anyone who's been paying attention knows that the rates of infanticide, child abuse and schoolyard slayings have all skyrocketed in the years subsequent to the tragic landmark decision known as Roe v Wade. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why. Such incidents have been the result of the societal diminution of respect for the innate value of human life. And it doesn't take a genius to figure out why our values have changed in that regard. When defenseless unborn children are regularly legally murdered in the name of "choice" in abortion clinics throughout America, it sends a strong message to people such as Otty Sanchez.

It's time for us to own up to the huge mistake which was made in 1973. It's time to end legal abortion and take a stand for the principle that all human life, from conception until the time of natural death, is equally valuable and worthy of legal protection.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bob Dylan and Morality

Every once in a while, I like to pick up an issue of Rolling Stone magazine and browse through the contents, in spite of the ungodly, politically biased perspective which generally characterizes the publication. (Underneath the title, the cover should say, "A wholly owned subsidiary of the most liberal wing of the Democratic party.")

The cover story in the 5/14/2009 issue featured Bob Dylan. Since Mr. Dylan went through a Christian "phase" in his life (during which he produced some excellent Christian songs), I was interested to see what his current thoughts on the subject of life might be. I found this quote, from page 76, to be particularly interesting and worthy of comment ...


Monday, July 13, 2009

CraigsList Scams for Job Seekers

Here's a link to a lengthy article I recently wrote, regarding one of the frustrating aspects of looking for work during these difficult times.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Heaven and Michael Jackson

The other day, I was sitting in the residents' lounge in the building where I live, and the TV there was tuned in to the memorial service for singer Michael Jackson. Naturally, they brought in a Christian minister to lend legitimacy to the proceedings. I don't remember whether it was the minister or someone else, but someone said, "Michael, we know that you're in heaven now," or something to that effect.

When it comes to the question of who will and who won't go to heaven, I freely acknowledge that only God knows for sure. However, in cases where there's good reason to wonder whether the person will be there or not, I'm inclined to think that it's best to refrain from making definitive statements about that person's eternal destiny after the person has died. It's just as "judgmental" to declare that one is certain that the person is in heaven as it is to declare that one is certain that the person is in hell, is it not?

Scripturally, there is only one basis for salvation. Repentance from one's sins, accompanied by confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for entrance into heaven. Is there any evidence that Michael Jackson ever did those things? Is there any evidence that he had any real faith whatsoever in Jesus Christ? Where is that evidence?

Michael Jackson had time to sing love songs to rats ("Ben") and to sing songs about zombies ("Thriller"), but he had no time left over in which to use his enormously visible public platform for the purpose of sharing the Christian gospel with others. Is it possible, in spite of that fact, that he loved the Lord anyway? Yes, but it seems very unlikely to me. At the very least, evangelism seems to have been very, very low on his list of priorities. The only time I can recall indirectly hearing anything at all about Jesus, from the lips of Michael Jackson, was when it was reported that he'd referred to wine as "Jesus juice" during one of his many "adventures" involving questionable relationships with very young boys with whom he was not biologically related. Admittedly, he was never convicted of sexual molestation in a court of law. However, if he had not been guilty, I doubt that he would have settled out of court with his accusers, as he did. I know that if anyone ever accused me publicly of such a shameful thing, I wouldn't rest until my name was cleared.

When questioned on national TV about the accusations of sexual molestation, Michael said that the most loving thing a person could do for another person was to share one's bed with that person. Jesus, by way of contrast, said that the most loving thing a person could do for one's friends was to die for one's friends. It seems to me that Michael's definition of love could have used some serious revision.

So again, I ask, what's the basis for the belief that Michael is in heaven? Is such a declaration based on a solid foundation of knowledge about Michael Jackson, or is it based on wishful thinking, motivated either by the naive and unscriptural belief that everyone will go to heaven after death, or on the ridiculous idea that anyone as undeniably talented and popular as Michael Jackson must surely be in heaven? Or maybe the person who made that statement didn't really believe it to be true, but said it anyway in order to comfort Michael's surviving friends and relatives.

God's values are not invariably aligned with the values of the pop culture in America. I believe that some of the people who are considered to be icons of our culture will be seen as nobodies in the kingdom of God. Conversely, I believe that some people who are popularly considered to be "nobodies" who will reap huge rewards in heaven, because they sought first the kingdom of God instead of focusing primarily on gratifying their own (sometimes perverted) lusts and exalting their own egos.

Again, none of this is to diminish Michael Jackson's talents, which were immense. Nor is it to deny that he occasionally did good things for other people. (I haven't forgotten "We Are The World.") But neither of those things is a sufficient basis for salvation. If Michael is in heaven (and I sincerely hope for his sake that he is), it isn't because of his talents or his good works. It's because he asked Jesus to come into his life and be his savior. In terms of one's eternal destiny, that's the only thing that really matters.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Between Contumacity and Obsequiousness

Every once in a while, I like to briefly flip through a dictionary in an attempt to enlarge my vocabulary by discovering new and useful words.

