Monthly Archives: June 2013

Book Review – “The Year Of Living Biblically” – Julia Wilson

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August 20, 2012

​AJ Jacobs attempts to step into the shoes of an Old Testament Jew. He dresses like one, acts like one, and tries his best to follow every rule that God set before the Jews. This quest proves to be quite a struggle and changes his life for an entire year. “A Year of Living Biblically” is an entertaining read but also very enlightening. Though Jacobs is an agnostic before and after he writes the book, Christians can benefit from reading it. Firstly, Jacobs refers to many obscure laws that one may overlook in one’s personal study of the Bible. By watching Jacobs follow the bizarre rules, they become more interesting and easier to learn for the reader. Secondly, Christians can develop a greater appreciation of what Christ did to establish the New Covenant in which those rules are no longer enforced.

​O​One way a Christian can benefit from reading this book is by becoming more familiar with Old Testament rules. For example, if a Jew saw an adulterer, he was commanded to stone him, even in a public place. In one instance, Jacobs tells a man in the park about his quest and some of the rules he is required to follow. Jacobs mentions that he must stone adulterers, and the stranger, an adulterer himself, challenges him. Out of obligation, Jacobs tosses some pebbles at the man, which greatly infuriates him. To a Christian reader, that rule now has a story to accompany it and is much easier to remember. It is important that Christians know the law of the Old Testament, and this book is a great way to be familiarized with it.

​Secondly, a Christian can profit by reading this book by gaining a greater appreciation for the Jews following the Old Covenant but also by being thankful that it no longer applies. It was a huge sacrifice for Jacobs to take the Bible literally, even for just a year. Old Testament Jews lived that way for their whole lives. By seeing what a modern day Old Testament Jew looks like, Christians today should develop a sense of appreciation for the Jews who followed the Old Covenant- it was not an easy lifestyle. Even more, Christians should be grateful for the ultimate sacrifice Christ paid on the cross, establishing the New Covenant which no longer requires sacrifices for sins.

​On the other hand, there are parts of the Old Testament that should be taken more seriously. Honoring the Sabbath is a law that can be easily overlooked. Obviously, Christians no longer treat the Sabbath as Old Testament Jews did, preparing their food the night before and restraining to even pluck a grey hair from their heads. But there are more practical ways Christians can make the Sabbath day restful, such as turning off electronics on Sunday and completing work or homework on Saturday.

​A question that arose in my mind as I read this book was, “Why would God require his people to follow these very particular laws?” Some of the laws seemed to have no spiritual value. However, these laws set apart his people. When outsiders looked at Israel, they noticed they were different. Their strict law-following expresses their love for God. Just the fact that the Jews made sacrifices regularly showed how serious they were about their sin. It also showed the beautiful way God bridged the gap between his sinful people and his holy self. Then he permanently bridged the gap when he sent his Son to be the ultimate and perfect sacrifice. “A Year of Living Biblically” is a great read to learn more about the Old Testament rules and religion. More importantly, it should give Christians a greater appreciation for the sacrifice that Jews made to follow God and the incredible sacrifice Christ made to give us easier access to God.

Joey Gissendaner on the Grand Fete

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An Atypical Prom

The Westminster School at Oak Mountain is, by its very essence, different from all the schools that surround it. Although the first thought that comes to mind may be the unique curriculum offered at the school, it is the culture and personalities of the students that most sets the school apart. As students we seek to exemplify the teachings of Christ in everything we do. We pursue excellence through sports, academics, and art to glorify Him who gave us our talents. We seek to treat other students, especially those younger than us, as we would want to be treated in their situations. And we live by the motto “In the world but not of the world.” It is the last of these that helps explain the utter uniqueness of what we call “the Grand Fete”.

At its core the Grand Fete is the Westminster parallel to Prom for all high school grades. Everyone in attendance dresses their best. There is food, toast to seniors, and of course dancing. But Westminster offers a different approach. Instead of tuxes and long ballroom gowns, party-goers dress in blazers and slacks and shorter, less expensive dresses. For the gentlemen, the costs run anywhere from nothing, wearing a school blazer and khakis, to hundreds of dollars for a new suit. However, anything he buys can easily be repurposed to wear to school or any other function, as is often the case. For the ladies the costs are dramatically lower, especially for the dress. An average prom dress will run anywhere from 100 to 700 dollars. However, the average dress for Fete costs no more than 200 dollars. And as with the suits of the gentlemen, the ladies dresses can be worn again, being that they are simple, practical, and cute.

