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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Be Strong, Wise and Gracious

The following is roughly the sermon I gave at Chalice Christian Church on December 27, 2008.

Good morning, everyone. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. We certainly did here at Chalice. For those of you who were here for the Christmas Eve service you got to finally enjoy the Christmas carols that Linda wont let us sing during Advent. And of course, last Sunday we enjoyed the Chalice tradition of Improv at the Stable. How great was it to see so many of our young people participating even if some of them were pressed into service? Well, following up the pageant, I thought we would have a little quiz. So, here we go, in what order did these events occur. If you know the answer just call it out.

The quiz is basically what is contained in this old post. The punch line that today’s scripture doesn’t fit into the classic pageant.

Examination of the Scripture

Okay, so why do this exercise? Well, first off, if you recall when James preached on youth Sunday that he occasionally spars with his eighth grade classmates over matter religious; you will be shocked to learn that I have found myself in similar discussions with coworkers. So, I want to make sure you all are also equipped for such confrontations. The more serious, more important reason is that this examination demonstrates these stories cannot be read as a newspaper story or a biography. Once you realize that these were not written as factual recounts, you have to ask yourself why did the authors write what they did. And, that is the question we need to go after today.

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you, our strength and our redeemer.

First, there are hints in this story of what is to come. Jesus the social and spiritual revolutionary is foreshadowed in this story. For example, the sacrifice they bring is that of two pigeons, which according to the Old Testament is an exception for the poor from the requirement to bring a lamb and a pigeon.

Next, as with the rest of Luke, there are several examples of parody between men and women. The story says that they were purified, when the law only required Mary to be purified after giving birth. Jesus’ greatness is declared not just by a man, Simeon, but also by the woman, Anna. Mary and Joseph are doing everything together. You may start to have visions of the woman at the well or Mary & Martha.

Finally, while we have all this discussion of the temple and the law, we have Simeon say, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel,” this might bring you to the clearing of the temple and hearing him tell Mary, “a sword will pierce your own soul” may bring you all the way Gethsemane.

So floating around in the mix are these images but we can’t let the subtext overwhelm us. Remember, that while Matthew follows the birth in Bethlehem with Herod behaving like Pharaoh, and Jesus first going then coming out of Egypt, Luke has the holy family doing pretty ordinary stuff, as the author writes, “everything required by the Law of the Lord”.

Role of Customs & Rituals

This group assembled has in a real way inherited a tradition of rejecting tradition. As Christians, at some point after the fall of Jerusalem, we rejected Judaism. As Protestants, we rejected Catholicism. As Disciples we have rejected even Protestant doctrine, with Barton W. Stone declaring that he professed the Westminster Confession of Faith “As far as it is consistent with the word of God.” (Which I’ve always thought was a kind of non answer.) We like to say that we have “No Creed but Christ.” It seems clear from today’s scripture that Luke didn’t share such a stark few of tradition.

Now, a quick story. When Mom and Dad were first married, he bought a set of encyclopedias. He did this when, as I understand, they were eating peanut butter for lunch everyday because half of his Air Force salary went to their rent. Evidently they a little fight over this choice. As a result, years later whenever we had a question Dad would send us to the encyclopedia—thus justifying his purchase. Well, Pat & I didn’t fight about it, but I have a set of books called The Great Works of Western Civilization, and I like to get them out whenever I can. So, lets start with Plato.

Plato praised “the particular training in respect of pleasure and pain, which leads you always to hate what you ought to hate, and love what you ought to love from the beginning of life to the end” and just hated novelty. In fact, he praised the Egyptians because their current art was exactly the same as there ancient art.

There is something to this. In some sense, our scripture this morning is a story of preparation. Surely part of Jesus’ growing in strength and wisdom and being full of grace comes from the practice of spiritual disciplines. Spiritual disciplines like studying: he could not have fended off the attacks from church leaders to Satan in the desert if he was not familiar with his scriptures. At age thirty when his ministry began, he could not have simply turned on empathy for all those who he healed—empathy is an acquired skill, it is I think one of the greatest advantages of coming here to pray for others. How could he have recognized the need for the rich to surrender their material belongings, if he had not himself experienced the joy that his charity.

Likewise, we cannot expect to be a force for good in the world, an agent of change if we don’t likewise practice spiritual discipline.

Of course, I suspect some of you cringed at the idea of teaching children what to love and many of you cringed about teaching children what to hate. And the dialogue has some stuff that would make even the strongest champion of back to basics education blush, when it says that the populous cannot be asked to judge what is best. Nor the children or women, nor the young men, but obviously what the old men think is best is what is best. (Which is easy to sell when you’re only speaking to old men.)

On Sunday, I cut out some citations, which are italicized below, in the interest of time.

Recent thinkers are more in line with liberal ideology seeing the often destructive effect of over emphasizing tradition. Freud wrote, “its ordinances, frequently too stringent, exact a great deal from him, much self-restraint, much renunciation of instinctual gratification.” It becomes therefore one of the main aims of psychoanalytic therapy to release the individual from the bondage to custom.

Indeed, the fight over marriage equality is largely about adhering to old traditions without recognizing the reality of love. Much racism, both attacks against African Americans and those against recent immigrants, are justified with references to custom and culture. Likewise, much of the economic injustice we see in the world today is a product of traditional behaviors. It is tempting to throw it all out. Indeed, this is exactly the reason guys like Sam Harris wrote the End of Faith, wherein he blames religion for successfully transferring accountability to allow devastating injustice.

Francis Bacon wrote The first of these is the extreme affecting of two extremities; the one antiquity, the other novelty ... one of them seeketh to devour and suppress the other; while antiquity envieth there should be new additions, and novelty cannot be content to add but it must deface: surely the advice of the prophet is the true direction in this matter,
"Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths. Where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Spring board to changing from within

But it is not just for our own well being that we are versed in our culture. It is not just for the sake of gaining the benefits of spiritual disciplines. We must be engaged, I believe, in order to bring about change within the larger Christian Church. This is my fear: that thinking people are falling away from the church. Now, I think this church can be a vehicle to continue to bring such people into the Church. And the Church needs them. Those are the people who can be an agent for change in the church universal.

And that as a result, we are increasingly talking past each other. We see our holy scriptures brutally misinterpreted. Read in a way that is absolutely inconsistent with the words on the page. We see prophesy transformed into fortune telling instead of social commentary; faithfulness turned into a suspension of disbelief instead of fidelity to the teaching of Jesus Christ. We can’t let it happen. There is too much to be lost.

Monday, December 29, 2008

JimII Becomes Famous

On Friday, December 26, the Republic printed my letter. You can find it and the insightful and thoughtful comments on it here. Curiously they cut my closing sentence where I pointed out that the Mormons have often been the subject of unfair attack. Perhaps he could have been misunderstood.

Also, the podcast of Stephen L. Gibon's interview with Matt & I went up yesterday. If you go to the Truth-Driven Thinking website the podcasts are about in the middle of the page. We are described as Theist/Non-theist friends, which is true but kind of funny to read.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Question for the Day

Assuming that Jesus was raised in the traditions of his day practicing spiritual disciplines like studying scripture, praying, and helping the less fortunate, did he become a radical spiritual revolutionary because of, or in spite of, this participation in religious custom?