The other day, I happened to spot the little-used word "contumacious". defines the word (in its adjective form) as "stubbornly perverse or rebellious; willfully and obstinately disobedient". (Or "insubordinate," in the lingo of American employers.) At the opposite extreme, a person might be described as "obsequious".

I'm inclined to think that a person's attitude toward authority ought to be somewhere in-between those two extremes. Unfortunately, some people incorrectly think that contumacity and obsequiousness are one's only two options when dealing with authority figures. Therefore, one who is not in the habit of kissing the behinds of people who are demonstrably fallible is likely to be accused, occasionally, of contumacity. That's a shame. Such accusations often say more about the accusers than they say about the accused.

Gray versus Grey

I sometimes find myself using certain words, in written communications, where I know that the British spell those words differently than Americans, but I can't always remember which spelling is supposed to be the "American" spelling.

That isn't an issue with all words, of course. For example, I've always known that "colour" is the British spelling whereas "color" is the American spelling. (Leave it to the British to add or use an extra vowel which serves no apparent purpose!) But other words, such as the word "gray," aren't as immediately obvious to me. Consequently, I've sometimes found myself vacillating between the two spellings, depending on my mood.

Here's a link to a useful Wikipedia article regarding such spelling variants. According to that article, "gray" is the American spelling and "grey" is the British spelling. I'd kind of thought that that was the case, but I couldn't recall for sure until I checked it out just now.

I'm recording this information here mostly for my own reference, but it may also be useful to people other than myself.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Obama Acronyms

I visited a web page a while back, in which people proposed various acronyms based on Barack Obama's surname. Here are a few of my own suggestions:

Obviously Believes Abortion Merits Approval

Obtusely Believes Abortion's Most Appealing

Overtly Bulldozes America's Moral Authority

That last acronym is based on the following definition (found in the American Heritage Dictionary) for the word "bulldozing": "To do away with; demolish". It is very closely related to the first two acronyms.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Obama and Socialism

Here's a link to a rather thought provoking blog post I discovered a moment ago while randomly browsing through the blogs at How valid is it? I don't know. But in light of Barack Obama's association with people such as Bill Ayers, I personally find it to be plausible.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Temper, Temper

"I never liked anyone who didn't have a temper. If you don't have any temper, you don't have any passion." — Michael Bloomberg (2002)

I found the preceding quote in an article on the web, and I liked it a lot, and not just because of my own personality. I think the quotation is quite apt, particularly in an age when a relentlessly sanguine personality is falsely seen by many as a sign of virtue. I believe that people have a moral responsibility to be angered by injustice and evil, because people who are apathetic about such things tend to tolerate them. When we tolerate evil, we help to perpetuate evil.

Jesus was angered by the economic injustices perpetrated in the Temple by people who ostensibly represented God — even to the point that Jesus scourged the moneychangers with a small whip and overturned their tables! What? Did you think they crucified Jesus because he got along well with everyone? Think again! It's no accident that the crucifixion took place a mere week after the incident in the Temple.

Admittedly, some people have a tendency to lose their tempers over trivialities. There's such a thing as making mountains out of molehills. Some people also have a tendency to get angry for rather self-centered reasons. (Some of Michael Bloomberg's detractors would undoubtedly accuse him of having done so, and for all I know, they may be right.) But there's also such a thing as making molehills out of mountains. When we trivialize everything, refusing to take a firm and passionate stand against things which are wrong, our complicity makes us perpetrators of those things. I believe that we'll answer to God for our apathy, if we are guilty of such apathy, on the day of judgment.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ethics and Capitalism

The following quote is from the cover story for the most recent issue of Newsweek (6/22/2009). The article is entitled "The Capitalist Manifesto." It was written by Fareed Zakaria.
No system — capitalism, socialism, whatever — can work without a sense of ethics at its core. No matter what reforms we put in place, without common sense, judgment and an ethical standard, they will prove inadequate. We will never know where the next bubble will form, what the next innovations will look like and where excesses will build up. But we can ask that people steer themselves and their institutions with a greater reliance on a moral compass.
Amen to that!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Social Bookmarking Sites

Ever since I started browsing the Web regularly, I've been a big fan of the ability to create bookmarks (known as Favorites in Internet Explorer), so that one doesn't have to remember web addresses (especially really long and complicated ones) and so that one can keep track of all of the best web sites and pages which one has visited.

The only problem is that one's collection of bookmarks tends to be limited to one's own computer, which means that it isn't normally available when using other people's computers or public computers. That can be a big problem if one's computer crashes, forcing one to use public computers such as the ones at the library until one can afford to repair or replace the computer. (That's particularly relevant to me in my current situation!)

One can transfer collections of bookmarks from computer to computer, but if one is borrowing someone else's computer, that person may not appreciate having his or her own bookmarks overwritten. (Of course, one can back up those bookmarks first by exporting them before importing one's one collection, but that's a hassle.) And public computers are often set up so that importing and exporting bookmarks (or even creating bookmarks) may not be an option.

