Saturday, June 30, 2007

Beach Bum Blonde in stores this summer

Last summer we had our first crack at Beach Bum Blonde Ale from Anheuser-Busch -- but only in bars and restaurants. It was only available on tap.
The good news this summer is we can buy it in the grocery stores. And it is good news. Beach Bum won a bronze metal in the 2006 NABA awards. Not bad, Anheuser-Busch.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Stoics rise again in recent books

Look at this partial list of books released so far this year regarding the Stoics. Consider their the "self-help" orientation to these particular titles:

Stoic Ethics: Epictetus and Happiness as Freedom by William O. Stephens
Stoic Serenity: A Practical Course on Finding Inner Peace by Keith Seddon
The Stoic Life: Emotions, Duties, and Fate by Tad Brennan

In recent years, even more self-help books have appealed to the Stoics, including this outstanding title from 2004: Don't Worry, Be Stoic: Ancient Wisdom for Troubled Times by Peter J. Vernezze.

I've been very curious about the Stoics recently, reading up on them when I ought to be reading and doing other things. (I haven't read any of the above books; I'll list my bibliography below.) My interest has a simple need at its root: I need more soundness of thought, more stability of mind, more perspective to help me accomplish the things I need to do, more guidance to navigate my way in the world.

Apparently, some of the Stoics intended to answer those types of needs. In the later part of Stoicism's influence in the ancient world, Stoic writers were "presenting Stoicism as an attitude or way of life," says the Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. "They tend to edifying and moralizing discussion and give little indication of the philosophical structure of their positions."

My presumptuous belief that I will find benefits in the Stoics creates a split personality in me as I consider it over against my Christian faith.

First, I realize that the core of my faith is the starting point from which I evaluate the assets and liabilities of other schools of thought.

Second, I don't feel like I've been given enough of what I need from the Christian perspective.

Sometimes that feeling came from a reading experience in which a Stoic expressed an insight in a clearer and more impactful way than I had read it before, while the content of the expression might be found directly or indirectly in the Scriptures. For example, this quote from Seneca's Epistles certainly echoes passages from the Bible:

Men do not care how nobly they live, but only how long, although it is within the reach of every man to live nobly, but within no man's power to live long.

I hoped to find more of such gems, to allow myself to read deeply in the Stoics, and yet I did not want to jump in without some context. So I dove into some books that addressed Christian history and the New Testament and read the sections on Stoicism. I'm not offering anything new here in the strictly academic sense, just synthesizing some of my reading.

No doubt, many scholars identify a Stoic influence in parts of the New Testament. Saint Paul was writing within the Hellenistic culture in which Stoicism had been influential.

F.F. Bruce wrote, "Too facile a distinction between Palestinian and Hellenistic phases in primitive Christianity is unwarranted....The Hellenistic elements in the New Testament should not be written down as accretions or intrusions; they are of the essence of Christian life from the beginning."

So there was my persmission to be interested in the Stoics and glean from them. However, as I began in a very cursory fashion, something stood out to me. The thing about the Stoics and their influence was that they completely left out love in the grand, universal, Christian sense of the term. Paul Tillich opposed the Christian view, cosmic redemption, to the Stoic view, cosmic resignation.

For the Stoics, it seems to me, knowledge of the divine and the role of reason were simply for the cultivation of individualistic virtue, which isn't a bad thing, but their methodology did not emphasize the cultivation of emotionally intimate relationships, or the role of love beyond a rather emotionless duty, a kind of redemptive love that trascends all limitations of social and cultural roles.

Then again, as a matter of cultural history, whether theologically astutue or not, Western Christians have been drawn to the Stoics throughout history. Richard Brookhiser, describing influences on George Washington, makes this remark: "...Seneca's earnest moralizing has always made him popular with Christians." The redemption and love of the Gospel are more important than moralizing, considering that Saint Paul said God's kindness leads to our repentence, yet an understanding of sin and an exhortation to self-control are part of the New Testament's message, too.

The Stoics were brilliant in advocating and demonstrating the possibility of self-control, a virtue that seems to be considered a mere fantasy in our time, even assumed to be an unlikely exercise in a culture of convenient self-indulgence. Maybe that's why some authors and publishers can offer Stoicism in our time.


