I LOVE comments. Please leave some even if they are brief half-formed ideas
that you aren't even sure you really believe. I just love comments.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part III)

What does it call us to do?  

If the only essential is faith in Christ, and unity means that we are intimately connected to all who profess this essential, then what that means in our modern world is that we have a responsibility to do more than just be happy with our own recognition of this truth.  We must boldly and actively proclaim it to our brothers and sisters in Christ.  And that is not necessarily easy.

Consider the historical examples of those who were married to people of different races or those who remarried after divorce.  Consider the modern example of those who are hear without proper immigration status or who are gay.  Is it enough for our little church to just quietly open its door?  I think not.

For one, it was not fair to our brothers and sisters in Christ who were in mixed race couples or had been divorced.  It is not fair to our brother and sisters who are here in violation of immigration law or who are gay.  Our little progressive church has its own style of worship and Bible study that is pretty much its own.  What about the gay man who prefers High Mass?  What about the undocumented immigrant who enjoys a meditative worship?  Or the divorced couple that likes singing "Old Rugged Cross"?  Should then be condemned to singing from the Chalice hymnal and listening to intellectuals drone on about the Jesus Seminar or Spong's latest jab at literalists?  Why?  Because we are the only ones that will take them?  That's unacceptable.

And for two, we owe it to our brothers and sisters in Christ who would turn them away.  We are not at liberty to watch them sin against the body of Christ without alerting them to their misdeed.  Will it be easy?  No.  At Sunday dinner it is best to avoid religion, sex and politics and these topics touch all three.  But we have no choice.  Indeed, they may disagree.  They may think who you have sex with is in fact an essential.  They are wrong, and we can't just be satisfied with being right.  It is our obligation to our brothers and sisters with whom we are unified in the body of Christ to witness to them.

But not with violence or vitriolic rhetoric.  In all things charity, after all.

Answer three:  With charity, but with clarity, we are called to witness for equality.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part II)

What is unity?  

The Disciples initial idea of unity involved structural unity.  Like, ending denominationalism.  A concept as useless as the word denominationalism.  Not that there is anything wrong with something of a unification effort among mainstream denominations.  But, the notion that we can all worship, and have communion, and ordain together is a little foolhardy.  Particularly given that it is only in essentials that we must have unity.

Rather, unity is more an idea like Paul's expression of one body in Christ.  We are all connected in a profound an intimate way.  There isn't a Fundamentalist Body of Christ and a Process Theology Body of Christ.  There is one body of Christ.

Of course, in the middle of all of this touchy feel good time we then stumble across something ugly.  If we as Disciples are "Christians only," then we have to let in everyone who is a Christian AND if we deny access to anyone, we aren't saying they don't belong to our club, we are saying they don't belong to the body of Christ.

So, what about people who believe in transubstantiation?  In.  What about people who don't even take communion every Sunday? In.  What about people who believe that the Earth is coming to an end so soon, that Global Warming is not a problem? In.

What about people who believe that Aurora, Colorado would have benefited from more guns in the theater?  What if I'm asking that to a Congregation that lost one of its most beloved members, a boy of 17 years, to senseless gun violence?  In.

What about people who would say that to be gay is a sin?  What if I am asking this question to a group of people deeply scared from the wickedness perpetrated against them by a homophobic society?  Well, is one's belief about being gay an essential?  No.  Then it is a non-essential, in which case it is to be treated with liberty.  IN.

Answer two: Unity means recognizing the connectedness of all Christians and accepting our intimate relationship with each one regardless of where they stand on non-essentials.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Three thoughts from my last sermon (Part I)

In my most recent sermon at Chalice Christian Church, I answered three questions that spring from the slogan, "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."  The questions are (1) What is essential to being a Christian? (2) What does it mean to be unified? (3) What action does this understand compel us to take?

