Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ted Dekker: Not Your Typical Christian Writer

I've never read any books by Christian novelist Ted Dekker, yet, but I'm intrigued by what I've seen, and I'm hoping to check one or more of his books out of the library here, because he appears to be a writer who transcends the limitations of the stereotypical "Christian novel" in order to write pulse-quickening novels which would appeal even to unbelievers.

Here's a link to an interesting article about Ted from CNN. Maybe the fact that he isn't the typical Christian writer is due to his unusual upbringing, having been raised by missionaries in an area where cannibalism was still practiced.

Kindle Your Love for Reading

eBooks represent one of the hot new applications for digital technology.

Admittedly, it's unlikely that eBooks will ever completely replace paper books, unless it gets to the point that paper is such a precious commodity that such publishing becomes cost-prohibitive. Even so, eBooks offer some enormous advantages in comparison with printed books, especially with respect to the type of books which don't really require full-color printing.

In particular, a compact eBook reader such as the new Amazon Kindle 2 can enable one to carry a huge library wherever one goes, without straining one's back (and at a cost which can be much lower than the cost of buying the equivalent number of printed books. The Amazon web site says that the unit "holds over 1,500 books".

Just as an iPod enables people to carry audio libraries which previously would have occupied enough LP records to cause serious back strain when carrying them around (even without the requisite record player), the Kindle 2 does the same thing for books.

PDF formatting can be a good way to create eBooks which are intended for normal computer screens, but smaller machines such as the Kindle 2 really require their own formatting which enables text to wrap properly without the need for horizontal scrolling while reading. Here's a link to one company which can convert various formats such as PDF, Microsoft Word, etc. to Kindle format. (Fortunately, that isn't necessary for PDF files with the new Kindle DX. See notes at the end of this post for more information.)

While Kindle format is clearly best for text, in order to gain the benefits of that format in terms of searching for specific text and so forth, note that the machine also supports a wide variety of other formats "through conversion".

One situation in which eBooks are definitely superior to printed books is for books which must be updated quite frequently, in a manner which does not contribute unduly to the proliferation of discarded outdated printed copies in our nation's dumpsters and landfills. For instance, professional directories (in which the contact information and other details pertaining to companies and individuals listed therein are in a constant state of flux) are a great candidate for eBook publication. It's much easier (and more eco-friendly) to simply upload a revised copy to the web site and to make that file available for download than it is to publish new printed editions of such books.

Kindle isn't just for commercial eBooks, either. Here's a quote which is pertinent to personal documents:
Kindle makes it easy to take your personal documents with you, eliminating the need to print. Each Kindle has a unique and customizable e-mail address. You can set your unique email address on your Manage Your Kindle page. This allows you and your approved contacts to e-mail Word, PDF documents, and pictures wirelessly to your Kindle for a small per document fee--currently only 10¢ per document. Kindle supports wireless delivery of unprotected Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, TXT, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BMP, PRC and MOBI files.

You can email your PDFs wirelessly to your Kindle. Due to PDF's fixed layout format, some complex PDF files may not format correctly on your Kindle.

If you are not in a wireless area or would like to avoid the fee, you can send attachments to "name" to be converted and e-mailed to your computer at the e-mail address associated with your account login. You can then transfer the document to your Kindle using your USB connection. For example, if your Kindle email address is, send your attachments to
Imagine how useful the Kindle 2 would be to travelers (such as missionaries or band members on the road) who would like to be able to carry their entire libraries with them in order to alleviate boredom or in order to have ready access to far more written materials than they could normally carry with them.

Imagine how useful the Kindle 2 would be to students, as an alternative to heavy, back-breaking textbooks.

Imagine how useful the text-to-speech capabilities would be for sight-impaired readers! Ditto for the ability to listen to audio books (MP3) from and elsewhere. (For instance, specializes in Christian audio books.)

UPDATE AS OF 5/10/2009: I just learned about a new product in Amazon's line of Kindle readers. It's called the Kindle DX. It's larger than the regular Kindle 2, at 10.4" x 7.2" x 0.38" (versus 8" x 5.3" x 0.36" for the Kindle 2), but the benefit is huge if one wishes to read native PDF files without having to do any scrolling, panning, zooming or reflowing, and without having to convert from PDF format to Kindle format.

The "auto-rotating screen" is also a cool feature, for viewing full-width maps, graphs, tables and Web pages.

Also, Kindle DX has 3.3GB of storage available for user content, which means that it can store about 3,500 books, newspapers, magazines and documents (more than twice as much data as the Kindle 2). Pretty amazing when you consider that it's about the size of a typical magazine.

Personally, though, I think that they should offer a version which has storage via a built-in slot for SDHC cards, which now go as high as 32GB. (Even Micro SD cards can store up to 16GB, based on some ads I've seen.) Oh, well. Nothing's perfect.