Jesus Presented in the Temple

So, the shepherds have gone back to their sheep. No more angels in the sky. The stressful holiday travel is behind them. And with glow of new parents still fresh on them, Mary and Joseph take care of some business.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.
(Luke 2:21-40) There are hints here. Some tough to see, like talking about "their purification" when the law really only required the mother to be purified; like noting their sacrifice of two "young pigeons", the exception for the poor from the Lamb and pigeon required for most. Others are easier to see, Mary and Joseph paired over and over again, a prophet and a prophetess, revelation to the Gentiles, and a sword that will pierce the mother's heart. Hints of the radical world shift Jesus was to bring. But for the most part, isn't this a story of traditional people carrying out the old traditions?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Custom & Convention

Francis Bacon wrote of the Various Hindrances to the Growth of Knowledge that
The first of these is the extreme affecting of two extremities; the one antiquity, the other novelty ... one of them seeketh to devour and suppress the other; while antiquity envieth there should be new additions, and novelty cannot be content to add but it must deface: surely the advice of the prophet is the true direction in this matter, State super vias antiqas, et videte quaenam sit via recta et bon et ambulate in ea.[FN1]
Google Books Excerpt FN1 "Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths. Where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls." Jeremiah 6:16

Random response: I have heard from friends a concern that novelty is not content to add but to deface antiquity. I suppose to know which of the ancient paths is a good way, we have to know the ancient paths.

Anyone else have a random response?

Friday, December 19, 2008

A Question of the Day.

What positive role does tradition and custom play in our society?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Zero Tolerance on Intolerance

I'm going to bump my fun question out of the way because I read this story and just could not avoid comment. Many gay rights groups are angry at Obama because he's going to let Rick Warren pray at the inauguration. From CNN:
Warren, one of the most influential religious leaders in the nation, has championed issues such as a reduction of global poverty, human rights abuses and the AIDS epidemic.

But the founder of the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, has also adhered to socially conservative stances -- including his opposition to gay marriage and abortion rights that puts him at odds with many in the Democratic Party, especially the party's most liberal wing.

"[It's] shrewd politics, but if anyone is under any illusion that Obama is interested in advancing gay equality, they should probably sober up now," Andrew Sullivan wrote on the Atlantic Web site Wednesday.
This is so unbelievably frustrating. Does Andrew Sullivan really think that because Rick Warren will pray at the inauguration that Obama is not going to advance gay equality? Really? I have grown so unbelievably weary of slash and burn mentality. Rick Warren is wrong about gay rights. He is wrong about preemptive war. But he is right about poverty, climate change, and global AIDS epidemic. He is right about encouraging the evangelical community to stop being single issue focused.

Earlier in the article American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said, "There is no substantive difference between Rick Warren and James Dobson. . . . The only difference is tone. His tone is moderate, but his ideas are radical." That is such B.S. When was the last time James Dobson said we should do something about climate change. I have lost my patience for this unhelpful all or nothing attitude. I can't stand liberal fundamentalist fanatics anymore than I can the conservative variety.

A Question for the Day

Do you think Jesus was fun to hang out with?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Less Backlash More Back and Forth

It saddened me when Arizona and other states passed initiatives attacking the GLBT community, an often demonized and misunderstood minority. As an American, I saw equality for all fall; as a Christian I saw love held less important than tradition.

Since the passage of these Jim Crow style initiatives, there has been backlash against the initiatives’ supporters, specifically against the LDS Church. I understand the need to express anger. Surely I would lash out against a law declaring love between a Protestant and a Catholic invalid and illegal?

But I suggest that we move away from retribution and toward understanding. As Americans, we must tirelessly fight for equality for all, and at the same time as Christians, we must help those mired in tradition to understand that Christ commands that love, not tradition, be our guide. The latter can be achieved only through honest dialogue, not by punishing those who disagree.

A final note, it concerns me that of the triumvirate of intolerance—LDS , Catholic and Christian Fundamentalist churches—the LDS Church is bearing the brunt of the backlash. Is it because of the three that church is an easy target, an often demonized and misunderstood minority?

I sent this off to the Arizona Republic and the East Valley Tribune. The Republic only allows 200-words, which probably made this a better post than most of the stuff I write.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

I like to write a post or two over the weekend since pointed out to me that you can schedule posts to go up mid week. No such luck this weekend. On Saturday the kids and I went shopping for performance clothes. After returning home, and minutes before the violin recital, we discovered that Kate has no dress shoes. So she wore a pair of her mother's, which did not really fit at all. Saturday night was spent writing the PowerPoint for church and memorizing my Isaiah scripture. Sunday, the kids did a neat little drama with some other kids to open the 9:00 a.m. service and I did the Isaiah scripture in between running the PowerPoint. I taught the 5-11 year-olds for Sunday school, then repeat the same routine from the 9 am on the 11 am. While at the 11 am service I got an email reminder that Matt and I were doing a podcast with the author of A Secret of the Universe, Stephen L. Gibson. So, I prepared for that in the afternoon and recorded it from 5-6:30 or so. (Past podcasts from Gibson available here.) A less than restful weekend, but I don't think I'd have it any other way.

Friday, December 12, 2008


As a young man of 18 who had recently graduated from a small town high school, I had to adjust to life in the big city and to the realization that I was not in fact the smartest person in the world. I needed somebody to share the rest of my life, my innermost thoughts and know my intimate details. Someone who'd stand by my side and give me support and in return she'd get my support. She would listen to me when I would speak about the world we live in and life in general, though my views may have been wrong; they may even have been perverted, she'd hear me out and not easily be converted to my way of thinking. In fact she'll often disagree, but at the end of it all, she would understand me.

I needed somebody who cared for me passionately, with every thought and with every breath. Someone who'd help me see things in a different light--all the things I detested I would almost like. I didn't want to be tied to anyone's strings; I carefully tried to steer clear of those things. But when I'm asleep, I want somebody who will put her arms around me and kiss me tenderly.

Though things like this make me sick, in a case like this I'll get away with it, because not too long after arriving in Evanston, I found that somebody I needed, and sixteen years ago we made things official.

Happy Anniversary, Pat.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Second Meeting of CCJM

Tonight we had the second meeting of Chalice Christian Justice Ministries. We developed five criteria for evaluating issues that we may venture into. We want to address an issue that Chalice is not currently addressing. It should be an issue about which we have a passion. Although there can be an outreach/charity component of the issue, it should be primarily about justice rather than charity. It should be an issue about which we can have a deep understanding of why we are speaking to the issue and how it connects to the gospel. Finally, it should be something on which we can have an impact; something we can have measurable success.

Below is my representation of the various issues we are considering and the categories we put those issues into. Another major theme of the evening was the recognition that participation in this process will change us. That such adventures are not just about helping some other. We talked about the deep connection to spirituality that we can find in working for justice in any of these areas.

NOTE: You can click on the image if you can't read the diagram.

Interior Secretary

This post is off topic because, while political in nature, it is really just about a guy I admire. I learned that Kevin Gover is on the list for Interior Secretary. I Professor Gover for Administrative Law at ASU. He was one of my favorite professors. He is intellectually honest--willing to explore ideas that contradict his own. He also has a big picture view of the administrative state the United States has become. Finally, his is a reserved demeanor like many of the other Obama nominees; something I've heard criticized. In this politico story, Representative Grijalva of Arizona suggests this is a reason Gover might not be up to the task.