What is essential?  The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a movement that seeks to bring wholeness to a fragmented world.  From its beginning, the founders pursued to potentially contradictory ends--restoration and unity.  Restoration meaning returning to the ways of the early church.  If you know anything about the early church, you know that it was not unified.  It fact, it was this disunity that gave rise to the creeds that Disciples so loathe.  Hence the popular slogan, "We have no creed, but Christ."

As mentor and friend Reverend Dale Copsey pointed out to me, the commas is key.  Christ is not our creed; Christ is instead of creeds.  And that goes a long way to answering the question of essentials.  To be Christian one must believe that there is something special about Jesus Christ.  Furthermore, that belief must have personal impact.  The essential is the good confession.  Words that I usually formulate as: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the Living God?  Do you take him as your personal savior.  (BTW, I am intentionally vague on these things.  Reverend Jim Corner, another close personal friend of mine, rejects almost all Christology.  But the primacy of Christ in his personal life is evident despite is predilection toward provocation when it comes to questions of His divinity.)

That is it, as the kids say, IMHO.

IF Christian THEN one believes in Jesus.  We can test it.  TRUE? (IF One does not believe in Jesus THEN One is not Christian)  I think the test is true.  If you believe Jesus was an important and valuable teacher, but he means nothing particular to you, then I think it is fair to say you are not a Christian.  It doesn't mean you're evil.

Does it mean you'll go to hell?  I don't know.  I think it means you cannot achieve Salvation, or living in The Way, or entry into the Kingdom of God--whatever those terms mean.  I used to get hung up on this sentiment.  But frankly, if you think outside of the Christian context, it is pretty easy to see the truth of it.  Can you live a Kosher life by studying Zen Koans?  I think not.  Neither can you achieve Enlightenment or Detachment from reading the Koran.  These ends or unique to each of the world religions, and it would be bizarre bordering on chauvinistic to suggest that they all lead to the goal of Christianity.

Answer one: To be Christian one must only believe in Christ.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Sermon from July 2012

Below are pictures that are not entirely unrelated to the audio of sermons I gave at Chalice Christian Church last month.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Watch as Dan Barr & Jim Barton (me) try to out do each other with short, outrageous sound bites.

Friday, May 11, 2012

From the mouths of . . .

not quite babes anymore. Super proud of JamesIII on this one.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Warning for Those Who Join Late

The fight against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation has suffered some set backs recently.  The United Methodist Church and North Carolina both voted for exclusion and bigotry.  That saddens me.  Nonetheless, my frustration is greatest with regard to those who sit on the sidelines.  As John the Revelator says, "So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth."  Rev. 3:16.  Here's a little Persian parable from Herodotus that I came across this morning that seemed relevant.
As soon as the Lydians had been subjugated by the Persians, the Ionians and Aeolians sent messengers to Cyrus, offering to be his subjects on the same terms as those which they had under Croesus. After hearing what they proposed, Cyrus told them a story. Once, he said, there was a flute-player who saw fish in the sea and played upon his flute, thinking that they would come out on to the land. Disappointed of his hope, he cast a net and gathered it in and took out a great multitude of fish; and seeing them leaping, “You had best,” he said, “stop your dancing now; you would not come out and dance before, when I played to you.” The reason why Cyrus told the story to the Ionians and Aeolians was that the Ionians, who were ready to obey him when the victory was won, had before refused when he sent a message asking them to revolt from Croesus. So he answered them in anger. 

God help us.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Why I Am an Ally

My piece for the GLAD Easter Writing Project is up today. You can find the project here. I strongly encourage looking into the archives. There are some amazing pieces from folks who have walked the walk. Here is what I had to say:

I am a person of privilege. Not so much based on my finances—although, there too if I allow myself any perspective—but I am a white, male, cisgendered, middle-aged, straight, married, Christian father of two kids with a house in the suburbs. The question: Why would someone like me be an active ally of those in the LGBTIQ community? The answer: Jesus offers salvation, even to the privileged.