I'm inclined to think that it would be particularly beneficial for high schools and colleges to offer all (or at least most) of their text books in the form of Kindle files or PDF files which could be read on the Kindle 2 or Kindle DX. I remember when I was in school, lugging tons of books back and forth between classes. What a pain that was! Kindle DX would solve that problem, with the possible exception of books which were loaded with full-color illustrations which would suffer when converted to a monochromatic display.

It might be nice if other companies would come out with third-party accessories, such as a product which would let one mount the Kindle DX on the wall. (That could come in handy, for instance, if one was using the device to display one's cook book while cooking.) Or a device which would let one mount the Kindle DX on a camera tripod (for prolonged sessions of hands-free reading in areas where there are no desks or tables).

Monday, April 27, 2009

Margaret Sanger and Hillary Clinton

Here's a link to an article, written by a woman named Mona Charen. I don't fully agree with every single statement in the article, but I think that it's well worth reading, especially if you're one of the numerous people who have been blinded by the anti-life propaganda of Planned Parenthood (or, as some have called it, Planned Barrenhood).

Enclosure Links and Podcasting

Here's a link to a Help page with information pertaining to the process of turning blog posts into podcasts. That definitely seems to be something I'm going to want to do in the future.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

If This Is Affluence ...

I just got three identical copies of an e-mail message containing the following message:

You have been invited by Dale Smithey to join is an exclusive community of affluent people dedicated to making life better for both themselves and others.
Hmmm, do you think Dale really knows me? Is he aware that I live in a single room at a YMCA in downtown Chicago, where I've lived since 1992? Does he know that I've been living on the verge of eviction from that small room for the past couple of years ever since losing my last long-term job? Does he know that I rely on "food stamps" (a/k/a my LINK card) just to be able to buy groceries?

If this is "affluence," I'd hate to see poverty. Maybe he was thinking of spiritual riches, but somehow, I doubt it.

Considering the current state of the economy, I'm inclined to think that Dale might do better to focus on a demographic group which is not rapidly shrinking in this country in terms of numbers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Gigapixel Panoramas with Gigapan

Here's a link to a company which offers a very cool product (or rather, multiple products of the same type) designed to automate the process of producing multiple digital photos which can then be stitched together with special software in order to produce photo files which can be enlarged to enormous sizes. The Gigapan Epic (for point & shoot cameras) and Gigapan Epic 100 (for DSLR cameras) are robotic camera mounts which automatically move the camera from position to position and then take photos --- even thousands of photos! --- which are subsequently stitched together into a single high-resolution image.

Potentially, such a system could also be very useful for turning reasonably affordable DLSR cameras into repro cameras for producing giclee and photo reproductions from large paintings or even outdoor murals. To say nothing of landscape photos, city skylines, etc.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Fall of Mankind

On Saturday, there's going to be an event here at the Harold Washington Library in connection with the Chicago Poetry Fest. If my schedule permits, I hope to come here and read a couple of my poems at an "open mic" event known as a "poetry slam" (in which each poet will be allotted three minutes to read his or her poems). Here's one of the poems I hope to read:

© Mark William Pettigrew

You say that if there is a God, he must be harsh and cruel,
so anyone who’d follow such a God must be a fool.
I understand why you might think the way you clearly do,
but even so, I have some thoughts I’d like to share with you.

It’s true, the world we see today is not the way it should be.
If there had never been a Fall, that isn’t how it would be.
But long ago, a tempter came, and tried to ruin God’s plan.
When Eve rebelled and Adam sinned, it caused the death of Man.

The heart of God was broken by the thought of what they’d done.
Their death was just a token of the troubles they’d begun.
God could have washed his hands of us, destroying one and all,
but love’s not easily destroyed, not even by the Fall.

So through the years, the Lord reached out and made his presence known,
so those who chose to worship him could find their way back home.
Some people tried to follow God, and did to some degree.
But something more was needed. It was plain for all to see.

And then one night in Bethlehem, a miracle took place,
to bring the hope of joy and peace to all the human race.
God sent his son to walk the earth, proclaiming what was true,
and healing those who sought his help with faith in what he’d do.

And when the enemies of God got wind of what he’d done,
they plotted to destroy the one who said he was God’s son.
They nailed him to a wooden cross upon a barren hill,
attempting to destroy the one who’d done his Father’s will.

But love’s not easily destroyed, not even by the cross,
and resurrection power can restore a soul who’s lost.
Despite your hardened heart, he beckons you to hear his voice,
so open up your heart today and make the righteous choice.

He never said that life would be without its share of pain,
but those who choose the road of faith have everything to gain.
He’s waiting for your answer while he’s knocking at your door,
so let him be your master and find peace forever more.


Pretty bold, if I do say so myself, considering that I'll be reading for a secular crowd, some of whom are more likely to admire foul-mouthed poets such as Alan Ginsberg. But what's the point of preaching the gospel if one doesn't reach out to those who need to hear it?

