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Friday, August 21, 2009

To Indy & Back (Day 1)

Jeff and I completed the first leg of our cross country road trip to scatter Dad's ashes last night. We arrived in Las Vegas just after 11:00 p.m. We played a little blackjack in the casino with my cousin Harry and his wife Kim. Harry is evidently a regular and was able to get us a room with his points, which was awesome because Jeff can't sleep in a house where a cat has been.

Today we have breakfast with my uncle Harry and will begin the process of scattering ashes. Driving cross-country with Dad is a strong memory for me. I am actually a little surprise not to feel more sentimental yet. But, I think that is where I am these days. There is not much rhyme or reason to when I am moved by his memory.

Okay, time to start Day 2.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I don't like idenity politics . . .

but that doesn't change with whom I identify. CNN reports that the Senate narrowly defeated a "measure would have required each of the 48 states that currently allow concealed firearms to honor permits issued in other states." I generally feel like states should recognize the licensing of other states. I also generally think people without felonies should be allowed to carry firearms where they choose. So, I'm also fine with what the story described as "an unexpected setback [for gun control advocates] in May, [when] gun rights advocates attached a measure allowing people to carry guns in national parks to credit card legislation. President Obama signed the package into law."

I think a lot of people in favor of gun control are in favor of it because they don't like people who want gun rights. I think that if someone thinks they need a gun for protection they should be allowed to have one unless there is evidence that that specific person cannot be trusted.

Of course, it shocks me that those who believe they government can't tell them where they can carry a firearm believe the government can tell a women when and how she can terminate her pregnancy. They can tell doctors what medicine to prescribe (not because it is or is not safe, but because the legislators don't like it).

I support the rights of gun nuts and dirty hippies. But when we trample the dirty hippies' rights, I have to admit is upsets me more.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Getting Back At It

We did something fun with today's scripture. I reminded me of when my Engineering Officer on the submarine taught me how to inspect a space. He said, "Walk into the space, think about where you are about to look, then turn around and look the other direction. So, if you go down a ladder to get into Engine Room Lower Level, look up on the way down for dirt. If the passage way goes off to the right, look left first. You'll find the things that aren't easy to find."
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

"Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits. These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."

They went out and preached that people should repent.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, "Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest."

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. "This is a remote place," they said, "and it's already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat."

But he answered, "You give them something to eat."
Mark 6:1-12, 30-37 It is fun to focus on the unemphasized portions of stories like these. Many of us know the story about Jesus be rejected at home and the story of John the Baptist being beheaded (which is in the middle) and the feeding of the Five Thousand. But looking at these unemphasized beats gives us a feel for the disciples. Looking for rest, perhaps jealous to tell all they had done, Jesus is still on with the feed my people bit. You can see why they were frustrated.

I haven't posted for a month because I went to camp and then off to a quiet place and then back to work and all this seemed to run together. I am ready to start writing again a bit, and I updated my blog. You will notice that I've changed my opportunity for impulse giving to an MDA page. Like a sucker I agreed to raise money for them through their raising bail page. I've also updated my book selection with McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy, which I got half way through while on vacation. (I need to start taking the train in some more.)

I'll post something on what I did on my summer vacation later.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Jesus Problem

What role does the historical Jesus play in our faith today? I have consisted resisted images of Jesus predicting an end to the world because Jesus of the Gospels does not. Of that I am quite confident, although I've changed my mind about many thing for which I was once confident.

However, it seems Paul's letters are a much more reliable source of what the historical Jesus thought, and Paul thought the world was coming to an end--e.g., no reason to get married because it is happening so soon. Perhaps the Gospels served as a rebuttal to Paul--who never saw Jesus in the flesh--but my understanding is that this is not the case.

Jesus wrote nothing down and neither did any of his closest followers. That is an undeniable fact. There is a phrase "the post Easter Jesus" that is usually employed by folks who claim that not just the ministry of Jesus, but the Spirit of Jesus continued on past his death. The problem with this understanding for me is differentiating between (1) the holy spirit (2) post Easter Jesus and (3) the eminent God with us. Sort of a Trinity without a Distinction.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Who First Thought Progress Was Possible?

The idea of progress—belief that the conditions of life can improve, and that history can in this sense get somewhere—originated in the West. Insofar as other peoples have come to this notion, they have acquired it from the West.

Striking as this fact is, it seems explicable. If we confine ourselves to the two other enduring civilizations—South Asian, centering in India, and East Asian, centering in China and its cultural offshoots—we find that there presiding outlooks were forged by people who were in power; in India these were the brahmins, and in China the literati. By contrast, the West’s outlook was decisively shaped in this matter by the Jews, who for most of their formative period were underdogs. Ruling classes may be satisfied with the status quo, but underdogs are not.
~Huston Smith.

This is really marvelous. First, I like it because it affirms and explains my faith that Western religion is about justice for the down trodden. (Smith writes a little later, perhaps gilding the lily a bit, "The prophetic protest against social injustice is universally conceded to be without close parallel in the ancient world.) Second, I love this because it provides an explanation for why Eastern religions are so much more focused on the internal self.

I do cringe a little from overlooking the religions that originated in--you know--the other four populated continents. That notwithstanding, this really struck me as an eye-opening passage.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Is The Kingdom of God Heaven?

Here is a bit from 2 Corinthians 5, which is this Sunday's scripture.
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. . . . Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
An eternal house in heaven. It sort of reminds me of Psalm 23:6, "Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever."

A generation or two later Mark and Matthew wrote about the Kingdom of God. Here is sort of a run on of quotes. First from Mark:
"The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!" 1:15; He told them, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables." 4:11; He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground . . . 4:26; 4:30 (like a mustard seed); And he said to them, "I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God come with power." 9:1.
Now Matthew:
"But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." 12:28; "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 19:24; Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him." 21:32; "Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit." 21:43;
There is some mention of entering the Kingdom of Heaven for sure. And, without quoting them I think there are ample passages suggesting that Jesus and his followers believed in an afterlife. But, does it sound like the Kingdom of God is describing Heaven or the afterlife?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Direct Observation

How much do we know about our world from direct observation? Consider a pretty basic law at work all around us all the time. Newton's first law of motion is that "a body at rest stays at rest, and a body in motion stays in motion, unless it is acted on by an external force." Doesn't this contradict what you have directly observe--that is, things in motion eventually come to rest.

At some point in high school you learned that when a body moves over any surface there is a force that action opposite to the direction of motion. That force, which we call friction, is different for different surfaces and proportional to the normal force against the surface. So the heavier the object, the higher the Force of Friction, but if you put the body on an incline, the Force of Friction decreases. By the way, while you are pushing on an object that doesn't move, the force of friction increases exactly to keep pace with the force you are putting on the body. (How does it know to do that?)

Anyway, friction is also why things in motion tend to come to rest; there is a force acting on them. Or so we've been told. Which is my point, do we directly observe Newton's first law, or is it a convention we learned? Do we, everyday folks, have any reason to feel any more certain about it than people from the Dark Ages had to feel certain that if you knocked on wood it would scare away the fairies that caused bad luck?

And this isn't even talking about carbon dating or evolution or red shift; it's about what really happens when we push a box across the floor.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Did Operation Rescue Murder Dr. Tiller?

Christian fanatics have a history of carrying out terrorist attacks in the United States. Here is a chart that catalogues the terrorist attacks between 1989 and 2004. They include murders and bombings. The Oklahoma City bombing was not related to the anti-choice element, but was a Christian fundamentalist attack on the United States.

The man in custody for murdering Dr. Tiller has connections with Operation Rescue, but we don't know how significant they are or who at Operation Rescue ordered the hit. Obviously, with the history of terrorism from the Christian fanatics it is a threat to our national security if there is a surge in violence.

Question: Should we use enhanced interrogation techniques on the man in custody for murdering Dr. Tiller until he names names at Operation Rescue? If we did, is there any question that he would eventually name names?