Although the attire is different, the single most unique aspect of Fete is the dancing. The dancing at Prom can be described as sporadic and carnal, having no form or idea in mind, but simply what feels right to the “dancer”. The mass of party-goers looks more like a chaotic mob of random motion, rather than a group of people dancing. None of this is the case at Fete. For the week before Fete those who will attend the party attend a swing dance class held by one of the teachers. They learn the basic structure of swing and are encouraged to learn more on their own. There are always a few students every year that learn the more complex moves, becoming center pieces of the dance. On the night of Fete after dinner, the dancing begins. The dancing has form and rhythm, purpose and style. The dancers are not mobs of wild beast but structured human beings. The dance is not only pleasing to the eyes but also to the body. Although one is not moving exactly as he wants there is still enough variation in the dancing to make it fun.

Fete is a unique experience not able to be found in other schools. It is just one of the many things that makes Westminster great.

On the Inaugural Season of the Westminster Girls Varsity Basketball Team

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The day before the first Varsity Girls basketball practice, Rebecca Thompson was involved in a serious skateboarding accident that left her with multiple wounds, taking her out of the season before it even began. During Christmas break Anna Caroline Griffith underwent ankle surgery that kept her off the court for the rest of the year. Mackie Benson suffered a concussion that did not allow her to play the last five games of the season. These ladies were injured so seriously that they were not able to play the sport they loved, but there were many other members of our team forced to play despite injuries-Olivia Godfrey, Marianna Hinton, Collins Mills, Makayla McDaniel, and myself. Having the majority of the basketball team injured was tough, but we learned to work together and encourage each other to push through the pain. This season really helped me learn the true meaning of perseverance. In the final quarters of the game when I was exhausted and didn’t think my body could take another step, I was continually impressed by all of my teammates’ hard work. I am extremely proud because they always gave 100% no matter the situation. During this long and physically trying basketball season, I learned the true meaning of hard work, diligence, perseverance, and how to rely on God at all times. I believe that the Varsity Girls team really embodied James 1:12 which states, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” Our team was definitely tested with trials because it was our first year as a Varsity team and all the other teams we played had far more experience. We endured a tough season his year, but we pushed through and hopefully we will be more successful next year!

 Alice Boone

Grand Tour – Katy Blackburn and Sylvia Welch

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Grand Tour

This past March, our senior class travelled to Greece and Italy on the “Grand Tour”. We were given the opportunity to see many picturesque views as well as incredible man-made structures. There were so many sights that took my breath away that I can’t even count them, but there was one place in particular that deeply impacted me. On our last stop, we visited Rome, and we toured the Vatican Museum and then headed to St. Peter’s Basilica. I did not really know what to expect upon entering the basilica.  I had only heard the name and knew many famous Renaissance artists had worked on it. However, when I walked in the doors, any expectations I had were blown away. The celling was higher than any other celling I’d ever seen, with majestic pillars soaring to the top and vibrant colors popping out at me everywhere I looked. I stared at the celling alone for several minutes, admiring all the patterns and detail of the molding that I could hardly believe a human actually created. Then, after looking at the celling, I turned my attention to basically everything else, all the walls and depictions of different scenes on the walls. At first I was in awe of the scenes when I thought they were paintings, but when I found out that the 12-foot pictures were made out of mosaics, I could hardly believe it. Someone individually placed small squares onto the wall to create a beautiful masterpiece? It was simply incredible, and I only wish I could have been there to watch the process of creation. I think what really impacted me about St. Peter’s Basilica was the fact that it was so magnificent and on such a large scale, but at the same time it was full of detail and on a small scale as well. It was such an amazing experience, and it is definitely one that I will never forget.