I think that my favorite part is the repetition of the thematic idea that "love's not easily destroyed", tying Christ's work on the cross to the original Fall (which is appropriate, since the Bible describes Jesus as the "second Adam").

NOTE: To download additional Christ-centered poems I've written (stored online in the form of PDF files which can be downloaded from a public SkyDrive folder), visit this link, then select the poem in which you have an interest, and then click the Download button.

Checking Multiple Domain Names

The following information is primarily of interest to web designers and others who are in the process of creating new web sites or who plan to do so in the future. has a lot of useful information pertaining to podcasting. While I was reading that tutorial, I came across this interesting tidbit of information:

I check web address availability using 000domains. I have to be honest. I don’t ever register domains through them, but I like their search tool because I can check the availability of several domain names all at once.

You might already have a few ideas of what you’d like your web address to be. Go to 000domains, type your web address ideas into the box, click “start searching” and it will tell you which are available.

Hmmm, that's very useful! That web site lets one check up to 50 domain names at once, for as many as 9 different domain name extensions.

I tend to check domain names via, which I use for registering actual domain names, but it would be an improvement on the GoDaddy site if they'd allow one to check multiple names at once, the way that the aforementioned web site does.

What would be even better would be to be able to upload an Excel spreadsheet with several hundred possible domain names and then download a revised version of that spreadsheet which would have information (in a separate column) pertaining to the availability of each listed name, with availability information about each of the different extensions (.net, .com, .info, etc.), and with a third column listing the date and time when availability was last checked. Better yet, one could subscribe to the list so that any time changes were made, a new version would be sent to one via e-mail with the most recent changes highlighted (rather than having to go to the site and manually check again on particular names in which one had an interest). Furthermore, for names which were unavailable in previous versions of the document but which had just become available, these would be flagged so that people could jump on them before anyone else got to those names; likewise, names which had previously been available and then become unavailable would be separately flagged so that one knew which names had recently become unavailable.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

USB Microphones and Mic Preamps

If you read the magazines pertaining to pro audio (such as EQ or Recording or Mix), you know that a recent trend in audio has been to create microphones, often with professional quality, with built-in preamps and analog-to-digital converters and USB output cables. Such microphones enable one to record digital audio directly to one's computer without having to go through the computer's built-in (and sometimes inferior) sound board, and without having to invest in a bulky digital audio interface.

Examples of such USB microphones include the Blue Snowball, the Blue Snowflake, the Samson C01U, the Audio Technica AT2020 USB, the stereo Alesis AM3 and so forth.

Such microphones are usually very simple to use, but what they offer in terms of simplicity, they lack in terms of flexibility. The selection of available microphones is fairly limited. An additional drawback is that such microphones only feature USB output cables, so they can't be plugged into standard mixing boards, PA systems, self-contained DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations), handheld digital field recorders (such as the excellent and affordable Zoom H4n, which has dual XLR mic inputs with phantom power for condenser microphones), a limited number of instrument amplifiers which have XLR mic inputs, and other devices which require traditional analog audio inputs.

The next step up is to buy a separate in-line adapter which enables one to plug a standard microphone into a computer directly by means of the USB port. Such a unit is more flexible, because it would enable one to use offbeat microphones such as boundary microphones (such as the Audio Technica U841A, which would be a good choice for recording numerous people seated around a conference table), shotgun mics (such as the Audio Technica AT4073a, which would be great for recording unamplified speakers from a distance), gooseneck microphones, hanging microphones, headset microphones, instrument microphones and more. Also, such adapters ought to enable one to input guitar, bass, keyboards, etc. by means of "direct boxes".

Up until recently, the best adapter of this type was the Centrance MicPort Pro. (The AxePort Pro is a similar Centrance product for guitarists and bass players.) It's still an excellent product, as far as I can tell, although I haven't personally used one.

Now Shure (one of the most widely used and respected microphones in the world) has introduced a very similar product (to be available this spring)known as the X2u XLR-to-USB Microphone Adapter.

I know of a couple of other inline XLR-to-USB adapters (the Blue Icycle and the MXL MicMate Pro). They don't seem to be quite as full-featured, but at least the new MicMate Pro improves on the original MicMate by offering a headphone jack with its own volume control. There's also a line level version of the MicMate.

Another option: Alesis makes the MicLink for dynamic microphones and the GuitarLink for instruments. The company also offers the LineLink, which is basically similar to the GuitarLink except that it's equipped with dual 1/4" plugs, not just a single 1/4" plug.

There's also a Griffin USB Microphone Adapter, but it's for low-end mics with 1/8" output cables, which is fine for some purposes but not really suitable for professional condenser mics or for most professional dynamic mics.

For people wishing to connect multiple microphones, there are numerous solutions (which I won't cover here for now), if one is less interested in portability than in versatility. But the aforementioned microphones and mic adapters would enable one to easily record pro audio directly to notebook and laptop computers without the need to carry much additional gear. That's especially useful if one's primary need is for recording voice (e.g., blogs) or for making simple music recordings which don't require the simultaneous use and control of numerous microphones.

