Monday, December 31, 2012

New Best Friend

Secularization is not the Wave of the Future

Religion Highlights of 2012
by Mark Tooley
Reports to the contrary notwithstanding, secularization is not the wave of the future.


Secular elites like to insist that America and by implication the world is growing ever more secular. The evidence is doubtful at best. In 2012 a much trumpeted Pew study showed a record number of Americans professing to be religiously unaffiliated, with 20 percent declared as “nones.” Although the same study showed about the same percentage of Americans attending church regularly as have for the last 80 years, it was widely heralded as proof of accelerating secularization.

A massive Gallup survey of over 300,000 Americans published in December 2012 rebuts the secularist claims of triumph. Gallup found 77 percent identifying with Christianity, with 5 percent identifying with non-Christian religion, and 18 percent unaffiliated. The Gallup report, called “God Is Alive and Well,” suggests that “religion may become increasingly important in the years to come” in America. It cites an aging American demographic prone to be more religious. It also suggests that as “religiousness is significantly related to wellbeing and health,” more Americans, especially “aging baby boomers,” may “look to religion as a positive component of their way of life.” Even “business and government leaders may take these correlates of religiousness into account in their quest to increase employee wellbeing and lower healthcare costs,” Gallup speculates. So take that secularist triumphalists!

Gallup also predicts an “extension of the current trends toward unbranded, nondenominational, more free-form religious expression,” with “significant implications for the future of traditional mainline religious groups that are slower to adapt to change.” No doubt. The implications for imploding old line churches is already quite clear. The rise of the religiously unaffiliated mostly reflects the collapse of old denominational forms of liberal Protestantism.

Secularist triumphalists have also celebrated the 2012 election result for supposedly proving the political irrelevance of Evangelicals and traditional Catholics. But white evangelicals were a record percentage of the electorate, the largest religious demographic, and higher than in 2004, which had provoked some secularists at the time to warn of impending theocracy.

Despite premature secularist claims, 2012 was a significant year for religion in America and the world, further proving that religion is effervescent and hardly receding. Here are a few of the top religion stories of the last year.

The Obamacare HHS insurance mandate requiring religious institutions such as hospitals and schools to cover contraceptives and abortifacients has generated an almost unprecedented joint sense of purpose between Roman Catholic and Evangelical leaders and institutions. Colleges from both traditions, including evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois, are litigating against the mandate. And even many Evangelical leaders like megachurch pastor Rick Warren who typically avoid the culture war have strongly denounced the mandate as an assault on religious liberty.

Along with Obama’s support for same sex marriage and abortion rights, the HHS mandate likely suppressed the Evangelical Left during the 2012 presidential election campaign. Groups such as Jim Wallis’ Sojourners, along with many other liberal Evangelicals, largely were low profile during the 2012 elections, starkly contrasting to 2008 when prominent liberal Evangelicals excitedly supported Obama. Wallis himself was openly apathetic, and some prominent Evangelicals, like Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, publicly criticized the HHS mandate. The Obama campaign, after having courted Evangelicals in 2008, largely ignored them in 2012, realizing they could win without them.

Leaders of the otherwise increasingly liberal-leaning National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) have stood against the HHS mandate. But NAE had its own contraceptive controversy this year after quietly accepting pro-choice foundation grant money under the auspices of reducing unplanned pregnancy. A foundation official appeared on an NAE-sponsored panel during a prominent Evangelical event in Washington, D.C., prompting a World magazine exposé, and NAE’s renouncing future such grants. The brouhaha illustrated the struggle of some liberal-leaning Evangelicals to shift left without offending their own constituency.

Exemplifying a more traditional Evangelical perspective, a North Carolina ballot measure defining marriage as between one man and one woman received public support from famed Evangelist Billy Graham, who appeared in full-page newspaper ads urging passage. Similar ads with Graham’s name failed to sway later votes in more liberal states. But the wide North Carolina victory for traditional marriage showcased how conservative Evangelicals remain a potent force, premature obituaries notwithstanding.

America’s third largest religious body is the United Methodist Church, which has long been liberal and fast declining for decades. But its uniquely global membership includes surging African churches that flexed their muscle at this year’s governing General Conference by effectively tabling efforts to liberalize on marriage and sex. One Methodist theologian afterwards pronounced that United Methodism is no longer mainline, which means American liberal, but global. The United Methodists also defeated, with African support, anti-Israel divestment, as did the Presbyterian Church (USA) by a narrower margin, illustrating the limits of anti-Israel activism even in leftist religious circles. In contrast, the Episcopal Church demonstrated the spiral of old line churches by affirming transgenderism at its General Convention.

Responding to global religious persecution, American Evangelicals and Catholics, and some old line Protestants, were increasingly outspoken. Of special concern this year was a Christian Pakistani girl accused of blasphemy and an Iranian pastor, both imprisoned but ultimately released after international pressure. The Iranian pastor has since been jailed again. In northern Nigeria, Islamist terror group Boko Haram killed over 750 Christians in 2012. Amid the “Arab Spring” and the ascendancy of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists, Coptic Christians in Egypt and other religious minorities elsewhere in the Middle East are increasingly vulnerable.

Almost certainly religion will fill the headlines of 2013 no less than 2012, secularist claims to the contrary, as most of the world and most of America remain persistently religious.

 Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C. and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century.

St Matthew's Church, Sugar Grove, OH gets Anonymous Help

Unknown person repairs, paints Sugar Grove church's Sunday School chairs

By Michelle George, The Eagle-Gazette Staff


Phillip Unger, Minister at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church, left, and Janet Shonebarger, Treasurer of the church, look at the different designs on the children's chairs Friday, Dec. 28, 2012, at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Sugar Grove. An anonymous person took the chairs down from the church attic, painted and fixed them, and left them at the church on Dec. 23 with Christmas cards. The chairs had not been used in over 10 years. Jess Lanning/Eagle-Gazette / Eagle-Gazette

SUGAR GROVE — Just call it a gift from an angel.

That’s how Phillip Unger describes what he found Dec. 23 in the interior entryway of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church — 20 Sunday School chairs, all painted and repaired, neatly placed side by side in a long, colorful row.

There was no note with the chairs and no hint as to who had left them. Instead, the anonymous benefactor had placed a Christmas card on each chair with a gift tag inside that said “To St. Matthew’s Church.” The cards were signed with the name of a former pastor or church member who had died or moved away.

“(Church pianist Sherry Smith) was standing there (in the entryway) and she just looked confused,” said Unger, minister of St. Matthew’s. “She said, ‘Did you know anything about this?’”

More than a week later, the identity of the person who repaired and painted all 20 chairs, which had been stored in the church attic for more than a decade, remains a mystery to the congregation of the Sugar Grove church. However, they’re grateful to the person they now refer to as their “angel.”

“I thought, ‘We better get some more kids in here,’” Unger joked.

