Friday, March 30, 2007

Making fun of Facebook

Online Videos by
I recently got onto This is hilarious.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Easter Trinkets in Dubai


Stopped by Choithrams Grocery store a couple days ago and found these Christian Easter "trinkets". This is really interesting on a number of levels.

First, to have items of distinct Christian symbolism sold in the UAE is amazing. This was not happening when I arrived 5 years ago. What's more, Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus which is denied by Muslims (primarily his death is denied and so the resurrection is also). So, in some sense, I'm very pleased to see greater openness in the UAE to the free expression of religion other than Islam.

Secondly, the items are mostly Roman Catholic in nature. You'll notice the statues on the left picture Jesus with a visable red heart. This is a Roman Catholic devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It represents a Roman Catholic reverence or even worship of Jesus' physical heart as representing love for God. It originated with a Catholic nun who claimed visions from Jesus in the 1600's. You'll also notice the statues of Mary. They place a divine halo over her and give her the same flaming heart. This is distinctly Catholic and has references to the their belief that Mary was sinless and shared some characteristics with Jesus. Some Catholics believe that Mary was also taken up into heaven like Jesus, thus not experiencing a normal death. And some even go so far as to declare her "co-redemptrix" or co-redeemer with Jesus. All three of these specific doctrine of the Roman Catholic church were officially declared well over 1000 years after the life of Jesus. The Immaculate Conception (sinlessness) came in 1854, The Assumption (ascending to heaven) was approved in 1950, and Mary as Co-Redemptrix was mentioned though not officially declared as late as 1985 by Pope John Paul II.

I find no evidence for these beliefs in the Bible and find them to be corrosive to faith in Jesus as Savior alone. So, having these items for sale in the UAE is also disturbing to me because it will tend to represent Christianity as a whole and add to the notion that Christians are idolaters. I think many who buy these statues could very well be committing idolatry if they think they have power in and of themselves, if they worship them in any way, or if they think that God will look on them with favor for owning one.

Lastly, I find it disturbing that Christianity is reduced to items to be sold in the store. This is the greatest danger to the faith. The tendency among all Christians to reduce their faith to some external rituals, adornments, or 'extra' thing is great. Faith in Christ has external consequences but it primarily changes their ulimate destiny, the character of a person and how they live. Religious trinkets show an unhealthy focus on the external rather than internal change.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Secular" vs. "Religious" Muslims- Interesting Opinion

Geneive Abdo - A More Islamic Islam -

This is an interesting article in the Washington Post today about what the author terms "secular" vs. "religious" Muslims in the West. There were two rival conferences for Muslims in America that were recently held in Florida and she uses the two to contrast the groups. The author thinks that the secular Muslims are a small and shrinking minority that only the media pundits and conservative politicians like to highlight and encourage.

I think I agree with her. The media pundits and politicians don't understand that a 'secularized' Islam is basically meaningless and powerless just as a 'secularized' Christianity is meaningless and powerless. But this is the version of religion that they'd prefer of course. In the end, I don't see how Muslims can take the Qur'an and Hadith seriously and still allow for this 'secularization'.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Construction Wall Caves Flooding Site

This construction site in the Dubai Marina experienced 'dam break' in the retaining wall. Supposedly the site was flooded in at few as 4 minutes. Also, it is thought that no one was hurt and the workers escaped in time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dubai Airport Crash - Aborted Bangladeshi Air Takeoff

I'm still trying to recover from my crashed hard drive. But I took a minute to update you on this airport security camera footage of the recent airline crash at the Dubai Airport. The airport was shutdown for 8 hours and many flights were cancelled. The good news was there were no fatalities.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Out of Commission for a Few Days

I had a busy last few days leading a big seminar. And I had anticipated being back to blogging today but I woke up to a dead harddrive on my laptop. I will be out of commission for a few days while I try to bring it back to life.

And a brief encouragement for all my readers: If you haven't backed up your harddrive data recently you should take the time to do it :)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Quote: Praying or Talking?

If we would talk less and pray more about them, things
would be better than they are in the world: at least, we
should be better enabled to bear them.
... John Owen (1616-1683)

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Considering C.S. Lewis' 'Meditation on a Toolshed'

I've been reading a book about C.S. Lewis recently called The Most Reluctant Convert. It tracks how his life and writings reflected his spiritual life and how he eventually decided to become a follower of Jesus Christ.

One of the numerous pieces of his work that is referenced there is a short essay found in his book God in the Dock. It is called "Meditation in a Toolshed". The central premise has really intrigued me and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

He tells of a time when he was momentarily in a darkened toolshed. Just above the door is a large crack in the wall and a single beam of light is shooting down into the small room. As he observes it from the side he sees bits of dust floating in the beam. Then stepping toward the beam he lets the beam fall on his eye. What he sees then is green leaves blowing in the wind outside and even the sun 90 million miles away.