Links to All My Downloadable Poems

In other blog posts, I've posted individual Christ-centered poems which I've written. But it would be a hassle to have to navigate from one blog post to the next in order to find each individual poem. (Plus, I haven't posted separate blog posts for every single one of my poems, and it would be too time consuming for me to do that at this point.)

Therefore, this post is being created specifically for the purpose of offering a link for the purpose of offering easy access to a publicly accessible online file folder (hosted by SkyDrive) containing most of my downloadable Christian poems in PDF format (which can be opened, read and printed with Adobe Acrobat Reader and/or other PDF-compatible programs).

To download any individual PDF file (or files) from that folder, click this link, then select the individual poem(s) in the folder, and click the Download link for each file which you wish to download.

By the way, this can be a good way to distribute all types of documents, not just poems.

To convert documents to PDF format, you don't have to pay the high price for Adobe Acrobat (although doing so will give you advanced features you might not be able to get elsewhere). You can convert documents to PDF for free at or

Then, having created your own SkyDrive account, you can upload your files to specified folders at SkyDrive. One can set up a range of permissions for specific folders: They can be accessible just to you, or to specified individuals (specified by their e-mail addresses), or to the general public.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Silly Poem I Wrote

For the most part, I try to write poetry which deals with important subjects, particularly in relation to my Christianity. But every once in a while, I write something which exists mostly for the sake of playing with words.

One day I was walking through the Blick art supply store in the Chicago Loop, and as I was looking at supplies for origami, the phrase "origami mommy" stuck in my mind. Since mommies sometimes make origami for their kids, the phrase seemed apropos.

Here, for better or worse, is the poem:


© Mark Pettigrew

She's an origami mommy in a satin dress.
When it comes to folding paper, well, she's the best!

She makes a paper animal that's sure to please.
She entertains the children with the greatest ease.

When she starts to work her magic with the paper fold,
well, you know that it is truly something to behold.


A bit silly, but hey --- one can't be serious all the time!

Gabcast Makes Podcasting Easy

Wish you could start your own radio station? For most of you (and for me, too), the answer is, "Dream on."

However, podcasting offers the next best thing. In fact, there are some ways in which podcasting is superior to broadcasting. For instance, you can record and upload your podcast episodes whenever you like, and listeners can listen whenever they like, without having to worry about missing any episodes of your show. And of course, they can store those episodes on digital media and/or portable MP3 players (including an iPod, of course) and listen to them again and again.

Also, podcasts can be easily integrated into blogs such as this one. They can also be sent in the form of attachments with e-mail messages.

Think you need a professional audio studio in order to go into podcasting? Well, maybe not. It depends on what your needs are.

I just discovered a service, at, which allows one to create podcasts from any telephone, including a VoIP telephone. (When one uses a VoIP telephone, it's free to record one's podcast. Telephone access for recording podcasts with a regular phone is 10 cents per minute.)

Gabcast includes some pretty cool features, such as the ability to restrict access to specific podcast channels or episodes. (This would be a great way to communicate with the members of a large organization or the employees of a large company, with confidential information which shouldn't be made available to everyone.)

They also offer the ability to turn conference calls into podcasts, which would be very useful as a means of interviewing people remotely for one's podcast show. And they help to promote your podcast via a page which offers public access to all publicly accessible channels and episodes.

It isn't a total solution for podcasting. If one prefers to be able to record one's podcast with home studio equipment, and then upload the audio recording and turn it into a podcast, one would be better off looking for another hosting solution. But there's no reason one can't use both types of hosting programs.

Having said that, there is a way to use Gabcast for making previous audio recordings into podcasts. Get a professional telephone interface. For that purpose, I recommend products from JK Audio. In particular, their THAT-2 interface seems to be a good choice as a means of sending audio from a professional audio source with an XLR output or an RCA line output. This is much, much better than holding the telephone receiver in front of the speaker from your audio recording/playback system and trying to record your Gabcast episode that way! It's also useful for playing recordings over the phone when conversing with your friends. The THAT-2 is equally good for recording your phone conversations when you don't have Gabcast, or when you want more versatility than you'll get with Gabcast.

JK Audio also makes a variety of other interfaces, such as a unit which allows you to easily record conversations you have with a cell phone (or, in the case of another unit, with a Bluetooth cell phone).

The aforementioned Wikipedia is atypically brief with regard to information about podcasting. Fortunately, it also includes a link to a web page with what appears to be a wealth of information. 76 pages worth, in fact. Here's a link to some additional how-to information.

Back in the 70's, when I worked as KSOZ at the College of the Ozarks (then known as the School of the Ozarks), I got a substantial amount of experience sitting behind a mic. KSOZ was a 20,000 watt FM station affiliated with National Public Radio (NPR). So I think that it's safe to say that I have what it takes to put on a professional-sounding podcast, although setting things up for the affiliated feed would be a new experience for me.