I know nothing of Grijalva or the other front runner's qualifications. But the image of a federal government full of level headed pragmatist, given to finding answers rather than grandstanding, is one I can live with.

Reminds me of this public service announcement from Obama.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Looking at Isaiah

I'm just thinking out blog on this, but here is how I restructured the Isaiah passage for this Sunday:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, (A)
because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. (A)
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, (B)
to proclaim freedom for the captives (B)
and release from darkness for the prisoners, (B)
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor (C)
and the day of vengeance of our God, (C)

to comfort all who mourn, (D)
and provide for those who grieve in Zion (D)—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, (E)
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, (E)
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (E)
They will be called oaks of righteousness, (F)
a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (F)

They will rebuild the ancient ruins (G)
and restore the places long devastated; (G)
they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. (G)
. . .
"For I, the LORD, love justice; (H)
I hate robbery and iniquity. (H)
In my faithfulness I will reward them (I)
and make an everlasting covenant with them. (I)

Their descendants will be known among the nations (J)
and their offspring among the peoples. (J)
All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the LORD has blessed." (J)

I delight greatly in the LORD; (K)
my soul rejoices in my God. (K)
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation (L)
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, (L)
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, (M)
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (M)

For as the soil makes the sprout come up (N)
and a garden causes seeds to grow, (N)
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (N)
I've read that Hebrew verse often repeats entire thoughts, like here with "rebuild the ancient ruins and resotr the places long devestated." Ancient ruins are places that have been long devestated. So, I broke this up to identify such repeated thoughts. The first set of 2-3-2 is about those oppressed by society, the poor, the captive, the prisoners. They get vengeance. The next set of 2-3-2 is for mourners. They get to be seen in splendor. Then comes a triplet, where the last is longer than the first two about restoring cities.

Then we get a 2-2-3 about how much God loves just and hate injustice an is building a new nation. Then we get a 2-2-2-3 about how Isaiah loves God and how God is building a new nation.

Summary: Good news for the outcast and those who mourn, God is helping them out. Good news for the nation, God is helping it out.

Why do I believe in God?

I believe in God because I have felt the presence of God. I have been moved by God while looking in to the eyes of the Elder at Chalice saying, "The body of Christ, the cup of Salvation." I have been moved by God when filling a water tank in the Sonoran desert. I have been moved by God when I spied an old friend at my father's funeral.

I recognize the presence of God with the same power of perception that shows me Love and Beauty. My physical senses provided the data, but Love and Beauty are present at another level of abstraction. The physical world is like a carrier wave; Love, Beauty, and God are like messages carried on it.

A radio signal can be fully described, in some sense, by a Time-Frequency or Time-Amplitude plot. But if there is a message encoded on the signal, then there is more to be known about the signal than the particular modulations of the frequency or amplitude.

Likewise, the human experience is more than a series of electro-chemical reactions. Life is different from non-life. To reduce all human existence down to the physical world leaves no room for the Soul which observes super-natural things like Love, Beauty and God. Now, there is no physical, or natural, evidence of supernatural things. But my explanation of a world that is more than the natural world better fits my experience than a world that is only physical.

Sam Harris recognizes the need to feed the soul, although he thinks irrational religions are not the way to do it. I've witnessed much suffering and loneliness among those who neglect their non-physical selves. But what about my friends who profess to only believe in the physical world, but are happy? It is a bit of a conundrum for me; as my faith is a conundrum for them.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Discussion Starter

CNN has a story about an atheist placard that was stolen. For the record, I don't think it is dramatic or ironic that there are Christian sympathizers who are also vandals and I don't think anyone should apologize for the sign being stolen. I also think there is nothing inappropriate about the way the sign puts out its message and I don't think it is hateful. What I do think, is Christians and atheists and Muslims and Buddhists and Hindus and Jews should talk about whether the sign is right or wrong. Nothing meta, nothing that starts with "I'm not saying X, but Y." Here's what the sign says:
At this season of
may reason prevail.

There are no gods.
no devils. no angels.
no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.
Religion is but myth and superstition
that hardens hearts
and enslaves minds.
I'll start. I hope reason prevails, but I think there is a god, which is to say I think there is more than our natural world. I agree that Religion can harden hearts and enslave minds, but I think it can also lead to deeper spiritual truth of interconnectedness. I do not think there are devils or angels or heaven or hell.

Another question, asked by an ad by the American Humanist Association, that would be good to answer is: "Why believe in a God? Just be good for goodness sake."

My next gig

In recent years, Chalice has featured dramatic presentations of the Isaiah scriptures found in the lectionary. A week from Sunday I will have the chance to perform the following:
The Year of the LORD's Favor

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.

. . .

8 "For I, the LORD, love justice;
I hate robbery and iniquity.
In my faithfulness I will reward them
and make an everlasting covenant with them.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations
and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
that they are a people the LORD has blessed."

10 I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise
spring up before all nations.
I always marvel at how versatile scripture is. It seems like this was written to express my current feeling of hopefulness for my country and my church. If I read it when I was feeling down about things, it would remind me not to despair because things will turn around; the basic goodness of the world will ultimately prevail.

I personally think this comes from the fact that scripture is a record of human experience. It is an honest retelling of the trials and tribulations of a people deeply devoted to understanding their world.

There are a couple of lines that will tempt me to turn into Samuel Jackson "reciting" Ezekiel 25:17, but I should be able to resist. [Warning: Link contains more violence than most scripture readings] By the way, the actual Ezekiel 25:17 is kind of close, but most of Jackson's speech is sort of a Twenty-third Psalm/Sermon on the Mount/General old testament inspired fusion that is corrupted by the pulp fiction mind of the author.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Add Richardson to the Mix

CNN is reporting that Bill Richardson will be nominated as commerce secretary. Here is something that seems clear to me, Obama is entering office with a united Democratic Party that has high profile people lining up to serve in his administration. There is excitement in the air. First from his powerful presence, then from the populism of his campaign organization, and now from this dream team cabinet he's is assembling. It is like a banquet table of hope prepared before the cynics.

Energy versus the Environment

I heard a story on the radio about Riverkeepers suing to compel Indian Point to upgrade its water intake facility to limit its impact on the Hudson River ecosystem. This is a very fact specific question. I think plants should be operated to have as little impact on the environment as practical, but of course, practical is in the eye of the beholder. I thought I'd take the opportunity to reiterate my pitch in favor of nuclear power.

Here is what the Riverkeepers have to say about Indian Point Nuclear Generating Station:
Due to the plant's vulnerability to terrorism, a laundry list of safety problems, the storage of 1500 tons of radioactive waste onsite, and the lack of a workable evacuation plan, Riverkeeper has been working toward the permanent shutdown of the Indian Point nuclear power plant. In fall 2006 Riverkeeper launched its Reenergize New York initiative to encourage state leaders to invest in clean replacement power and to encourage New Yorkers to use energy more wisely. In addition, Riverkeeper is working with elected officials and the community to prevent a 20-year license extension for the Indian Point 2 & 3, currently licensed until 2013 and 2015, respectively. Despite all the problems and public opposition to the plant, Entergy, the owner/operator, submitted its relicensing application to the NRC on April 30, 2007.
I think that nuclear plants are not vulnerable to terrorism. It has been my experience that their security forces are highly trained. The facility has numerous failsafes, for example, even if you could remove all electric power to an area of the plant, it can safely shut down with a variety of systems that have battery back ups. What about the safety of the spent fuel?