A better idea is to store one's bookmarks online so that they can be accessed regardless of which computer one is using at the time. Social bookmarking web-based services such as (previously are beneficial as a means of enabling one to do just that. Some social bookmarking sites enable one to import entire folders of bookmarks at once, which is particularly handy for people who, like me, have created extensive collections of Internet Explorer Favorites in numerous folders and subfolders.

A second benefit is that such social bookmarking web services enable one to share one's collections of bookmarks with others, by making them "public" when saving them. This is one good way to increase the likelihood that people will visit one's own web pages and sites, and it's also a good way to easily help out others who have websites, blogs, etc. which are worthy of promotion. One may also be able to share one's bookmarks with other members by sending e-mail messages to them.

I just signed up with, so I now have a web page which stores my own links. Right now, I only have a few links there, but I intend to significantly expand that list in the near future.

(NOTE: also has a feature which enables one to periodically export all of the links one has stored there, as a safety precaution in case there's some data loss on their end. The export process produces an HTML file, the same as exporting with browsers such as Internet Explorer.)

Here's a partial list of some other social bookmarking services. (Or click this link for an even more extensive list.)
  1. Digg
  3. StumbleUpon
  4. Reddit
  5. Squidoo
  6. Furl
  7. BlinkList
  9. Simpy
  10. Spurl
  11. Raw Sugar
  12. Yahoo MyWeb
Notice that I now have a link, in the sidebar of this blog, which enables one to easily bookmark any page on this site at If you like reading my blog or a particular blog post, please take the time to click that link, or the link at the end of this blog post, if you already have a account. That way, you can help me to increase the web traffic for this site. That would be greatly appreciated!
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Pentax K7

Pentax has a new digital SLR, known as the K7. The resolution is the same as the already excellent K20D, and it seems to have retained all of the cool features offered with the K20D (such as the weather-resistant design and the built-in interval timer), but they've added some very desirable new features, such as a movie mode and an optional vertical grip (very handy for portraits).

The interval timer would be very handy for self-portraits, upon which one could base paintings or drawings or digital art if one wished to do so; and it could do things a standard self timer couldn't do. (For example, I'd like to take a series of photos of myself while I'm playing an entire piece on the piano. A standard self timer would only take one shot, and then I'd have to get up from the piano bench and set up the camera to take another photo. That would pretty much negate the possibility of getting an authentic photo of a real performance.) The number of intervals (between 1 and 99 shots) and the length of time between shots (up to 24 hours, 0 minutes and 0 seconds) is more limited than the options offered by some computer software programs (such as software which comes with just about all Canon DSLR cameras) or by third party solutions such as the PClix LT or the much bulkier Mumford Time Machine), but having such features built into the camera would make it possible to take intervalometer photos in situations where one might be hindered from doing so with other solutions. (For instance, since the K7 is weather resistant, one could take intervalometer photos out in the rain. That would be much harder with other options.)

There's also a very desirable in-camera feature which merges three photos together in order to produce HDR JPEG files. For home editing, it would probably be better to create RAW files and then use a more sophisticated program to create one's HDR files, but the ability to make HDR JPEG files on the road without access to a computer would be very handy for making quick prints of exceptionally high quality at local stores equipped with photo kiosks, right after taking the photos. And since the K7 has a mode which shoots RAW and JPEG files togeter, there's no reason why one can't make such quickie HDR photos and also create better HDR versions later at home, even if the in-camera JPEG files can only be created from other JPEG files. But I'm guessing that one can create such files from RAW files as well, for higher quality.

For more information about the K7, visit this link.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Information About Another Namesake

Here's a link to information I discovered when I searched on my name (at for links pertaining to my name, Mark Pettigrew. And here's a link with his contact information at Queens College CUNY, where he apparently works as an Assistant Professor in Arabic. (We Pettigrews are such an intellectual bunch!)

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Quote of the Day for 6-9-09

"It's impossible to spend too much money on your employees. Whatever you spend on your employees comes back many fold." Bob Parsons, CEO of, according to June 4, 2009 interview on ABC News.

It's a shame that some employers have a completely different mentality, which might be paraphrased as follows, "Squeeze your employees for everything they have, and offer them as little compensation as possible. If you can avoid paying benefits (by hiring two part-timers instead of hiring one full-timer, for instance), then do it. Give raises as seldom as possible. Pay CEOs far more than they deserve, and pay your employees far less than they deserve. Never mind that your stinginess and unfairness ultimately costs you, inasmuch as it leads to substantially increased employee turnover, which means that you have to invest needless time and resources in finding and training new employees. Never mind that low employee morale results in low productivity and minimal loyalty to your company. Think short-term, not long-term. Act as if the Golden Rule doesn't apply to you."

Bob Parsons has sometimes been criticized for the racy ads with which he promotes Maybe those criticisms have a grain of truth to them. Nevertheless, I choose to use that company's services for the purpose of hosting Mostly, my reason is that the company simply provides some very good services for reasonable amounts of money. But it doesn't hurt, in terms of my loyalty to that company, when I see signs which suggest that is probably a very good company to work for. I'm guessing that a lot of other ordinary people feel the same way. That creates customer good will, and customer good will ultimately leads to an increase in sales, as people such as Bob Parsons have discovered.