Because the church only has about eight children who regularly attend Sunday school, the deteriorating chairs had been placed in storage years ago, church treasurer Janet Shonebarger said.

“We’ve had people ask, ‘Where are the Sunday School chairs?’ and we’ve told them, ‘Oh, they’re up in the attic,’” Shonebarger said.

So it was a surprise when members arrived at the church on the Sunday before Christmas Eve to find the long-forgotten chairs out of storage and looking new.

“They had been repaired and painted, and when I say painted, I mean they have Bible stories on them and rainbows and words,” Shonebarger said. “Everyone was saying, ‘Who do you think did this?’ But no one owned up to it.”

After recovering from the shock of finding the chairs, Unger said he moved them to the front of the church for the Christmas service and read each of the cards to the congregation.

Unger and Shonebarger said they have no intention of putting the chairs back in storage. Instead, they are excited for them to be used once again.

“They’ll go downstairs in the Sunday school room,” Shonebarger said.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

Living Savior Lutheran Church Rebuilds, Tualatin OR

Tualatin's Living Savior Lutheran Church raising money to finish rebuilding
By Findley Merritt, The Oregonian
on December 28, 2012 at 7:05 AM

Days after a March 19 fire destroyed the sanctuary and preschool at Tualatins Living Savior Lutheran Church, the Rev. Nathan Brandt conducts a service under a tent in the parking lot. The church moved back into its rebuilt sanctuary in October.Ross William Hamilton / The Oregonian The Rev. Nathan Brandt at Living Savior Lutheran Church estimates the church has raised about a $1 million toward building a new preschool and fellowship building after a fire nine months ago displaced the congregation. But the church is still $500,000 short of what it needs to complete the building, Brandt said.

March 19, a fire broke out in a small area in the back of the the church at 8740 S.W. Sagert St. No one was hurt, but the flames left the spacious sanctuary, built as an addition in 2009, with smoke and water damage and destroyed the multipurpose rooms used for the preschool. Damage was estimated at $1 million. Two 13-year-old boys arrested in connection with the fire were ordered to pay a total of $100,500 to the church and insurance, said Washington County Deputy District Attorney Mark Richman.

The congregation moved into the rebuilt sanctuary in October, after holding services at Tualatin Elementary School.

They have started a campaign to raise the rest of the money needed for an expanded fellowship and preschool building.

The church has applied for a foundation permit from the city and construction crews have started work on the plumbing and electricity. Brandt said they anticipate applying for a full building permit in the new year.

If all goes according to plan, the kindergarten could move into the new preschool by next fall.

"We still don't have all the answers yet," Brandt said, "but we will."

-- Findley Merritt


coexist hah

Stop Laughing at my Laffer Curve - Part 3

In 2013, Millions Of Americans Face Obamacare Tax Hikes
As part of the negotiations over the fiscal cliff, Congress and President Obama are battling over whether to raise marginal tax rates at the very top of the income ladder.

Regardless of how these talks turn out, millions of Americans are already facing tax hikes thanks to Obamacare.

Obamacare’s authors chose to offset about half of the trillion-dollar cost of the law through higher taxes. Since the Supreme Court upheld the law’s individual mandate and allowed states to opt out of its Medicaid expansion, though, the cost estimate has swelled to $1.76 trillion between 2012 and 2021.

In 2013, a number of Obamacare’s taxes will go into effect. Each will increase the cost of health care, yield job losses, and deprive our struggling economy of investment. These are the true costs of Obamacare.
Let’s look at some of these taxes individually.

On January 1, 2013, a 2.3-percent excise tax on the total revenues of medical-device companies — regardless of whether they turn a profit or suffer a loss — will take effect. The tax will hit everything they sell, from x-ray machines and pacemakers to surgical tools and artificial hips. The levy could extract as much as $29 billion over the next 10 years.

That money will have to come from somewhere; device firms won’t simply swallow the tab. So they’ll likely raise prices for patients and slash their workforces. In fact, economists at the
Manhattan Institute project that the tax could eliminate as many as 43,000 jobs — and over $3.5 billion in employee compensation.

The industry currently employs about 400,000 people and supports roughly 2 million manufacturing jobs. With unemployment — particularly in the manufacturing sector — still a national concern, it makes little sense to penalize device firms.

Because of the tax, medical-device firms will also have less money to invest in research and development. My colleague Benjamin Zycher estimates that the industry will scale back investment in new products by 10 percent through 2020. That translates to a $2-billion decrease per year.

House Republicans have been trying to repeal the tax for some time. In recent weeks, they’ve gotten some unlikely company — from Senate Democrats.

This month, 16 Democrats from the upper chamber urged President Obama to delay the tax’s implementation because of the risks it poses to the industry. In a statement, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) described it as a “job-killing tax.”

Even an 11-figure tax like the device levy will only cover a paltry share of Obamacare’s total bill. A much larger portion is scheduled to come from higher taxes on top earners.

Individuals with annual incomes higher than $200,000 and couples who make more than $250,000 a year will face two new taxes — a 0.9-percent increase in the 1.45-percent Medicare levy on earnings above those income thresholds and a new 3.8-percent tax on investment income. Together, these two taxes are expected to raise about $318 billion over the next decade — roughly half of the law’s new tax revenue.

The structure of these taxes penalizes married couples in particular. According to the
New York Times, two unmarried singles who made $200,000 each would not owe any additional Medicare tax. But if they were married, they’d owe $1,350.

Meanwhile, the 3.8-percent tax on unearned income, like capital gains, dividends, and interest, will discourage saving and investment. That’s the exact opposite of what Congress should be doing now, what with the economy still stalling.

Obamacare’s tax hikes aren’t just confined to the rich. The law raises the floor for the deduction of medical expenses, from 7.5 percent of income to 10 percent. So only expenses beyond 10 percent of a person’s income will be deductible. This change could add hundreds of dollars to the tax bills of those struggling with major medical bills.

Obamacare also halves the maximum contribution to flexible spending accounts (FSAs), from $5,000 to $2,500. Many consumers use FSAs to cover routine medical expenses, like vision care, orthodontia, and prescription drugs. They won’t have nearly as much money to work with in 2013.

By neutering FSAs, Obamacare deprives patients of control over their own health care — and puts insurers and government in the driver’s seat. Instead of paying for routine care with pre-tax dollars, individuals will have to purchase expensive insurance that covers routine care. In the end, patients may end up paying more.

These are just the five taxes scheduled to kick in next year. In 2014, another multibillion-dollar round of taxes will go into effect, including an excise tax on high-value insurance plans, a levy on health insurers, and the individual mandate’s “tax” on people who remain uninsured.

The money to pay for Obamacare’s healthcare overhaul, which will be in excess of $1 trillion and probably upwards of $2.5 trillion from 2014 to 2023, has to come from somewhere. In the New Year, Americans will find that “somewhere” is their wallets.