Of course, torture works, which is to say torture makes the victim tell you what you want to hear, so, of course he would name names. It wouldn't relate to whether Operation Rescue had anything to do with his crime, but he would give names.

Also, I wonder if it is unfair of me to lump all these attacks together like they are the same thing.

Also, I wonder if it is fair to paint all Christian fundamentalists with the same brush as the domestic terrorists.

Where else?

Where do secularists or non-practicing religious adherents go to focus on being better people?  Attending religious services gives members an opportunity, at least once a week, to focus on the question: How can I be better?

I think there is an answer to this question; it is not rhetorical. 

Friday, June 05, 2009

Question for the Year Revisited

The question I've been revisiting this year is this: "How does one change want one wants?" Previous thoughts can be tracked back by starting with this from March.

I have this beautiful set of books modestly titled The Great Books. I like to feel smart and refer to them from time to time. To that end, I looked into what Freud had to say on our topic. Although he not surprising crafts his discussion around sex, I though this idea was interesting. When evaluating our instincts, we must consider (1) the Source: what is the stimuli, internal or external that the instinct is trying to address; (2) the Aim: which is always to eliminate the stimuli; (3) the Object: the means by which we are trying to achieve the aim; and (4) the Impetus: the action taken to effectuate the object.

Perhaps it is helpful to breakdown our desires. Perhaps I think I desire X as an end in and of itself, but it is really the object of my instinct.
Example 1: Stimulus: low blood sugar (or whatever way lack of nutrients in your body manifests itself), Aim: remove stimulus, Object: cure by eating, Impetus: go get a cheeseburger.

Example 2: Stimulus: feeling sad, Aim: remove stimulus, Object: cure by eating, Impetus: go get a cheeseburger.
I know it is not revolutionary, but I thought there was value in having an analytical framework to address this stuff. Then I came across this research that says we suck at predicting what makes us happy (or sad for that matter). The piece that clued me in on this was "The futile pursuit of happiness" published at page 116 in the 2004 edition of The Best American Nonrequired Reading edited by one of my favorites, Dave Eggers. However,the same researcher is featured in this Time article that I can link to. The point is that we typically overestimate how unhappy/happy a single event will make us. So, in my example, you can see a feedback loop problem. If you are eating potato chips to eliminate your sadness, the chip is less helpful than you think it will be, thus leading to more chips. (By the way, I assume there are non-eating applications to the discussion, but I thought the concrete example would help, and is obviously the challenge I am dealing with.)

But of course all this is just stating the problem of why we might have unhelpful desires. It doesn't really address what to do about them.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Abortion Issues

When the issue of abortion comes up, we want to jump straight to the question of whether to criminalize abortions. We don't do this with other issues. For example, Bishops serve communion to politicians who vote to reduce welfare spending despite Jesus' clear and unambiguous teaching to help the poor. In the case of helping the poor, the Catholic Church is able to find more nuance suggesting that one can be faithful and oppose government aid for the poor.

Of course, not only do we accept a more nuanced understanding of the poverty issue than we do on abortion, but we base our extreme positions on abortion on very, very little in the way of Hebrew or Early Church tradition. True, there is a scripture praising God's love that says God made the psalmist in the womb (Psalm 139:13), but there is another scripture describing God's role in our lives that claims life begins with breath (Gen. 2:7). We play the translation game Exodus 21:22, which treats a certain crime as less than murder--translating "causing the baby to come out of her" as either miscarriage (pro-choice) or premature birth (pro-life). There are others, but with the exception of Exodus 21:22, which was in fact a part of the legal code, they are not really on point. It is disingenuous to take the Genesis scripture out of context to address the abortion issue and the same is true of most other scriptural citations on the issue.

What if we back away from the issue of criminalization for a minute and consider the necessary precursor to an abortion--an unwanted pregnancy? Does our faith give us any help there? I think our faith should counsel us against meaningless sex. That is not necessarily a precursor to an unwanted pregnancy but it can be. I'm open to hear a principled reason to take a stance on contraception. It seems to me that the poverty that results from over population and the destruction of the planet threatened by the same is a good reason to favor birth control.

Of course, one reason for unwanted pregnancies is people not being able to care for a new child. Helping the poor, being there for the family after the child is born, that is a no-brainer. And, I think adequately funding the public assistance that would allow someone to want to bring a child into the world is probably not a bad idea.

It is just a complex issue, it is a whole suite of complex issues.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Authority

For our high school and junior high youth group we watched Dead Poets Society on Sunday. We examined the film in terms of how we should respond to authority. Noting for example that Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) responded to authority by working from within the system. Some complied completely, some gave up, and the kid who had been meek throughout the film literally stood up to authority at the end and spoke truth to power.

What does Christianity have to say on the topic? The Last Week as recounted by Mark is all about questioning authority, even if it means you are killed by those authorities. And those authorities were not just the Romans, they were the church establishment. On the other hand, you have the lesson of the prophets that when you deviate from God's law you will be punished. And, of course, our friend the Apostle Paul gives us this dandy:
Submission to the Authorities
1Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. 6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.
Rom. 13:1-7. And of course there were Christian abolitionists and Christians behind the Red Scare. How do you see the church: calling you to challenge authority or to submit to it?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Against the Anti-anti-racism crowd.

Hardship Matters

A man stands up at a Weight Watchers' meeting and says, "I used to weigh 350 pounds, but today I made my goal weight."
A man says, "My parents couldn't pay for my college, so I worked in a kitchen for room and board, and joined the Navy to pay for my tuition."
A man says, "Addiction runs in my family, so I have very specific strategies to avoid becoming hooked on alcohol and nicotine."


Should someone who got in shape by losing 8 pounds, or someone whose parents paid for his or her college, or someone who has never had the slightest inclination to abuse alcohol or tobacco be offended by these things? Is the man wrong to take some pride in these things? Wouldn't overcoming these hardships give the man experiences that would transfer to other walks of life than losing weight, washing dishes or being sober?

Perspective Matters

When interviewing for my Arizona Supreme Court clerkship, I told Justice McGregor that something I brought to the table that students with higher GPA's or from more prestigious schools didn't may not is a better understanding of the people affected by cases before the court. I don't know how important that was in her decision to hire me, but I think it was certainly the best thing I had to offer the position. So much of the law turns on what is reasonable and on balancing tests. It is naive to the point of absurd to suggest that a judge just compares facts to laws like a photo-radar camera set to take your picture at 11 mph over the speedlimit.

Being a Latina Matters

I think a portion of the anti-anti-racist problem comes from White men who don't understand that it is a hardship to not be a White man. Having experienced a handful of incidents where they are mistreated for their race & gender they believe they are approaching parody with those who are looked down upon almost every day of their lives.

If you are a middle-aged White Guy (MAWG), I urge you to take just a moment the next time you're in a store or an office or a courtroom and look at how the non-MAWGs are treated. There is hardship associated with being a Latina.

There is also a diversity of experience. What the reasonable MAWG would do, may not be what the reasonable Latina would do. A Latina might weigh the mitigation of being born with fetal alcohol syndrome against the aggravation of committing a murder while committing another felony differently than a MAWG.

Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrinch are wrong. Sotomayor's pride in her background and belief that as a result of that background she brings something valuable to the court does not mean she is racist.

Is it racist to insist that being a MAWG carries no advantages? Is it racist to demand that non-MAWGs never mention their ethnicity and certainly take no pride in it? Hmm. Yep. I think it is.

I think I should just say I am against the racism crowd.

Mentor & Friend

Today is Chuck Blanchard's last day at Perkins Coie Brown & Bain. He is off to begin his work in the Obama administration as General Counsel to the Air Force. It is a great opportunity and a good fit for him--he served as General Counsel to the Army under Clinton. Still, I am sad to see him go. He was my first introduction to the firm, and I have had the pleasure of working for him on some of the most interesting political law cases we've had a PCB&B. He will be missed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sad, but maybe right.