Treating employees with respect and consideration for their needs isn't just a matter of good ethics. It's also good business.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tent Cities and the Homeless

I just saw a story, in the June 1 issue of Newsweek which just hit the stands, about the increase in the number of "tent cities" where homeless people live as an alternative to living in shelters. The article stated that something like an additional 1 million homeless people are anticipated in the near future.

Here's a link to another story on that topic.

If you look into America's distant past, you'll see that there was a time in our nation's history when people often lived in tents or lean-tos which weren't much better than tents. They weren't called bums then. They were called "pioneers". They helped to build this country so that people might one day aspire to live in much nicer homes. And it wasn't just during the 1800s that such people existed. During the great Depression, Chicago's parks were filled with people who slept outdoors because they'd lost their homes. (I learned that last fact while glancing through a recently published book containing excerpts from a jazz-era magazine which was modeled after the New Yorker, called the Chicagoan.)

It's a shame that we now live in a world in which the option of living in a tent or something comparable is frequently available only to people who are willing to break the law because they really have no other viable options. Why should it be illegal to do what was once done by people such as Lewis and Clark, Kit Carson and others?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Some Thoughts About Hate Crimes

Here's a link to a thought-provoking article about the matter of hate crimes, which ought to be a matter of deep concern to those who deeply believe that our criminal justice system ought to actually be fair and just:

I find it particularly interesting that Jeff Jacoby's article on this subject appears in Jewish World Review. Based on his surname, I suspect that he's Jewish. If anyone might be expected to endorse an approach to criminal justice which is ostensibly designed to penalize people for committing crimes against people on account of factors such as ethnicity, it would be the Jews --- due, obviously, to their extensive personal familiarity with that subject, as the victims (or descendants of victims) of the Holocaust. Nevertheless, Mr. Jacoby is clearly a thinking person, and he isn't buying the idea that crimes committed for such reasons should be punished more severely than comparably vicious crimes committed for more "mundane" reasons.

I agree. Hate crimes legislation may seem benign — after all, one would have to be morally dense indeed in order to fail to appreciate the socially destructive effect of crimes motivated by racism or other similar factors — but the effect of such laws is to penalize people disproportionately, not because of what they do, but because of what they believe. That represents an egregious violation of the principles on which a free society is built, especially when it represents a "Pandora's box" which can potentially lead to censorship of ideas (such as opposition to homosexuality) deemed unacceptable by people on certain ends of the political spectrum. Laws against hate crimes are a form of coercive social engineering, and such laws have the potential to seriously undermine the constitutional right to free speech.

One can believe that racism is wrong without advocating the infringement of people's right, as American citizens, to be wrong and to express wrongheaded beliefs. We must be very careful not to blur the line between laws which forbid acts which actually cause harm and laws which forbid the expression of ideas we believe to be harmful.

My intention in saying this is not to excuse hate crimes. However, the proper response to true hate groups such as the KKK and the Nazis is to create a social climate in which such groups cannot prosper, by collectively letting them know in no uncertain terms that their ideas and activities are socially unacceptable. If and when crimes are committed for reasons related to racism or other types of bigotry, they should be prosecuted in a manner which is proportionate to the severity of the crimes themselves, regardless of why they might have been committed.

Only God, who is omniscient, is in a position to accurately and fairly assess motives. Our courts, which are run by fallible judges and fallible jurors, should not be in the business of judging motives. It is more than enough of a challenge for most people to assess the truth with regard to whether or not specific individuals actually committed specific illegal acts.

UPDATE: Here's a link to another good article about the subject of hate crimes --- written by Chuck Norris.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

AluminArte Digital Prints

I recently learned about a cool option for digital photo prints. It's known as AluminArte, and the prints are made by

Seemingly, AluminArte isn't the best option for smaller prints, because their convenient online pricing calculator seems to offer 12" as the minimum dimension for one side, and 20" is the minimum dimension for the other side when one selects any dimension smaller than 20" for one of the two sides. So in other words, you could have a 12"x20" print, a 14"x20" print, a 16"x20" print, etc., with either portrait or landscape orientation, but you couldn't have a 12"x12" print or 12"x18" print. For a square print, the minimum size would seem to be 20"x20" judging by what I've seen there.

However, one of the photos shown online seems to suggest that they can in fact make prints considerably smaller than 12"x20". The photo shows an arrangement of 24 small prints (4 columns, 6 rows), next to a staircase. So maybe the online calculator just doesn't reflect all of the options they offer.

In any event, for larger prints, they offer extreme flexibility, since the sizes can be adjusted in 1" increments, up to a huge 48"x96" (4 feet x 8 feet).

