This op-ed originally appeared in the "Houses of Worship" section of the Wall Street Journal, Friday, December 22, 2017. Kim Phuc Phan Thi is the author of "Fire Road: The Napalm Girl's Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace," from Tyndale Momentum, 2017.
"You may not recognize me now, but you almost certainly know who I am. My name is Kim Phuc, though you likely know me by another name. It is one I never asked for, a name I have spent a lifetime trying to escape: “Napalm Girl.” You have probably seen my picture a thousand times. Yes, that picture. The image that made the world gasp. Some called it a turning point in the Vietnam War—a Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of me in 1972, age 9, running along a puddled roadway in front of an expressionless soldier. I was photographed with arms outstretched, naked and shrieking in pain and fear, with the dark contour of a napalm cloud billowing in the distance.
My own people had dropped bombs on Route 1 in an effort to cut off the trade routes for the Viet Cong rebels. I had not been targeted. I had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Those bombs have caused me immeasurable pain over the course of my life. Forty-five years later I am still receiving treatment for the burns that cover my arms, back and neck. But even worse than the physical pain was the emotional and spiritual pain. For years I bore the crippling weight of anger, bitterness and resentment toward those who caused my suffering. Yet as I look back over a spiritual journey that has spanned more than three decades, I realize the same bombs that caused so much pain and suffering also brought me to a place of great healing. Those bombs led me to Jesus Christ.
My salvation experience occurred on Christmas Eve. It was 1982. I was attending a special worship service at a small church in Vietnam. The pastor, Ho Hieu Ha, delivered a message many Christians would find familiar: Christmas is not about the gifts we carefully wrap and place under a tree. Rather, it is about the gift of Jesus Christ, who was wrapped in human flesh and given to us by God. As the pastor spoke, I knew in my heart that something was shifting inside of me.
A decade removed from the defining tragedy of my life, I still desperately needed peace. I had so much hatred and bitterness in my heart. Yet I was ready for love and joy. I wanted to let go of my pain. I wanted to pursue life instead of holding fast to fantasies of death. When Pastor Ho finished speaking, I stood up, stepped out into the aisle, and made my way to the front of the sanctuary to say “yes” to Jesus Christ.
When I woke up that Christmas morning, I experienced my first-ever heartfelt celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. I know what it is like to experience terror, to feel despondent, to live in fear. I know how wearying and hopeless life can be sometimes. After years in the spiritual wilderness, I felt the kind of healing that can only come from God.
I had spent so much of my life running—first from the bombs and the war, then from communist Vietnam. I had always assumed that to flee was my only choice. Looking back, I understand the path I had been racing along led me straight to God. Today I live at ease. Yes, my circumstances can still be challenging. But my heart is 100% healed.
My faith in Jesus Christ is what has enabled me to forgive those who had wronged me—no matter how severe those wrongs were. Faith also inspired me to pray for my enemies rather than curse them. It enabled me not only to tolerate those who had wronged me but to love them.
No matter what type of pain or sorrow you may be experiencing, as Christmas approaches, I encourage you not to give up. Hold fast to hope. It is hope that will see you through. This peace I have found can be yours as well. I pray that it finds you this Christmas."
A terrific essay about the historical St. Nicholas appears on the St. Nicholas Center website, by James Parker III. He is a professor at he Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Check it out.
The previous post included a link to the YouTube for a song from the Imari Tones' album "Revive the World." This was part of the package of CDs we received from the band's successful crowdfunding campaign. That campaign revolved around the concept album "Jesus Wind." From that album, about the history of the church in Japan, here is the song "Bushido."
Traditionally, October 31 is thought to be the date in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The church still stands, and the door is still there, although it is not easily accessed. When we visited Wittenberg a few months back as part of the "Luther 500" celebration, we were housed very near the church, now called Castle Church. And I took this picture of church history's most important door.