-Katy Blackburn and Sylvia Welch

Ethan Shaw’s On Sanctification

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Ethan Shaw
Sophomore, Westminster School at Oak Mountain

John Wesley was a man whose understanding of the gospel profoundly focused on holiness. He stressed the vigorous, personal nature of the Christian life and the need for individual piety. Ultimately, this emphasis resulted in his doctrine known as Christian perfection. In describing a “good Methodist,” he remarks, “All the commandments of God he accordingly keeps, and that with all his might; for his obedience is in proportion to his love, the source from whence it flows.” Critically, he linked a believer’s growth in faith to increased obedience. He thus hypothesized a state in which a believer achieves freedom from willful sin and complete holiness in thought and deed. Although this assertion may appear far-fetched to many, one must understand this simply represents one man’s attempt to explain the mystery of sanctification first outlined in Jesus’ final prayer for his disciples, asking the Father to “sanctify them in the truthi.” Overall, the New Testament portrays sanctification as the Spirit’s work of leading the believer to walk in the hope of salvation in Christ. Sanctification is thus a paradigm for the present tension of redemption: it is initiated with Christ’s work and will be consummated at His Return.

The foundational perspective on sanctification views it as a goal wholly achieved through Christ’s redemptive work. During His manifestation on the road to Damascus, Jesus commissions Saul as a minister to the Gentiles so that “they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18). The language here is transformational, pointing to the moment of repentance and conversion that effects salvation. Interestingly, its result is forgiveness as well as a sanctified status before God. Paul later states agreement with the Lord’s view of sanctification accomplished at conversion. He tells the Thessalonian church, “God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth…so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 2:13-14). Paul explains salvation as a two-way affair wrought both by individual faith and the Spirit’s sanctifying graceii. Even so, he seems to indicate that the purpose of sanctification is somehow connected to the eternal perfection to come, in which the believer is made like Christ Jesus in totality.

Sanctification is also described in terms of a process that spans a period of time. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul remarks, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” (6:22). Importantly, he links freedom from sin to sanctification. Since fruit refers to the ongoing attitudes that result from this freedom, sanctification must be a process. It is completed when a believer dies and enters into eternal life. The epistle to the Hebrews clarifies this process even more: “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (10:15). In this age the believer stands in the tension of an already-not yet Kingdom. Christ has already made His chosen perfect in the eyes of the Father. Yet they also hope in the promise of total glorification to come and remain in the struggle with sin.

Practically, sanctification should be much more than lofty theological jargon in the eyes of the average believer. It defines the way Christ’s Kingdom operates in this age and how He relates to His church. It illuminates the way in which a believer should live his daily life. In truth Christ is sanctification incarnateiii. The believer’s task, then, is to love Jesus wholeheartedly and embrace Him as the hope of holiness. The relationship between Christ and the church incorporates both aspects of sanctification. Paul states that Jesus died “that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26-27). Believers are yoked with the man who is the very definition of holiness. As the church grows in her union with Him, she takes on more and more of His character and is continually perfected by the Spirit. Sanctification means death to sin, because “God has not called us for impurity but in holinessiv” (1 Thess. 4:7). It occurs not as a result of human striving but instead flows from the Spirit’s grace and the natural obedience that follows. It is cultivated in the place of personal intimacy with Christ Jesus, experienced through faith in His past work (redemption) and hope in His coming (glorification). In this way, one should never disregard Wesley’s Christian perfection as myth altogether. Each believer will certainly be made perfect; he might have just been wrong as to when it will take place.


i Taken from John 17:17. This and all other Scripture citations throughout the essay are cited from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
ii Furthermore, Paul even seems to equate sanctification with redemption. He states, “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).

iii See 1 Cor. 1:30. Paul states, “…you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption…”
iv In this context Paul specifically is referencing freedom from sexual immorality, but this principle applies much more broadly to freedom from sin in general.

Ethan Shaw Actinium Paper

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Ethan Shaw Mr. Carrell 10B Chemistry May 17, 2013

Click to Download PDF Version 

Throughout today’s society the mention of radioactivity largely occurs as a political scare tactic or environmentalist jargon. Despite the many negative connotations, radioactivity is still a very new and largely unexplored concept. The principle was first observed by French scientist Henri Becquerel in 1896. He hypothesized that that phosphorescence might be related to the effect of X-rays in cathode ray tubes because both caused materials to glow in the dark after exposure to radiation. While testing various phosphorescent salts, he noticed that the uranium salts—unlike all the others—blackened the photographic plate which held them. This same phenomenon was later observed with non-phosphorescent uranium salts, and thus Becquerel’s hypothesis proved wrong. His experiment, however, paved the way for further research over the next few decades. Although the dangers of radiation were not initially realized, Becquerel’s findings nonetheless paved the way for the dawn of the nuclear era.

