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The Fort Worth Star Telegram has a moving story today called Building on a Miracle.

It begins like this:

Pastor Jerry Phillips wiped away tears Tuesday as he watched volunteers perform an extreme makeover on Calvary Baptist Church's unfinished sanctuary.

"I've never been more emotional," Phillips said.

The sanctuary is being completed this week in memory of music director Mike Coke, who died in June.

After the funeral at the church, Wes Ratliff, Coke's uncle, surveyed the unfinished addition and told Phillips that he could help.

Ratliff is a member of the Baptist Church Builders of Texas, a group of men and women, mostly retired, who travel across Texas and neighboring states to build churches.

Nine months later, the trucks and trailers of volunteers who traveled from all over Texas and New Mexico filled the parking lot of the church at Davis Drive and Pioneer Parkway.

"It's just a way to serve the Lord," one volunteer David Strunk of Snyder, Texas is quoted as saying "God gave me the gift to swing a hammer."

The church had been working on the renovation for about 8 years, just a few days a month, when they could.

The story goes on to follow the volunteers, as they finish the church renovation in the memory of Wes Ratliff's nephew, who had worked at the church for 20 years.

This story, and so many like it raise this question: Does someone need to die for us to do a great story? Why is it that when a reporter simply gets out of the way and lets people tell their own story, they end up with great journalism?


His Dark Materials

Philip Pullman, who several years ago described CS Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia as "blatantly racist" and "monumentally disparaging of women" has won praise from the Achbishop of Canterbury for a play based on his series of children's novels called "His Dark Materials."

Here's how Pullman's trilogy described by the Guardian in 2002.

In Pullman's world, the universe is ruled by a senile, viciously sadistic deity who has to be deposed in battle so that its inhabitants can join with angels in creating a "republic of heaven".

Achbishop Rowan Williams recently published this review of a play based on Pullman's works.

The first book in the series, called The Golden Compass sets up a remarkable imaginary world--where Lyra a teenaged student at Oxford is caught in a battle between her parents: her father is Lord Asriel, a heretical scholar who wants to destroy the church and kill God; her mother is Mrs. Coulter, a cruel and sadistic scholar who will stop at nothing to protect the church. Pullman's world is remarkable--Lyra is aided on her way by a gyspy-like priest, an American balloonist, witches who fly on pine branches, and armored Polar bear prince with a drinking problems.

But it is full of cruelty. Both parents think nothing of killing children to get their way. and by the time the third book, The Amber Spyglass, rolls around Pullman gives up on telling a story and fills the 600 pages of his book with a harangue against God. For this, he won the Whitbread award, for England's best novel.

The play, Williams writes, cuts away much of Pullman's excess and focuses on the plot, led by Lord Asriel, to overthrow God and those in the church who oppose him.

Here's an excert of William's review:

What the story makes you see is that if you believe in a mortal God, who can win and lose his power, your religion will be saturated with anxiety - and so with violence. In a sense, you could say that a mortal God needs to be killed, from the point of view of faith (as the Buddhists say: "If you meet the Buddha, kill him"). And if you see religious societies in which anxiety and violence predominate, you could do worse than ask what God it is that they believe in. The chances are that they secretly or unconsciously believe in a God who is just another inhabitant of the universe, only more powerful than anyone else. And if he is another inhabitant of the universe, then at the end of the day he just might be subject to change and chance like everything else. He needs protecting: churches are there to keep him safe.

I read the books and the plays as a sort of thought experiment: this is, after all, an alternative world, or set of worlds. What would the Church look like, what would it inevitably be, if it believed only in a God who could be rendered powerless and killed, and needed unceasing protection? It would be a desperate, repressive tyranny.

He end with this question:

If the Authority is not God, why has the historic Church so often behaved as if it did indeed exist to protect a mortal and finite God?


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