What I like about these prints, apart from their "HDTV" image quality and the fact that they're offered with 3 different finishes (one of which is more expensive than the other two), is that it would appear that they're extremely durable, and they need no mounting, matting or framing. From the standpoint of a person selling (or wanting to sell) larger prints, that would make things much easier (as opposed to trying to arrange a complicated setup in which I'd first need to contact the lab or giclee printing company to make the prints, and then I'd need to arrange to have the prints sent to the framing company in order to have the prints framed before sending them to my customers). Provided that has the ability to drop ship prints directly to one's customers (preferably with flat shipping charges which are the same regardless of the zip code, so that I can price my products in advance without knowing who will order them or where those people will be located, and without any fancy e-commerce programming), that could make things a lot easier when selling larger prints online to customers who don't want to have to hassle with framing the prints themselves or with the help of local frame shops.

It would appear that AluminArte prints are being marketed exclusively to professionals. But any photographer attempting to sell his or her photos online would appear to qualify as a professional in their book. So it's definitely one of several options I intend to fully explore.

I'm also wondering how easy it would be to subsequently add clear acrylic gesso or primer to an AluminArte print, in order to use the print as the foundation for a mixed media work of art which would also incorporate painting mediums (e.g., pastel, acrylic, etc.). If so, I'm guessing that the sturdy aluminum would make for a great support for such works of art. The main issue would be whether or not the gesso or primer would adhere properly to the print. I'm guessing that the White Aluminum Satin or Brushed Aluminum Satin finishes would be better in that respect, inasmuch as the White Aluminum High Gloss might conceivably be too slick to hold the gesso or primer.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Rough Edges Can Be Necessary

Every once in a while, someone of my acquaintance has been known to observe that I have a few "rough edges," by which the person usually means that I have a tendency to speak in accordance with what I believe to be true, even if it means saying things which some folks might regard as harsh.

Strange. I always thought that being truthful was a good thing. But some folks just can't handle the unvarnished truth.

Here's the thing: I want to be used by God to make this world a better place. In other words, I want to be a tool in God's toolbox. People who are afraid of speaking the truth may be easy to get along with, but they seldom accomplish much of anything worthwhile.

These days, some folks mean it as an insult when they tell people that they're "tools," but that's obviously not what I'm talking about here. To be a tool in God's toolbox is a wonderful thing. It's an investment in eternity.

What kind of a toolbox would God be likely to have? Well, we know that Jesus was a carpenter. Carpenters use a variety of tools --- tools such as saws, rasps, sanders and so forth. Many of those tools have rough edges, without which they would not function properly. The purpose of those rough edges is to shape the wood and (ironically) to smooth the wood. So rough edges are not necessarily bad. This is as true in the metaphorical sense as it is true in the literal sense.

Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that tact and diplomacy are unimportant. I'm not saying that people are justified, in the name of speaking the truth, in riding roughshod over the feelings of others. Nor am I saying that every conflict should be treated as if it's a major crisis. One must choose one's battles carefully. There are times when it is necessary to make minor compromises in order to stay focused on the issues and battles which really matter the most.

Nevertheless, there are times when having rough edges can be both admirable and necessary, in order to build what God wants to build.

So to those who've accused me of having such edges, I have this to say:


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

HDR, LucisArt and Dynamic Range for Photos and Art

One complaint which I sometimes hear from painters who base their paintings on photos is that photos typically have a limited dynamic range in comparison with the human eye. In other words, if you expose for the majority of the image, you typically lose out in terms of details, both in the shadow areas and the highlight areas.

Some painters have compensated by creating several different prints, some of which were overexposed and some of which were underexposed, and then made conscious choices based on the information found in multiple photos. Others have just compensated by making informed decisions based on personal experience, or on memories (sometimes enhanced with quick sketches and/or notes) of the way things really looked in the field, or on the way that things look in front of their eyes when actually creating paintings from life in the studio.

One reason for the success of certain film photographers such as Ansel Adams is that they've traditionally been experts at the use of dodging and burning in the darkroom in order to compensate for such defects. But most people didn't have their own darkrooms back in the days when such techniques offered the only way to effectively address the issue of dynamic range, and the few labs which offered such custom services charged very high prices.

Now, thanks to digital techniques, it's a whole new ballgame. The use of Photoshop's Levels, Curves, Layer Masks and other tools began to improve things quite some time ago. Then they introduced the Shadow/Highlight control, and that improved things even more. Finally, they introduced features (also offered in different variations by various third-party companies) pertaining to a new HDR (High Dynamic Range) technique which merged multiple bracketed exposures in order to create composite images which combined the best of all of the exposures. (When using studio lighting setups, one can do this with the use of layer masks --- the old fashioned way --- or with the HDR feature, which is more automated but with less hands-on control.)

Here's a link to one web page containing an article which will give you a better idea of the effects of HDR. I've seen better examples of the amazing results one can achieve with the HDR technique (mostly because I think he overdid the effect slightly, to the point that some of the image's drama was lost), but this page will at least help readers of this post from a conceptual point of view. If it had been me, I would have merged the HDR version with a little bit of the original "0 exposure" image, using an additional layer with significantly reduced opacity.