Then he draws a crucial distinction between 'looking at' the beam from the side and 'looking along' the beam when he aligns it with his eye. Lewis then goes on to say that the experience describes two ways of knowing about something. Modern experts, academics, and scientists tend to look at things. But people also can know about something by looking along it or experiencing it. But the modern prejudice is against 'looking along' and in favor of looking at. In other words, experts, academics, and scientists tend to be credited with the 'true' view of things while people who experience these things have their opinions discounted.

Lewis uses several analogies in the essay but he clearly wants to highlight the validity of religious belief as a credible means of understanding something and evaluating it. I find that the mainstream media, in particular, tend to fall into the mistake that Lewis is highlighting. They think that their observation of faith is somehow more true and honest than those with the faith.

Now I do think that faiths of different kinds should be evaluated and I, like Lewis, agree that it might be found that the 'looking at' AND the 'looking along' view might be found wanting with regard to a particular religion's truth claims. But both should be considered.

In my case as a Christian, I am often considering my faith. I read about the historical evidence for the reliability of the Bible. Or I reconsider the sayings of Jesus and weigh whether or not it's reasonable to believe he was claiming to be God. That's 'looking at'. And everyone should do it.

But I'm also 'looking along' the beam. And from my vantage point, I think I can see the sun 90 million miles away.

Recent Trip to Vietnam: Photos

At the same time that my wife was in Thailand two weeks ago, my 13 year old daughter was in Vietnam on a similar school trip (yes, I know, quite the globe-trotting family). Who would have thought that my teenager would tour Vietnam given the presence of American troops fighting in that place a little more than 30 years ago. Amazing.

And here are a few of her best pictures from the trip. She seems to be a budding photographer. Click below for a view of a few more pictures.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Recent Trip to Thailand: Photos

My wife is a Registered Nurse and she went to Thailand as the school nurse on a Middle School trip last week. They were there for 9 days and were both in the cities and in rural settings. She said it was a great trip... particularly because no one got significantly sick. There's four below and four more after the "Read more" link if you'd like to see them.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Holi: A Hindu Celebration of Colors

via GulfNews

The Indian Hindu population in Dubai is huge... over 50% of the population by some estimates. So many of the Hindu religious/cultural celebrations are very prominent here. In the past several days the celebration of Holi has happened (pic is actually from Mumbai, India though the scenes here are very similar). During the celebration, colored powders mixed with water are thrown at one another for fun. Our offices are near some University campuses and usually I'll see students smeared with a rainbow of colors and chasing one another around the campus with bags of the powder.

But of greater interest to me is the religious origin of the holiday which many aren't able to articulate. The story is about Hiranyakashipu the king of the demons demanding that his son Prahlad worship him instead of Vishnu. Prahlad refuses and so the Demon king makes various attempts to murder his son in anger. He fails repeatedly and finally orders his son to sit on the lap of his sister Holika as he lights a bonfire under them. Holika has a magic shawl which protects her from fire. But as the fire grows the Prahlad prays to Vishnu to save him and the shawl leaps from Holika to him leaving her to burn to death. Thus, the festival is called the "lighting of Holika".

As in many multicultural settings, followers of other religions have begun to adopt the festival if not it's religious roots. Many Sikhs celebrate this and you'll find many nominal Christians joining in the fun as well.

Do you think followers of other religions should celebrate each others' holidays if they live in community with each other? How should we handle this in the context of inter-religious friendship?

Meeting a "former Jesus" at 35,000 Feet!

I love a stimulating conversation about faith and religion. And some of my most interesting have come on airplane rides. It's a situation just ripe for conversation... lots of people seated close together in a steel tube for hours on end.

But a friend recently told of an airplane conversation to top them all. A week ago as he traveled back from Dubai to the West he sat next to a man who claimed to have been Jesus Christ in a former life! He also claimed to have met a current day incarnation of Jesus in the form of an 81 year old Italian man who had visited his home.

Now that sounds like interesting conversation :)

What's the most interesting airplane conversation you've ever had?

Biryani Muqabla: Like a West Asian "Chili Cookoff"

via GulfNews

In America, a popular culinary community event is a chili cookoff. In Dubai, it's equivalent would be a Biryani Muqabla or Biryani "preparation competition". The Mumtaz Mahal restaurant recently sponsored a muqabla in Dubai that featured 10 finalists from the area.