I have a number of ideas with regard to specific podcasts I hope to create in the future. For more information, stay tuned, as they used to say in the broadcasting biz!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Sandra Cisneros Is Clearly Clueless

Here in Chicago, the public library has a program entitled One Book, One Chicago. In the past, they've featured worthy books such as "To Kill A Mockingbird", "The Oxbow Incident", etc.

This time around, their chosen book is "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros. I confess that I'd never heard of the book. That's probably due, in part, to the fact that it was published in 1984, a good 10 years after I graduated from high school. (Cisneros is 2 years older than I.) Even if it's now required reading in high schools, that wouldn't have affected me.

I still haven't read the book, so I'm not really in a position to comment on the book one way or the other. However, after reading the pamphlet published by the City of Chicago, in which they interview the author (who will be speaking here at the Harold Washington Library tonight), I have to say that I think that she's appallingly ignorant and bigoted, in the way that people on the political far left are often ignorant and bigoted.

Here's the part which particularly stood out in my mind, from an interview (pages 4 and 5) with Cisneros:

Q: The House on Mango Street so wonderfully portrays a young girl, Esperanza, discovering her identity. Do you think that such self-discovery is harder for a young Latina girl? Would Esperanza's story be different if she were growing up today?

A: I think it's hard for any woman in the world, regardless of her color, because the world is so patriarchal, especially now with the Christian Taliban taking over women and their lives on one extreme, and the media taking over women on the other polar opposite. It's hard for women to know what they want when they'ver never been asked, but controlled by Church, State, and consumerism. Add to that women are colonized and don't know their history, but in a sense, all women are colonized, don't you think?

It's hard for women to gain access to who they are when they aren't even allowed information about their own bodies, control of their fertility, church and state dictating choices that should belong to women themselves. I had to scavenge to find out about myself as a woman, and as a Latina. In many ways, it's simpler because of access to the web. In some ways it's harder, because women aren't even aware they are not in control of their lives.

In the following paragraph, Sandra claims that "many women don't even know what feminism is". (Here's a thought, Sandra: Maybe a lot of women know exactly what feminism is, and they just don't agree with it. Or at least they don't agree with your paranoid version of feminism.)

Sandra states, "It's hard for women to know what they want when they'ver never been asked, but controlled by Church, State, and consumerism." I think that statement is incoherent.

Imagine anyone saying, "How am I supposed to know what I want to eat for dinner if you don't ask me?" Here's the obvious response to such a question: "If by your own admission you don't know what you want, then what would be the point of asking you what you want? If you don't already know what you want, then being asked what you want is not going to make the answer clear to you."

The idea that men are somehow responsible for the fact that some women don't know what they want is ludicrous, as is the idea that women have never been asked what they want. Believe me, a lot of men wish they knew what women wanted, but they've given up on the quest for such knowledge because it seems almost unattainable. If one repeatedly asks a woman what she wants, only to be told that she doesn't know (or only to be given contradictory answers which are indicative of cognitive dissonance), one will eventually grow weary of asking!

In any event, I'm not sure that it matters much. Women, in my experience, do not need to be asked what they want. They will gladly volunteer that information on their own, with or without being asked, as surely as the sun rises and sets in the sky. Unfortunately, prior to telling men what they want, they will often expect men to intuitively deduce such things without being told. A lot of women seem to think that men ought to have the ability to read minds. Then, if men (being mere human beings and not gods) fail to know what women want without being told, they're often accused of being "insensitive" and "uncommunicative". Give me a break!

(In all fairness, I should admit that women aren't the only people who are guilty of expecting other people to read their minds. However, I've noticed that that unfair expectation seems to be particularly common among women. Maybe they should try being more assertive right from the outset, and just tell people what they want, instead of waiting to be asked or waiting for other people to correctly guess what they want.)

In the context of other things she says in the interview, it seems to me that when she says that women don't know what they want, what Cisneros really means is that a lot of women don't want the things which she, as an ideologically committed feminist, thinks that they ought to want. I guess it's easier for her to tell herself that women who disagree with her just don't know what they want, rather than admitting that women don't all share her views or her values. (In particular, I suspect that the pro-life members of the organization known as Feminists For Life disagree with Sandra about some very specific issues.)

Regarding the aforementioned interview, Cisneros appears to be a very poor listener. Her answers were only vaguely related to the questions posed to her. She chose instead to go off on a self-indulgent tangent, seeing the interview as an opportunity to promote radical feminist ideologies.

The interviewer's question was about whether or not being Latina made self-discovery harder for young girls. In Cisneros' answer, she mentioned being Latina, but she never really answered the question with regard to whether or not being a young Latina girl made it harder to experience self-discovery.

