Thursday, November 24, 2005

Preparations for the Feast: Our Hearts

Here is one of the passages my wife and I read this morning, John 6:26-35:

26 Jesus answered them, Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.

28 Then they said to him, What must we do, to be doing the works of God? 29 Jesus answered them, This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. 30 So they said to him, Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. 32 Jesus then said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. 34 They said to him, Sir, give us this bread always. 35 Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.

To access the Bible reading guide our family is using during the Holidays, click HERE.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

iPod's Missed Manners

By George F. Will
Washington Post
Sunday, November 20, 2005; Page B07

Let's be good cosmopolitans and offer sociological explanations rather than moral judgments about students having sex during the day in high schools, as The Post reported. Sociology discerns connections, and there may be one between the fact that teenagers are relaxing from academic rigors by enjoying sex in the school auditorium and the fact that Americans soon will be able to watch pornography and prime-time television programs such as "Desperate Housewives" -- and, for the high-minded, C-SPAN -- on their cell phones and video iPods in public.

The connection is this: Many people have no notion of propriety when in the presence of other people, because they are not actually in the presence of other people, even when they are in public.

With everyone chatting on cell phones when not floating in iPod-land, "this is an age of social autism, in which people just can't see the value of imagining their impact on others." We are entertaining ourselves into inanition. (There are Web sites for people with Internet addiction. Think about that.) And multiplying technologies of portable entertainments will enable "limitless self-absorption," which will make people solipsistic, inconsiderate and antisocial. Hence manners are becoming unmannerly in this "age of lazy moral relativism combined with aggressive social insolence."

So says Lynne Truss in her latest trumpet-blast of a book, "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door." Her previous wail of despair was "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation," which established her as -- depending on your sensibility -- a comma and apostrophe fascist (the liberal sensibility) or a plucky constable combating anarchy (the conservative sensibility).

Good punctuation, she says, is analogous to good manners because it treats readers with respect. "All the important rules," she writes, "surely boil down to one: remember you are with other people; show some consideration ." Manners, which have been called "quotidian ethics," arise from real or -- this, too, is important in lubricating social frictions -- feigned empathy.

"People," says Truss, "are happier when they have some idea of where they stand and what the rules are." But today's entitlement mentality, which is both a cause and a consequence of the welfare state, manifests itself in the attitude that it is all right to do whatever one has a right to do. Which is why acrimony has enveloped a coffee shop on Chicago's affluent North Side, where the proprietor posted a notice that children must "behave and use their indoor voices." The proprietor, battling what he calls an "epidemic" of antisocial behavior, told the New York Times that parents protesting his notice "have a very strong sense of entitlement."

A thoroughly modern parent, believing that children must be protected from feelings injurious to self-esteem, says: "Johnny, the fact that you did something bad does not mean you are bad for doing it." We have, Truss thinks, "created people who will not stand to be corrected in any way." Furthermore, it is a brave, or foolhardy, man who shows traditional manners toward women. In today's world of "hair-trigger sensitivity," to open a door for a woman is to play what Truss calls Gallantry Russian Roulette: You risk a high-decibel lecture on gender politics.

One writer on manners has argued that a nation's greatness is measured not only by obedience of laws but also by "obedience to the unenforceable." But enforcement of manners can be necessary. The well-named David Stern, commissioner of the NBA, recently decreed a dress code for players. It is politeness to the league's customers who, weary of seeing players dressed in "edgy" hip-hop "street" or "gangsta" styles, want to be able to distinguish the Bucks and Knicks from the Bloods and Crips. Stern also understands that players who wear "in your face" clothes of a kind, and in a manner, that evokes Sing Sing more than Brooks Brothers might be more inclined to fight on the floor and to allow fights to migrate to the stands, as happened last year.

Because manners are means of extending respect, especially to strangers, this question arises: Do manners and virtue go together? Truss thinks so, in spite of the possibility of "blood-stained dictators who had exquisite table manners and never used their mobile phones in a crowded train compartment to order mass executions."

Actually, manners are the practice of a virtue. The virtue is called civility, a word related -- as a foundation is related to a house -- to the word civilization.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Chinese get prison time for Bible delivery

By Julia Duin

November 9, 2005

Religious persecution in China has reached the point that distributing Bibles is earning a three-year prison sentence.