According to CNN, the California Supreme Court rejected the notion that Proposition 8, "alters California's Constitution and, therefore, under state law, was a revision that requires a constitutional convention," but did not invalidate the marriages that took place before the anti-gay Proposition passed.

The Court explained that unlike the other cases to consider marriage equality, today's ruling, "the principal issue before [the Court] concerns the scope of the right of the people, under the provisions of the California Constitution, to change or alter the state Constitution itself through the initiative process so as to incorporate such a limitation as an explicit section of the state Constitution."

The Court concludes that the effect of Proposition 8 is not retroactive, but that Proposition 8 indeed amended, rather than revised, the California constitution. This seems to be a very California law specific question, with which I am not qualified to quibble.

Here's my reaction to all of this:
* This may very well be the right decision based on California law
* It is nonetheless a tragic day for gay couples in California who live through another official condemnation of their love
* It is incumbent on those of us who believe in marriage equality that we make the case that it is wrong, not unconstitutional, to exclude gay people from marriage. (Even if we believe it is, in fact, also unconstitutional.)

Oh yeah, the 185 page opinion is available here.

Empathy

Let us say that the there is an established principle of law that says, when two parties enter into a contract drafted by one of the parties, and where the non-drafting party has no opportunity to negotiate the terms of the contract (that is, it is a take it or leave it situation), the terms of the contract are nonetheless valid, except in situations where no reasonable party would have accept the term if the party understood the term. (see adhesion contract) Interpreting this principle to apply the law to it requires understanding where the non-drafting party is coming from. To simply always interpret the concept in favor of the business is an exercise is activism, by removing the teeth of this modest principle of consumer protection.

Let us say that there is a provision in the Constitution which does not provide strict guidance on its restriction on State power. Rather it provides a general principle like prohibiting excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishment. (see 8th Amendment) There is no strict letter of the law to apply there. The Constitution says, "Hey, Congress, hey Supreme Court, figure this out." To use only ivory tower elite definitions of excessive fines or cruel and unusual punishment is contrary to the democratic spirit of the Constitution.

A major role of the law is to provide stability. But another major role is to protect the less powerful from the more powerful by setting out rules and limits. It would be good to have a justice who at least thought about the latter.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I guess I really should write. Today President Obama challenged us to respond to “the legacies of an unbroken chain of proud men and women who served their country with honor; who waged war so that we might know peace; who braved hardship so that we might know opportunity; who paid the ultimate price so we might know freedom." He asked that we “commit to give something back to this nation--something lasting--in their memory; to affirm in our own lives and advance around the world those enduring ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity for which they and so many generations of Americans have given that last full measure of devotion.”

Obama's Speech.

Indeed. As I'm sure I've written Dad died as a result of a cancer that is linked to his exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. So linked that his death was considered service related and Mom got some extra benefits as a result, eventually. Pat asked me after Dad died if I was doing anything sort of in response to Dad's death. I told her no back then, but I certainly was thinking about his starting pro-reconciliation interracial discussion groups in Muncie, Indiana when I proposed Chalice Christian Justice Ministries. (We're having a symposium in October, BTW, so it is going to be more than attending demonstrations.)

Obama's relentless calling us to action mixes well with remembering Dad. He was a man of action.

Just to continue the stream of consciousness half-thoughts format here, I am realizing that Dad dying so close to Memorial Day guarantees me an extended period of thinking about him every year. Which is not a bad thing.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Rights & Values

Some friends and I were discussing this and I thought it might be interesting for the very slightly wider audience of Prophetic Progress.

Consider the following:
Dixie Chicks being attacked for speaking out against George Bush
Miss California being attacked for speaking out against Marriage Equality
An employer requiring employees to submit to random searches without cause
Non-Americans being held in a prison of foreign soil without charge

The first three certainly don't violate the U.S. Constitution, and I'm not sure, but the fourth might not either. (Seems to me that the Bill of Rights only refers to people.)

But even if none of these things are unconstitutional, are they unamerican? I'm conflicted about this because I am the first person to want to see there be consequences for making outlandish remarks--when they don't match my views. But, shouldn't we encourage people to speak; shouldn't we answer bad speech with good speech? Likewise, we push back when our employers want us to submit to searches without cause?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The God Spot

Here is a fantastic little webessay on God and the Brain. "The research raises the question, is God a delusion created by brain chemistry, or is brain chemistry a necessary conduit for people to reach God?" Indeed. The most provocative bits I listened to came in Part II. One guy says ending our delusion of a god existing independent of humans is the final frontier in our understanding of the universe. And he thinks this research moves in that direction. But then in the same part another doctor points out that if two people who loved each other were in a room interacting with each other there would be unique brain activity associated with that interaction, but does that mean love is not real?

Really pretty cool I think.

Also, watch out for the biology of belief section. There is a blending & mixing of two very distinct ideas. One, invoking the power of God to heal another and Two biological benefits from spirituality. The latter only requires meditative practices to have an impact on our bodies, which is not really a challenge to a materialist. The former, on the other hand, is a big challenge to a materialist--and frankly doesn't seem as supported as the latter.

I'd love to hear reactions.

Rights

Rights are limitations on government power. They are Congress-shall-make-no-law-that type things. Once granted I think it is a Christian virtue to ensure they are applied fairly to all. That's a part of justice. However, how does our faith inform us on the topic of what rights we should have?

Rights are really sort of arbitrary. For example, we have a defined right in the Constitution to be from to practice our religion, and to be free from supporting the practice of another's religion. We are free to speak and to assemble. We are free to bear arms. The constitutions does not give us certain rights that courts have given us. So we know have a right to privacy and a right to self-defense. (Although many state constitutions address these more directly.)

Are there other rights we should have? Are there rights we don't need?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Another Parable from Pastor Linda

This morning Reverend Linda Miller brought this parable to us:
A daughter is excited to see little Barbie-doll size green grapes growing on the vines. Her mother tells her that those grapes won't amount to anything. The daughter does not give up hope; but, the next time she sees the vines she realizes the mother is right. The grapes have not grown and matured. They've turned dark, but remained small. They look like bunches of pepper corns. She asks her mother if there is something that can be done with those vines. Can they cut them back, or prune the plant in some way? Her mother tells her no. "Those are no good. We'll have to tear down those branches and throw them into the fire."
We don't do apocalyptic stuff very often at Chalice, but that was the message I got from this parable. Christ is the vine, and we are the branches. We are to bear the fruit of Christ. What does that mean? We are to be the incarnation of Joy and Compassion and Hope and Justice. And if we are not, if we fail to bear fruit, well at some point you have to just throw those branches to the fire and start over.

I have a feeling that the Church is at a point when it must bear fruit. Do we stand for human dignity? Do we stand for stewardship of the earth? If we don't, well, you can read the story.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"Speaking For" Christians

Pro bono publico and quid pro quo mean for the public good and this for that respectively. Pro phetes means to speak for. It is from this phrase that we get the word prophet. The prophet of God is one who speaks for God.

The Hebrew prophets spoke for justice. They spoke for the poor. They spoke out against systems that left the widows and orphans unattended. They were not, as I hope most readers understand, fortune tellers. Everything they said was contingent on present action. IF you continue to disobey God’s law, THEN God will give you into captivity.

I think a good name for Christians who play a similar role in modern culture—warning the nation of the evils and dangers of neglecting the poor and the outcast—is Prophetic Christians. Just as Evangelical Christians are those who see the most important thing about the faith as spreading it to others so that these new converts may receive Salvation, Prophetic Christians would be those who see the most important thing about the faith as improving this world and bringing the Kingdom of God to earth.

Jesus taught us, we Prophetic Christians, that when we speak for the outcast, when we speak for the poor, when we speak for those without a voice, we speak for God.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Anecdotal Evidence on Gays in the Military

I have two pieces of anecdotal evidence to share with regard to gays in the military.