If you peruse the Beatitudes, you do not find much love for people like me. Blessed are the poor, those that hunger, those that are hated for Jesus’ sake, and those that mourn. The social-justice activist author of Luke even takes it a step farther and provides curses for the rich, the full, those who are laughing and those who are spoken well of. Luke 6. Thankfully, if you look elsewhere Jesus provides an out for us. In Matthew 25, we learn that we can be saved simply by helping the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned. In Mark 10, Jesus teaches the privileged young man that all he has to do to inherit eternal life is to give up his privilege and follow Jesus. It is surely a rational choice to surrender privilege in order to participate in the life eternal, right?

Of course, the thing about surrendering privilege—or put another way, promoting justice—is that once it is gone, it is gone. That was the rich man’s problem in Mark. He had so much that surrendering it was not an easy thing to do. Kindness or charity is much easier. I could be the straight guy who is actually pretty nice to the gays. The man who actually lets the woman at work get credit for something once in a while. The cisgendered man who, you know, uses the proper pronoun without commentary when referring to a transgendered woman. Of course there is a problem with the kindness over justice plan; seems like you risk missing out on the eternal life promise.

Even with such a great prize at stake, it would have been difficult for me to advocate for a permanent end to my privilege, but for the powerful examples in my life of people who chose justice, and therefore participation in the eternal life. My parents were children of the sixties who fought for justice. My mom is the teacher who stands up for the rambunctious little boy, or the girl whose clothes don’t get washed as often as they should, or the little guy who can get this math problem but not as fast as the others. My dad established open membership and women elders at every church he pastored, and preached against racism and in favor of Dr. King’s ministry—even when it was suggested that he tread lightly around such topics. And truthfully, that is why I am an ally. I believe the Scripture supports being a champion for social justice, but without the example of what living the eternal life really means, how truly, deeply, joy-filled it can be, I would never have been able to reach for it by letting go of the privilege.

I asked my mom why she and my dad cared so much about justice. She said, “Well, I think it is because of the church.” She talked about the unconditional love they had both experienced at Meadlawn Christian Church in Indianapolis and how that unconditional love had as its precursor the notion that everyone, everyone, was a child of God. Presumably the folks at Meadlawn who loved Mom and Dad as youngsters would have told a similar story. Who knows how far back this chain of love goes. Maybe in a very concrete way, I pursue justice today because Jesus not only offers salvation to the privileged, but because Jesus started a chain of love that made it possible for me to accept that salvation.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Predestiny and Predisposition

Oedipus Rex explores man's inability to run from his destiny. Oedipus, his parents, and a few other people became aware that something unthinkable is going to happen. I focus on the sexual component because it seems that Oedipus was not particularly traumatized my coming across some folks on the highway and killing them. Perhaps the Thebes-Corinth corridor observed a version of the stand your ground law. Also, frankly, it is not hard to imagine a circumstance that leads to a father killing a son, particularly in the king-crown prince dynamic. Also, Sophocles devotes some significant energy to describing Oedipus' sexual perversion in new and different ways.
He sowed the same womb as his father . . . Time, which watches everything and uncovered you against your will, now sits in judgment of that fatal marriage, where child and parent have been joined so long. . . . She lay moaning by the bed, where she, poor woman, had given birth twice over—a husband from a husband, children from a child. . . . As he moved, he kept asking us to give him a sword, as he tried to find that wife who was no wife—whose mother’s womb had given birth to him and to his children.
The play ends with Oedipus mutilating himself and his mother/wife killing herself. Uplifting I know. I can't help but be reminded of the torment we inflict on the gay community by insisting that they deny their sexuality. Running from one's destiny, Sophocles teaches, leads to suffering. I wonder if it matters whether one considers something to be a predestiny rather than a predisposition. I wonder whether my heterosexual orientation and cisgender is destiny or disposition.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Suffering of Your Enemy