In all fairness, it's conceivable that she ducked the actual question because it was a stupid question. Self-discovery is never easy for anyone, regardless of gender or ethnicity, because one's true identity is known only by God, who knows us far better than we can ever know ourselves. People who equate their "identities" with gender or ethnicity or nationality or cultural heritage will never know who they truly are. When we see ourselves through the eyes of God --- to the extent that our human limitations will allow us to do so --- only then can we discover our true identities. That's a lifetime quest, partially because our identities are not fixed and unchanging things. As we mature, our identities change --- sometimes for the better, and sometimes for the worse. To passively allow other people to define us in terms of our identities is the worst kind of irresponsibility and immaturity. This is true regardless of gender or ethnicity.

Secondly, the interview question ended on an emphasis on societal changes, in-between the time period covered by the book and 2009, which might have affected the story which Sandra told in her book. From what I could see, Sandra didn't say much about that either, but what she did say seemed to suggest that she thought that things had historically been bad for women, and that things were getting worse. (In the third paragraph, she implied that many women now see Paris Hilton as a role model, and she lamented that situation, saying, "At least when I was a young woman there was a feminist movement.")

Cisneros' reference to the Christian Taliban particularly puzzled me. I'd been a Christian ever since accepting Christ as Savior in 1969, and I'd never once heard of such a group. So I have to assume that she's demonstrating her ignorant bigotry by suggesting that fundamentalist and conservative Christians are comparable to members of the Taliban.

I can't say that I've ever known any Christians who forbade women from attending school (as the Taliban was inclined to do) or forced them to almost completely cover their faces in public or done any number of other things which have often attributed to the Taliban in Afghanistan. (I also read a recent news story about an incident in which the Taliban executed a couple for having the audacity to elope! Hmmm, I don't recall ever reading about a similar atrocity being committed by Christians, fundamentalist or otherwise.)

I've known some fundamentalist Christians (such as the students at Baptist Bible College in my hometown), and I have sometimes disagreed with such people with regard to the manner in which they interpret the scriptures. Nevertheless, the disparity between such people and the members of the Taliban was and is enormous. It is utterly specious to insinuate that any significant Christian group in the United States comes remotely close to the Taliban in terms of oppressing women or anyone else.

Women have been in the work force for many years in America, and many of them have risen to positions with far more pay and prestige than any job I've ever had or any job I could ever hope to aspire to have. Over the years, I've had a lot of bosses on the job, and many of them were women. I've never been anyone's boss. But apparently none of that is enough to satisfy Ms. Cisneros. It's as if she's living in some alternate universe in which radical feminists haven't already gotten their way in most major respects (including the recent election of a president described by Ms. Magazine as a true feminist).

Women are oppressed and controlled? Cry me a river!

What's all this stuff about women not being allowed to have information about their own bodies? (I'm tempted to use a much stronger word than "stuff".)

Apparently, Cisneros thinks (quite incorrectly) that gynecological textbooks have been outlawed in America. Presumably, Cisneros has never heard of the pro-abortion book "Our Bodies, Our Selves" which first published in 1970 (long before the web was ever invented) by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective. It is still being published, in revised form, to this day. I strongly disagree with the ideological commitment to legal abortion which is expressed in that book, but the book contains extremely explicit information about women's bodies, and it has been in publication for nearly four decades. I know of no laws which have hindered its publication or penalized women for reading it. I know of no attempts on the part of conservative Christians to hinder the publication or distribution of that book, even though they may vehemently disagree with parts of the book. So regardless of whether one is talking about the information in that book or the information in the numerous other textbooks pertaining to the female anatomy, it seems to me that the only thing preventing women from being informed about their bodies is their own laziness.

Cisneros claims that women aren't allowed "control of their fertility". I know of no public or private program in which fertile women are involuntarily rendered infertile, or vice versa. Therefore, I would find her claim to be extremely confusing, if not for my awareness of the fact that pro-abortion feminists often use the phrase "fertility control" as a disingenuous euphemism which really means legal access to abortion at virtually every stage of fetal development.

Abortion is indeed opposed by conservative Christians such as myself, but it is a demonstrable fact that abortion has nevertheless been legal since 1973. Apparently that's not enough to satisfy Cisneros, since she says that she still believes that female fertility is being controlled by church and state. One cannot help but speculate with regard to what would satisfy her. Perhaps she wishes to follow Barack Obama's lead, with regard to his opposition (when he was a senator) to legislation written specifically for the purpose of making infanticide illegal in the state of Illinois.

The fact is that even if conservatives such as myself succeeded in outlawing abortion, it would have no effect on women's fertility! The issue, with respect to the abortion issue, is not whether or not women are allowed to control their fertility. The issue is whether or not women who are obviously fertile (and who become pregnant as a result of that fertility) ought to be allowed to deliberately kill their unborn children! Incidentally, certain so-called contraceptives, such as RU-486 and the "morning after" pill, are more correctly described as abortifacients. They do not affect a woman's fertility one way or the other.