On this Halloweeny episode, Emily & Professor Alan talk about a nice light tale, from the delightful Scooby-Doo Team-Up title. Ghosts are disappearing all across the Earth, and the Phantom Stranger and Deadman seek out the expert ghost-finders of Mystery, Inc. to find them.
Em & the Prof also cover some great listener feedback.
Click on the player below to listen to the episode:
The following appeared in the October 27, 2017 edition of the Wall Street Journal, and was reprinted at LuxLibertas.com
How Martin Luther Advanced Freedom
An oil on panel portrait of Martin Luther, circa 1526.
The Reformation brought a radical egalitarianism to Christendom.
By Joseph Loconte
Martin Luther was an unlikely revolutionary for human freedom. When the Augustinian monk hammered his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the Wittenberg Castle Church on Oct. 31, 1517—and unleashed the Protestant Reformation—he was still committed to the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church and retained many of the prejudices of European Christianity.
Yet Luther’s personal experience of God’s love and mercy—“I felt myself to be reborn”—supported a democratic approach to religious belief. In his theological works, Luther introduced a radical egalitarianism that helped lay the foundation for modern democracy and human rights.
Born into a German peasant family in 1483, Luther came to despise every form of spiritual elitism. He sought to replace rigid church hierarchies with “the priesthood of all believers,” the proposition that there are no qualitative differences between clergy and laity. “Just because we are all priests of equal standing,” he wrote in “An Open Letter to the Christian Nobility” (1520), “no one must push himself forward and, without the consent and choice of the rest, presume to do that which we all have equal authority.”
It was a message at odds with the vast superstructure of 16th-century Christendom. Only the monastic orders, with their vows of celibacy and poverty, could produce the spiritual athletes of the church, the thinking went. But to Luther the monasteries were hotbeds of avarice and pride. He wanted them abolished, writing in “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” (1520) that “pretentious lives, lived under vows are more hostile to faith than anything else can be.”
Luther applied the same logic to the doctrine of Christian vocation. Resisting the stark divisions between “secular” and “religious” occupations, he dignified all legitimate work. “A shoemaker, a smith, a farmer, each has his manual occupation and work; and, yet, at the same time, all are eligible to act as priests and bishops,” he wrote.
An oil on panel portrait of Martin Luther, circa 1526.
Luther took an ax to the legal culture that shielded priests and bishops from criminal prosecution simply because they held church offices. “It is intolerable that in canon law, the freedom, person, and goods of the clergy should be given this exemption, as if the laymen were not exactly as spiritual, and as good Christians, as they, or did not equally belong to the church.” Here was a religious basis for the principle of equal justice under the law, a core tenet of liberal democracy.
Perhaps Luther’s most subversive act was his translation of the New Testament into German, a feat scholars estimate he accomplished in three months. The papacy had controlled the interpretation of Scripture, available almost exclusively in Latin, the language of the clergy and the highly educated. But Luther wanted the Bible translated and read as widely as possible: “We must inquire about this of the mother in the home, the children on the street, the common man in the marketplace,” he explained in “On Translation: An Open Letter” (1530). “We must be guided by their language, the way they speak, and do our translating accordingly.”
Luther always elevated the individual believer, armed with the Bible, above any earthly authority. This was the heart of his defiance at the Diet of Worms: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand.” Neither prince nor pope could invade the sanctuary of his conscience. This, he proclaimed, is the “inestimable power and liberty” belonging to every Christian.
It would be hard to imagine a more radical break with centuries of church teaching and tradition. Luther’s intense study of the Bible—part of his anguished quest to be reconciled to God—made these great innovations possible. Convinced that the teachings of Christ had become twisted into an “unbearable bondage of human works and laws,” he preached a gospel of freedom. Salvation, he taught, was a gift from God available to everyone through faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death.
In 1520, some three years after publishing his theses, Luther released “On the Freedom of a Christian,” his manifesto on the privileges and obligations of every believer. It became a publishing phenomenon. “A Christian has no need of any work or law in order to be saved,” he insisted, “since through faith he is free from every law and does everything out of pure liberty and freely.” Christian liberty of this kind provided no excuse for libertinism. Just the opposite: “I will therefore give myself as a Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me.”