Riverkeepers report 1500 tons of radioactive waste onsite; first, one should note that the term radioactive waste includes a lot of material that is completely harmless, but is nonetheless potentially contaminated. However, there is spent fuel kept onsite, and that has to stay segregated from groundwater (just like heavy metals and waste material from chemical processes) They are moving it from a spent fuel storage tank to dry fuel storage. This is from a press release:
Once the fuel is secured and sealed inside the multi-purpose canister, it is placed inside a Hi-Storm cask. These robust casks are 20 feet high, 11 feet wide, with concrete walls that are two feet thick. When loaded with fuel, each cask weights approximately 360,000 pounds.

After this stage is complete, the dry cask project team will remove the cask from the Unit 2 spent fuel pool building. Using a heavy-haul transporter, a specially designed transporter with tank-like treads specifically designed to fit and move the 360,000-pound casks, the team will move the loaded cask to the Independent Spent Fuel Storage Installation pad just north of the plants inside the protected security area.

The ISFSI pad is approximately 100 feet wide by 200 feet long. Approximately 480 truckloads of concrete and 21 miles of rebar were used to form the two-and-one-half-foot thick concrete pad. Under the pad is a six foot thick bed of compressed engineered fill that provides a foundation that also acts as a shock absorber in the event of seismic activity. The casks will remain on the ISFSI pad until a national repository is made available.
Basically, nuclear plants have an infinitesimal impact on the environment when compared to other sources. These plants compactly produce 5100 MWe of power. A wind farm, assuming 5kW/acre cite would cover 1 million acres, or surrendering an area 50% larger than Rhode Island to energy generation!

That said, if you still think nuclear power is a pax on our great nation, here's a link to Riverkeepers. They are accepting donations.

Monday, December 01, 2008

What's a Christian Measure of Economic Health

There are many measures of economic health. For example, here is an article collecting four: Per Capita Income, Percent of population 50 percent below the poverty line, Federal Debt in dollars, Federal Debt as a Fraction of GDP.

A couple of more rough measures are unemployment: and GDP (I added the light red & light blue squares for Republican & Democratic regimes):So, first off, it is kind of like when you go back and look at Babe Ruth's stats, you realize that Babe Ruth really was the most dominant baseball player ever, period. Similarly, Bill Clinton presided over a remarkable period of economic growth that everyone shared in. Debt went down, those living in poverty went down, unemployment went down. Man.

Anyway, with which of these metrics should a Christian be concerned? Are they all equal. It does look like they trend together. Am I missing one?

Getting your X-mas wires crossed

Are you tired of secular Christmas decorations? Has all of the Happy-Holidays-This and X-mas-That got you down? Are you worried that we just may have elected a Muslim president? Well, we at the American Family Association have just the thing for you. What better way to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ then a Cross of Fire? Set you neighborhood ablaze with this brilliant reminder of what made this country great.

The text is a parody, but the Ornamental Cross of Fire is for sale here.

Traditional Values from Hollywood

This weekend we went to see Four Christmases. First off, as a movie I think it totally delivers. I enjoy Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon, I also like Starbucks and McDonalds. They served hot buttered popcorn at the theater and it was generally very pleasant. Exactly what I wanted.

Of course, the point of the movie is that we really all need to get married, childless relationships based solely on having fun are completely empty. How many movies are like that? Hundreds, right? I know a number of couples who just do not want to have children. I know a number more who haven't decided one way or another, but aren't sure. I know a few other people who are just happy being single, and don't need to be permanently attached to another adult. I wonder if those folks would find this little inoffensive romp from Vince & Reese so inoffensive.

I am very happily married. I love my children and my church. I suspect, although I can't be sure, that such a traditional set up is so traditional because it works well for many people. But whether it is generally best to live the life of JimII it certainly is not always best to live that life.

It relates to marriage equality in that I feel confident that I am unqualified to tell any specific person what his or her path to happiness is.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is It Weak to Ask Why?

As I watch the reports about the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, I wondered first why we should treat this as anything other than a mass murder. I know we are not allowed to speak such questions, but why isn't this about an ultra violent organized crime syndicate? If it is because these attacks receive broader support than organized crime, then I would like to know why that is.

I think our law enforcement and intelligence agencies across the world can track down the organization that sponsored these acts of terror, while at the same time we can ask what is the motivation to lead people to given their lives to kill people like us.

This gets back to the Reverend Wright sermon. Without saying that the victims deserved it, what we have done to encourage this response.

Friday, November 28, 2008

New Logo

Matt said my old logo for Chalice Christian Justice Ministries looked like Communist Propoganda and/or skin head art. What do folks think of my modification? The old version is first. [Updated to address Liam's suggestion]

The (Parable?) of the Sheeps and Goats

Unlike the first two that indicate explicitly that they are parables, this one only strongly implies it. I don't really have any doubt as to whether this is presented as a parable, it is just something like pointing out that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish, the Pinocchio was swallowed by a whale.

Here's the story. Jesus returns in all his glory and separates everyone into two groups. The good group gets eternal life. They ask, "Who us? What did we do to deserve such an honor?" Jesus says they helped him when he needed it. They don't remember ever helping Jesus and he renders another famous line, "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me." [That is based on another standard from JimII's VBS background, but I can't seem to find it on YouTube.]

That's the sweetness and light bit, then Jesus turns to those on his left:
Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'
They similarly claim never having ignored Jesus, but he points out "I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

No the requirement is crystal clear, even down to a list. And the punishment is equally clear. If you don't help the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, you will go to hell. And in case you missed it, it is the one prepared for the devil--that hell.

It's been my experience that selfish people suffer. Those who hate the poor, the stranger--they suffer. They live sad lives. And like I said before, wasting your one and only life in the misery brought on by selfish, compassionless words and deeds, that's pretty much hell.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mine is definitely a cup runneth over life. I have had the blessing of a loving supportive family from my childhood to present day. Likewise, professionally I've enjoyed a variety of interesting and challenging experiences. It reminds me of when I asked three-year-old James what his favorite toy was. He said "Um, I don't know either my dinosaurs or my star wars." So, basically he had so many toys that he had to answer the question with two categories of toys. That's kind of how my life is.

I also wanted to post a happy, happy feel good message about how much better things are getting with families in America. I wanted to show the dramatically falling divorce rate since the '70s. Well, here's the graph:

So, you can see that the divorce rate, measured in divorces per 1000 people in the country, has indeed been dropping. Hurray. Saddly, the source also show marriages per 1000 people, and that rate has also been dropping. More quickly than the rate of divorces. Therefore, the reduction in the divorce rate may be entirely the result of the drop in marriages. Raw data here.

I didn't look into rates for different socio-economic groups. It's Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Parable of the Talents

The next parable is that of three servants. The story is that the Master leaves three servant in charge of huge sums of money, 10, 5 and 1 talent each. The first two invest the money, while the third hides it. When the Master returns, the first two are welcomed into his family, having doubled the amount with which he trusted them. But the last can only return what he has been given. These are the concluding lines of the story:
His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

'Take the talent from him and give it to the one who has the ten talents. For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
Compare the punishment, the last parable, the foolish virgins are left outside the banquet, evidently in darkness because they needed lamps. Here the darkness has "weeping and gnashing of teeth," and the servant was thrown there. Seems to be a stronger warning.