After Achilles has killed Hector, Homer takes us to Hector's widow in the walls of Troy.
Hector's wife had as yet heard nothing, for no one had come to tell her that her husband had remained without the gates. She was at her loom in an inner part of the house, weaving a double purple web, and embroidering it with many flowers. She told her maids to set a large tripod on the fire, so as to have a warm bath ready for Hector when he came out of battle; poor woman, she knew not that he was now beyond the reach of baths, and that Minerva had laid him low by the hands of Achilles.
To twist the knife a bit, Homer turns to Hector's now fatherless son.
The day that robs a child of his parents severs him from his own kind; his head is bowed, his cheeks are wet with tears, and he will go about destitute among the friends of his father, plucking one by the cloak and another by the shirt. Some one or other of these may so far pity him as to hold the cup for a moment towards him and let him moisten his lips, but he must not drink enough to wet the roof of his mouth; then one whose parents are alive will drive him from the table with blows and angry words. 'Out with you,' he will say, 'you have no father here,' and the child will go crying back to his widowed mother.'
[Aside: The anger directed toward a weeping child reminded me of the pain of leaving for deployment. A socially awkward, emotionally stunted department head's son came crying after him on the day of leaving for deployment. The man shouted to his son, "Get back in the house or I will beat your butt."]

The closing line of Book 22 refers again to the widow, "In such wise did she cry aloud amid her tears, and the women joined in her lament." This whole passage reminds me of the Biblical story of Deborah. Deborah's general Barak, no relation, crushes the enemy army led by Sisera. Sisera runs away and seeks shelter to Jael. Jael, in another exercise of girl power, kills Sisera while he sleeps by driving a tent stake through his temple. The song of Deborah closes with this passage:
28 “Through the window peered Sisera’s mother;
behind the lattice she cried out,
‘Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why is the clatter of his chariots delayed?’
29 The wisest of her ladies answer her;
indeed, she keeps saying to herself,
30 ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoils:
a woman or two for each man,
colorful garments as plunder for Sisera,
colorful garments embroidered,
highly embroidered garments for my neck—
all this as plunder?’
Judges 5:28-30. I have often wondered what to make of this passage from the song of Deborah, which is one of the oldest passages in the Hebrew Bible. Are the Hebrews invoking sympathy for their enemies? Is Homer? The fact is, Homer treats Hector with much more respect than the Hebrews treated any Hebrew enemy. It makes me feel sympathy for the enemy, but is that the purpose? Or is the purpose to say to the People not only did we kill the enemy, we humiliated him and we made his women and children back home weep for him? Is this the beginnings of moving beyond tribalism, or is this dancing on the grave of the vanquished?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

The Goldwater Institute versus Jesus

The concept of this blog is to address how my faith informs my politics. Recently, I've focused more on classic literature and some more amature scholar interpretations of Scripture. But, let's get back to basics.

Today, the Goldwater Institute issued a called for consolidated elections. The first benefit of this plan is "that taxpayers throughout the state would save millions of dollars every election cycle if HB 2826 became law." Interesting. I know that for similar reasons other folks have suggested ending the Presidential Preference Election--why should the state foot the bill for conducting elections for the political parties? But I wonder if this anti-worker organization has an ulterior motive for consolidating these elections. Oh, let's look at the next paragraph.

"With more taxpayers participating in elections, taxpayers will have a better opportunity to reject bonds and other spending initiatives, which are typically sought by special interest groups who dominate the current off-cycle elections." So, more difficult for special interest groups. They're obviously bad. But, what does Goldwater consider a special interest group? They've worked pretty hard to allow corporations to dominate elections and to suppress the speech of union members and political candidates of average means. I wonder if they are talking about children as a special interest group. Oh, let's look at the next paragraph.