Books I looked at for these cursory thoughts:

The Oxford Companion to the Bible, edited by Metzger and Coogan

Christianity and Western Thought, Vol. I, by Colin Brown

New Testament History, by F.F. Bruce

The Fourth Book of Maccabees

The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 1, by Jaroslav Pelikan

101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Important for Theology, by Kelly James Clark, Richard Lints, and James K.A. Smith

Familiar Quotations, by John Barlett

Invitation to the New Testament, by W.D. Davies

The Courage to Be, by Paul Tillich

The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization, edited by Hornblower and Spawnforth

Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, by Richard Brookhiser

-Colin Burch

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Thought About God

"God does not cease to be a mystery in the event of revelation. The self-revealing God never becoms a controllable object or a manipulable possession."
From Daniel Migliore's Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Quotable: the value of periodicals and books

"I realized many years ago that the really good periodicals served the purpose of shaping thought over time.

"And living with books, or rather living with wise authors through their books, serves the same purpose, especially if we approach books as things to be savored and revisited, rather than lines on a checklist."

-Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Journal, Volume 85

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hitchens' culturally illiterate readership?

Christopher Hitchens, author of God is Not Great, "must be banking on a readership that has not read Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. These Christian authors dramatized the themes and stories of the holy book that Hitchens disparages."

So writes Mary Grabar at

She quotes Hitchens making this paradoxical assessment:

We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.

Hitchens is a brilliant man and he's often a thrill to read, but in the above paragraph it seems he's cutting off the branch on which he sits. That's my assessment. Grabar makes her full case here:

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What Episcopal Seminaries Need: The Formationator

If you can't see the YouTube clip below, click on and scroll to the right.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

'Mindfulness' training might help schoolchildren relax, pay attention

Patricia Leigh Brown's article in The New York Times Saturday explained a promising approach to quieting the minds of schoolchildren.

OAKLAND, Calif., June 12 — The lesson began with the striking of a Tibetan singing bowl to induce mindful awareness.

With the sound of their new school bell, the fifth graders at Piedmont Avenue Elementary School here closed their eyes and focused on their breathing, as they tried to imagine “loving kindness” on the playground....

As summer looms, students at dozens of schools across the country are trying hard to be in the present moment. This is what is known as mindfulness training, in which stress-reducing techniques drawn from Buddhist meditation are wedged between reading and spelling tests.

Mindfulness, while common in hospitals, corporations, professional sports and even prisons, is relatively new in the education of squirming children. But a small but growing number of schools in places like Oakland and Lancaster, Pa., are slowly embracing the concept...

Brown wrote that some big research institutions are studying "mindfulness" and how it works.

“Parents and teachers tell kids 100 times a day to pay attention,” said Philippe R. Goldin, a [Stanford University] researcher. “But we never teach them how.”

That's not to say that "mindfulness" training is completely advocated by researchers.

Although some students take naturally to mindfulness, it is “not a magic bullet,” said Diana Winston, the director of mindfulness education at the U.C.L.A. center. She said the research thus far was “inconclusive” about how effective mindfulness was for children who suffered from trauma-related disorders, for example. It is “a slow process,” Ms. Winston added. “Just because kids sit and listen to the bell doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more kind.”

A-ha! So moral, ethical and religious trainings are still necessary. As Winston suggests, there never really is a single silver bullet to human problems, is there? But this research indicates that "mindfulness" can be a tool.

Some teachers told Brown that the techniques have not worked for every student.

But [Yolanda Steel, a second-grade teacher at Piedmont,] noted that some students tapped pencils and drummed on desks instead of closing their eyes and listening to the bell. “The premise is nice,” Ms. Steel concluded. “But mindfulness can’t do it all.”

Words like "Tibetan" and "Buddhist" and "mindfulness" will alarm some parents, especially many more conservative religious folk, but I think they could suspend worry until they have considered two points.

First, focusing attention is not the same as "emptying" the mind, which produces a state that might make children more susceptible to manipulation -- or, as some religious folks will contend, dark spiritual influences. Focusing the imagination on something healthy and positive is not, at very least, the same as emptying the mind. I cannot remember who told me this, but somewhere along the way I heard someone define the Biblical word for meditation as "mulling over" or "chewing over" a certain idea. Could relaxing and repeating certain Biblical or liturgical phrases be detrimental? To me, this is not the same as repeating songs over and over in a revival service.