Also, the misbehavior was more specific. From the first story, I can't really tell what "being ready" means. I took it to mean living well. But here, the misbehavior is about failing to act, failing to be productive, probably in the larger world. The foolish lazy servant might have thought he was "being ready" by keeping his master's fortune well hidden. This says, you have to do something.

Is there a penalty for not sharing the gifts God has given you? Even if you don't believe in God you understand the expression. I think you will live a happier life if you share your gifts with the world. And the consequences of failing to act, are serious business. You only get one life, if you fail to live it well, if you find you've wasted it, is that a more or less harsh punishment than being thrown in the outer darkness?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

JimII Wins

Best comment at BeliefNet. Gosh I'm so witty. Take a look here.


So, here is the headline that caught my attention, "Hate Crimes, Racist Incidents Escalate After Obama’s Election" The article is here. I started thinking, "Man, I wish people would be more careful with this stuff." I thought that because I seriously doubt whether anyone knows if hate crimes are on the rise. Sure, people have some compelling stories, but are they really on the rise, or are they just being showcased? It will be months until an credible method of monitoring such things will be available.

Then, I started reading the comments and the first person to post complained about the lack of outrage about the Prop 8 protesters attacking the Mormons. "What," I thought, "is the matter with people? It took like 10 seconds on google to find people in the GLBT community calling for an end to this. Lots of people object to this behavior"

Then I looked a little further down, and people were justifying the violence against Mormons because "they are not Christians." Uh, they are Christians, and since when is it okay for Christians to attack non-Christians.

Are you kidding me!

So, I think the deal here is that most people are decent, not crazy people. Looking at stuff on the web can be like watching local news that reports a fire everyday, even if it's a fire from another state. I may need to stop reading comments on popular blogs.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Parable of the Virgins

The first parable from Matthew 25 is found in versus 1 through 13. A little Protestant cultural note, this is the bit that inspired Give Me Oil In My Lamp, a vacation bible school staple from my childhood.

Here's the story, there are 10 bridesmaids, or virgins depending on your translation, waiting for the bridegroom. But, the bridegroom arrives late, "[t]hen all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' The wise ones tell them no, and while the foolish ones are in town getting oil the doors to the marriage banquet are locked and they are left out.

First, no question about what this story is about. Jesus didn't come back right away. There was concern about people losing the faith. And this story is a warning about such conduct. You should stay true, because you do not know the day or the hour on which Jesus will return.

Let's separate the advice from the motivation. The time to live well is now, don't wait. No matter how things look right now, you should do what is right. I think that is good advice. Maybe the event is not the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, but is the death of a loved one, it is an economic down turn, it is a chance to help someone in need, whatever.

Of course, this is hardly a unique teaching. What do you think, is it too much of a stretch to read this for anything other than its apocalyptic meaning?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Apocalypse again

A while ago I sort reviewed the book of Revelation, which tells an apocalyptic story. I reflected on the book and just could not find much in it for me. It seemed to me that the story belonged to an oppressed people celebrating their eventual victory over their oppressors. Not only am I not oppressed, the theme of vengeance was too distracting for me to get past it.

For the last three weeks we've read apocalyptic scriptures attributed to Jesus in the book of Matthew. Now, folks at the Jesus Seminar generally do not attribute these words to Jesus. See Robert Miller, Jesus Seminar & Its Critics at footnote 14. In Jesus, Marcus Borg challenges passages that put words of the Second Coming in Jesus' mouth by noting that the disciples seemed to have trouble understanding the present mission of Jesus, even if there was to be a Second Coming, it seems strange that Jesus would think his disciples could understand it.

All that said, I do find something valuable in the stories from Matthew 25, and I'm going to examine them this week.

A final note, the Matthew 25 network is a group of progressive Christians "inspired by the Gospel mandate to put our faith into action to care for our neighbor, especially the most vulnerable." As I've mentioned before, this group and lots of other progressive Christians who read Matthew 25, focus on Christ's call to help those in need, I'm going to be focusing on what the passage says happens to you if you don't.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I've often heard people ask whether being gay is a choice. See e.g., Bill Richardson's response to Melissa Ethrige's question. (Warning, it makes one cringe worse than any episode of the Office but here is the link.) I think it is a weird way to put things. For example, did I choose to like big band music more than classical music? Did I choose to like chocolate? If choose means to consciously, willingly pick between alternatives, then the answer is no.

The other alternative presented is "being born that way." But, the opposite of a characteristic with which you were born, is not a characteristic you choose. It is a characteristic affected by your environment. Nature versus nurture. I am sure that is what the serious thinkers are looking into when doing research or writing white papers. But I think rephrasing the question "is it a choice" would allow for a more honest every day discussion.

Religion or Faith

Faith and religion are very related. But for the organized theology, the tradition and practices, the reverred texts, I would almost certainly not have the beliefs that make up my faith today. As I put it once before, "One can find truth without adherence to a religion. Particularly in matters such as learning kindness and empathy, as well as behavioral derivatives. However, I believe achieving a greater understanding of our world alone, without reference to great leaders in this area would be as difficult as deriving Newton's laws of motion without Newton."Statement of Faith

Similarly, without faith, without the love and hope and passion that adherents bring to a religion, religion becomes an empty set of rules and rituals. It becomes the thing you study in a comparative religions class.

It has been my experience that people are usually pretty willing to throw religion under the bus if it allows them to feel okay about faith. I know some people who describe themselves as spiritual but not religious.

Here's my question: Are Religulous and Sam Harris and others questioning the value of religion or faith?

(*BTW, I've changed my own mind three times while typing this post, so I it is a serious question for me.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Next Meta Question

If we want to consider whether religion is good or evil, if it should be encouraged or opposed, how important is it to examine the effect religion has had to date?

Obviously past performance is not necessarily predictive of future behavior. But, it is strong evidence, no? Perhaps we could stop short of abolishing organized religion by studying it impact on history to determine where it has gone wrong.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Outrage & Justice

A friend who is Mormon was expressing concern about the lack of voices decrying the vandalism and intimindation being directed against the LDS church in response to California's rejection of Prop. 8. I was pleased to find a condemnation (which may be late in coming, I don't know) in the first article I found on the topic.
While claiming it was incorrect to assume the suspicious powder came from gay protesters, the Utah Pride Center, an advocacy group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, decride all vandalism aimed at the LDS Church in a written statement released Friday. "The Utah Pride Center is deeply troubled by the recent vandalism of LDS churches and the suspicious mailing to the LDS Temple," the statement read. "These actions are deplorable and make our entire community fear for our safety." . . . Equality Utah, [a] political advocacy group working for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has released a statement urging civil and peaceful expressionas and conduct. "There is no room for violence, vandalism or indimidation--Equality Utah objects to these acts," the organization's statement said.
Full story. If you follow the link you will get the details on the attacks the Mormon Church has had to endure.

This Slate article is in line with what my Mormon friends report about the Church's policy, which is more accepting that many fundamentalist churches. They condemn homosexual acts, but do not see homosexuality as a choice and would accept someone who was openly gay but chose celebacy as a response to his or her feelings.