Cai Zhuohua, 34, a Beijing underground church leader, was sentenced yesterday to three years in prison for distributing Bibles and other Christian materials.
His wife, Xiao Yunfei, got two years, and her brother Xiao Gaowen was sentenced to 18 months by the Haidian Lower People's Court in Beijing.
They were arrested September 2004, said the China Aid Association of Midland, Texas. They were accused of distributing 200,000 Bibles and other materials as part of an unregistered house church Mr. Cai oversaw for 10 years.
It is the latest in a long string of escalating arrests and harassment Chinese Christians have undergone in recent years.
"This is not an acceptable result," said China Aid President Bob Fu. "We urge President Bush to use his upcoming visit to China to address this serious religious-persecution case."
Mr. Bush will meet with leaders in Beijing during a Nov. 19-21 visit.
"You bet when the president goes to Asia next week, he will continue to talk about the importance of promoting human rights and human dignity for all," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday.
In a round-table interview yesterday with Asian journalists, Mr. Bush said he "will continue to remind President Hu [Jintao] about, for example, my personal faith and the belief that people should be allowed to worship freely.
"A vibrant, whole society is one that recognizes that certain freedoms are inherent and need to be part of a complete society," Mr. Bush said of the message he would give China's communist leaders.
Mr. Bush meets today with the Dalai Lama. The 70-year-old Tibetan religious leader, in town for several conferences about meditation and neuroscience, slammed his native country at a press conference yesterday for "very, very repressive" policies.
Other religious groups claim persecution similar to that suffered by the Tibetan Buddhists represented by the Dalai Lama.
Friends of Falun Gong, a religious movement espousing meditative practices, say that more than 100,000 of its adherents have been detained, 20,000 sent to labor camps without trial and at least 253 members died from torture and beatings while in prison.
Imprisoned Falun Gong and Christians are forced to manufacture Christmas lights for export, according to Friends of Falun Gong and human rights activist Harry Wu.
Concerned Women for America, a Christian group, yesterday posted statements by Mr. Wu on its Web site ( reminding readers that "we never stop to think about where and under what conditions those pretty lights were made. Well, the truth is not so pretty."
In March, a law took effect in China mandating severe reprisals for house churches that have not registered with the government.
Visiting American seminarians were snatched up Aug. 2 during a police raid at a house church in China's Hubei province. On Aug. 15, five more were arrested at a house church gathering in the Henan province.
The Americans were released, but 42 Chinese -- members of the often-persecuted South China Church -- were not so fortunate. Several were tortured, China Aid said, but most were released by Aug. 13, mainly because of a pending visit by members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
The commission listed China as one of the world's eight worst violators of religious freedom yesterday in its annual report to Congress. China has occupied a top spot on the agency's list since 1999.
"Underground Christian groups, Muslim Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhists, and members of groups that the government considered 'cults' were subjected to increased government scrutiny," the report said. "Security officials used threats, demolition of unregistered property, extortion, interrogation, detention, and at times beatings and torture to harass leaders of unauthorized groups and their followers."
For instance, Gong Shengliang, pastor of South China Church, was arrested in 2001 on trumped-up rape charges, human rights groups say. He languishes near death in Hubei's Hong Shan Prison.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

China's Christians Suffer for their Faith

Note: This story first appeared one year ago tomorrow on

By Kate McGeown
BBC News

"They hung me up across an iron gate, then they yanked open the gate and my whole body lifted until my chest nearly split in two. I hung like that for four hours."

That is how Peter Xu Yongze, the founder of one of the largest religious movements in China, described his treatment during one of five jail sentences on account of his belief in Christianity.

Mr Xu, 61, is not the only Chinese Christian to suffer for his faith. Both Catholics and Protestants have long complained of persecution by the Communist authorities, and human rights groups claim the problem is getting worse.

According to the Jubilee Campaign, an interdenominational lobby group, about 300 Christians are in detention in China at any one time, and that number is set to rise.

"China's new generation of leaders are trying to consolidate control of the country as it goes through rapid social and economic changes," said Wilfred Wong, a parliamentary officer for the Jubilee Campaign.

"The Communists feel threatened by any popular ideology which is different from their own," he said.

China's Christian population - especially those who refuse to worship in the tightly regulated state-registered churches - is seen as one such threat.

According to Mr Wong, the number of Christians in China has continued to rise, exacerbating this perceived threat and causing the authorities to clamp down still further on unregistered churches.

The perception that China's Christians have close links with the West adds to their plight, Mr Wong said.