"This will help prevent fiscal fiascos, such as occurred in March 2006 when fewer than 16 percent of Phoenix voters approved $900 million in new taxpayer spending during an off-cycle special bond election." In case you're keeping score at home, the fiasco is a 1% sales tax for education. Yes, the group that fights for the rights of corporations to buy elections and to silence the participation of working men and women in elections, believes that educating children is a "special interest." Now, I disagree with them. But if only I had some historical figure on which to hang my point of view.
Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”
Matthew 19:13-14. So, to be fair, Goldwater is not so bad in thinking that children are a nuisance and a special interest group; the disciples thought the same thing.

Of course, this passage isn't about funding. True, Jesus did actually say that we are judged explicitly on how we treat the least of these. But did Jesus ever specifically suggest that rich people should have to give their money to poor people? Oh, let's look at the next paragraph.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he inquired.
Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’[c] and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’[d]”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth
Matthew 19:16-22.

Moral of the story: Barry Goldwater is not the only figure that the Goldwater Institute's policies are at odds with.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Zeus Is Kind of a Jerk

So, Book XIV of the Iliad is really just full of all kinds of terrible stuff from a feminist critique perspective. A major thrust of the passage is that Hera, Zeus's sister-wife, decides to sleep with him so that while he is "spent" the god Sleep will put Zeus out for a while to give the Achaeans a chance to come back in the their battle against Troy.

Now, sprinkled throughout the book is awfulness like Hera offering a women to Sleep as a prize to convince Sleep to go along with the project. Also, Hera tricks Aphrodite into giving her some potion type thing to make her more attractive to Zeus. So, women are things to be exchanged for favors, although powerful women can use trickery and sex to manipulate powerful men. Lovely.

Check out Zeus's response to Hera, did I mention she is his sister, getting him all hot & bothered.
Cloud-gatherer Zeus then answered:

you can go there later. But why don't we
lie down and make joyful love together?
I've never felt such sexual desire before
for any goddess, for any mortal woman.
It's flooding through me, overpowering the heart
here in my chest—not even when I lusted for
Ixion's wife, who bore me Peirithoƶs,
a man as wise as gods, or Danaƫ,
with her enchanting ankles, daughter
of Acrisius, who gave birth to Perseus,
most illustrious of men, nor the daughter
of famous Phoenix, who bore me Minos
and godlike Rhadamanthus, nor Alcmene,
who gave birth to Hercules in Thebes,
a mighty hearted son, nor Semele,
who bore that joy to mortals Dionysus,
nor fair-haired lady Demeter, nor Leto,
that glorious girl, not even for yourself—
I felt for none of these the love I feel
for you right now—such sweet desire grips me."
Nice. You're way hotter than all of the other ladies I've nailed before. Let me list them. I would think this was more bizarre if I did not have friend who had a similar experience. For her, it was with her first sexual partner. His post coitus reflections included wondering outloud how many women he had deflowered in this very bed. I'll have to check in with her and determine if this dude was a classics major.

Not that it is new information for anyone, but it appears the ancient Hebrews did not have a monopoly on misogyny. Although, I suppose the stories of Ruth and Esther are not entirely devoid of a heroine using her womanly charms on a man to get what she wants. At least they have the decency to use a euphemism or two.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Illiad and Independent Expenditures

So, Zeus was a fan of the Acheans, but especially Achilles. Since Achilles was mad at Agamemnon for taking from Achilles the woman he had captured as his slave, Zeus was helping the Trojans win battles against the Acheans, led by Agamemnon. Posiedon, on the other hand, couldn't stand to watch the Acheans get slaughter, but because Zeus had commanded that there be no interference, he could not coordinate with the Acheans openly. Put another way:
Then two mighty sons of Cronos, at cross purposes,
made painful trouble for those mortal warriors.
Zeus wanted victory for Hector and his Trojans,
to give swift Achilles glory—not that he wished
Achaea's army to be totally destroyed
in front of Troy, but he did want to honour Thetis,
and her great-hearted son, as well, Achilles.
But Poseidon moved around among the Argives,
urging action, coming out in secret from the sea,
angry that Trojans were destroying Achaeans,
and incensed at Zeus. Both gods had a common father—
the same family, too—but Zeus was older and more wise.
So Poseidon avoided giving any overt help.
He did his work in secret through the army,
in human form, rousing men to fight. So these two
looped the cords of powerful war and deadly strife
around both contending armies, then pulled them taut,
a knot no one could undo or slip away from,
a knot that broke the limbs of many fighting men.
The Illiad, Book XIII.