Sally C. Pipes is President, CEO, and Taube Fellow in
Health Care Studies at the Pacific Research Institute. Her latest book is The Pipes Plan: The Top Ten Ways to Dismantle and Replace Obamacare (Regnery 2012).

UK Researchers want to Ban Kitchen Knives

"Researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all"

England is known for its spiraling abandonment of the faith.
Now they're abandoning reason:
A team from West Middlesex University Hospital said violent crime is on the increase - and kitchen BanEverythingknives are used in as many as half of all stabbings.
They argued many assaults are committed impulsively, prompted by alcohol and drugs, and a kitchen knife often makes an all too available weapon.
The research is published in the British Medical Journal.
The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all.
They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen.
None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed.
The researchers said a short pointed knife may cause a substantial superficial wound if used in an assault - but is unlikely to penetrate to inner organs.
In contrast, a pointed long blade pierces the body like "cutting into a ripe melon".
The use of knives is particularly worrying amongst adolescents, say the researchers, reporting that 24% of 16-year-olds have been shown to carry weapons, primarily knives.
The study found links between easy access to domestic knives and violent assault are long established.
As belief in God declines, particularly in the truth of Jesus Christ as Savior of the world, belief in the need for a nanny state and its corollary abolishment of personal freedom rises.
This piece I think illustrates this folly perfectly.
Sadly, that thinking is making its way across the Atlantic.
Western culture is in deep poop people.

Obama Orders Pay Raise

Obama Orders Pay Raise for Biden, Members of Congress, Federal Workers

12:50 PM, Dec 28, 2012 • By

President Barack Obama issued an executive order to end the pay freeze on federal employees, in effect giving some federal workers a raise. One federal worker now to receive a pay increase is Vice President Joe Biden.

According to
disclosure forms, Biden made a cool $225,521 last year. After the pay increase, he'll now make $231,900 per year.

Members of Congress, from the House and Senate, also will receive a little bump, as their annual salary will go from $174,000 to 174,900. Leadership in Congress, including the speaker of the House, will likewise get an increase.

Here's the list of new wages,
as attached to President Obama's executive order:

new executive order has been issued providing for a new pay schedule beginning 'on the first day of the first applicable pay period beginning after March 27, 2013,'" reports "The pay raise will generally be about 1/2 of 1%."
Jeryl Bier points to an example of the pay increase for average government executives:

"Not much of an increase, but an increase all the same," Bier notes.

And the timing isn't great either: Just as President Obama and Congress try to avert going over the "fiscal cliff," he doles out pay increases to federal workers.

UPDATE: According to a senior Republican congressional aide who has reviewed the executive order and consulted with the Congressional Budget Office, Obama's pay raise will cost $11 billion. "The CBO told us that the President’s pay raise for federal workers will cost $11 billion over ten years," says the aide.

The aide explains, "On the cost-estimate, CBO says the (discretionary) cost of the .5% pay-hike the President is calling for in the Exec Order – relative to a freeze – is about $500m in FY 2013 and $11 billion over the ten years from FY 13 - FY 22. The reason why the FY ’13 savings is only $500 million is because the pay hike as proposed by the President’s Exec Order would not go into effect until April 1st, 2013 - when the current CR expires. So it only covers half the fiscal year. The annualized cost of the pay hike is about $1 billion/year."

Stop Laughing at my Laffer Curve - Part 2

Real Housewives of the Beltway
How the script for the fiscal cliff melodrama was written.

The fiscal-cliff melodrama has become one of those bad cable reality shows, a sort of "Real Housewives of New Jersey" without the sincerity though not without the plastic surgery. In the latest episode on Friday, the actors met at the White House in a last-ditch attempt to avert the cliff they had created, and that they all claim would be a catastrophe to jump off, but that they hope they can blame on each other if they do.

On second thought, this script would be laughed right off cable.

It's impossible to assess any last-minute deal before it is struck. But at this point we know there will be a big tax increase of some kind, which will finance more spending but which won't come close to helping the economy grow faster or reduce America's debt. The only question is the extent of the policy damage.

House Speaker John Boehner, left, President Obama, center, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, right, after debt ceiling talks in July.

So for today we thought we'd explain again how we got to this sorry pass. The mistakes are political and bipartisan. But they are also intellectual, which means there is some hope to avoid them in the future if we learn the right lessons.

The first mistake goes back to the original compromises to pass the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003. Those lower tax rates are expiring now because they weren't made permanent then. The 2001 tax cut was for 10 years and the 2003 tax cuts were for five years, and later they were extended a year or two at a time, in order to satisfy arcane budget rules that didn't require 60 Senate votes.

The second mistake was the Alternative Minimum Tax, which Democrats passed in 1969 to capture a few millionaires who had used loopholes to avoid a 70% marginal tax rate. But the tax was never indexed for inflation, even when Bill Clinton raised AMT rates in 1993. Republicans also didn't index it in 2003 or 2005 because it would have "cost" too much in lost revenue under Washington's silly budget scoring rules. So now the AMT threatens to engulf 27 million Americans if it isn't patched each year.

The third and biggest blunder is the Keynesian mantra of "timely, targeted and temporary" tax cuts and spending. We thought this had been buried by the Reagan years. But it made a comeback in 2008 with Nancy Pelosi and Harvard economist Larry Summers.

The economic theory is that Congress can, in its ever-present wisdom, calculate precisely the right amount and timing of temporary tax cuts and spending increases to stimulate the economy. But the tax cut must be temporary so as not to add to the "long-term" deficit. And the tax cut must be targeted, lest it benefit someone who makes more money than Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Summers like.

So they and President Bush gave us the $168 billion temporary tax rebate of February 2008 that goosed official GDP for a quarter but did nothing to change incentives to work or invest. Then they and President Obama gave us the $830 billion spending and targeted-tax-cut stimulus of 2009, which included the temporary making-work-pay tax credit and later the temporary home buyer's tax credit.

All of this did so little for the economy that after the 2010 election even Mr. Obama agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush tax rates to avoid another recession. He also insisted on the temporary payroll tax cut of 2010 (extended in 2011), and the 2010 temporary boost in business expensing.

The problem with all of this temporary policy is that Americans aren't stupid. They know it is all going to expire. So they either don't change their behavior, or they move up investment or purchases they were likely to make anyway to take advantage of the tax break. In the end there is no permanent change in incentives and little or no change in the underlying rate of economic growth.

Oh, and when these temporary tax cuts expire, by definition they create a tax cliff like the one we are now facing. By contrast, a truly stimulative tax cut would be immediate, permanent and apply at the margin to the next dollar of income made by all taxpayers.

We should add that the one part of the cliff not to worry about are the automatic spending cuts (the "sequester") that will start to hit on January 1. The Keynesians who believe that government spending is the main source of growth are portraying this as a calamity. But when has Washington ever seriously cut spending other than after a war?