First, a note to my left wing extremist Clinton hater friends. If you google Don't Ask Don't Tell you will learn that this is the Clinton Administration policy which banned gays from the military. Well, Clinton became president in 1993. I was in Northwestern University Reserve Officer Training Corps from 1989 until 1993, and every semester I was there I signed a piece of paper swearing that I was not gay. In fact, there was quite a stir about kicking ROTC units off campus because they didn't admit gays. All before Bill Clinton banned gays from the military. Moral of the story: Bill Clinton did not ban gays from the military. He made a compromise that turned out to be no compromise at all. There ended up being plenty of asking despite the new policy codified at 10 USC 654. Failing make things better for gays in the military is pretty different from banning gays from the military.

Second, although I see very little opposition to gays in the military these days, I feel compelled to point out that I served on board USS Billfish with four guys that were variously out. One MM1 was completely out. One YNC may or may not have been gay, but everyone on the ship assumed he was gay. Finally a couple of ST2's accepted $75 to let the completely out guy give them oral sex. Or at least that was the rumor, and for my purposes here, that is good enough. Billfish never failed to get underway on time because of the presence of these guys on the ship. No one tried to beat them up. Everything worked just fine. My point: it is stupid to ban gays from the military.

On Judaism

Some say that God/Truth exists beyond this natural world.  They are the Hindus who teach that this world is maya, illusion.  They are the philosophers who teach that this world seems ever changing due to natural forces, but the truth lies with the unchanging forms.

Some say that God/Truth exists in this world but cannot be changed.  They are the natural polytheists, like the Egyptians who saw their god Ra everyday.  They are the scientists who study the movement of celestial bodies.  Neither asks what ought to be; both observe what is.

Judaism established the natural world as both important and changeable.  Through the prophets, the Jews worked to see the world as what it could be.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day Reflection

James and Kate’s Great-grandmother (Kirschner) Barton was a precinct committeemen along with her husband in the 1950’s. She raised six boys and adopted a niece. She was running the “little old ladies” to the doctor well into her eighties. Great-grandmother (Beals) Stone threw her husband out of the house in the 1950’s because he drank too much and gambled their money away. She raised two girls without a husband in a time when that meant doing without just about everything; but she taught her girls a lesson about strength and priorities. Great-grandmother (Pineau) Shea immigrated to this country from Prince Edward Island and when her sister stole her purse to try and keep her in Boston, she boarded the bus and convinced the bus driver to take her to Brooklyn—literally with the clothes on her back. Great-grandmother (Craig) Cassidy spent an extra day on Ellis Island because her brother forgot to pick her up. She also brought her Old World culture with her, teaching her grandchildren about fairies that she had seen with her own eyes no matter what others would say.

My wife’s mom started a preschool here in Arizona over twenty years ago. She worked on Wall Street. She took care of her mother and raised her kids. She is a ball of energy that there is no way I can keep up with. My mom has taught the severely and profoundly mentally handicapped as well as children with learning disabilities. She has shown those children the same limitless compassion she as show my brothers and me. Out of the classroom, she is also their advocate, always looking out for their rights.

James and Kate’s mom is a woman of uncompromising standards, particularly when it comes to the pursuit of academic excellence. She loves learning as much as she loves teaching. She brings integrity to her work whether her students are adults seeking a certification or a three-year old learning her letters.

Add to this list the many female role models Kate has at church (I seriously do not have space to begin listing them), it is obvious to see how blessed she is to have so many examples. Sometimes I forget to consider how lucky James is as well. When you have a mother and father that are partners in their marriage, when you see a mother who is not only intelligent but intellectually curious, when you see strength to go along with your mother’s compassion that is the relationship you seek out as an adult. I guess my point is that for both Kate and James, one of the greatest gifts their mother has given them is to make it likely that their kids will also have a mother like her.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Gem from Huston

The last word is Psalm 8:5 is 'elohim.  This is mistranslated as "angels", yielding "Thou hast made [man] little lower than the angels."  The word 'elohim is actually gods, or--because the number is not specified this Hebrew word-God.  Hence, the verse should read, "Thou hast made him little lower than the gods [or God]."

I guess I see why the KJV translator wimped out.

Activist Court Unanimously Applies Plain Language of Federal Law

CNN did a good job of reporting the Supreme Court's recent immigration law decision. On the way home from work yesterday, I heard it was a unanimous court and that caught my attention, but as the story went on it seemed like a laughably clear statutory interpretation case. However, this morning I heard some LA Times reporter complaining that under the the Court's new rule a guy who picked his social security number out of the air would be able to skirt the law. Wrong. Under the federal law, picking a number out of the air is not aggravated identity theft.

This does not require legal training. Here is what 18 USCA 1028A(a)(1) requires for identity theft, "Whoever, during and in relation to any felony violation enumerated in subsection (c), knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person shall, in addition to the punishment provided for such felony, be sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 2 years." Link to statute. Is it enough to accidentally possess another's identity? Nope. How about negligently or recklessly? Nope. Knowingly, you have to knowingly possess the identity. Not only was the Court's opinion unanimous, which on a case consider something involving both prosecutions and immigration is remarkable, it was on 18 pages long even on the court (about 4500 words on the Court's formatting.)

This is an open and shut case. The Court applied the plain language of the statute. You have my permission to yell at anyone who says otherwise.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Torture

I heard a teaser on NPR this morning that there is new evidence from the questing of certain detainees that undermines the best justification for torture. (BTW, is there more than one justification for torture? Isn't the only justification that by torturing one person you get information that saves many?) I didn't hear the story but I'm sure it has something to do with the effectiveness of information gathered from people being tortured. My thoughts are torture, however, do not depend on its effectiveness. I really believe we should not torture because we should be a people who does not torture. The idea of someone poisoning a citizen of the United States by direction of our court system troubles me as well. But unlike capital punishment, we have decided not to torture and it bothers me to backslide.

I'm reminded of the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. We asked to bow down to a golden idol they refused. Even when threatened with execution by being thrown into a furnace. However, when thrown into the fire Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were not harmed. By refusing to give up what is essential to their character they survived.

Likewise, we continue to value human dignity and recognize limits on what we will do in the pursuit of our interests, even when it seems impossibly dangerous. Otherwise, we will lose who we are.

The full story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego is in Daniel 3, and can be the source of much discussion.
The Beastie Boys rap which has less detail on the story is available here. Lyrics here, but why would you be satisfied to just read lyrics like, "I've got more stories than J.D. Sallinger."

Friday, May 01, 2009

Exhaustion

So, tonight started with a simple objective: Find out who really said, "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity" (or in all things love as the Anglican priest I was talking to tonight put it.)

BTW, it appears to not just be a prominent slogan of the Restoration Movement and the Disciple Church, but the motto of the Moravian Church. I became familiar with it as the former and learned tonight about the latter. It appears that St. Augustine said it first, or something very similar. Then John Wesley and a bunch of other people I don't recongize are attributed with saying it. Anyway, that was fine, but a little frustrating when you can get definitive answers for definitive questions online.

Here's the problem though. There are just hordes of hateful Christians who lash out against this slogan. They are so full of hatred. There are so many of them. Of course, I realize it is just the internet. If you read the comments on just about any big blog you would think the world is full of hateful small minded morons. I don't think it is a representative sample of the world or even the people who read those blogs. So, I should put any more credance in what I read from online Christians. But it is really tiring.

Devout Christians Are More Likely to Support Torture


Here are the survey details. First, I want to note how horrific it is on its face. Before looking at what this represents, there are many, many Americans who believe that torture is often necessary. How disastrous.