If you have an older version of Photoshop which doesn't yet have the HDR feature, there's a way to simulate that feature (without the need for multiple exposures, making it a great choice for subjects which are likely to move in-between exposures) using the High Pass Filter. Also, it has the effect of sharpening the image. Here's a link to an article which shows how to do this, as well as side-by-side before & after photos.

(NOTE: Some HDR software has features designed to eliminate the problems caused by trying to merge images in which certain elements move substantially. Sometimes those features work well, sometimes they don't, depending on the images.)

Another very cool option is to use LucisArt 3. When used intelligently, it can create amazing results (including some very cool special artistic effects). Like the High Pass Filter option, it can be used with single photos, with no need for bracketing. And like the other techniques, it can be overdone, so it's sometimes a good idea to blend it with portions of the original image. Here's a link to some good examples (in the form of online slide shows) of what it can do.

Lucis Pro 6.0 uses the same technology as LucisArt, but its primary application seems to be for technical (e.g., scientific) purposes, not for art. LucisArt costs less, and actually seems to be better for what I'd want to use it for.

If you view the online slide shows, you can see that some of the best artists are able to use LucisArt to produce images which look more like photorealistic paintings. In other cases, the images just look like extremely good photos. The choice is up to you.

LucisArt would seem to be a particularly good partner for another excellent program, EngraveSoft from, due to the maximization of details available from LucisArt. In other words, process the photo with LucisArt first, and then create excellent line art (which could be used as a basis for a variety of fine art images such as Solarplate photopolymer intaglio prints) using EngraveSoft. Consider, for example, the EngraveSoft image created from a photo of a man named Dan. Pretty nice, right? But notice that the original photo has some blown out highlights (i.e., Dan's forehead, on the left side of his face), which would almost certainly have been improved with LucisArt. Of course, when it comes to line art, a certain amount of contrast is what gives the image its drama, so one doesn't want to overdo it. But I think that the digital engraving of Dan would have been enhanced if the photo had first been processed with LucisArt.

NOTE: While intaglio printing with a process such as the SolarPlate process offers one way to create fine art prints from such digitally generated line art, another interesting option is to use what's known as polyester plate lithography. The most commonly used method is to use Pronto Plates, or a similar product offered by Both products are designed to be run directly through toner-based laser printers, and actually used as printing plates for fine art lithography! (No need for separate exposures through digital negatives onto photosensitive materials.) The main drawback seems to be that one is somewhat limited in size. (For some strange reason, the "plates" sold for polyester plate lithography seem to exceed the maximum printable size for most toner-based copiers and laser printers, which is usually 11x17-inches or 12x18-inches at most. But maybe there are commercial toner-based imagesetters which can go larger. I'll have to ask about that.)

Anyway, I've read that Sharpie ink, applied to such polyester plates, holds the lithographic printing ink just like toner holds it (which, in turn, works roughly the same way that lithographic crayon, lithographic pencil and lithographic tusche work). I'm thinking that solvent-based markers from other manufacturers ought to also work, and that it might even be possible to make really large plates, for polyester plate lithography, by using a wide format solvent-based printer such as the Epson GS6000. That would be very cool! ( offers a polyester film specifically designed to be printed on with dye-based and pigment-based printers such as the Epson 9900. If it also works with the GS6000, and if the inks from the GS6000 hold litho ink the same as toner, that could be a really good way to make enormous polyester "plates" for polyester plate lithography. Something worth checking out, at any rate.)

Of course, one might ask why bother, when the digital printer itself produces such great prints directly. Well, the answer, dear friends, is that there's still a ridiculous bias against digital prints in certain fine art circles (such as art contests, certain art fairs and galleries, etc.), so using digital techniques as a means of preparing to make prints with older processes such as intaglio printing, relief printing, planographic printing (lithography) or screen printing (serigraphy) offers a potential end run around such anti-digital biases. Just tell such people (truthfully) that it's an etching, an engraving, a lithographic print, a serigraphic print, etc. No need to volunteer the fact that your utilization of digital techniques enabled you to produce the print in a fraction of the time it would have taken by using older techniques involving laborious hand work. Of course, if you still want to use such techniques (possibly in conjunction with digital techniques), you're free to do that, too.


Incidentally, on a separate but somewhat related note: For those who think that infinitely scalable digital vector art can never equal the appearance of photos, here's a link to a page which will blow your mind.

How did Mr. Miyamoto achieve such realism in Adobe Illustrator? Well, I'm guessing that he used the new Live Trace feature (at least in part), which does a much better job of autotracing photos than Adobe Streamline and other similar solutions did in the past. It would also help, undoubtedly, to have the best possible photo on which to base such vector art, which is where the aforementioned HDR/High Pass Filter/LucisArt/Lucis Pro techniques come in. But it's also clear that Mr. Miyamoto's expertise in the use of the Gradient Mesh filter played a big role as well. (Even the best Live Trace images can occasionally err when it comes to translating photos to vector perfectly. Sometimes they look a bit posterized. Based on what I've seen, I think that the Live Trace feature in CS4 is better than in earlier versions, though.) These images remind me of some of the best realistic airbrush art being created by Japanese illustrators (and a few Americans and others) back in the 80's. To say that there's a huge chasm between such images and the simplistic clip art images more familiar to most of us is an understatement.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Popularity and Politics

I recently saw a news item about how an author named Larry Tagg would be in town to sign copies of his book "The Unpopular Mr. Lincoln". Based on a brief review of that book, I was intrigued, so I visited the related page to get more information.