The sequester would cut a mere $109.4 billion in 2013, with half from defense and half from domestic (mostly non-entitlement) accounts. It would be smarter to decide which programs to eliminate, rather than cut across-the-board. But the size of these cuts are small in a nearly $4 trillion budget. And to the extent that they signal at least some spending restraint, they would help the economy by reducing the need for future tax increases.

The larger point here is that the fiscal cliff is an entirely made-in-Washington fiasco that is the result of bad policy choices. It reflects a dominant political class—mostly Democrats but increasingly many Republicans and conservative intellectuals—who think that growth derives from government spending and that tax rates don't matter. Until that policy fever is broken, the Beltway's cable ratings aren't likely to improve.

US Budget for Dummies

* U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000
* Fed budget: $3,820,000,000,000
* New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000
* National debt: $14,271,000,000,000
* Recent budget cuts: $ 38,500,000,000

Let’s now remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:

* Annual family income: $21,700
* Money the family spent: $38,200
* New debt on the credit card: $16,500
* Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710
* Total budget cuts so far: $38.50


Friday, December 28, 2012

The Lutheran Hour Float - 2013 Tournament of Roses Parade

The Lutheran Hour Float
2013 Tournament of Roses Parade
Jesus … The Way to Heaven!

Float Theme

The theme for the 2013 Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade is “Oh the Places You'll Go!” and this year's LHM Float theme is “Jesus … The Way to Heaven!” 2013 marks our 62nd year of participation and the LHM Float continues to be the only Christian Float in the world's most famous media event.


This year's parade theme, “Oh, the Places You'll Go!” invites us to imagine the places we can go. The 2013 LHM float “Jesus … The Way to Heaven!” reminds us that heaven is the ultimate place to go for all who call on the name of Jesus Christ to be saved. In John 14:3-4, Jesus reminds us, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also." This place is heaven, and the only way to live with Jesus in heaven is to trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness your sins. The elements of the float depict God's promises in His Word: the path we travel to heaven (Matthew 7:14), God's Word guiding us on our journey (Psalm 119:105), and Jesus welcoming us with open arms at the gates of heaven showing us He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). It is our prayer that this year's float would be a reminder that everyone can spend an eternity in heaven through faith in Christ Jesus.

TV Viewing Tips (Home & Garden Channel is Best)

While the Tournament of Roses Parade is on most network channels, (ABC, CBS, NBC), the Lutheran Hour Float is not guaranteed coverage due to commercials and/or other TV commitments. For the best viewing of the parade, the Home and Garden channel shows the parade in its entirety on cable TV. Check your local listings for time and channel.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Burglary at St. John's Lutheran Church, St Louis, MO

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - A 20-year-old local man has been charged with burglary after a 150-year-old bible was stolen from a local church.
The suspect has been charged with three counts of second-degree burglary, two counts of second-degree theft/stealing, and two counts of second-degree property damage.

The suspect is accused of burglarizing St. John's Lutheran Church on Morganford on Friday and stealing a 150-year-old Augsburg bible.

bible was recovered Wednesday at Hammonds Antique Store on Cherokee Street.

The church has been
targeted by burglars and vandals at least five times in recent months and a local business has donated money to install an alarm system at the church.


Fire at Our Redemer Lutheran Church, KC, MO

Church undaunted by fire’s damage

Congregation plans to worship on Sunday in an unburned section of the building.

The Kansas City Star

Fred Blocher
An early morning fire gutted the sanctuary of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church at Seventh Street and Benton Boulevard on Thursday. Later in the day, church members Sean Chancellor (left) and Dennis Dukes surveyed the damage.

The Rev. Brad Zerkel’s eyes moistened as he surveyed charred remains after a two-alarm fire early Thursday ravaged the sanctuary of a decades-old church in the Northeast area of Kansas City.

“I just see a lot of pain, mostly,” Zerkel lamented. “But it is a pain that can be repaired.”

The blaze at the Our Redeemer Lutheran Church at Seventh Street and Benton Boulevard broke out just after 2 a.m. Heavy flames and thick smoke poured from the 90-year-old structure as fire crews arrived.

Fire officials quickly called a second alarm as flames shot through the roof and the stained-glass windows. Later, they ordered firefighters to retreat out of the building as the blaze spread.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation Thursday.

Zerkel said the fire probably started near the 70-year-old pipe organ inside the sanctuary, possibly caused by old electrical wiring. The blaze destroyed the altar, the baptismal font and a wooden, hand-carved cross of Christ.

The congregation plans to worship Sunday in an undamaged section of the church.

Several former members as well as several local and out-of-state congregations have offered assistance.

“God can use moments like this to overcome bad, and good to overcome evil,” said Zerkel, who has been pastor since 2001. “This is the visible church and that can easily be torn down and replaced, but it is the invisible church, the people, who I care most about.”

Fire crews had to break through the stained-glass windows to fight the blaze.

Church members gathered outside and pledged to rebuild.

“This is devastating,” said Roger Fangmann, president of the congregation. “I used to think of a lot of things happening to the church — maybe some small vandalism in the past, but not a fire happening here.”

The church was founded in 1922, and the original sanctuary was remodeled in 1967. In recent years, members have worked to adapt to the changing demographics of the surrounding Northeast community.

The congregation has more than 100 members and offers three services to embrace the diversity of the neighborhood. Separate worship services are conducted in Spanish and English, with a third to accommodate members from Liberia.

The church also operates a food pantry and clothing store. Once a week, services are held for the poor and others who often congregate along and near Independence Avenue.

“We do a lot of good work here and we are not going to be put down by this,” said Debbie Chancellor, who has been a member for over 50 years. “We are going to move forward. We have a mission, and the good Lord will help us continue that mission.”


Read more here:

Daddy's Home

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Primer on Jewelry Chains

So what types of Chains do I advise buying? I'm glad you asked... Wheat Chains (My absolute Favorite type of Chain), Box Chains (Medium Thickness), Anchor Links, Figaro Links, Cuban (Curb) Links, and Mariner (Marine Links - Some call these styles Gucci Links as well) Link Chains! (See Pictures below)

Notice a trend here? Most of these Great Chains to Buy are Link Chains! Why? Because Links tend to hold up the best. And since every Link is independently soldered closed, you won't have to worry about them ever Opening Up or Coming Undone. They are the Safest type of Chain to EVER own! I would recommend Link style Chains to be worn with any style of Pendant or Charm (Man or Women). You simply can't go wrong with them!
And while we're talking about the best Chain to ever buy... Let's take a look at Clasps! The Lobster Clasp (Pictured right) is the Safest and most Durable Chain Clasp there is. Not to mention the fact that Lobster Claws get soldered onto your Chain (where as the Weak, Frail, Spring Ring Clasps are not). Spring Rings get Bent, Broken, and Pulled open all the time. Plus the little Spring inside the Spring Rings seems to Wear out and Break quickly. Stick with Lobster Claw Clasps, they are the best. Plus, they are also the easiest to Clasp! Bonus!