Sandra says that "women aren't even aware that they are not in control of their lives". I don't know whether or not she claims to be a Marxist, but that statement sounds awfully similar to the propagandistic condescension which is typical of Marxists who believe that their goal ought to be to "enlighten" previously happy and contented people so that those people understand just how bad off they are, so that they are willing to rise up in rebellion against their ostensible oppressors. That kind of garbage is still being spewed by fringe groups of Communists here in Chicago and elsewhere. Hardly anyone takes such groups seriously, due in part to the failure of the Soviet Union, and also due to an awareness of the deplorable abuses historically perpetrated by that regime and by other Communist regimes throughout the world. But that fact doesn't seem to detract from their zeal in the slightest. To say that such people are clueless would be a massive understatement. The same thing could be said for someone who thinks that the way to "liberate" women is to persuade them that they aren't in control of their own lives.

It's difficult to understand how such people think that they're helping other people by telling them that they ought to be angry and miserable. Isn't there enough unavoidable unhappiness in the world as it is, without fanning the flames and adding to the misery?

As for the idea that women are "colonized," I don't even know what Cisneros means by that. I doubt that she knows either. It sounds as if she's taking a mishmash of Marxist propaganda, using a variety of words which she only dimly understands in order to promote the idea that women are oppressed in America, even though nothing could be further from the truth.

It's a shame that the City of Chicago has chosen to honor a woman who is so thoroughly confused, and who engages in shameless slander by insulting Christians and others who believe that our society should treat all living human beings, including both women and unborn children, as if they have value because they are created in the image of a loving God.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Serious Dental Issues

I don't have many "vices," but I do have a weakness for sweets. For instance, I really like Werther's caramels --- smooth, creamy and sweet. And sticky. The sticky part wasn't a problem for me when I was younger, but that was before years of financial problems made it hard for me to afford regular dental care.

A couple of weeks ago, I was endulging in one of the aforementioned caramels, when I felt a hard substance which normally isn't a part of such treats. I carefully removed the caramel from my mouth in order to see if my suspicion was correct. Sure enough, another one of my front teeth had basically rotted off, becoming embedded in the piece of caramel.

Then last night, I was eating a normal meal (nothing sticky) when I lost another portion of a tooth. Most of that tooth was already gone, and the part which remained had previously been covered with a dental crown, but those things have a tendency to become detached after a while, as this one had quite some time ago. It's possible that I might have saved the remaining part of the tooth if I'd had a new crown put on it immediately, but that wasn't an option for me financially.

I didn't feel any pain during either one of the most recent incidents, although I'd felt dental pain earlier, in the latter part of 2008. At that time, I didn't have the money to go to the dentist, so I just treated myself with Anbesol until the pain eventually went away. I knew that that wasn't really the way Anbesol was meant to be used, but going to the dentist (and getting the expensive root canal which almost certainly would have been necessary in order to save the tooth) wasn't an option for me.

I grew up in the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri. The stereotype, regarding the "hillbillies" for which that region is known, is that of ignorant, inordinately poor folks who wear overalls, go barefoot, drive pickup trucks, drink moonshine, carry shotguns, and have big gaps in front where their teeth ought to be. It's a ludicrously unfair stereotype (although it may contain elements of truth on rare occasions), but it exists nevertheless. It doesn't help that there are savvy business people from the Ozarks who have milked the stereotype for commercial purposes (particularly in relation to certain music shows common in the Branson area). The negative image of hillbillies may be beneficial to certain businesses in Branson, but it is not conducive to the process of trying to find a good job in Chicago (especially if it's a job as a receptionist for a dental clinic, but really in any situation which requires face-to-face contact with the public). But one doesn't always have control over every aspect of one's life.

It's a Catch 22 type of situation, also known as a vicious circle. The dental issues significantly hinder my efforts to find work, and my inability to find a good job (or a good and legitimate alternative source of income) hinders my ability to pay a dentist to address the dental issues. Of course, there are also other issues, having nothing to do with dentistry, which are hindering my job search. But it would definitely help me in my job search if I didn't have to deal with the dental impediment as well. First impressions can make a big difference, and big gaps in one's teeth do not make for a good first impression.

(Nor does the noticeable bulge from my hernia --- but that's a topic for another blog article.)

I know that lawyers sometimes do "pro bono" work for the poor and destitute. I don't know if there are any dentists in the Chicago area who would be able and willing to do such work. If you do know of someone fitting that description (or if you know of someone who'd help me by paying for such dental work), that information would be greatly appreciated.

The truth is that I really need implants, particularly for the front teeth, but also for some of my missing back teeth as well.

I had partial dentures back in the late 80's, but it was so hard for me to eat with them in my mouth that I basically stopped wearing them after just a little while. Try eating pizza with a topping of stringy cheese while wearing partials, if you don't believe me. What a nightmare! What's the point of dentures if you can't eat the foods you love while wearing them in your mouth? Beats me.

To contact me to discuss these matters, please send me an e-mail at mwp1212(AT)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Are You Churched? Does It Matter?