Now, I would find it unimaginably horrible if someone said it was fine that I was attracted to women but a sin if I acted on it. I think the LDS community is wrong and it causes serious harm to its members who are gay. My point is only that the church's position is less hateful than many churches, and it is unfortunate that it is bearing so much of the outrage over the injustice that is Prop 8, Prop 102, etc. [UPDATE: I think the "only" is misplaced. The lack of hatefulness is a significant difference.]

Oh yeah, and just for kicks here's something that purports to be historic. Link.

Friday, November 14, 2008

What's the Analogy for Marriage Equality?

Analogies are of limited usefulness when trying to change someones mind. If I say, "It's just like interracial marriage . . ." or someone else says, "It's just like adult incest . . .", you pretty much know where we stand. So the analogy ends up being little more than stating your opinion.

I think analogies are more helpful when we are trying to analyze our own thoughts. So, consider the following list of potential or actual changes to marriage laws:

* Allowing fourteen year-olds to marry with parental consent
* Allowing a white person to marry a black person
* Allowing an adult man to marry his adult sister
* Allowing people to divorce without stating a cause
* Allowing an adult man to marry two adult women
* Recognizing a year of continuous cohabitation as a marriage

Why are each of these like or unlike allowing an adult man to marry another adult man, or an adult woman to marry another adult woman? Does this give you insight into your position on recognizing the marriages of gays and lesbians?

Meta Question

In the course of discussing Marriage Equality here, we have entered into what I see as a two-headed discussion of the Church's role in society in general. I think the two heads of the discussion are has Christianity been a net good in society and can Christianity be a net good in society. Notice the issue is net good. It would be impossible to argue that Christianity, or any organized religion, has not been a force for good and evil in society. Indeed, I would suggest a significant force for good and evil at times.

My meta question is this: Is it possible to evaluate the effect of a society's predominate religion independent of other cultural elements of a society?

Addressing the historical question, Atrios put it this way, asking about religion's effect on history is like asking about the effect of weather on history.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Third of Three Navy/Submarine Posts

CNN reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the Navy to continue training with SONAR despite the fact that the impact on whales has not been studied. I remember this coming up around 1995-96 while I was on board Billfish. The Assistant Weapons Office was completing an audit that had a question: "What if anything has the ship done to minimize the impact of SONAR on marine mammals?" The officer, who graduated from Berkeley and who I was relieving as tokin liberal on baord, thought it was a pretty funny question. We determined that we were doing nothing. Perhaps things have changed.

I do believe the folks that say practicing using SONAR can seriously harm marine mammals. For example, it can kill divers that are in the water and for that reason the Navy has special safety tags it hangs on SONAR equipment when divers are working on the ship.

I also believe practicing active SONAR is essential. It is a skill that the US did not have to rely on during the cold war because loud Russian submarines allowed us to use passive SONAR. Furthermore, when engaging diesel submarines running on the battery, active SONAR is an important tool, and our current enemies, e.g. Iran, have diesels.

So, I'm torn.

Finally, I find it frustrating that the Bush Administration has not performed the necessary studies and provided the public and the courts with a realistic picture of the potential impact on marine mammals. Then people other than the Bush administration could actually weigh the risks and gains and develop a position. But President Bush's absolute disregard for American Democracy is one of the many reasons he is a terrible president. I hope that President Obama realizes he is not a king and restores the rule of law in the United States.

Second of Three Navy/Submarine Posts

CNN reports that the accident on board the Russian nuclear submarine was cause by an error by one of the crew members. I just have a couple of thoughts about this. First, the accident was entirely not nuclear. The submarine is powered by a nuclear reactor, which boils the water to turn the turbine, but the accident had to do with a fire safety system going off. Of course, non-nuclear accidents can result in nuclear reactors being left at the bottom of the ocean, which is not good. See e.g. Kurst, Scorpion, and Thresher. Nonetheless, it doesn't show one way or another about the safety of nuclear reactors. Although, it is shocking to me that 17 people could be killed during what appears to be an underway test of a fire supression system. So, may say something about Russians and their attitude toward industrial safety.

First of Three Navy/Submarine Posts

I have not yet had a chance to write a Veterans' Day post, so I thought I would start there. I happily served in the U.S. Navy for five years. I was a submarine officer and learned much about the technical workings of everything from sonar to reactors to periscopes. I've commented that between reactor chemistry, sound velocity profiles, and trimming the ship while submerged the amount of information that has passed through my heard regarding water is breathtaking.

I also learned about leadership and observed the personal interactions while in the peculiar environment of 150+ men, all between 18 & 40, confined to a structure that measures about 300 feet long. Which brings me to what I really want to write about: Openly gay people should be allowed to serve in the military.

First, it is an honor and a privilege to do so. It has been a great advantage to me, not only on my resume but in giving me confidence in the face of unfamiliar challenges.

Second, while on Billfish, there were two men who the crew believed were gay. One of them was, and one of them may not have been gay, but in any case, everyone thought he was. It did not rip the crew apart. It did not prevent unit cohesion. Even in a place where your privacy was zero. (During my last month on board I went to use the shower just as another officer was coming out, and another was using the stall in the same small room. I commented, "Someday I will have no idea what my coworkers look like naked.")

So it is a great opportunity, it is wrong to deny it to people because of their sexual orientation, and it can be fixed without harming our military readiness. Here's what the out going Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Shalikashvili said two years ago:
I now believe that if gay men and lesbians served openly in the United States military, they would not undermine the efficacy of the armed forces. Our military has been stretched thin by our deployments in the Middle East, and we must welcome the service of any American who is willing and able to do the job.
Amen brother.

Full article here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Where Christianity is Lagging

In the comments of a recent post Matt provided the following from Michael Schermer:
Mark my words. Here is what is going to happen. Within a decade, maybe two, Christians will come around to treating gays no differently than they now treat members of other groups whom they previously persecuted — women, Jews, blacks — but not because of some new interpretation of a biblical passage, or because of a new revelation from God. These changes will come about the same way that they always do: by the oppressed minority fighting for the right to be treated equally, and by a few enlightened members of the oppressing majority supporting their cause.

Then what will happen is that Christians will take credit for the civil liberation of gays, dig through the historical record and find a few Christian preachers or bloggers who had the courage and the character to stand up for Gay rights when their fellow Christians would not, and then cite those as evidence that were it not for Christianity, gays would not be equal.
Although not a perfect analogy, this passage reminds me a bit of the conversation I had with a young man who had recently come out. He told me that all Christians hate gays. I said, "Well, I'm a Christian," he interrupted to say that he knew I was because he heard me going on about it all the time. I continued, "and I don't hate gays." His response was that I was not really a Christian, then.

First off, this is an attack on Christianity. It is a preemptive strike against a future more tolerant Christian church to make sure Christians don't get off the hook for the evil they have caused.

And, I feel compelled to point out that the exact reasoning provided by Schermer--Western Culture, not the Church will solve the problem of mistreating gays--can be used to let the church off the hook--Western Culture, not the Church is responsible for mistreating gays. Religion and Culture until very recently were inextricably intertwined.

More importantly though, Schermer and the angry young man have reason to be pissed off at the Christian Church. We have been slow to take a leadership role in the great moral ills facing our society. The Church needs to correct this: even if it doesn't get to take credit.

In the past, the Church has done well in advocating for the impoverished. In the United States the Civil Rights movement was a church movement. However, two glaring examples of movements, of what Judge Posner calls moral entrepeneurship, are afoot: Gay Rights; Environmentalism. While my little church and much bigger churches all across the country are coming on board, we need to do more. As Kanye says, "Better, Faster, Stronger."