Is this Chain Durable?

Will this Chain Bend or Kink? These are great things to know before you spend your hard earned cash on a Chain! Also note that these examples listed here apply mainly towards 10kt Gold or 14kt Gold Chains (Which are the most common on the market anyway). Silver is also quite popular, but Silver is much softer than Gold , will Bend, Break, Stretch, Fall apart faster, and will even Tarnish as well! (Plus it leaves a black stain on your neck! Not cool!) If you want a nice Chain that won't give you problems, skip Silver and go for White Gold or Yellow Gold. You won't regret it!

Other alternative Metals would be: Stainless Steel or Titanium! (See Picture) 

Stainless Steel Chains and Titanium Chains are great Chains to own (especially for Men). The Metals are extremely Rugged, Durable, Masculine and will last a lifetime. You can't beat that! And I say, if a Chain lasts that long... That's a great Chain to buy! 


Do Chains Wear Out? Certainly! Chains are just like everything else in life. They Wear Down, Get Old, Erode, Weaken, Break, Bend, Kink and Stretch! And you can't blame them either... We wear our Chains every single day! What else could you wear daily and not have wear out as quickly? Nothing! Different types of Chains and Metals do different types of things when they Wear Down as well... For example: The Rope Chain. (See Picture)

Rope Chains are great Chains to own! They Sparkle and Shine (some have Diamond Cuts) and for the most part are pretty Durable and will last you a lifetime. But, as you wear them, Rope Chains will slowly Stretch and Lengthen. Normally this doesn't affect the Chain much, and most people don't even notice it. With a Rope Chain, the thicker the Rope, the better. I've owned a Rope Chain for over 20 years and it still looks brand new! Smaller Rope Chains do wear down though. They wear down by Unraveling. Pieces of the Chain actually come undone and stick out from the rest of the Chain. You'll notice this because the Chain will start snagging your clothing and sweaters, or it will feel rough and scratch your skin. No matter, Rope Chains are an easy fix. Jewelers usually just tuck the jagged piece back into the Rope (intertwine it), or they just add a drop of Solder onto the spot to keep it from breaking. Rope Chains come highly recommended! And then we have Box Chains! Box Chains are one of the most popular Chains there are! (See Picture)

Box Chains are great for holding Pendants and Charms (they come to a nice V on the neck). But, they are only great... If they are thick enough! Jewelers sell Box Chains in different thicknesses. The best is a Medium Thickness (around .8mm or bigger) for Durability and Longevity. Thin Box Chains (around .5mm or less) seem to Pull, Stretch and Snap easy! The interesting thing about Box Chains is that they stretch more than any other type of Chain (because of the way they're made). A 20" Chain in a couple of years could end up being 30". (Gold being very malleable can stretch quite a distance!) When Box Chains get stretched (which is caused by hanging heavy Pendants off the Chain, or things getting caught on the Chain and Pulling on it, or having your Kids or Grand Kids grab the Chain and Tug) they tend to get really Thin and Stiff (Not Flexible - It loses its Elasticity). When Box Chains get this Weak and Frail they tend to Snap in half. Once a Box Chain get Stretched and Thin, there is no way to Fix it... It's time for a new Chain! What are the Worst Chains to buy? Omega Chains, Snake Chains, and Herringbone Chains! These are not great Chains! (See Pictures below)

Flat Chains like these (or ones that don't have a good bending point), will Kink, Bend and Pull apart! Pieces of the Chain will Bend up and Break off and then there's not much hope for them. Soldering them just makes the Solder Joint stand out and look Globby. And even if they do Solder it back together again, the Solder Mark will harm the surrounding areas and make them Weaker. Plus, once Flat Chains like this Kink, they will always Kink. Jewelers can Roll or Flatten the Kinks out, but those areas will always be noticeable and end up being Weaker and Kink again. Not good! Usually the best advice is to cut the Chain down into a smaller Chain (Cutting out the bad parts) or turn it into a Bracelet!

Next up: Bead Chains! Pretty, Little Chains... But Don't Buy Them! (See Picture)

Bead Chains (Like little Disco Balls) are Pretty and Cute, but they are very Delicate and Break often (the little Links tend to Pop out of their Sockets). Fixing them is a Bear! Once those Holes get Opened up, they just don't hold well and aren't Secure. The Beads will probably be on the floor with just a slight Tug or Pull. Beware! Singapore Chains (See Picture below) tend to Twist, Snag, and Knot often. These types of Chains never seem to lay right either, they're always twisting around and getting caught. Singapores can also Break and Stretch easily as well. I would skip Singapore!

San Marco Chains! Run away! Run away Fast! These San Marco Chains (and Bracelets) are Beautiful and Elegant (They look like little Macaroni Links), but they are made Horribly!!! They are put together with little posts that Bend and Break way too easily. They fit into little Holes that Pull out and Open up. San Marco Links never lay right, they always want to Roll over (Which makes them break apart) and Twist. And once you Pop these Links apart, you may as well forget it. Soldering or Fixing them is a Nightmare because the links are Hollow. My suggestion: Look at Buying a different type of Chain. Don't even look at San Marcos... Run away and keep running! You'll be happy you did!Fine Chains! (See Picture below)

Fine, Thin Chains are the Default Chains that come on most Pendants, Charms and Necklaces. Take a look... 
These Chains are Frail, Delicate, Thin and Extremely Fragile! Any slight Yank could Break them apart or Pull the Links open. You take your chances with these Chains. I always recommend people upgrade these Chains immediately! Buy a Box Chain or a Wheat Chain instead (Pictured below). Those Chains are much more durable and a safer choice. Otherwise you'll be losing your Beautiful Diamond or Gemstone Pendant! These little Fine Chains are an accident waiting to happen! 
Here's another word of advice... Don't buy Hollow Chains! (See Picture below) Jewelers sell tons of different styles of Chains. Some are way Cheaper than others (even though they are the same width). There's a good reason for this. Most of these Cheaper Chains are Hollow inside. Don't buy them!

Hollow Chains (Like Puffed Gucci Links) Bend, Break and Dent faster than any other Chain out there. And once these Hollow Chains get Broken, they really can't be Fixed. Jewelers dislike even working on them because you can't put any pressure or heat to them. It just makes fixing them a huge ordeal. So before you Buy a Chain... Always ask the Salesperson these questions: Is this Chain Hollow?


Primer on Engagement Rings



Before you go shopping for a Diamond, before you go looking for the Perfect Engagement Ring for her, there are a few things that you might want to consider... I call them Shopping Tips from our exclusive Diamond Engagement Ring Buying Guide!