Luther offered more than a theory of individual empowerment. He delivered a spiritual bill of rights. Generations of reformers—from John Locke to Martin Luther King Jr.—would praise his achievement. Half a millennium later, his message of freedom has not lost its power.
I recently learned that I play a role in Dan Brown’s new novel,
“Origin.” Mr. Brown writes that Jeremy England, an MIT physics
professor, “was currently the toast of Boston academia, having caused a
global stir” with his work on biophysics. The description is flattering,
but Mr. Brown errs when he gets to the meaning of my research. One of
his characters explains that my literary doppelgänger may have
“identified the underlying physical principle driving the origin and
evolution of life.” If the fictional Jeremy England’s theory is right,
the suggestion goes, it would be an earth-shattering disproof of every
other story of creation. All religions might even become obsolete.
It would be easy to criticize my fictional self’s theories based on
Mr. Brown’s brief description, but it would also be unfair. My actual research on
how lifelike behaviors emerge in inanimate matter is widely available,
whereas the Dan Brown character’s work is only vaguely described.
There’s no real science in the book to argue over.
My true concern is with my double’s attitude in the book. He is a
prop for a billionaire futurist whose mission is to demonstrate that
science has made God irrelevant. In that role, Jeremy England says he is
just “trying to describe the way things ‘are’ in the universe” and that
he “will leave the spiritual implications to the clerics and
Two years ago I wrote in Commentary magazine that it is impossible
simply to describe “the way things are” without first making the
significant choice of what language to speak in. The language of physics
can be extremely useful in talking about the world, but it can never
address everything that needs to be said about human life. Equations can
elegantly explain how an airplane stays in the air, but they cannot
convey the awe someone feels when flying above the clouds. I’m
disappointed in my fictional self for being so blithely uninterested in
what lies beyond the narrow confines of his technical field.
I’m a scientist, but I also study and live by the Hebrew Bible. To
me, the idea that physics could prove that the God of Abraham is not the
creator and ruler of the world reflects a serious misunderstanding—of
both the scientific method and the function of the biblical text.
Science is an approach to common experience. It addresses what is
objectively measurable by inventing models that summarize the world’s
partial predictability. In contrast, the biblical God tells Moses at the
burning bush: “I will be what I will be.” He is addressing the
uncertainty the future brings for all. No prediction can ever fully
answer the question of what will happen next.
Humans will always face a choice about how to react to the unknowable
future. Encounters between God and the Hebrew prophets are often
described in terms of covenants, partly to emphasize that seeing the
hand of God at work starts with a conscious decision to view the world a
Consider someone who assumes that all existence is the work of a
creator who speaks through the events of the world. He can follow that
assumption down the road and decide whether God seems to be keeping his
side of the bargain. Many of us live like this and feel that with time
our trust in him has been affirmed. There’s no scientific argument for
this way of drawing meaning from experience. But there’s no way science
could disprove it either, because it is outside the scope of scientific
Some religious adherents do make claims that deserve to be disputed
by science. For instance, they may openly acknowledge that their deepest
beliefs are incompatible with the existence of dinosaurs. The fictional
me—and perhaps Mr. Brown too—might hope to put these holdouts back on
their heels. But disputes like this never answer the most important
question: Do we need to keep learning about God? For my part, in light
of everything I know, I am certain that we do.
Mr. England is a professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Martin Luther: A Monk Changes the World, by Johannes Saurer & Ulrike Albers. Translated by Christine Gollmart.
Martin Luther lived a very action-packed life, and condensing it into 26 comic book pages is a very difficult task. But this short graphic novel manages to hit all of the high points, and tell the story with the drama that it deserves.
The book rarely stays in one location for more than a few pages, and manages to play scenes in Eisleben, Mansfeld, Erfurt, Augsburg, Worms, Wartburg Castle, Schmalkalden, Torgau, and (of course) Wittenberg.