The next tragedy of this poll is that it shows that Christianity is in the process of being reduced to a political movement. The very strong correlation between going to church often and being a Republican should sound alarm bells for Christians. At FiveThirtyEight.Com, Nate Silvers discussed marriage equality noting
It turns out that you can build a very effective model by including just three variables:

1. The year in which the amendment was voted upon;
2. The percentage of adults in 2008 Gallup tracking surveys who said that religion was an important part of their daily lives;
3. The percentage of white evangelicals in the state.
Link. In other words, it doesn't matter whether it is something that Jesus would have clearly condemned--torturing another human being--or something with considerable biblical support--traditional marriage wherein a man possesses one or many wives--Christian support for the policy is more closely correlated to the Republican Party's position than Jesus' position. BTW, this is not an accident. The Republican Party in the late 80's made a very concerted effort to get church voters. It worked hard to move American congregations to the right and over many years it has paid off. The result is not just that the Republicans have got more votes, in a powerful feedback loop, the church has stopped speaking to liberals and liberals have stopped caring about the church.

And that my brothers and sisters is why mainline Protestant churches need to start standing for something. My suggestion is that we stand for Economic Justice for the poor; that we stand for Equality for the Outcast; that we stand for being Good stewards of what God gave us. And when people say things that are wrong, particularly in the name of Jesus Christ, we say they are wrong. And if we need to do it loudly, so be it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Sufi Story for the Christian Church (Disc. of Christ)

Sufism is a branch of Islam that is more contemplative. Sufis are famous for their poetry and their story telling. The following made me think about a cunundrum for the Christian Church (Disc. of Christ). While some denominations like the UCC and United Methodists have come out in support of gay rights, the Disciples are slow to do so. That is because our church has a strong tradition of being open to all viewpoints, and we don't want to exclude the anti-gay viewpoint. Well, I think we should not exclude any PERSON, but we are as called to denounce the anti-gay viewpoint as the anti-Black or anti-woman viewpoint. I believe the following applies to us:
A Stream In the Desert

A stream, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no
way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: "The Wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream."

The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could
cross a desert.

"By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination."

"But how could this happen?"

"By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind."

This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did
not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that it could
ever be regained?

"The wind," said the sand, "performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert,
and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river."

"How can I know that this is true?"

"It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many years; and it certainly is not the same as a stream."

"But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?"

"You cannot in either case remain so," the whisper said. "Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one."
Huston Smith brought the story to me, but I found it on line at The Blog of serdar. Thanks serdar.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Consequences of Hard Heartedness

Where is the balance between being principled and being realistic? When have you compromised out of respect for others, and when have you just compromised your values? These are the real politics questions that keep me up at night. I felt that Democrats through the Bush administration were to quick to compromise. They accommodated secret courts and warrantless wiretaps. Meanwhile, the right-wing extremists had a death grip on their party. They pushed their perversion of the Scripture into public policy. They demanded that their values and only their values be recognized as legitimate. They viciously attacked any who fell out of line. Most recently, even the Chairman of the RNC had to apologize to their master, Rush Limbaugh, for not showing him adequate respect.

I sort of always wondered, "Maybe we should be more that way. Maybe lefties should say we will leave the party if you don't have a Department of Peace." Or whatever.

Today the Republican Party is being punished for allowing the extremist to have such control. Arlen Specter is becoming a Democrat. He could not win in a Republican primary because of the reasons stated above. And if he accommodated these people, he would lose in the general election. I wonder how many other Republican moderates are seeing similar writing on the wall?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Happiness is . . .

. . . taking a little nap on your commute home.  (After reading about sufism to finish your chapter on Islam.)

The Five Pillars of Islam

The Good Confession: for Disciples the two parts are (1) Jesus is the Son of God and (2) Jesus is my personal Savior; for Muslims (1) there is no God but God and (2) Mohammed is God's prophet.

Prayer: Muslims are to live in prayer. (Compare 1 Thes. 5:16-18) They are to at least 5 times a day face Mecca and pray.

Charity: Christians 10% of income; Muslims 2 1/2% of income AND holdings. Also, Muslims are supposed to give directly to those in need.

Fasting: Christians still fast sometimes. Muslims fast from sun up to sun down during Ramadan, one month.

Pilgrimage: Once in their lives Muslims are to make the trip from Medina to Mecca. I don't know that Jews(Jerusalem) or Christians(Rome) have anything similar. I'm a Disciple, so I guess my Pilgrimage should be to Indianapolos, Indiana--or perhaps Cane Ridge in Kentucky.

Of course, the devil is in the details. Islam, according to Huston, recognizes four great revelations, first the oneness of God to Abraham, second the Ten Commandments to Moses, third the Greatest Commandment to Jesus (Love your God and, likewise, love your neighbor as yourself), and finally the means to carrying out love of your God and your neighbor. This results in classifying every action as some where on the continuum between required and forbidden.

These systems, for me, always fail. They are too limiting stealing joy away from their adherrents. They are too easily worked around, allowing their adherents to legally commit acts of injustice. I'm a Christian in part because I believe there are times when the right thing to do can require even breaking one of the ten commandments. I also can't help but notice that violent extremists--and I think anyone reading this can think of Christian, Muslim and Jewish examples pretty easily--often seem to be among the devotees putting the law ahead of humans.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Resurrection Texts Comparison

One of the big clues for me that I needed to read the Bible more closely was when Bishop Spong's Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism taught me that the nativities were irreconcilably different. I did a graph comparison of the two stories a couple of Christmases ago here. So, let's try a similar technique with the resurrection story.

So, let's start with Mark, which was written first. The story is contained in Mark 16:1-8.
The major points are that the women find a single man dressed in white. They tell no one what they saw, and Christ's ascension is implied by the ending.







The next story is from Luke. Here the women see two men, also dressed in white. They tell the disciples what happened. Jesus appears to two non-disciples on the road to Emmaus. He appears in the flesh to the disciples in Jerusalem. Then there is an ascension, which takes place in Bethany. The story is at Luke 24.






In Matthew 28 the women see an angel. Then Jesus appears to Mary in the Garden, although it is only briefly described. She tells the disciples to meet him in Galilee, which they do. Then the book ends, implying Jesus' ascension.









Finally, we have John. John spends two chapters, 20 & 21, describing Jesus' appearances. In John, no one at the tomb tells them anything. Even Peter sees the empty tomb. However, in the Garden, Jesus appears to Mary. Then he appears three times to the disciples. Twice after they went "home", which I assume is Galilee, and once on the Sea of Galilee. Then John says I he doesn't have time to list all of the appearances Jesus made all over. Again, the ascension is only implied.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Abstraction Solution

The last solution for handling scriptures like these is what I will call abstraction. A nice basic example is to compare Exodus 21:23-25, But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise., with Luke 6:29, If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. At first, these seem to contradict each other, until you realize that the old testament law calls for restraint. You can only take so much retribution against those who have wronged you.

I prefer to analyze scripture in this way. What was the author saying? What was the author's world like when he or she wrote these words? Where is the presence of God in what the author has to say? I like to do things this way because it allows me to suck the holy marrow even from scriptures that might at first seem like useless bones to me. I also like this treatment of scripture because it is how I try to treat all passages.

It is not without its pitfalls. Any student of statutory construction will tell you that cases rested on constitutional law often turn on how abstract a view one is willing to take. There is of course a temptation to just abstract away everything difficult.

Which leads me to the notion that Scripture is best interpreted while in contemplative prayer, or for the non-theist readers, in times of quiet introspection. Better to let your mind and heart explore the meaning than to try to interpret with the eyes of a litigator pressing for one interpretation over the other. I've long recognized that it is invalid to open the Bible and search for support for my arguments. I always find plenty of support, but so does everyone else. If the Bible is to be a guide, we have to tune our hearts to be guided by it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Containment Solution

A second option is to cut these scriptures out of the Bible. We can decide that these scriptures don't apply to us. First off, the most extreme example of this is to declare that the Bible does not have authority. This is true of non-Christians, but I submit there could be Christians who would hold this position. Being Christian means following Jesus, and one can do that through what one has inherited through the church tradition. As a Protestant from the revivalist movement, I sort of forget that sometimes.