'You can't evangelise'

Christianity is not actually banned in China. In fact, according to the constitution, "citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of religious belief."

Beijing backed up that statement in 1997, saying that "In China, no one is to be punished due to their religious belief".

But human rights groups and Christians say that the reality is different.

"They say you can believe, but you can't evangelise," Mr Xu said. "But that is a natural act for Christians. The bible commands us to preach the gospel."

According to Mr Xu, who has now left China and lives in the US, it is against regulations to worship in groups. He said that one of his arresting officers even told him he could only avoid breaking the law if he prayed under the covers in bed.

To an Evangelical Protestant like Mr Xu, joining one of China's state-sanctioned churches was simply not an option - and it seems many other Chinese Christians agree with him.

Getting reliable numbers about the number of Christians in China is notoriously difficult. Estimates vary between 40m to 70m Protestants, only 10 million of whom are registered members of government churches.

The situation is similar for Catholics. Of the estimated 15 to 20 million Catholics in China, less than half belong to state-approved churches, which put authority to Beijing before authority to Rome.

Those Christians who want to avoid the state-controlled religious movements meet in unofficial buildings or even each others' homes - hence their description as "house churches" - risking fines, imprisonment, torture and even, in some cases, death.

Government crackdown

Human rights groups have documented an increasing number of arrests of Chinese Christians since the beginning of 2004.

According to the charity Christian Solidarity Worldwide, persecution is becoming more systematic and targeted at large-scale Christian gatherings.

Since June the charity has documented three mass arrests of unregistered Christians. In each case more than 100 people were detained.

Amnesty International has reported many cases of detained church leaders in recent years, especially in the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Hebei.

One of the most high-profile cases is that of Gong Shengliang, head of the South China Church, who was sentenced to death in 2001. His sentence was commuted to a prison term, but Amnesty has received reports that he has been severely tortured in jail.

In August three Christians were sentenced to jail terms for passing information to foreign governments, and in July state media reported that a woman had been beaten to death after being arrested for handing out bibles.

Peter Xu said that while he was in jail, he saw several people even being killed for their faith.

"A believer was praying, so a jailer made other prisoners lift him up to the ceiling and drop him to the ground many times until he died," Mr Xu said.

But government crackdowns - and even torture - may not make people like Peter Xu give up their faith.

"Despite all the persecution and suffering, God is calling more and more people in China," he said.

China jails three for illegally printing Bibles

Tuesday, November 8, 2005; 1:47 AM

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese court on Tuesday sentenced a Protestant minister, his wife and her brother to prison terms of up to three years for illegally printing Bibles and other Christian publications, one of their lawyers said.

The conviction of house church minister Cai Zhuohua, 34, and his family by the Beijing People's Intermediate Court came days before U.S. President George W. Bush arrives for a state visit.

In atheist China, printing of Bibles and other religious publications need special approval from the State Bureau of Religious Affairs. Bibles cannot be openly bought at bookshops in a country long criticized overseas for intolerance of religion.

Cai, arrested in September last year, was sentenced to three years in prison on charges of "illegal business practices," attorney Zhang Xingshui said by telephone.

His 33-year-old wife, Xiao Yunfei, was given a two-year prison sentence and her brother, Xiao Gaowen, 37, an 18-month term, the lawyer said. Both were convicted on similar charges.

They were expected to appeal and have 10 days to do so.

Their families and the court could not immediately be reached for comment.

A fourth defendant, Hu Jinyun, Xiao Gaowen's wife, was exempted from criminal punishment on charges of "secretly storing illegal goods" because she made contributions by informing against her sister-in-law, the lawyer quoted the verdict as saying.

Rights activists say that while religious freedom is enshrined in China's constitution and the faithful are allowed to worship at official churches, the government is increasingly using legal excuses to crack down on house churches and wayward religious groups.

The prosecutor, in the bill of indictment, accused the defendants of illegally printing 200,000 copies of the Bible which were found in Cai's warehouse but the verdict did not mention a figure.

In July, Hong Kong's Beijing-funded Ta Kung Pao newspaper quoted Ye Xiaowen, director of the State Bureau of Religious Affairs, as saying Cai illegally printed 40 million copies of the Bible and other Christian publications.

Ye accused Cai of illegally selling over two million copies of the Bible instead of giving them away for free, the newspaper said, adding that Ye insisted the case had nothing to do with religious persecution.