Friday, November 07, 2008


from here. Jobs and wages are the economic indicators that I care about. I think that particularly in the service industry/technology consumption economy we live in, jobs and wages being strong is essential to the overall health of our economy. I also think that our economic system tends to encourage rewarding a few at the cost of the many, and that in addition to hurting the economy as a whole (including the few that have benefited) that it is wrong. So, I think that when we act collectively through the government we should work to support job creation and support higher wages.

Do that sound leftist?

Thursday, November 06, 2008

First Meeting of CCJM

We had our first meeting of Chalice Christian Justice Ministry. It was a free form discussion of injustice in our world and possibly ways to address injustice. In the months to come we will focus of what area or areas we can address and what method or methods we can employ. The following observation from one member is worth sharing. On Tuesday, the residents of California approved Prop 8 and Prop 2. Prop 8 outlawed gay marriage. Prop 2 required better treatment for animals that were in the food supply. Put another way, the people of Californians reduced the rights of people while expanding the rights of chickens.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Dad & Grandma

CNN has projected that Barack Obama will carry the state of Indiana. My grandmother was a precinct committee person who used to send my dad to take Democrats to the polls. I really wish they could have seen this day.

A message from God!

God asks you to stand up and plead your case, to let the world hear what you have to say. Indeed, God has made a case against you; God is lodging a charge against Chalice Christian Church, saying, "My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you? Answer me. You no longer wander from one rented space to another; you have land and a building to call your own. My people, remember your journey, and the righteous acts of God."

You may ask, “What should I give to God: my tithes, my time, my talents? Will God be pleased with thousands of dollars or thousands of hours? Do I need to neglect my family and friends and personal time to atone for my past apathy?”

The truth is, God has shown you what is good. And what does God require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Chalice Justice Ministries will meet for the first time tonight at 7:00 p.m. at Chalice Christian Church, 15303 South Gilbert Road, Gilbert, AZ 85296 (480.227.1442) chaliceoffice@gmail.com.

Monday, November 03, 2008


Then the LORD said to Moses, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it." This is the scripture that I thought of when I learned that Obama's grandmother died. I saw Obama speaking tonight, and this is about the third time in three nights I've seen his stump speech, and there was anguish in his eyes. How bitter sweet a moment in the life of one human being. It is hard to wrap my head around it. I wonder how often she told him he could be anything.

Economics of Progressive Tax Rates

A significant money cycle in our economy is employers paying employees who become consumers. Consumers buy things from service providers who become employers. So, you have this question we've examined before about whether it makes sense to make sure the employers have money to spend, which will in turn lead to expansion and therefore more employees to become consumers OR to make sure consumers have more money to spend, which will in turn lead to more buying and therefore more money for service providers.

It makes sense to me that the latter is the best way to go because consumers will spend money more quickly and drive demand, which is necessary before a business can expand. In other words, you can give my wife more money through tax breaks, but she can't hire new teachers until there are more students who can afford to attend her school.

I believe this makes a lot of sense, but I also believe it is borne out by history. Consider the following chart that provides the maximum income tax rate in the United States.

So you can see that we have basically lowered the top tax rate from over 90% during Roosevelt to something like 37.5% under W. Bush. Now, let’s take a look at job creation. You will see a pretty dramatic trend if you consider party affiliation.

The final chart is my creation. It is pretty rough, but I think it fairly captures the change in tax rates associated with each President and the job creation during the same period.
So, Roosevelt and Clinton both significantly increased the top tax bracket—made the tax structure more progressive—and saw large job creation. (In fact, if you look at the detailed chart, you’ll see Johnson did the same thing and he also had good job creation.) Reagan and Bush reduced the top tax bracket--made the structure more flat--and saw much lower job creation than, in Reagan’s case on either side of his presidency and in Bush’s case than before his presidency. Reagan and Bush also saw a dramatic explosion of the deficit.

It’s from 10,000 feet for sure, but this evidence seems to support my notion that a more progressive tax policy is a better economic policy. Particularly with the top brackets being so low when compared to our history or to other countries.


Bad People

I'll be a roving troubleshooter for the Arizona Democratic Party tomorrow. I'll be making sure that people can vote. For the most part, I'll be headed to areas where there is confusion about the rules. I don't expect Republicans out challenging brown skinned people, or brandishing firing arms to indimidate people from voting.

But then there is this.

Opposing Equal Marriage Rights (Part III)

In Part II I tried to address those who would shrug their shoulders and say, "Well, look, it's what the Bible says; I didn't come up with it." But, Part II doesn't end the discussion. Paul says you shouldn't be greedy. He says you shouldn't be sexually perverse. He says you shouldn't be swindlers. I agree with all of these, and in fact, they provide good advice for our times. My point is, that Part II doesn't "prove" that you should blow off what Paul said, but it should help people understand that just because some folks who don't like gay people found a verse or two opposing gay sex, the job of the Christian seeking to understand whether gay relationships are valuable before the eyes of God is not done. There is more searching to be done.

So, what to do with two people of the same gender who are romantic in love with each other? If tradition is most important, if the old ways is most important, than we should not recognize their love. Their love is different than what we are used to and it is contrary to the Hebrew law and Paul's instruction. On the other hand, if love is what is important, if that love has some how replaced adherence to tradition, then we should recognize their love.

Look at what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount about some related topics:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

"It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
It seems to me that these scriptures suggest a move away from legalism toward a deeper understanding of fidelity. I've suggested before that a major theme of the Sermon on the Mount is this shift.

Of course, most important for me is not my study of scripture on this topic. The fact is, I know several couples in which both people are men or both people are women. It is simply inconcievable that these relationship are lesser than those in which one person is a man and one is a woman. Just as with any question of faith, it is my experience that has the most powerful impact on what I believe.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Opposing Equal Marriage Rights (Part II)

What does the Bible says about gay marriage? The Bible says absolutely nothing about gay marriage, just as it says nothing about first trimester abortions, or stem cell research. The Bible does talk about men having sex with men and women having sex with women. Here is what it says:

Paul to the Corinthians, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 1 Cor. 6:9-10.

The Torah: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." Lev. 18:22.

The Torah: "If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads." Lev. 20:13.

The Torah: "There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel." Deut. 23:17. (I had to use the KJV here because sodomites is translated as prostitute in the NIV.)

Then there is this strange little story in Genesis wherein Lot offers his daughters to a mob of men who have come to rape the two male angels that are visiting Lot, just before God destroys Sodom. Then Lot leaves the town, his daughters get him drunk, and they all have sex in order to keep the race of alive. They become the Ammonites.

So, I don't know what you get out of the story of Lot. The rule seems to be that it is wrong for a mob to rape angels, even more wrong than allowing a mob to rape your daughters. Seems to not really inform the gay marriage discussion.

Then we have the three excerpts from the Torah. First, the Torah say you have to kill them. Does anybody think you should kill gay people? 'Cuz that's what the Bible says. The other thing is that we don't still hold slaves, which is okay by the Torah. We don't keep Kosher. We don't execute people who talk back to their parents.

Now, we're left with Paul. Paul lists homosexuality with many other immoral activities. Paul definitely is suseptible to the same treatment as the Torah. Paul says woman shouldn't speak in church. He says that you shouldn't get married because the second coming is right around the corner.