Next, and more what I'm thinking of on this topic, is deciding not to acknowledge certain section of scripture. You can't just ignore the Old Testament, for example. Jesus depended on the Law & the Prophets, and made it clear he came to complete not abolish the law. (Well, or more properly the Gospel author's report he made that clear.) The OT also has many important stories in it. It has the 10 commandments. Finally, the New Testament has plenty of the same stuff we want to get rid of.

Perhaps certain portions of the Bible are too old. Perhaps they were only intended to apply to the Hebrews or to the Church at Corinth. The real problem here is having integrity. It is hardly a solution to say, "Well, obviously slavery is wrong, so scriptures accommodating slavery are inapplicable." That means you get no guidance from the Bible at all, which presumably those who employ this sub-answer C are trying to avoid.

A friend has suggested giving less authority to cultural components of the scripture. This is significantly more subtle than just ignoring the bits you don't like. Love your enemies, isn't cultural, while don't get divorced is. What about give to the poor, though?

The containment solution is what I have employed most of my life. I make the words of Jesus in the Gospels as the only thing I have to follow. I don't know that I'm so uncomfortable with that, but it isn't easy to defend. I am worried about integrity, and it is hard to jive with Jesus' words mentioned above. Also, it means you lose any benefit from giant swaths of scripture.

Thoughts?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mark's Ending: REAX

Sometimes I get really thoughtful comments to posts that have sort of scrolled off the page. I think it is a shame because folks might be interested in them but have no reason to monitor comments for such things. One example was recently added by James Snapp to my Mark's Ending post.

I commend James's comment to anyone interested in the history of the Bible. He provides a link to links that will let you look at pictures of ancient biblical texts and examines much of the source material that scholars use to come to their conclusions about authenticity.

It is also good reading if you have a new holy book that you claim to be less corrupted than the Christian bible (i.e. the Book of Mormon or the Koran) because it is pretty shocking how much filling in had to be employed to get that bound volume of letters and narratives some of us have on our shelves.

My biggest problem with James is that he is sometimes a Jr. and sometime a II, which makes me not trust him.

Difficult-to-Accept-but-Do-It Solution

It is too late to choose the ignorance option, so let's investigate the idea that hard as it may be, we should follow the guidance from Exodus and Paul's letter to the Ephesians.

Hypothetical
You receive a phone call from your sister. She is hysterical. Her husband has gotten into trouble with his gambling again, and this time, to raise the money he worked out an arrangement where your fifteen year old niece was sent to a buddy of his in Fakistan. The guy is an American he knew from when they were in Iraq together. It is unclear whether your niece will be forced to "marry" the guy or the guy's son. Your sister says that her husband told her that the guy would not harm their daughter and that it was the only way for him to raise the money.

Just then, your niece beeps in on the call waiting. She is in the bathroom at the airport about to leave for Fakistan. Her dad's buddy ordered her to talk to no one. She doesn't know whether she can call the police or not. She wants to know whether she should obey this guy or call the police.
Okay, so I am assuming that all who read this would tell the girl to call the police, the sister to divorce the husband and call the police, and maybe make a telephone call to the authorities themselves. But, of course, there are other hypotheticals in which we would do X,Y & Z, despite knowing that the conduct is wrong. And give ourselves a pass saying that no one is perfect.

So, how close a call is this? How sure are you that it would be wrong to advise the girl to obey her new master and tell your sister that it sounds like her husband did everything in accordance with God's law?

It is not a close call for me. I am 100% positive that what I've suggested most readers would do is the right thing to do. It is what God would have us do. But I'm only one person. I'd be interested to hear other opinions.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Should We Christians Handle These Words?

Below are two examples of passages in the Bible that are difficult for modern Christians to deal with. The first is from Ex. 21:7-11 and the second is from Eph. 6:5-9. I've provided a little more context than you would get if someone was just playing pure gotcha with the verses, but the context only helps a little.
"If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.
And from the Apostle Paul:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, 8because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free.

And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
How about some multiple choice:
A. Not read the Bible so you don't have to know that it contains such scriptures.
B. See this scripture as authoritative, and although it is a hard scripture to obey, recognize that it is God's law nonetheless.
C. Find some way to make these scriptures not apply, either by rejecting the authority of the Bible altogether or rejecting certain portions of it.
D. Find some general truth that will serve as guidance, although admitting you do not follow the letter of the Biblical law.

Perhaps we can explore the pro's and con's of each approach.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Good Standard

Reflecting on Mike L's comment below, I think it is good to ask oneself before supporting a particular government initiative, "Is this important enough that I am willing to compell citizens, with threat of force from the authorities, to financially support it?"

Monday, April 20, 2009

Raise My Taxes, Please!

State taxes and federal taxes are different. For one thing, the federal government can choose to deficit spend and raise taxes once the economy is humming again. The bigger difference, however, is that state taxes support uncontroversial programs that we desperately need. Maybe you think the feds should not support the National Endowment for the Arts or Strategic Missile Defense. But does anyone think we should not fund our schools, our roads, or our police? In the last week, I have heard my mother come home talking about teachers at her school losing their jobs. I have learned that the court system will move even more slowly as a result of budget cuts. And I have learned that the state can no longer respond to certain categories of reported child abuse because our coffers are empty.

April is child abuse prevention month, which makes this last item particularly worthy of attention today. Not only have the reductions caused us to investigate fewer reports of abuse, reunification programs and parent education programs have been gutted. Maybe President Obama should continue to hold off rolling back the Bush tax cuts, but at the state level, raise my taxes, please.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

When we were children

The remarkable thing about this photograph is that Pat & I were actually younger than this at some point in our life. It is more than a little shocking.

I think Facebook has the potential to be quite a time suck.

What I Think Mark Said

I don't think the author of Mark accidentally left off a description of Jesus walking on Earth after the resurrection. I don't think that any more than I think the author of Mark accidentally left off a virgin birth story. I think the point of Mark is this: Jesus was right, Jesus won, you should follow Jesus. Don't follow the violent revolutionaries, don't follow the organized church, and don't follow Rome.

This reading compells you to ask what does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to take his path over the path of the organized church, the secular government, and the violent revolutionaries? Mark does not have a Sermon on the Mount or on the Plain. (Neat Chart Comparison here.) Mark then is talking about Jesus' work with the crowds. Healing and teaching and caring for the poor and challenging the authorities.

Mark was Dad's favorite Gospel. Knowing Dad's less than academic approach to the world, I wondered if it was because it was short. As I learned more, I thought perhaps it was because Dad was so opposed to the liturgical, he was a bare bones Disciple and Mark is a bare bones Gospel. As I read it today, it is crystal clear. Dad brought refugees to this country; he started food banks; he started discussion groups to heal racial tensions. Oh yeah, and he loved to question authority.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Well, it aint pretty

But here is a little photo montage from St. Baldrick's. ug.

Islam

Reading about Islam feels more familiar than Buddhism, even though I've spent more time over the years studying Buddhism.  According to Huston the four theological anchors in Islam are God, Creation, Individual and Judgement Day.  Familiar indeed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mark's Ending

If you have a bible at home, it probably has a notation like this just before Mark 16:9. The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do no have Mark 16:9-20. (NIV) Or it might have two endings. One titled "The Shorter Ending of Mark" and the other, which is Mark 16:9-20, titled "The Longer Ending of Mark." (NSRV). If you look on line to figure this out you will find lots of material explaining how it is an open question about whether this ending was really a part of the original version of Mark. The NIB, however, does not see it as much of an open question. The commentary notes that "[s]ome scholars continue to hold that the original ending of Mark has been lost but might be reconstructed from elements in the endings of Matthew and Luke. Such proposals represent a contemporary version of the efforts made by ancient readers." That is, an effort to give the reader an easy out rather that challenging the reader to find "a literary account of the relationship between this ending and the narrative structures of the Gospel as a whole."