The book also manages to include as characters a number of Luther's allies, including Justus Jonas, Philipp Melanchthon, and his wife, the wonderful Katharina von Bora.
This is an informative and interesting biography. And considering the pace the story has to move at to cover the highlights, it is also quite entertaining.
We have posted about multiple musical crowd-sourcing campaigns here (including from The Letter Black, Mad the the World, and Von Strantz.). And since there are podcasts for everything these days, it should come as no surprise that there is a podcast designed to promote crowdfunding efforts by Christian musical acts. It is called, no surprise, The Crowdfunding Christian Music Podcast. It releases episodes intermittently, but each episode features information about approximately 5 - 10 campaigns, covering worship music, modern hymns, singer-songwriter acts, and rock music.
We have talked about our "Luther 500" trip to Germany, as well as some of the events and exhibits we attended, but we haven't posted many of our own pictures. Here are a few pictures from various Reformation sites, inside and outside of churches. .
We have posted a number of music crowd-funding campaigns here, but it's hard to think of one that has more "Dorkness to Light" elements than this one. The Imari Tones are a Japanese heavy metal band raising money to fund a CD release of their latest album, "Jesus Wind." This is a concept album about the history of Christianity in Japan. Loud music, church history, and an international perspective? That's what we are all about.
The YouTube video for their Indiegogo campaign can be found here:
this lucky thirteenth episode, Emily & Professor Alan talk about the Justice League Dark. They focus on the recent animated movie, but also talk about the New 52 comic of the same name, and the "Constantine" TV show.
And then for the first time in a long time, they cover listener feedback, most of which is pretty awesome.
Click on the player below to listen to the episode:
We mentioned recently the artistic achievement that is The Wiedmann Bible. Expaining the unfolding aspects of the mile-ling work is one thing, but seeing it unfolded is another. In this video, the complete Wiedmann Bible is unfolded for the first time.
The book, which consists of 3,333 images, was painted by Willy Wiedmann over the course of 16 years, although it was not discovered until after the artist's death. It contains extensive depictions of both the Old and New Testament, all presented in Wiedmann's unique polycon style.
We did not see the actual book, but the exhibit included a digitized version of parts of it, giving us a chance to see the (literal) unfolding of the story. It was the most memorable part of a very memorable exhibit.
During our recent visit to Wittenberg, Germany, we witnessed a sneak preview of Michael Bridges' upcoming project "Luther: The Rock Opera." The intent of the project is for it to be performed while panels of "Luther: The Graphic Novel" are displayed. As inherently dramatic as the story of the Reformation is, and as larger-than-life as some of the characters are, a graphic novel could be an effective way to tell the story.
They have a working old-style printing press, which each day is set up to print a single verse. There is also a very cool exhibit regarding The Wiedmann Bible, an illustrated version of the book that includes over 3,000 illustrations.
It was a wonderful, meaningful, and impressive exhibit.
this super-sized episode, Emily & Professor Alan talk about the religious, spiritual, and cultural aspects of their recent family vacation. After a brief discussion of their time in London, they spend the majority of the episode talking about their week-long experience in Wittenberg, Germany, at the "Luther 500" event.
They discuss the devotional, historical, theological, and church history aspects of what they learned and experienced at this commemoration of the start of the Protestant Reformation.
Click on the player below to listen to the episode:
Mad at the World was one of our absolute favorite bands int he late 1980s and 1990s, putting out such terrific albums "Seasons of Love" and "Through the Forest." And we are excited to see that they will be doing a Kickstarter for a new album. Soon, the say.
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the musical act Lost and Found has organized a number of tours to Wittenberg and surrounding area. There will be a range of cultural, social, historical, and devotional events included in the event.
Sunday was a bit rainy, and that greatly limited our time at the fest. And the late Saturday night combo of One Bad Pig & Timbre also wore us down a bit.