Ten Tips

It consists of Ten Tips that will not only help you choose the right Ring, but the right Diamond, right Metal and the right Price as well. Following these rules and tricks can not only get you the perfect Diamond Ring, but it may save you Time, Money and Frustration too. It's well worth the read! Most of the Steps are actually done before you ever walk into a Jewelry Store! It's all about Learning, Understanding and doing your Homework first. That way, you'll know if what the Salesperson is telling you is correct, or not! So let's begin! Ten Shopping Tips from the Ultimate Diamond Engagement Ring Buying Guide! Here we go:

1) Decide how much Money you want to Spend
2) Decide which Metal to Buy
3) Decide which Shape of Diamond to Purchase
4) Decide on a Carat Weight
5) Decide on a Clarity range
6) Decide on a Color range
7) Compare, Microscope and Buy a Diamond
8) Pick out the Mounting
9) Have it Set and Sized
10) Get it Appraised and Insured Now for a closer look... P.S.
James Allen has some Awesome Diamonds with Awesome Prices (use "RINGSUM" at checkout to save an additional 10% off your ring mounting!)
1) Decide how much Money you want to Spend

Before you step foot into any Jewelry Store, you're going to need to set yourself some guidelines. First up, how much money are you willing to spend? Knowing what you can afford and what you want to spend can help you make better Buying Decisions. It can keep you from going overboard and getting talked into a Diamond Ring that's way over budget. Figure out your money situation. Decide whether you're going to be paying in Cash, putting it on a Credit Card, Financing it, or putting it into a Layaway. Most Jewelers recommend spending 2 months salary on a Diamond Ring. But it's really up to you. You have to be comfortable with the payments. Know your limits! Pick a price range and stick to it. The average price for an Engagement Ring varies from $1500 all the way up to $6000. Don't go in blindly. Otherwise you may be walking out of the store with a $10,000 Ring. (Not that she would complain!)

2) Decide which Metal to Buy

Does she want Yellow Gold, White Gold,
Platinum? (These are the top 3 choice of Metals) If she wants a Yellow ring: Yellow Gold it is! Keep in mind that the best Gold to buy for Engagement Rings is 14kt Gold. 14kt Gold keeps the luster of Gold better and it's Durable enough to hold in your Diamonds and Gemstones. Anything higher than 14kt in Gold Content (like 18kt or 20kt) will be Softer and more Expensive. (Plus it may not match the Color of her other Rings!) 14kt is the best in my book. Platinum is awesome, but it also costs 4 times the price of Gold. (It is also 4x more durable as well!) You could easily spend $2500 just on the Platinum Mounting alone. It won't be cheap! So unless you have money to burn, stick with White Gold. (White Gold is the most popular Metal there is right now!) White Gold does have its faults though. White Gold will fade overtime (turn Yellowish) because the Rhodium Plating will wear off. It's not a big deal, but just know that you'll probably have to get it Polished, Cleaned and Re-Rhodium Plated at least once a year or every other year to keep it looking Bright and White. (That's just how White Gold is! - read: White Gold turns Yellow!)

3) Decide which Shape of Diamond to Purchase

Round (Brilliant Cut) is the most popular choice of them all and also the most affordable as well. (Can't beat that!) Round Brilliant Cuts look great and have the most Brilliance of any Cut of Diamond there is. (Hence the name!) You can't go wrong with Round Diamonds. Chances are she'll love it! The second most Popular Cut of Diamond is the
Princess Cut Diamond. (Square Cut or Rectangular Shaped) The great thing about Princess Cuts is that they look Huge. They look much bigger than any other Diamond Cut of the exact same Carat Weight. Either Round or Princess Cut will work perfectly. They are the big favorites and you really can't go wrong with them.

4) Decide on a Carat Weight

What Carat Weight do you want to get her? Or should I say, What Carat Weight does she want? (Has she dropped any hints?) Granted the Carat Weight you buy will really depend upon how much money you want to spend and what quality you are willing to get. But going in with an idea can greatly help. Most guys will buy a Diamond Ring between the Half Carat (.50) and the 1 Full Carat (1.00) range. The most important factor here is not how much Carat Weight is in the Entire Ring... But how much Carat Weight is the Center Stone. (Two totally different things - unless you're dealing with a Single Diamond!) The Solitaire is the showpiece. You want that to stand out above all else. You want it to be as big as possible. You don't want it to get lost in the Mounting. Think center stone first and everything else is secondary!

5) Decide on a Clarity range

This is where you start to do your homework. You must learn about Diamond Quality!
The 4 C's are vastly important! Clarity knowledge is crucial to getting a great Diamond or getting ripped off! Study Clarity and what it really means. Know the difference between a VS, SI and I Clarity Diamond. It can be complicated and confusing at first, but if you study enough Diamonds it will get easier. Microscoping Diamonds will get you familiar with Flaws and Imperfections and will teach you the difference between a Good Diamond... And a Great Diamond! The average Clarity on the market is SI1 Clarity. SI1 is a Clarity that has Small Inclusions in it that are NOT visible to the naked eye! SI1 Diamonds are affordable as well. Most people are perfectly happy and fine with SI1 Clarity Diamonds! Do note that going lower in Clarity than an SI1 (SI2, I1, I2 or I3 Clarity) sets you up for not only a less Brilliant Diamond (not so pretty), but also one that you CAN see Imperfections in the stone just by looking at it. You'll be able to see things like: Cracks, Clouds, Fractures, Lines, Chips and Black Carbon Spots. Some of them can be huge, ugly and obvious. Probably not something she would want to look at for the rest of her life. With Clarity, you pretty much get what you pay for! Now you could go higher in Clarity than an SI1 (like a VS, or VVS Clarity), but they get really expensive and you may not see a difference with the naked eye. (Since we're dealing with microscopic differences only!) Personally I adore VS Clarity! But I'm also partial because I've been looking at Clarity and Diamonds for over 20 years. You have to decide what Clarity you are fine with. Compare all of them. Put them side by side. Microscope them. Find out what Clarity suits you.

6) Decide on a Color range

The average Diamond Color there is on the market is
H-I Color. H-I is in the Near Colorless Range (G, H, I, J) and is a nice Off-White Diamond Color to buy. There's nothing wrong with H-I, but I would recommend going up at least one grade higher. Strive for a G-H instead. G is at the high end of the Near Colorless range. G will look Bright and White! But if you want to know what Diamond Color I would buy... I would have to say E-F Color. E or F Color is in the Colorless Range (D, E, F) and is the best Color range there is. They are considered Pure White and are extremely White and Bright. They'll look like they have a spot light on them. E-F Diamonds are very Stunning, full of Sparkles, and filled with Life! It all comes down to money of course. How much are you willing to spend and what are you willing to sacrifice? G-H is a great decent Color. A lot of people can't tell the difference between G-H Colors and the Pure White ones. You'll just have to look and compare them for yourself. Every Diamond is different!