Mark ends with an empty tomb. But does that mean Mark does not give us a resurrection? Or do we need to think about what resurrection means?

Consider who was dead and then came back to life to walk on Earth? Jairus's daughter; Lazarus (from John); the son of a woman (by Elijah); another child (by Elisha); and others.

The Christian Bible says that Moses died, although maybe buried by God, but according to the NIB commentator by Hebrew tradition Moses did not die but was taken up by God. In both Hebrew tradition and the Christian Bible Elijah was taken up.

Which thing happened to Jesus? Brought back to life to walk the Earth, or taken up with God? Here's a hint.

I'm just saying. Or more properly, the author of Mark is just saying.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Notes from Huston on Islam: Christ is to Christianity as the Koran, not Mohammed, is to Islam. The Koran is not about truth, the Koran is truth.

Immigration objectives I support

Change to Win and the AFL-CIO have come to agreement on immigration reform. Here is the press release reported on NPR this morning. And here is the high level quote necessary for discussion hear:
The plan adheres to the Administration’s goals by creating a framework that deals with the critical components of reform and does it through interconnected initiatives. The proposal calls for: (1) an independent commission to assess and manage future flows, based on labor market shortages that are determined on the basis of actual need; (2) a secure and effective worker authorization mechanism; (3) rational operational control of the border; (4) adjustment of status for the current undocumented population; and (5) improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programs, limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.
I am shocked by people who feel that the most important thing with immigration reform is to punish the individuals who come to this country to find work. These people are encouraged to come here by employers who hire them. They work hard. They pay sales tax and property tax. The large number who use fake social security numbers pay into but do not collect from social security.

The problem for me is that these people are often exploited by employers who know that the undocumented worker cannot avail himself or herself of the protection of labor laws. Also, the presence of such workers in the workforces drives wages. Finally, there is the problem of illegal border crossings which result in the deaths of hundreds of people every year, damage to property, and damage to the environment. All of these problems are addressed by (1) making employers responsible for who they hire and (2) developing a rational immigration policy that meets the needs of our economy. For too long, we have admitted too few people into this country legally to meet the labor demands of our economy. The burden of this policy, driven largely by anti-Hispanic racism, has been borne almost exclusively by the immigrants who risk their lives crossing the border and are underpaid when they arrive.

If there was ever a question about whether stronger border security or employer accountability would be more effective, the dramatic reduction in illegal border crossings as a result of the economic down turn should end the discussion. If there aren't jobs--whether because they aren't there, or because you can only work if you immigrate legally--then there will not be illegal immigration.

Monday, April 13, 2009

What does resurrection mean?

Pastor Linda Miller provided a couple of powerful messages on the meaning of resurrection this Easter. She had the opportunity to speak about it in the presence of a crowd of baptisms--six at our little church of not many more than 100 members. My daughter was the first to pass through the baptismal water on that brisk morning, which added to the emotion of the day for me. The fact that Linda and I had both lost our fathers between last Easter and this one mattered too. The forty-eight hours between noon on Friday and noon on Sunday were filled with intense focus on death and rebirth. Death is necessary for rebirth. Letting go is necessary for resurrection.

These are the half formed ideas swirling in my head this Easter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hallelujah, Christ is Risen . . .

Christ is Risen indeed.

Here is how Mark told it:
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?"

But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Your Bible at home will include some extras that were added later, but this is a good way to close too. The loyal women discovered the risen Christ. They recognized that death had not defeated him.

What does it mean? My pastor acknowledged this morning that some of us do not believe in bodily resurrection. But frankly, regardless of whether you believe in bodily resurrection you have to answer the question about what does resurrection mean.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Day Six: Jesus is Dead

At 9:00 a.m., labeled "The King of the Jews," Jesus is crucified. Passers by laughed at him and shouted "So! You who going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!" The religious leaders mocked, "He saved others, but he can't save himself."

From noon until 3:00 p.m. a darkness came over the land. At 3:00 p.m. Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!" Finally, with a loud cry Jesus breathed his last breath.

The curtain of the temple was then torn in two from top to bottom. A centurion recognized that Jesus was the Son of God. And Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the yonger and of Joses, and Salome were still there, watching from a distance.

As evening was approaching, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and got Jesus' body. Joseph had Jesus placed into tomb.

The End.

Day Six: From the Temple to Rome

Before telling the story of Jesus being taken to Pilate, Mark takes care of the last loyal disciple. Peter was following from a distance. Three times he is asked if he was with Jesus. With increasing intensity he denies it, finally "[h]e began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, 'I don't know this many you're talking about.'" Just then the cock crowed, and Peter broke down and wept.

In Mark 15:1-20 we learn that the Sanhedrin takes Jesus to the Roman governor. This section is all about blaming the church establishment and excusing Rome for the execution of Jesus. No small task given that Jesus was crucified by Rome and not stoned by the Temple authorities. Nonetheless, Mark provides the following evidence for this: (1) Pilate is amazed that Jesus doesn't respond to the Temple authorities' charges; (2) Pilate offers to release a captive but that releast Barabbas, the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising, instead; and (3) Even after releasing Barabbas, Pilate doesn't want to kill Jesus but the crowd chants "crucify him!"

Details first. This was written shortly after Rome had destroyed Jerusalem, or during a violent uprising. This scripture makes it clear that Christians are different from Jews and that Rome shouldn't worry about Christians. The idea that a Roman governor would be swayed by the masses asking to crucify someone is not credible. And, note that Barabbas is Bar-abba, or son of abba, or son of the father, or . . . Son of God. The Israelites reject the way of Jesus, the true Messiah, in favor of this false Messiah of violent overthrow. When compared with the apacolyptic scriptures from earlier it makes sense.

Okay, but now what does the story mean? In Catholic mass the attendees shout, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" during this part of the passion. The story calls on the reader to remember how the people abandon Christ. It wasn't really the fault of the government for Jesus' execution, it was our fault for turning our back on him.

The world is full of evil, and at times we give up. We turn our backs on Jesus' ministry. The passage calls us to remember our apathy and the wickedness it causes. It ends with more mocking, with more humiliation for our Lord and Savior.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Day Five: Making It All Legal

Mark starts out with the Sanhedrin working to get a death penalty conviction against Jesus. Mark 14:53-65. Certainly, Jesus was a threat to the established church and they would want to see him go. They have a problem though, their witnesses can't keep their lies straight. So, the high priest just asks him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" After silence, Jesus answers the second time: I am.

Borg points out that there is ambiguity in the original text here, and this could as easily be translated "Am I?", which is more in line with how Luke and Mathew do it.

This is enough for the religious establishment and Jesus is mocked and beaten. No opportunity for Nathan Hale style last words, as he was taken in secret and kept from his followers. He is left to be spit on by his enemies.

I'm going to stop there, because Mark 15 begins "Very early in the morning."

We are entering the portion of the Passion often used for antisemitism. To that end, lets remember that all of the characters so far are Jews. The crowds that entered Jerusalem with him and cheered his word play while booing the representatives of the organized, established church were Jews. The bad guys in this story are not Jews, the bad guys are the adherents of organized religion who put their political power and rigid adherence to religious law ahead of the God's love. Does that make anyone uncomfortable? Certainly not the message the medieval church, or the modern fundamentalist church, would be comfortable with. It is the type of message that a group might want to avoid preaching on; the type of message that might tempt one to use a scapegoat to direct attention away from ones own wickedness.

Day Five: Mount of Olives


For me, this is the most emotion packed moment of the Passion. Jesus goes to Gethsemane and prays that he not have to die. Three times Jesus goes off to pray, to beg for another way. He knows that he can't run from what he's started now, but he doesn't want to die. He has been betrayed by Judas, and each time he returns his most trusted friends are asleep. How intensely lonely, to suffer like this and even those closest to you don't understand the significance of your suffering. Peter, James, John, even God, have not yet abandoned him, but Jesus wonders if they understand. Just then, Judas arrives with the authorities, and betrays Jesus with a kiss.