Technically, all elements undergo radioactive decay. For the vast majority, however, an element’s common isotopes are stable and this process is very slow and thus negligible. There are thirty-eight elements classified as radioactive, meaning they have no truly stable isotope or are synthetic and always unstable. Generally, heavily radioactive elements are found toward the very bottom of the periodic table. Among these actinium is generally considered one of the most dangerous radioactive substances. It is the first element in row seven, and therefore this row is termed as the actinoid series. Actinium’s significance lies in its status as the first non-primordiali radioactive element to have been isolated. The key data points concerning actinium are as follows:

  • Atomic number: 89
  • Family: N/A (technically group #3, but this is debated due to its actinoid status)
  • Atomic mass: 227
  • Description: soft; silvery-white color
  • Solid at room temperature
  • Default oxidization state: +3
  • Location in periodic table: f-block, period #7

Interestingly, the account of actinium’s discovery raises much scholarly contention. André- Louis Debierne, a French chemist studying under the famous Pierre Curie, credited with the element’s name. While experimenting with the separation of rare earth oxide minerals from pitchblendeii around 1899, he discovered an unknown substance which he observed to be a hundred thousand times more radioactive than uranium. Although similar to lanthanum, its properties did not fully match up, and so Debierne decided to christen a new element, naming it actinium. Three years later, though, the German Friedrich Giesel—ignorant of Debierne’s claim—independently discovered the element and named it emanium. In placing radium impurities on a zinc sulfide screen, he noticed its emanationiii moving across the screen and giving off a unique phosphorescence. He thus named his discovery emanium, from the Latin “emanare” (“to flow out”). Although Debierne’s elemental name remains today and he has the chronological advantage, many modern scholars question the validity of his discovery and find more reliable proof in Giesel’s account. Regardless, both men made key contributions toward laying the foundation for the emerging field of nuclear engineering.

Though not universally synthetic, the vast majority of actinium is artificially produced through the nuclear irradiationiv of radium-226 and is therefore largely unstable. As a result, it has few practical uses and is generally created for laboratory research purposes. Actinium’s most common isotope is Ac-227, traces of which are found within uranium ore as a result of radioactive transmutationv (as Debierne observed). However, the quantities are very small (0.2

mg Ac per metric tonne U) and separating out the actinium is thus a very inefficient means of collection. This impracticality led to the current radium irradiation method. Notably, actinium itself is a source of neutrons just like the radium used to create it. Alpha, beta, and gamma particles make up the observed radiation spectrum and are named in order of penetration capabilityvi. Actinium provides beta particles with a source of neutrons to be converted and emitted as electrons. A similar process occurs in the release of alpha particles, which are pertinent in the treatment of cancer using radiation therapy. Even so, actinium—like all radioactive elements—is unstable and thus prone to transmute into various other elements and isotopes as a result of certain processes (such as fission). In truth, as German chemist Otto Hahn observed, actinium’s radioactivity seems to come from its decay products. Perhaps actinium’s actual significance lies in its propensity to create other, more useful radioactive substances.

Figure: an illustration of the actinium decay chain, involving radioactive transmutation.

i Also, synthetic or artificial. A primordial element is one that is stable and thus its current isotopes are hypothesized to have been in existence since the earth’s formation.
ii A common name for the uranium-rich mineral uraninite.
iii In chemistry, the gaseous product of radioactive disintegration.

iv Refers to the process of exposing a substance to neutrons.
v The process in which one radioactive element is changed into another.
vi The illustration given is that a sheet of paper will stop an alpha particle and a sheet of aluminum shielding a beta particle, but even a thick block of lead will only slow down a gamma particle due to its immense penetration power.

Sources Listed

“Actinium.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 26 April 2013. Web. 16 May 2013.

“Beta Particle.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 4 May 2013. Web. 16 May 2013.

Emsley, John. Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001. Print.

Kirby, H.W. “The Discovery of Actinium.” Isis Autumn 1971: 290-308. Web.

“Radioactive Decay.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 14 May 2013. Web. 16 May 2013.

Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility – Office of Science Education. “The Element Actinium.” Jefferson Lab. Jefferson Science Associates, n.d. Web. 16 May 2013.