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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
THE WINTER SOLSTICE
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.