Dobson resigns.

James Dobson has stepped down as chairman of Focus on the Family. Says Time:

Daly said there is no timetable for Dobson to leave the radio program, and the group will “look for the next voice for the next generation” while Dobson remains on the air.

That will likely mean not one person behind the microphone but several speaking on their respective areas of expertise, Daly said. The organization, anticipating a post-Dobson era, for several years has tried out different voices on the broadcast and in giving media interviews on hot-button social issues.

I’ve never paid attention to what Dobson says unless one of his comments got picked up by major media. But his organization is important, and its leadership, whoever they may be, could have a huge role in shaping American culture, particularly in the church.

With that in mind, what should a “post-era Dobson” F.o.t.F. look like? Any suggestions? Anything you think they should avoid?

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‘Lost’ without Kate?

The headline freaked me out before I read the rest of the EW story regarding whether Evangeline LilLy might be LEAVING “LOST”:

Evangelinelilly_l No!

That’s what multiple sources are telling me in response to a rumor that Lost‘s top heroine, Evangeline Lilly, may be leaving the show before it reaches its natural conclusion in May 2010.

“We have no idea how this rumor got started,” maintains Lilly’s rep, “and whoever started it didn’t call us or ABC to verify the validity of it, for which there is none.”

Buzz about Lilly’s possibly premature exit stemmed from a report on Zap2it.com that claimed the actress was actively searching for a new TV gig — one that would launch this fall. But as an ABC source points out, she’s under contract with Lost through the sixth and final season, and there’s absolutely nothing to suggest she’ll be sprung before then.

Phew, crisis averted.

A debate about God.

During some downtime, I found a link to an old article in Time: a debate between Francis Collins and Richard Dawkins. Feel free to check it out if you get the chance and weigh in below.

Thou shalt not erect a Summum monument …

… thus says the U.S. Supreme Court:

WASHINGTON — A public park in Utah that includes a monument to the Ten Commandments need not make room for a similar monument reflecting the beliefs of an unusual religion called Summum, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Permanent monuments in public parks are not subject to the free speech analysis that applies to speeches and leaflets in public forums, the court ruled. Instead, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for eight justices, such monuments are “best viewed as a form of government speech.”

Since the government is free to say what it likes, Justice Alito said, the Summum church’s right to free speech under the First Amendment was not violated by the city’s rejection of its monument.

The decision was unanimous but fractured. In four concurring opinions, six justices set out sharply contrasting views about the decision’s scope and consequences.

Ten Commandments cases are typically litigated under the clause of the First Amendment prohibiting government establishment of religion. But the case decided Wednesday, Pleasant Grove City v. Summum, No. 07-665, was brought under a different clause of the amendment, the one protecting free speech.

The concurrences offered varying views about whether the decision foreclosed or left open a separate challenge to the Ten Commandments monument under the Establishment Clause.

In addition, several justices expressed concern that the court was moving too fast in designating some kinds of expression as government speech immunized from free-speech scrutiny.

The Summum church had sought to donate a monument setting out its Seven Aphorisms to a public park in Pleasant Grove City, Utah. The park already included 15 objects, most of them donated, including a granary, a well and the Ten Commandments monument, which was given to the city by the Fraternal Order of Eagles in 1971.

The city declined Summum’s offer, saying the existing monuments either related to the city’s history or had been donated by groups with longstanding ties to it.

The church sued, and the federal appeals court in Denver ruled that the First Amendment’s free speech protections required the city to display the Summum monument. The appeals court said that the Ten Commandments monument was private speech and that the city park was a public forum. That meant, the court said, that the city was not free to discriminate among speakers.

Justice Alito said the appeals court had gotten it backward. “Permanent monuments on public property,” he wrote, “typically represent government speech.” This is so, he said, whether or not the monuments were donated and whether or not the government expressly adopted the message conveyed by the monuments.

In a passage reminiscent of a graduate-school seminar in literary theory, Justice Alito went on to say that “monuments convey meaning” in many ways.

He used the example of the mosaic of the word “Imagine” in New York City’s Central Park, donated in memory of John Lennon, and he quoted the lyrics to that Lennon song in a long footnote.

“Some observers,” Justice Alito wrote, “may ‘imagine’ the musical contributions that John Lennon would have made if he had not been killed.” Others, he continued, “may ‘imagine’ a world without religion, countries, possessions, greed or hunger.”

The meaning of a monument may change with context, he said, giving the example of the addition of a statue of three soldiers near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington that “many believed changed the overall effect of the memorial.”

And it may change with time. The Statute of Liberty, Justice Alito said, once expressed republican solidarity between France and the United States and only later “came to be viewed as a beacon welcoming immigrants.”

These arguments seemed presented in aid of an unspoken premise: that a Ten Commandments monument can be government speech without conveying a religious message. But Justice Alito mentioned the Establishment Clause only in passing and only to say that “government speech must comport with” it.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the decision on Wednesday should foreclose all challenges to the Ten Commandments monument. “The city ought not fear that today’s victory propelled it from the Free Speech Clause frying pan in to the Establishment Clause fire,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The monument in question, Justice Scalia continued, is virtually identical to one the court allowed to be displayed on the grounds of the Texas Capitol. “The city can safely exhale,” he wrote.

Justice David H. Souter, who joined the court’s decision but did not adopt Justice Alito’s reasoning, was not so sure. If the Ten Commandments monument is now understood to be government speech, he said, “the specter of violating the Establishment Clause will behoove” the city “to take care to avoid the appearance of a flat-out establishment of religion.”