7) Compare, Microscope and Buy a Diamond

Finally it's time to Buy a Diamond. Best advice: Buy the Center Diamond first! Purchase a Loose Diamond so you can get the best possible Quality for your money. Plus, purchasing a Diamond Loose (preferably
G.I.A. Certified and Laser Inscribed) will allow you to microscope the Diamond without any distractions. (Prongs, Mountings, Reflections...) Look at the Clarity under a scope. Look at the Plot of a Diamond. View the Laser Inscription on the Girdle. It truly is a wonderful sight! Not only is viewing Diamonds under a scope important... It's vital! NEVER buy a Diamond without viewing it under 10x magnification. EVER! You can't bypass this golden rule. Take your time. Carry a note book with you and keep track of important features like: Color, Clarity, Carat Weight, Price, Certification and Laser Inscriptions. This will help you keep them straight and choose between the best of them later. Go around to all the Jewelers in the City. Check them out. See what makes them tick. See who your Friends and Family recommend. Weigh all these factors in so you can narrow it down to a few select, Premium Diamonds. Then take a Friend with you to get a Second Opinion. (The Jewelry Salesperson's Opinion doesn't count, they are biased!) Buy from a place that doesn't Misinform or Mislead you. Buy from a place that you feel comfortable with. Chances are good that you'll do all your shopping from that Jeweler from now on. (Customers become very loyal!) Above all, make sure you buy a Diamond that you fall in love with. You want this Diamond to light up her eyes and put a huge smile on her face. She's going to be wearing this Diamond forever, so make it a good one. Don't rush into it. Take is slow. You don't want to make a hasty decision you'll regret. It's one of those things that you'll know it when you find it. Scope them well. Learn how to read Certification Papers. Look at all the details before you finally commit to purchase. You'll be happy you did.

8) Pick out the Mounting

Mounting shopping can be fun... For some! There are thousands of choices. A lot of guys stress over the Perfect Mounting, but it doesn't need to be so tough. If you already have an idea of what she wants (
White Gold Pave Set, Tension Set, Channel Set...) then that helps greatly. But if you have no clue as to what she'll like, then here are a couple of pointers... 1) Take a friend of hers (who can keep a secret) shopping with you. Her friend can help choose a ring that fits her personality. No doubt that her friends and your girl have been out looking at Engagement Rings before... Trust me, they'll know what kind of mounting she'll like. 2) If not, buy her the Classic Tiffany Style Engagement Ring (See Picture). You simply cannot go wrong with this Traditional look. It's Sleek, Simple, Stylish, Elegant, and nothing shows off a Solitaire Diamond better! It's a Win-Win Mounting! Plus, you can have it set into a Tiffany Style Mounting now, and then after you give it to your Girlfriend, you can take her out so she can pick the Mounting that she really wants. Lots of guys do this. And a lot of Women like doing it this way. Just realize, that this also costs you more money in the long run!

Mounting tips:
1) Don't buy a Mounting so big it overpowers the center Diamond.
2) Don't buy a Ring that is really thick or bulky, it may hurt her fingers.
3) Match the Quality of Diamonds in the Mounting to the Quality of Diamond you bought for the center stone.
4) Don't buy
Invisible Set Diamonds! They tend to fall out of the Mounting. Pave Set or Channel Set Mountings are more Ideal!

9) Have it Set and Sized

Have the Jeweler set your Solitaire into the Mounting of your choice. Have it sized properly at the same time. That way when she gets it, it will fit! There are a couple of ways of finding out her correct size, read:
How to find Her Ring Size! If you don't know her size, just leave the ring as the Default Ring Size (usually a size 6 or 6.5). Then she can just have it sized and custom fit after she gets it. No big deal! Here's a really HUGE ALERT for you! When you go to pick up your ring from the Jeweler... Microscope the Ring again! Look at the quality of the workmanship. Look at where it was sized. Are there any sizing marks? Did they thin out the shank? Take a look at the prongs. Are they touching the Diamond? Are they rough or sharp? Are they uneven or thin? Look at the Channels to make sure they are straight and not jagged or uneven. Look over everything well to make sure it's up to par. And don't forget to microscope the most important thing... The center Diamond! Doing this prevents Diamond Switching! Make sure that the Diamond you're taking home is the Diamond you bought. Look at the Inclusions and the Diamond Certificate (Please tell me you bought a Certified One... G.I.A.). Make sure it's the right stone. Look at the Laser Inscription Numbers (Hopefully you bought one that's Laser Inscribed as well!). Make sure the numbers on the Diamond are the same numbers that are listed on the Diamond Report. Do this BEFORE you leave the Jeweler. If there's an issue or problem, it's best to find out NOW!

10) Get it Appraised and Insured

Don't forget the Paperwork! Make sure you have the Diamond Certificate (These are expensive, so don't lose it!). Make sure that they give you a
Jewelry Appraisal (should be Free) with your purchase. You want to be able to make copies of all of these and turn them into your Insurance Company. Getting them insured is a must! Get it covered for Loss, Theft, Damage and also if the Diamond Chips, Breaks or Cracks! Get it covered. Put it on your Home Owners Insurance. It's well worth the money. And also make sure you get any Guarantees and Warranties that come with your purchase. And lastly, don't forget to buy an Extended Service Plan (E.S.P.'s) if they have one. These plans cover the Mounting and Repairs and Sizings for a Lifetime... I can't tell you enough how important these are for Jewelry Purchases! There you go. These tricks and tips should help you stay focused and hopefully keep you pointed in the right direction for buying her the perfect Diamond Engagement Ring.

The key points are:

1) Stay within your Budget
2) Strive for at least SI1 Clarity with G-H Color
3) Scope the Diamond for Flaws and Imperfections
4) Buy only Certified Laser-Inscribed Diamonds (G.I.A.)
5) Get it Appraised and Insured Good luck shopping! Have fun. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Unexpected Christmas

Christians Harassed on Christmas in Jakarta

Indonesian police block angry Muslim residents away from Christian worshippers from the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant intent on holding a Christmas mass on their property at the Jejalen Jaya village in Bekasi on Dec 25, 2012. More than 200 Indonesian Muslims threw rotten eggs at Christians wanting to hold a Christmas mass near land outside Jakarta where they plan to build a church, police and a witness said.  AFP

More than 200 Indonesian Muslims threw rotten eggs at Christians wanting to hold a Christmas mass near land outside Jakarta where they plan to build a church, police and a witness said.

Some 100 Christian worshippers intended to hold a mass near empty land where they hope to build a church, about 30-kilometers east of the capital, in a project barred by district government and community members in 2009.

Since then, worshippers from the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant have held Sunday services under scorching sun outside the property.

On Tuesday, however, local community members blocked the road near the land, Andri Ananta, a local police chief on Jakarta's outskirts, told AFP.