Back in the 90's, I bought a book by Lee Strobel (of Willow Creek Church) entitled "Inside the Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary". The book focuses on evangelism, and has a lot of useful observations and ideas (many of which have been implemented at Willow Creek) with regard to how we might make our churches more friendly (and less intimidating) for unbelievers, so that cultural barriers do not hinder such people from listening to the gospel with an open mind.

Overall, I have no problem with that idea, provided that it doesn't result in a church in which spiritual "meat" is seldom offered to believers who are ready to go on to the next level, and provided that it doesn't strip out the harsh but nevertheless true aspects of the gospel which are essential to an accurate understanding of the Christian faith.

Unfortunately, some Christians think that it has in fact done just that, in the case of Willow Creek and other "seeker friendly" churches such as Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church. Such critics appear to think that the slogan for such churches ought to be "all of the milk, none of the meat" --- or perhaps "quantity, not quality".

That may be an unfair exaggeration, but I still think that we ought to take such criticisms seriously. There is a balance, and we ought to seek that balance. It ought to be possible to create a "seeker-friendly" church which nevertheless makes no moral compromises. We shouldn't confuse our human traditions (many of which alienate unbelievers to an unnecessary degree) with God's word. However, even if we make adjustments to our methods in order to create church environments which are more "seeker-friendly," there is no way to please everyone. Pleasing God should always be our first priority, even if it sometimes makes the marketing "experts" unhappy.

I think that the title of the Strobel book also raises some interesting questions which ought to be discussed by all Christians in more depth:
  1. If someone is currently "unchurched," does it logically follow in every instance that the person is therefore an unbeliever? Does it logically follow, for that matter, that the person is a shallow or immature Christian? Is it possible that there are situations in which the fact that a person is "unchurched" says less about that person than it says about the churches to which that person has access? Might there not even be cases in which obedience to the Lord would demand that one refrain from participation in the activities of specific churches?
  2. Conversely, if a person is "churched," does it automatically follow that he or she is a faithful and spiritually mature disciple of Christ who has a vital relationship with God? (I think that the obvious answer is NO. I'm reminded of preachers who have correctly pointed out that living in a hen house doesn't make one a chicken.)
  3. Should our goal be to make people into "church people," into converts, or into disciples? What are the differences, if any, between those three things? Why did Jesus tell us to go and make people into disciples, not into church people or converts?
  4. What is the basis for the assumption that the only way or the best way to win unbelievers to Christ is to persuade them to attend church with us? Is that the most appropriate or effective way in which to do evangelistic work? What about the role of individual Christians insofar as evangelism is concerned? Is their role merely to get folks to come to church so that they can hear formal evangelistic presentations? Isn't it somewhat lazy to rely primarily on the "professionals" for evangelism, rather than learning to actively share one's faith with one's friends, relatives, neighbors, coworkers, etc.? What are the best ways to teach people to allow God to directly use them in such a manner?
  5. Why aren't we Christians making more of an active effort to infiltrate the surrounding culture with the gospel of Christ so that it isn't necessary to bring people to church in order to present the gospel to them in a manner which leads to conversions?
It would be simplistic, I think, to focus solely on one method of evangelism to the exclusion of other methods. God can and sometimes does bring people to salvation in Christ as the result of being invited to church services or special evangelistic events sponsored by churches. But I think that it's unfortunate when we ignore the numerous other opportunities with which we are presented. We need to encourage fellow believers to be bold and creative in terms of sharing their beliefs with non-Christians.

We can do so by setting up group activities which enable people who have never "witnessed" to others before to get their feet wet so that they eventually feel very comfortable about talking about the Lord with others, and by creating environments (such as storefront Christian coffeehouses) which are particularly conducive to such conversations with unbelievers. (Most churches, even the best churches, are NOT conducive to such honest conversations.)

People learn how to do such things by doing such things, and by observing other Christians as they engage in such conversations. I also think that we ought to invest time in training people in advance (using role playing exercises, for example) so that they are encouraged to spend time thinking about how they might most effectively answer specific objections when engaging in conversations with unbelievers. We should also make people aware of various training resources (such as Paul E. Little's book "How to Give Away Your Faith", which helped me quite a bit when I was young) pertaining to personal evangelism.

I also think that it's vital to emphasize the idea that listening to unbelievers and attempting to honestly grapple with their questions and issues is an essential aspect of effective evangelism. Far too many Christians approach unbelievers with an attitude which borders on disdain or condescension. Such "evangelism" can be worse than no evangelism at all.

No methodology can replace a personal one-on-one relationship with Jesus Christ in terms of training people to engage in witnessing and evangelism, but having such a relationship doesn't necessarily mean that one will be an effective evangelist. That's why people need to be actively trained and encouraged to share their faith with people who aren't saved.

When people become personally involved in kingdom building by sharing their faith directly with unbelievers --- instead of merely promoting the evangelistic activities at their local churches --- then they are well on their way to becoming real disciples, not just church goers or converts.