One solution, Justice Souter said, is “safety in numbers, and it will be in the interest of a careful government to accept other monuments.”

Justice John Paul Stevens, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, also concurred, writing to say that Justice Alito’s opinion should not be read to signal an expansion of “the recently minted government speech doctrine to uphold government action.” The decisions in this area, Justice Stevens wrote, “have been few and, in my view, of doubtful merit.”

Justice Stephen G. Breyer, in his own concurrence, also expressed concern about the court’s direction. Free speech doctrine, he said, should not be “a jurisprudence of labels,” and “the ‘government speech’ doctrine is a rule of thumb, not a rigid category.”

Cover story on “Watchmen.”

EW has this story, via CNN, on “Watchmen,” which releases next week. I love this quote from Billy Crudup (“Dr. Manhattan”):

‘Watchmen’ is a kind of thrilling thought experiment. What would people who dress up in costumes to fight crime actually be like? Well, they’d probably be fetishists who lived on the fringes of society. They’d all be a bunch of freaking lunatics.”

I, for one, am ready for the lunacy.

The Bluths are back!

Michael Cera, known to “Arrested Development” fans as both George Michael and the last hold-out to the movie adaptation, has agreed to do it! Perhaps we should celebrate with some frozen bananas?

666.

Revelation 13 is a mysterious and frightening chapter that describes the war of the dragon and two beasts against God and His people. The first beast, which rises from the sea, gains authority over the earth and blasphemes God. The second beast, a monstrosity that rises from the earth, seems to be a religious system that gains followers for the first beast and kills those who won’t.

The chapter ends with this: “This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”

(Two things before I continue. First, I want to draw a practical principle out of this passage that we can apply today; I’m not interested in talking about these verses as they may or may not relate to the future. Also, I want to give a shout-out to fellow Twitter buddy @lrntoswim. Now, on to the blog post!)

A lot of Revelation’s imagery is drawn from the Old Testament. The beasts from the sea and earth resemble the four beasts (i.e., world empires) that Daniel saw in a vision; the idea of marking the 144,000 (Rev. 7) before judgment resembles Ezekiel 9; and this idea of placing something on the head and hand might be a reference to these passages:

“And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the Lord has brought you out of Egypt … For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem. It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.” (Exodus 13:9, 15-16)

“And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)

*Emphases mine.

These marks are for the redeemed people of God, who had brought them out of slavery and now were called to love God with every fiber of their being and to have thoughts and actions that were rooted in the saving story of YHWH. His commands were to be bound to their head (that is, rooted in their thoughts) and on their hands (rooted in their actions).

Today, this saving story is known as the gospel, and God’s saving-agent has a name: Jesus of Nazareth. (For the connection between the Exodus and Jesus, read my previous post, “Signs and wonders.”)

But in Revelation, the false prophet demands that a different mark be placed on heads and hands. The false prophet’s insistence on taking 666 in an act of worship to the God-blaspheming beast is an effort to remove Jesus from people’s thoughts and lives and set something else in his place.

For us today, to take the mark is to live for and worship something, anything, instead of the living Lord.

Consider the numbers: 666, a triple-number of imperfection (and perhaps a play off the Trinity, if each 6 stands for the dragon or Satan, the beast, and the false prophet). Even critics of Scripture know that God created the earth and its inhabitants in six days; the seventh was appointed as a day of rest and, following the Exodus, a time to reflect on God’s salvation.

The mark of the beast doesn’t recognize Sabbath. Its very numbers stop at the sixth day, the creation of man, instead of acknowledging the seventh. It cares nothing for what God has done in creation and salvation and will not, under any circumstances, worship Him for it. Instead, 666 calls men and women to become their own gods and set their own destinies in work, relationships, and religion. God is not the center of a 666-dominated life.

Note something else. I’m arguing that, practically, this mark represents a man-centered way of life that refuses Jesus and regards him an enemy. Where did man come from? Genesis 2 tells us that he was formed by God out of the dirt. And where does the 666-promoting false prophet come from? The ground.

There’s a reason it’s called the mark of the beast: Accepting it transforms us into something other than human. It makes us into something we were never meant to be. Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in an attempt to make gods of themselves; we take forbidden fruit every day for the same reason.

We live, in a manner of speaking, as anti-christs. Too many people have spent too many years trying to guess the identity of this beast when, sadly, we often fulfill its role in our own lives by blaspheming God and setting ourselves up as our own authority. Our sins reveal our mark.

Jesus, however, invites us to remove our daily, beastly mark and take something else: His blood.

Unless we drink his blood and eat his flesh, he tells us, we can’t live; we remain spiritually dead. Leviticus states that the life of a creature was in the blood and that itself is the reason why Israel was not allowed to consume it. When the Son of God calls us to drink His blood, it means he’s calling us to take his life into ourselves. We do this by trusting him, by accepting his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection.

This life is rooted in knowing and loving God, the source of all pleasure and delight.

This life realizes that only Jesus fits on the throne we try to occupy and that he alone is deserving of that honor.

This life calls us to follow the Son of Man, the truly human one, and to become truly human in turn.

This life is more concerned with serving others than self-service.

This life becomes focused on reconciliation with God and others, even those who have wronged us.

This life enables us to love our friends, our wives, our children, our relatives, and our enemies in a way that we never thought possible.

This life is more concerned with really living instead of mere survival and moves people to risk their lives and lay them down in order to make Jesus famous in the world.

Maybe we can give this life another name: 777.