In Mark, the arrest is violent. Someone standing by Jesus cuts off the ear of the high priest's servant, but Jesus doesn't heal it, the cutter isn't a disciple, and Jesus doesn't tell the disciples not to fight. Rather, they all flee, even a young man who only escapes by leaving his cloak behind. Mark 14:43-52.

Jesus in custody and Thursday is still not over.

Day Five: The Passover Feast

On Thursday, Jesus sends his disciples to Jerusalem (the City) to find a room for them to use for the Passover celebration. Jesus and his disciples have their last meal together, with Judas still present. The Commentary points out the dizzying symbolism of this meal, which includes the words used by Christians today in Communion. The bread is Jesus' body offered for you; the wine is the blood of the new covenant.

What does it mean that Jesus offered his body to us? Does it mean it was willingly executed? Does it mean he gave his whole life to spreading a new truth that he was compelled to spread?

What is the new covenant? Is it forgiveness of sins, as the adherents of substitutional atonement would teach us? Is the new covenant that whoever believes in, has faith in, follows, Jesus will participate in eternal (not just everlasting but eternal) life? Is the new covenant the love of YHWH is unleashed on the world and not confined to a single ethnic group?

Academic note: Borg gently suggests that it is difficult to know the historical accuracy of the words Jesus used at the last supper with his disciples. It seems uncharacteristically politic of Borg. Perhaps the origin of the Eucharistic matra, which would have been established when the gospel of Mark was written, was a metaphor Jesus offered his disciples on that night. A second trip down academia, John puts the last supper as the day before Passover. In John, Jesus is executed at the very moment the lambs for Passover are slaughtered. Nice touch.

The supper concludes with the painful bits of denial. Jesus can no longer keep quiet about (1) his knowledge that Judas has struck a deal and (2) that the rest of his disciples will betray him. He sets up one of the most poignant moments of the Passion by telling Peter he will deny Christ three times before the cock crows. Mark 14:12-31.

And Thursday is not over yet.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Day Four: Tension Building

Mark 14:1 begins, "Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away," which means Wednesday. Thus, Mark continues his day by day account with the fourth day.

No trips to Jerusalem on this day. Rather Jesus remains in Bethany. What would it have been like? On Sunday was the big march. Then on Monday, another big scene in the temple. Finally, on Tuesday he was walking around the city bascially looking for an argument. The crowd around him was on his side. Was he trying to get himself killed?

According to Mark, while they are all relaxing an unidentified woman comes in and annoints Jesus' head with expensive oil. Typically nearsighted, the disciples rebuke her for wasting the money when it could have been used for the poor. Jesus responds:
"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."
Did she know what he was up to? Were there people in the crowd who knew that such acts would not go unpunished?

An academic note: Doesn't the context show how ridiculous it is when people use this scripture to justify ignoring the poor?

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Day Three: Jesus Fights the Authority

When John Cougar fights the Authority, the authority always wins. On Tuesday, Jesus is doing a lot of fighting the authority. (Whether he wins, I suppose is pretty much the central question for anyone considering membership in the Christian Church.)

First, on the way back into town, Peter sees that the fig tree Jesus cursed the day before is dead. This is kind of a no excuses scripture I think. If you can't bear fruit when it is needed, even if you are not ready or the time isn't right otherwise, you are worthless. Reminds me of Jesus saying let the dead bury the dead.

Next, we have a series of verbal challenges for Jesus. It all begins with the temple authorities, and the first response is a dodge. The temple authorities themselves ask Jesus what gives him the right to stir things up so much. Rather than answer, he puts it on them and asks them whether John's baptism came from heaven or earth. The temple leaders read the crowd and recognize they can't really give an answer and be consistent with what they've said in the past. So they say they don't know, and thus Jesus gives not answer. Next Jesus goes on the offensive telling the parable of the vineyard. This is basically a straight up attack on the temple authorities, blaming them for the death of the prophets. According to Mark, "they looked for a way to arrest him because they knew he had spoken the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd; so they left him and went away."

The next verbal episode was not initiated by the chief priests, but the Pharisees, who Mark says the chief priests sent. They have come up with the trickiest of tricky questions, should the people pay their taxes? To this, Jesus executes sort of a half dodge. He turns the question into a lesson about God's authority. Give to Ceasar what is Ceasar, but give to God what is God's. He basically says, the tax question is a stupid question, what you need to be worried about his dedicating yourself, as a child of God, to God's kingdom.

Next up, the Sadduces, who by the way did not believe in an afterlife. They pose a paradox created by post-resurrection afterline. Jesus replies with some specifics, that frankly don't make much sense to me, but then again comes to "[God] is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" Mark 12:27.

Last up is a lawyer. He asks a relatively easy question, "What is the greatest commandment?" Jesus nails it, and the lawyer recognizes as much. So Jesus says to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

That closes out this scene that is sort of like a bad movie where the villians stand in a circle around the hero and then rush at him one at time. He beats up villian one and then comes villian two and so on.

What I notice is how often Jesus focuses the discussion back on the here and now. He rejects talk about taxes, and after life, and biblical trivia and instead talks about the Kingdom of God, which is altogether unlike the Kingdom of Ceasar and which is at hand. It is difficult to read these exchanges and still come away thinking that Jesus meant the afterlife when he spoke of the Kingdom. Not to say he didn't believe in an afterlife--the exchange with the Sadduces indicates he did--but the Kingdom of God was not about the afterlife. It was connected to this March on Jerusalem that he had started.

Having beat back his enemies in verbal debate, Jesus begins teaching. He talks about how the widow's mite is worth more than the offerings of the wealthy.

The day closes out with an apocolyptic vision of the near future, and a warning to the disciples not to follow false prophets. Mark 13 When Mark's audience read this bit, I am sure their heads were nodding along. They were reading in a time when Jerusalem either had been destroyed, or when there were rebels attempting to chase Rome from the streets of Jerusalem.

I have confessed before that I've yet to find meaning in apacolyptic scripture. But one thing that is even more clear from Christ's words here than in Revelation is that Christ was not talking about the distant future. He was talking about events that would occur before the end of that generation.

The other thing that seems clear to me, is that Mark is contrasting the revolution that Jesus envisions--which presumably was successful in the author's eyes--with the revolt that would ultimately be beaten down by Rome.

At the end of Tuesday, it was back to Bethany.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Day Two: You Don't Want to See Me When I'm Angry

On the as yet unnamed Palm Sunday, Jesus finished the day in front of the temple. He looked around a bit, according to Mark, but since it was late, he left and went out to Bethany, which was only a mile and a half away from Jerusalem.

Here is what happens on Monday (Mark 11:12-19):

1. On the way back in town Jesus stops to get some figs from a tree
2. Fig tree has no fruit, because it is out of season, so Jesus curses the tree
3. Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers
4. Jesus stops anyone from moving through the temple courtyard with merchandise
5. Before leaving the town again, Jesus delivers one of the great lines of the Bible, "Is it not written, 'My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'? But you have made it 'a den of robbers.'"

Both the Commentary and Borg agree that the robbers are not the money changers. They were regulated and performing a service. According to Mark, at least in the eyes of the temple establishment, the robbers referred to the temple establishment. The Commentary notes that JC Superstar notwithstanding, robbers cannot be translated thieves. The connotation is that of a violent law breaker, perhaps even a leader of revolt. Although, the best reading is probably that the slur is directed at the temple leaders--the religious Establishment.

I notice that Jesus did not take time to understand the point that the temple leaders had and work to incorporate their theology into his. He turned their tables upside down, said they weren't doing God's work, and if that resulted in him getting to trouble, then so be it.

I'm just saying.