Sunday started with another Imaginopolis seminar, this one by Melody Green about the intersections between Christianity and fairy tales. Then our old friend Harry Gore did a set, and we watched an energetic performance by Destroy Nate Allen.
We also spent some time wandering the merchandise area, and my wife had a lovely chat with a few very nice fellas from the very loud band Send the Advocate.
We spent the evening in town, and had some terrific pizza. A good end to a good fest, and we drove home on Monday, July 4, arriving home just in time to catch some local fireworks.
We have made a habit of attending Audiofeed every other year, so it may end up back on the agenda for 2018.
We discovered Marah in the Mainsail at Audiofeed 2014. Any time a band uses a 20-foot metal chain as a percussive instrument, we are in. Their music struck us, and we supported the Kickstarter effort for their debut album "Thaumatrope." It immediately became one of our favorites.
The band is currently funding their second album,
another concept album. This one is called "Bone Crown," and is an attempt "to capture the darkness and beauty inherent in the animal kingdom, all the while telling a very human story of trust, deception, and rebellion." They intend for the album to include a narrated story that exists alongside the music. It's a bold idea, all the way around.
Saturday highlight was also the overall highlight of the fest. As I’ve mentioned
before, the fest is growing enough to bring in non-musical events. On Saturday
morning, the Asylum (Goth) tent hosted a screening of the movie “The Phoenix:Hope is Rising.” This is a documentary by Phil Gioja and Isaac Musgrave about
the issue of homelessness in Urbana, Illinois,
year, the city hosts the One Winter Night event, a fundraiser for a homeless
drop-in shelter. Participants in One Winter Night spend a night on the street,
living in a cardboard box, experiencing for 12 hours what it is like to live on
the street. Gioja and Musgrave decided to document the event, as well as tell
the story of the shelter, The Phoenix. In the course of the filming, changes to
the city’s zoning regulations put the future of the shelter at risk.
low-budget movie, the quality is surprisingly high. Interviews are well-lit and
have clear audio, and are integrated well into archival and news footage, as well as coverage of city council meeting. It is a compelling film that tells a compelling story. It is hopeful, annoying, and heartbreaking.
On this show, Nate looks at Christian film, asking hard questions about why they often aren't as good as they could be. He examines each film in a number of areas, such as whether they challenge the audince. He also asks is a film take risks, and recognizes the different between the pulpit and art. It is an entertaining podcast, and represents an important voice in the Christian community,
Over the first few episodes, he has looked at a recent offering (God's Not Dead), and a "classic" in the field ("A Thief in the Night"). He promises to cover movies of various genres, various budgets, and various eras.
Our buddy Tyler Smith from the More Than One Lesson website and podcast network has a new crowd-funding effort. The specific details about the campaign, including the giving levels and rewards, can be found here.
Tyler has attended a number of Christian pop culture and movie festivals over the last few years, and has found himself with nothing of his own to give away or sell at these events. The purpose of this Kickstarter project is to raise money to print a collection of Tyler's reviews and essays.
Tyler is an important voice in the world of Christian film criticism, and a work like this could help bring critical thinking and understanding of the role of film criticism to Christians interested in the arts.
No surprise, but Saturday was the busiest day of the festival. Busiest both in terms of the musical acts and activities, but also in terms of attendance. If any person or church group is going to come for one day, most often it's Saturday.
We were busy all day long. The three of us stayed together for some events, and split up for others. Between us, we attended another seminar, morning prayers, an excellent movie (more on that in a later post), a worship time, and concerts by some of our favorites. We spent a little bit of time chatting with Insomniac Folklore after their set, and frontman Tyler Hentschel provided us with an opening clip for our podcast.
We saw other concerts during the day, ending with a terrific back-to-back. Twenty-five years after the only other time I saw them play live, hard rockers One Bad Pig put on a terrific, energetic show. They sang some pieces from their new album, as well as the classic songs "Isaiah 6," "Red River," and "Ice Cream Sundae." They even had a Johnny Cash impersonator join them for "Man in Black."