The Biblical case for accepting slavery and pluralistic marriages is much stronger than the case against homosexuality. In short, I think it is clear that Christians need to explore their own hearts to find what they believe on this issue.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Opposing Equal Marriage Rights (Part I)

I'm not sure how many measures that restrict equal treatment of gay couples will be voted on this year. Proposition 8 in California and Proposition 102 in Arizona are two of them. They ask voters to limit the right to marry to straight couples. Here is the full text of each:
Prop. 8: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. link.
Prop. 102: Only a union of one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as marriage in this state. link.

I think these amendments violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. Jim can marry Julie, but Jane cannot. The only reason Jane cannot is that Jane is a woman. Thus, these laws discriminate based solely on gender. Gender is a protected class.

That said, I think it would be much better to win these initiative fights, and to win them by convincing the population at large that it is the right thing to do. Basically, I think justice minded Christians need to first show others that the Bible does not mandate unequal treatment of gays. Then we must show others that the central message of Jesus Christ demands equal treatment of all of God's people.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Moment of Zen

So, I was reading this story about the discovery of a 3000 year-old shard that contains Hebrew text. I called this a moment of zen because I don't have a fully developed thought, but just wanted to ponder how many years 3000 years is. Think about how hard it is to understand the context of words written on a shard. Think about two thousand year old texts from the Dead Sea scrolls.

Anyway, there you are. Food for thought.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


WARNING: This post contains material not suitable for human consumptions. This a web video produced to support Elizabeth Dole's bid for re-election. [The ad has been taken down from Youtube.] Dole ties Hagan to the Godless America PAC as follows: one of several sponsors of a fundraiser for Hagan, served on the board for the Godless America PAC. It is the exact trick of guilt by super attenuated association used by Republicans attacking Obama. It makes me sick to my stomach, but if you'd like to see it, here is the ad.

Here is what Hagan had to say about this crap. Oh yeah, and she's suing Dole for libel and defamation. [CBS story here.] From, Willy Horton, Swift Boat Veterans, A triple amputee is Osama bin Ladin, to Obama's a Terrorist, this is a Republican problem. All politicians are not the same when it comes to smear pieces. The current Rovian incarnation of the Republican Party will say literally anything to get elected. There are completely immoral, unchecked thugs. It is time for Republicans to start saying this is enough. This is wrong. And it is time for the liars and hate mongers to start paying damages.


Jim III is on the far left next to the kid holding up the trophy. Last weekend his team, the Mesa Prep. Monsoons, dominated Glendale Prep. to win the Great Hearts Academy Championship.

Clarification Re: Literalism

I'm not sure what made me think of this, but it occurs to me that talking with folks who believe "every word of the Bible is literally true" I generally fail to clarify something. I think these people view my position as being now that we know so much about science and evidence we no longer believe the Bible. That is, it is a recent discovery that the world was not created in seven days. That is not what I believe. Rather, I believe that when the stories were recorded the stories weren't intended to be scientific. I believe that the authors of the two Nativities were not trying to give us the facts of Jesus' origin; the authors were trying to tell us something about Jesus' ministry.

In other words, I don't think the authors of the Bible were wrong; I just think literalists are wrong. Hmm, maybe I need to work on a more diplomatic phrasing.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Q&A Update

In a response to the original post Linda wrote, "It's hard for the atheist or one with a latent belief in God to find a group of people who are interested in them -- in knowing why they affirm their atheism or why they have moved away from organized religion." This reminded me of a major benefit of being a member of Chalice--you have people who care about you.

I have a loving family. I am still very close to my friends from college. For that matter, there are many people I work with and know from law school who care about me and are interested in me. So, my embarrassment of riches causes me to over look this benefit because to be honest it isn't something I look for from my church. But it is always there. And when my father passed away recently, the compassion from the people at Chalice was marvelous and palpable. It was a time when I was so in need of love, that I could feel it from all of the sources I mentioned above, including the folks at Chalice.

Having a group of people who care about you, who are interested in you, is probably not an uncommon benefit of belonging to a Church, but as Linda points out, having a group that is so accepting may be more so.

Q & A

QUESTION: What do you think someone might get out of attending your church? Do you see it as a case where someone who has some light or latent belief in God might be moved to rejoin a congregation? Or do you think an atheist might be converted? Or not converted but moved in some way to attend your church? And if it's the latter, what would an atheist who remains an atheist get out of your church?

ANSWER: I think someone attending my church, no matter what their theology is, would get an opportunity to serve their community in various ways. For example, Kate put together a group of people that knits shawls for children at Phoenix Children's Hospital, once a month we feed homeless people, we have resettled refugee families, we occasionally have trips to fill water tanks to save those crossing the desert who would otherwise die, and of course, we have many opportunities for directed contributions wherein virtually 100% of the donation reaches the needy.

Any of these things are available elsewhere, I suppose. But this is all in one place. It is very accessible. There are a variety of opportunities. Oh yeah, and if you have a new idea--go for it. A woman in our church recently started collecting sample bags that you get when you buy make-up. She takes them to women's shelters a couple of times a year. It helps the women if they need to go on a job interview, and at Christmas it is nice for the women, as well as the children, to get a little gift.

I think someone attending my church, no matter what their theology is, could develop their inner self. For example, one of the advantages of intercessory prayer that we came across when investigating it earlier was developing our sense of empathy. Likewise, our service offers individuals a chance to quietly reflect on the week. Sermons often focus on how to be better people, rather than on abstract theological ideas. Obviously, you can be quiet by yourself; you can discuss how to be a better person with your friends and loved ones. However, like going to Weight Watchers, or AA, or a college class on literature there are real benefits to exploring these topics intentionally.

I think the first two categories would be every bit as valuable to a committed atheist as to anyone. However, someone who has some light or latent belief in God could develop their beliefs about God & faith. Our slogan is "where questions are as important as answers." That attitude of encouraging questioning is in every level of faith development classes. So, for the little kids in my classes I ask questions like, "What do you think, is Jacob a good guy or a bad guy?" Then poll the kids and get different answers and ask them why they think that. For the junior high and high school students we do a great job of encouraging conversation about how faith affects their lives (but frankly I think many churches do a good job of this). The big difference is that in our adult Sunday school classes conversations have included exploration of bodily resurrection (with a number of folks being on both sides of the issue); does God evolve and change over time; defining sacred; etc. Big, challenging questions. People often remark at how great it is to be able to openly question things.

Now, I think many atheist would find this conversations riveting. But for those who feel like they believe in something spiritual but have rejected organized religion as having answers for them, would be surprised by the breadth of inquiry that goes on at Chalice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Regional Assembly: Church on the Margins

Over the weekend, Rev. Carlos Cardoza-Orlandi delivered a message titled "Church on the Margins." The message focused on Peter's famous dream to "kill and eat," a wonderful passage that is the basis for Christianity not being confined to a particular ethnic group, available here. Rev. Cardoza-Orlandi focused on the questions Peter asked. It reminded me of Chalice's slogan, "Where questions are as important as answers." Originally it was "Where questions are more important that answers." Hearing the message at assembly I think we should have stuck to that. In a world that changes as rapidly as ours, I suspect the most important thing for relevance, the most important thing for survival is to make sure you are asking the relevant questions.