Biryani is a popular dish of rice, meat, yogurt, and various spices. It originates in the Middle East and the Iran, India, Pakistan region. It comes in endless varieties making it a great candidate for cooking competitions. Biryani is a fantastic meal and I highly recommend that you try some. If you're in the West you'll need to find a good Indian or Iranian resturant. I'd be surprised if you live in Dubai and you've never tried it!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Burj Dubai Update - Tallest in Middle East and Europe

This just in on the progress of the Burj Dubai:

  • It's now the tallest building in the Middle East and Europe
  • It matches the 110 floors in the Chicago Sears Tower; this is more than any other building
  • It is currently the 9th tallest building in the world

Friday, March 02, 2007

Tech Tip: Using Google Reader

Would you like to be able to quickly scan headlines from a number of websites across the internet? Do you know of a handful of blogs that you'd like to easily keep track of?

Google News Reader can do this for you easily. Google news reader is a webpage run by Google where you can add the web addresses of multiple sites and then see them quickly and easily... choosing to skip the ones that don't look interesting and choosing to investigate the ones that do.

Here are some quick steps to get up and running with it...

1. You need a Google account. If you've got a gmail account then it's likely this is your Google account login. Go to the Google home page and click in the upper right hand corner on "My Account". Follow the directions to set up the account. No money or big commitment necessary.

2. Go back to your Google homepage at and click on the "more" link just above the Google search entry box. You should then see a page of all of Google's offerings. Click on "Google Labs".

3. Here you'll find another list of Google's offerings. Look for Google Reader and click on it.

4. To tell Reader to track a website or blog you'll need to click on add subscription in the left column. It is on a green background. A pop up box will open and you can enter the address of the webpage/blog. Why don't you try and enter my blog (you can delete it later if you'd like). ...

For others I like to navigate to the sites I want to track, copy the address in my browser address bar and finally paste it into the "add subscription" popup box. If the site has some kind of rss feed (it pushes or announces it's headlines and content out to the internet) then Google Reader will pick it up and you'll see all the headlines from the website/blog.

5. You can also create folders for different categories of sites... i.e. News, Sports, Religious, Etc.

6. Lastly, I recommend that you bookmark your Google Reader page so you can easily visit it and see the headlines and lead-in content from all the sites you've told it to track.

7. There is a lot more that Google Reader will do and you can explore them in the Google Reader tutorial and help pages.

Let me know if this is a helpful guide if you've tried to follow it.

World Championship Tennis in Dubai

Federer after the win... (sorry camera on phone is a little blurry)

Federer on the left and Djokovic on the right

I got to attend the Dubai Championship Tennis Tournament last night and watch Roger Federer (current world rank #1) barely get past a 19 year old Serb named Novak Djokovic. It was a great match and it was particularly interesting to see the technology called "Hawkeye" employed.

I think players had 2 challenges per game or set (not sure which). When they suspected a ball was not called out/in correctly then they could signal the umpire. Then everyone in the stadium would watch as the course of the ball was simulated on the large screen and the place where the ball had landed was indicated. The video would zoom in to indicate whether some of the ball had indeed clipped the line to be called "in" or whether it had, in fact, fallen outside the line.

The second set was decided on a "hawkeye" challenge. It was a tie breaker and the supposed winner was called "in" for Federer. But the replay showed it was out and so the tie break went on and the Serb won it!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Prince Charles' Health Solution? - Ban McDonalds

my pimped pic!

As reported in the Gulf News this week:

Prince Charles suggested on a visit to the UAE that banning McDonald's fast food was crucial for improving people's diets, a British news agency reported.

Charles made the comments while visiting the Imperial College London Diabetes Centre in Abu Dhabi for the launch of a public health campaign, The Press Association reported.

"Have you got anywhere with McDonald's? Have you tried getting it banned? That's the key," Charles, an active advocate of organic food, was quoted as asking one of the centre's nutritionists.

I don't usually comment on politics or political figures. But let's all pause for a moment and thank God that Prince Charles really isn't a political figure. Is it scary to anyone else that this man might actually be the King of England and the head of the Church of England one day? I'm praying for the current Queen... hoping she's taking her vitamins!

Selected News, Views, and Info

I've added a nifty sidebar item today. It features news, views, tech, and miscellaneous items that I've decided to share with you from "around" the internet. If I see a news item that I think is interesting or I think might pique your interest it will show up in the sidebar as a headline and it will also show the source. For you tech-interested, this is all made possible by Google Reader. Reader is an rss aggregator that anyone with internet access can use. Tomorrow I'll tell you how to use it (and why you might want to... for those who have no idea what an 'rss aggregator' is :)