Second, some research suggests that focused meditation strengthens the brain. An article in the June edition of Men's Journal addressed meditation techniques in which a person will relax and focus on a repeated phrase. "When Harvard researcher Sara Lazar recently compared the brains of American meditators to a control group, she found that parts of the cortex responsible for attention were on average 5 percent thicker," the article said.

To me, techniques for focusing attention (as long as they do not involve "emptying" the mind) involve the same electrical patterns in the brain that are addressed in neurofeedback. Neurofeedback helps people redo the electrical patterns in their brains. Before neurofeedback can begin, the clinician must record the electrical patterns in the brain (an electroencephalograph). Clusters of electrical activity in certain parts of the brain can indicate attention-deficit disorder, depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, and other problems. After the diagnosis, to help remedy these problems, a clinician specializing in neurofeedback will program a computer system based on the diagnosis. When the time comes for the patient's office visit, the clinician will attach sensors to the head of the patient. The patient will sit in front of a screen that might have a video-game style race track or a movie. When the patient's relaxation and focus get into the right zone -- when the electrical patterns move away from those clusters and into other parts of the brain -- a car will move along the race track or the movie will fill the entire screen.

Exciting times for brain research.

Read Brown's article at:

-Colin Burch

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Monday, June 18, 2007

An argument against deporting illegal workers

The Wall Street Journal has an article today about the impact that illegal-immigration raids have on public school administrators and students. When workplaces have been raided and illegal workers taken into custody, some public school students have lost one or both parents to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, who take the parents away for undefined “processing.” Ostensibly, many of these students, unlike their parents, were born in the U.S.A.

These circumstances might provide the strongest argument against deporting illegal immigrants. A comparison of U.S. public education performance with that of other industrialized, techno-centric countries produces a sobering conclusion: When public school kids have lost their parents, they have lost their only real source of education.

-Colin Burch

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Thought for the day

Living on earth may cause cancer.
-Colin Burch

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Silver Coast's outstanding 2005 Touriga

I toured Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., today.

I was stuck babysitting my two-year-old daughter and a friend's 18-month-old girl, so what else would I do?

I strapped them into car seats, then drove to the Piggly Wiggly in Sunset Beach, N.C., to purchase Three Philosophers and Duvel beers, which as far as I know are still unavailable in the greater Myrtle Beach area, despite a recent law that will allow a higher alcohol content in beers sold in South Carolina.

After Piggly Wiggly, tour a winery, of course.

I did a flight of five Silver Coast reds, and each was good, but the Cape Fear Blood Wine, a 2005 Touriga, transcended the rest. Full-flavored and complex, with fruit and other flavors colliding, this should be the first choice from Silver Coast Winery.

Check out to learn more about this winery.

Those samples were just little tastes, for the record. The children were safe at all times.

As safe as they can be with a male babysitter, considering my propensity to flip out when a child fills a diaper with manure while riding in a Piggly Wiggly shopping cart.

-Colin Burch

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Peter Augustine Lawler talks about his new book

I interviewed Peter Augustine Lawler, a professor and a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, about his new book in the June-July edition of, at .

Lawler's new book, Homeless and at Home in America, will be released later this summer.

In the interview, he makes some interesting comments about manliness. Kind of an anachronistic word, huh?

-Colin Burch

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Friday, June 1, 2007

New South's Blonde Bombshell at T-Bonz

I tried New South's Blonde Bombshell tonight at T-Bonz in Barefoot Landing, North Myrtle Beach.

Blonde Bombshell is crisp, smooth, well-balance, light-to-medium in body, and so drinkable your quick stop at happy-hour will end with the barkeep pushing you out at closing time.

I had dropped in on May 14, just three days after T-Bonz had first tapped this seasonal brew, and I ordered a pint, only to see the suds sputter -- the last keg had just done dry. I was stood up by the Blonde Bombshell.

Tonight, the joke was on me -- I ordered my second, and guess what? The tap started sputtering suds again.

This time, however, there was another keg in the back.
-Colin Burch

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