Having read a number of other Lincoln biographies, I was already aware of many of the facts cited by Tagg in his book, although I suspect that he covers the subject in greater depth than many Lincoln biographers.

The editorial review of the book states, "Lincoln's humanity has been unintentionally trivialized by some historians and writers who have hidden away the real man in a patina of bronze. Once readers learn the truth of how others viewed him, they will better understand the man he was, and how history is better viewed through a long-distance lens than contemporaneously."

The wide disparity between Lincoln's short-term unpopularity and his legendary long-term legacy is a matter which ought to concern us, since many people have mistakenly based their evaluations of particular president's job performances on their short-term poll-based "approval ratings," as in the case of George W. Bush.

Great leaders are often people who are "ahead of their time," which by definition means that they have more insight than they are credited with having by their contemporaries. Conversely, a good way to guarantee high approval ratings in the polls is to spinelessly cater to the whims of the populace at any given moment, rather than acting according to principle.

Whether or not George W. Bush was a great leader on the scale of Lincoln is doubtful. Certainly, Bush made some serious errors in judgment, due in part to his unwillingness to change course (or at least modify course) when new facts emerged which would have indicated to more prudent minds that such corrective actions were necessary.

However, it should be pointed out that some of the things for which Bush is often blamed were really acts committed by others over whom he had minimal direct control (as in the case of the abuses which occurred at Abu Ghraib). As far as I am aware, Bush was responsible only in the sense that those abuses (which admittedly were pretty awful) happened "under his watch".

If the mere fact that something occurs during a president's term in office means that he's to blame for that incident, then logically, it makes equal sense to blame President Clinton for the atrocity which occurred, during his term in office, at Columbine, and also for the bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City. That, of course, would be ridiculous. Presidents are indeed powerful people, but they are not omniscient, omnipotent or omnipresent. Expecting godlike performance from our political leaders is ridiculously unfair to them, and to the American public as well, since the public is bound to be continually disappointed if people are encouraged to see their leaders in such terms.

Furthermore, I think that Bush was a much more principled man than Barack Obama when dealing with issues such as stem cell research. He understood the social ramifications of a practice which could lead us to see certain human lives as potential "body part farms" for the purpose of attaining admittedly noble objectives which, in most cases, could be better addressed in other ways without compromising the principle that all human lives have intrinsic value. From the standpoint of issues pertaining to the sanctity of human life, Barack Obama's presidency has already been a disaster, no matter what the polls say about the man. No matter how much Obama tries to link his own legacy to the legacy of Lincoln, the chasm between Lincoln's job performance and Obama's job performance cannot be intelligently ignored.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Forgiveness and Community

At the Lifeway book store at Moody Bible Institute, I recently bought a book entitled Death by Church, by Mike Erre. Mike is a teaching pastor at Rock Harbor church.

There's a lot of quoteworthy material in the book, pertaining to various problems in the modern church. Here's a perceptive quote, from page 114, which I found particularly interesting:

Pastoral ministry has now been reduced to marketing and psychotherapy --- disciplines that both concentrate exclusively on the individual. The message of the gospel is treated the same way. The American gospel concerns itself solely with the inner, private world of people as they exist in relation to God. There is usually no talk of community, tradition or public accountability. (After all, who are you to stand between me and God?) Faith exists as a private exercise, a personal option, an individual choice.
The problem with the approach to ministry described in the preceding paragraph, is that such an approach does a poor job of resolving the myriad human problems which are relational in nature.

Ironically, the end result is that such an approach doesn't even work very well in terms of addressing problems concerned with individuals. The state of mind of an individual who has been harmed by the sins of others cannot be divorced from the larger context of the community in which that individual lives, if one wishes to accurately perceive the problems of that individual and the solutions to those problems.

I am thinking, in particular, of the way that many people define our obligations and relationships with one another in relation to the extremely important issue of forgiveness.

There are many Christians today who, based on the correct observation that God's love for mankind is unconditional, and based on erroneous interpretations of certain passages of scripture pertaining to forgiveness, have concluded that God's forgiveness of sinners is likewise unconditional, and that our forgiveness of others who have sinned against us should therefore also be unconditional.

This teaching (found in books such as Forgive and Forget by Lewis Smedes) contradicts the scriptures, which clearly teach that God's forgiveness of sinners is predicated on the willingness of such sinners to ask for forgiveness and to repent.