We ended Saturday with a harp concert. It's the kind of musical juxtaposition that made Cornerstone what it was, and that has been translated over the Audiofeed. Timbre Cierpke played a terrific show, as intense in its own way as the One Bad Pig show was in its way. She played many tracks from her latest release, Sun and Moon, which was based on works by George MacDonald. As was mentioned in a previous post, there was a surprisingly strong presence of MacDonald-related content at Audiofeed 2016.
Unforogttens: Mission of Tranquillity #2, Trinity Comic Ministries, 1994. The story, “Of Giants
and Dragons,” was created by Timothy A. Gagnon.
continues from issue #1 (reviewed here), where three teenagers discovered that
dabbling in the occult had consequences they were very unprepared for. The spiritual
warfare continues in the hallways of the local school, with and angel-demon
battle. And at the end, we are set up for a face-off between the angelic
Unforgottens and the demonic Brotherhood.
I had a
problem with the quality of the lettering is the first issue, and that problem
exists here, as well. However, there is a two-page feature at the end of the
book that has much better lettering, clearly done via computer. If that was
meant to test a new lettering process, I hope that it continues into the next
moments of decent art, mostly in individual panels and figures. Yes, some are
drawn in the over-the-top style of the 1990s, but glimpses of artistic skill
are evident. The storytelling aspect of the comic is weak, but that is much
harder skill to learn and develop,
issue has one great advantage over the first. Issue #1 was printed on
traditionally-sized paper, but comic books tend to be published on slightly
smaller paper. Starting with this issue, the series is produced in traditional
comic book size. What that means for me is that the first issue is a little bit
of a mess, crunched up at the top, etc … while this issue and the others are in
pretty decent shape, even after more than two decades. For what it’s worth, the
paper quality is extremely high.
series contains two more published issues, and they are on the to-be-reviewed
mentioned in a prior post a few of the musical acts that we saw the first day
of the festival. But another highlight of that first day was the return of seminars.
were the hidden strength of the old Cornerstone festival, especially those put
on in the Imaginarium. This was the first year that seminars of that type
appeared at Audiofeed, this time under the name Imaginopolis. Describing
themselves as “an annual celebration and exploration of film, literature, and
other narrative media in an inclusive, Christian-rooted community,” the group
put on an interesting series of seminars at the Festival.
for their tent this year was fairy tales, with the works of George MacDonald. We
started our first day at the fest by attending talks titled “Tangled in
Redemption: The Feminine Christian Image,” and “In a Galaxy Far Far Away: Star
Wars as Fairy Tale.” It was great to have seminars at Audiofeed this year, and
hope that the Imaginarium returns again for future festivals.
Stephen Seamands, a professor of Christian doctrine at Asbury College, has produced a very readable and insightful study of the healing work of the Cross. His point is that in a world of wounded people, we have hope. Through the ministry of Jesus, God enters our painful situations to bring healing and redemption.
The book does a good job balancing biblical analysis and pastoral care. The book is filled with real-life stories of people finding healing and redemption amidst their painful experiences. Seamands also includes a range of quotes and examples from people from a range of Christian experiences.
The book is valuable for personal or group use. Each of the 10 chapters ends with a half-dozen or so questions for reflection. Along with the wealth of personal stories included in the text, these questions make sure that the book is as practical as it is theological.
The book starts with a discussion of hurt, rejection and shame. He then moves to a discussion of freedom, liberation, and healing. The overarching theme is that at the Cross, Jesus felt all of the emotions of humanity, including shame, abandonment, and rejection. And through His work, all people have the opportunity to receive the benefits of His love and acceptance.
This was posted in a Facebook group that I am part of. All that the author posted was this title page, but all that did was whet my appetite to read the entire paper. I appreciate that this Australian university approved this paper as a Master's Thesis, and wish the author success in having this research paper approved. And maybe then ... he'll post the entire paper.