An AFP photographer witnessed furious locals — men and women wearing Muslim headscarf, with small children in tow — physically blocking the road and throwing rotten eggs at the gathering worshippers.

Ananta said police managed to convince the Christians to drop their plan and return home.

"We tried our best to avoid any clash and the Christians agreed to leave," he said, adding 380 police and military personnel including an anti-riot squad were deployed to the area.

Church leader Reverend Palti Panjaitan said the incident came after a Christmas Eve attack on Monday evening when "intolerant people" threw not only rotten eggs but plastic bags filled with urine and cow dung at them.

"Everything had happened while police were there. They were just watching without doing anything to stop them from harming us," he told AFP.

The country's high court last year overruled the district government's 2009 decision, but constant intimidation from Muslims in the area has delayed the church's construction, church officials said.

Indonesia's constitution guarantees freedom of religion but rights groups say violence against minorities including Christians and the Ahmadiyah Islamic sect has escalated since 2008.

Ninety percent of Indonesia's population of 240 million identify themselves as Muslim but the vast majority practice a moderate form of Islam.

Agence France-Presse

Netanyahu's Christmas Warning: Christians 'Endangered' in Middle East

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released his Christmas greeting today. In it, he warned of the existential threat to Christians in the Middle East with the rise of radical groups like the Muslim Brotherhood:

"Today, Christian communities throughout the Middle East are shrinking, and many of them are endangered. This is, of course, not true in Israel. Here there is a strong and growing Christian community that participates fully in the life of our country. Israel is proud of its record of religious tolerance and pluralism, and Israel will continue to protect freedom of religion for all. And we will continue to safeguard places of Christian worship throughout our country. We will not tolerate any acts of violence or discrimination against any place of worship. This is not our way, and this is something we cannot accept."

While Netanyahu takes flack for speaking the truth about Islamic treatment of Christians throughout the Middle East, Israel continues to be a beacon of hope for Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike who wish to live in peace, without fear of oppression based on religion. Were Jesus alive today, by contrast, he’d have to take a bulletproof bus out of Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem simply to avoid being killed or imprisoned for his Judaism.
by Ben Shapiro

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christianity 'close to extinction' in Middle East

Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report.

The most common threat to
Christians abroad is militant Islam
Photo: ALAMY
The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.

And it claims politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

It warns that converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran and risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East.

The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree.

"A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”

It cites estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”

“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

The report, entitled Christianophobia, highlights a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a “Western creed” which can be used to undermine them.

State hostility towards Christianity is particularly rife in China, where more Christians are imprisoned than in any other country in the world, according to the report.

It quotes Ma Hucheng, an advisor to the Chinese government, who claimed in an article last year that the US has backed the growth of the Protestant Church in China as a vehicle for political dissidence.

“Western powers, with America at their head, deliberately export Christianity to China and carry out all kinds of illegal evangelistic activities,” he wrote in the China Social Sciences Press.

“Their basic aim is to use Christianity to change the character of the China and overturn it,” he added.

The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.

“There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands,” it claims.

The report shows that “Muslim-majority” states make up 12 of the 20 countries judged to be “unfree” on the grounds of religious tolerance by Freedom House, the human rights think tank.

It catalogues hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years, focusing on seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China.

It claims George Bush’s use of the word “crusade” after the September 11 attacks on New York created the impression for Muslims in the Middle East of a “Christian assault on the Muslim world”.

“But however the motivation for violence is measured, the early twenty-first century has seen a steady rise in the strife endured by Christians,” the report says.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq left Iraqi Christians “more vulnerable than ever”, highlighted by the 2006 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest, Fr Boulos Iskander, and the kidnapping of 17 further priests and two bishops between 2006 and 2010.

“In most cases, those responsible declared that they wanted all Christians to be expelled from the country,” the report says.

In Pakistan, the murder last year of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Catholic minister for minorities, “vividly reflected” religious intolerance in Pakistan.

Shortly after his death it emerged that Mr Bhatti had recorded a video in which he declared: “I am living for my community and for suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.

"I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise. I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.”

The report also warns that Christians in India have faced years of violence from Hindu extremists. In 2010 scores of attacks on Christians and church property were carried out in Karnataka, a state in south west India.

And while many people are aware of the oppression faced in Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy activists, targeted abuse of Christians in the country has been given little exposure, the report says.

In some areas of Burma the government has clamped down on Christian protesters by restricting the building of new churches.

“Openly professing Christians employed in government service find it virtually impossible to get promotion,” it adds. by Edward Malnick

A Soldier's Christmas - A Poem by Michael Marks

by Michael Marks

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
my daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree, I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure and surrounded by love I would sleep
in perfect contentment, or so it would seem.
So I slumbered, perhaps I started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eye when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
and I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I puzzled, some twenty years old
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear
"Come in this moment, it's freezing out here!
Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts,
to the window that danced with a warm fire's light
then he sighed and he said "It's really all right,
I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night"

"Its my duty to stand at the front of the line,
that separates you from the darkest of times.
No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me.

My Gramps died at 'Pearl on a day in December,"
then he sighed, "That's a day 'Gramma always remembers."
My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam
And now it is my turn and so, here I am.

I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile.
Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red white and blue... an American flag.

"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home,
I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat,

I can carry the weight of killing another
or lay down my life with my sisters and brothers
who stand at the front against any and all,
to insure for all time that this flag will not fall."
"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright;
Your family is waiting and I'll be all right."

"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?
It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear that held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget
To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone.
To stand your own watch, no matter how long.

For when we come home, either standing or dead,
to know you remember we fought and we bled
is payment enough, and with that we will trust.
That we mattered to you as you mattered to us."

Friday, December 21, 2012

Stop Laughing at my Laffer Curve - part 1


On Tuesday, California released a report that revealed state tax revenues have plummeted even further below Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) estimates, even after residents voted to increase taxes via Proposition 30 in November’s elections.

At the end of November, “taxes were 3% short in the fiscal year that started in July,” which is “a gap of $936 million.” The state was 0.7% short a month before.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state's Department of Finance,
spun the poor numbers by saying Facebook's stock vested earlier than expected, and “boosted October taxes higher, while decreasing November revenue.”

But the report found that tax revenues were below estimates nearly across the board, as total "year-to-date revenues are $936 million below the initial forecast."

According to the report, personal income tax revenues were “$827 million below the month’s forecast of $4.387 billion.” Sales and use tax receipts “were $9 million below the month’s forecast of $1.601 billion” and the year-to-date sales tax revenue was $8 million below forecast.

Not surprisingly, corporate tax revenues were also down, $175 million below the month’s estimate and year-to-date corporate tax revenues were $441 below estimate.

As more of California's taxpaying residents and businesses
flee the state due to its burdensome taxes and regulations, California's government loses out on their tax dollars. Meanwhile, the state government continues to spend more on various programs even as the state has fewer taxpayers to pick up its tab.