If forgiveness were unconditional, then defiant and unrepentant sinners would nevertheless go to heaven. There would be no hell. That's the gospel of wishful thinking (otherwise known as "universalism"), not the gospel of Jesus Christ which is found in the Bible.

From Forgiven to Forgiving, by Jay Adams, is a book which provides a welcome antidote to the fallacies advocated in such books. Here's a link to an interesting related blog post also written by that author.

In particular, some people seem to have missed the point with regard to the primary reason for forgiveness. They have taught that the primary function of forgiveness (or at least one of the primary functions) is to serve as "therapy" for the sake of the forgiver. (That's why I was reminded of this subject when reading the preceding quotation by Mike Erre.) In other words, people who teach this doctrine believe that the forgiver forgives for his or her own sake (e.g., to enable the forgiver to "find closure" and "get on with life"), not for the sake of the person being forgiven or for the sake of the relationship between the offender and the offended party.

On the face of it, that's nonsense. Tell me: Who is the primary beneficiary when God forgives a sinner? God? Or the sinner?

The answer is obvious: The sinner is the primary beneficiary. God needs no therapy. God is Lord of the universe.

I'm not denying that God's heart is broken (to put things in somewhat anthropomorphic and therefore inaccurate terms) when we sin against God. But there is a reason God's heart is broken by our sin, and the reason isn't that his feelings have been hurt. The reason is that God earnestly, even passionately desires intimate relationships with all of the people God has created. Sin makes such relationships impossible, because God is a holy God. Sin thwarts God's desire for fellowship with people. Therefore, God offers forgiveness, for the purpose of a restoration of the fellowship relationship between God and the forgiven sinner.

Notice that I said that God offers forgiveness to all sinners (which is within his power to do, without compromising his holiness, because of the atonement of Christ's sacrificial death on the cross). I didn't say that God grants forgiveness to all sinners.

It would be nonsensical to say that God had forgiven a person, but that God had sent that person to hell nevertheless. What would be the point of forgiveness if it did not alter one's eternal destiny in the slightest?

God is indeed an incredibly loving and merciful God, and he is willing to forgive us, if we will only call on the name of Jesus Christ and ask for forgiveness. But that "if" is all-important.

If we could be forgiven without repentance, where would be the incentive to repent? There would be none. The same principle is equally applicable to human relationships. Unconditional forgiveness has the effect, intentional or not, of encouraging people to continue in their self-centered patterns of behavior. Such forgiveness was correctly described as "cheap grace" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (and as "sloppy Agape" by others).

I have actually heard some Christians say that forgiveness is completely separate from the issue of reconciliation. They will tell you that one can forgive others, without the expectation that such forgiveness will result in reconciliation.

When one meditates on the fact that God's forgiveness of sinners is offered to us for the precise purpose of reconciling sinful man to a holy God, it boggles the mind to think that anyone would think that human forgiveness would be any different in that respect.

True reconciliation requires honesty, because the perpetuation of lies prevents the kind of emotional and spiritual intimacy which is the object of reconciliation. If one has to deceive one's self in order to believe that a level of trust has been restored in a particular relationship, then the so-called reconciliation is pointless.

Repentance does not offer any 100% guarantees (because even repentant people are fallible, and may yet sin again), but it does offer a foundation of understanding which makes eventual and total reconciliation possible. Without such a foundation, there is no logical reason for forgiveness.

It is an enormous disservice to Christians who have been harmed by other Christians or by others to essentially tell them to sweep all of the very real issues which hinder the process of reconcilliation under the rug and pretend that issues which have not been resolved have been resolved. Such false and irresponsible counsel constitutes an abdication of the moral responsibility which rests upon church leaders to hold Christians accountable for their actions. In the final analysis, it even constitutes an abdication of their responsibilities to offending parties, because failure to hold such people accountable hinders them from engaging in the acts which are necessary in order for them to experience the benefits of genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. The process of genuine spiritual and emotional growth is hindered when people are not held accountable for their actions.

In Mike Erre's book, he talks extensively about a "disparity between belief and behavior" which characterizes the lives of many professing Christians. That's easy to understand, when one considers the exceedingly harmful results of church practices based on a false understanding of forgiveness. Such a doctrine negates the possibility of the "public accountability" Erre talks about in his book.

True forgiveness which is offered to all, but which is actually granted only to those who meet the necessary condition of repentance, respects the needs of others in the community who might conceivably be hurt in the future by similarly hurtful acts. Unconditional forgiveness fails to respect those needs, inasmuch as it fails to uphold the common-sense principle that there is a connection between actions and consequences. Therefore, any definition of Christian discipleship which does not include the necessity of holding people accountable for their actions is a definition which is based on a failure to understand the idea that the kingdom of God has ramifications for communities, not just for self-centered individuals.

None of the aforementioned ideas negate the very real biblical responsibility of Christians to forgive others who sin against them and who then ask for forgiveness. The "seventy times seven" scripture still applies, because that scripture pertains to the infinite number of times we are required to forgive genuinely repentant people, not to the conditions under which people should be forgiven.