As a campaign finance lawyer, this strikes me as similar to our current system for funding campaigns. The "sons of Cronos" in the political arena would be well funded corporations, labor organizations, and ideological political organizations. By removing any regulations associated with independent expenditures, we've created a peculiar environment where the vast majority of money spent directly advocating for the election or defeat of a candidate will be spent by groups who by law cannot coordinate with the candidate himself or herself. These groups can obviously have as complex and seemingly contradictory motivations as Zeus did in wanting the Acheans to win, but only if with Achilles.

Of course, if one is interested in influencing the political landscape, I suppose working within one of these sons of Cronos would not be a bad idea.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

St. Baldrick's: Litany of the Saints

Today, I'm kicking off my fundraising for St. Baldricks and would like to present a litany of the Saints that have made this event special to me.

St. Nathan - a special boy about whom I only know snipits. I know that while vacationing with a big group of us in a Scottsdale house, he could not get enough of the swimming pool. I know that Ode to Joy was his favorite hymn and that Fred was his favorite Scooby Do character; I know he died too young.

St. Matt - my friend who first started shaving his head to raise money for cancer research in response to Nathan's diagnosis. Matt is responsible for guiding us to this positive response to the tragedy that is cancer.

St. Beth - my friend who obtained a grant from St. Baldrick's foundation to research medicine important for childhood cancer treatment. Beth is responsible for giving me that knowledge in my gut that this money is doing good work.

St. James - my son who agreed to shave his head to help the cause as well. James is responsible for inspiring me to continue even when I become worried that my asking for money is becoming a drag for my friends.

St. Jeremy - a boy from my youth group who agreed to shave his head for the cause. Jeremy's hair was so beautiful that when the barber began to shave his head there was an audible gasp at the outdoor venue. Jeremy could only participate one year because he lost his life is a senseless act of violence involving a gun; Jeremy died too young.

St. Alex - Jeremy's brother who was never one for crowds or attention. Nonetheless, he agreed to shave his head for the cause in Jeremy's place. Alex is responsible for me understanding that there is courage in this world that I can only witness.

I will not list the donors individually, but I am humbled each year by those who give to this cause. Thank you all for your past support; and thank you for giving again this year. To give, follow the link on the right side of the page.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Read This

This is such a perfect display of the different creation stories. I certainly cannot improve on it. Just read this.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Faith & Politics

This post is based on reactions I received to being happy that President Obama revealed that helping the poor was a manifestation of his faith. Here's the AZ Central article.

First ground rules, I accept that there is an American value to separate church and state. And, I believe that this value is not limited to the strict legal confines of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. In other words, there are steps that a person can take that would violate our national value in keeping religion separate from governing that do not necessarily give rise to a judicial cause of action under the First Amendment.

Second, just to be clear, there is no Christian value that parallels this. Liberal Christians sometimes like take the Give unto Caesar passage as Jesus advocating that faith is separate from government. Not so. If you read the passage you will realize the Jesus uses to quote as an indirect way of saying that we, who bear the image of God, should be given to God; thus, dodging the trap set by his detractor.

So, let's imagine that I am a liberal Christian who is a member of my city council. It would be wrong for me to use my governmental power to promote my church. I should not use council meetings as a forum to encourage people to attend my church. I should not push for city contracts with church members, or members of similarly aligned churches. It would also be wrong for me to use my church affiliation to gain more political power. So, I should not say vote for me because I'm a real Christian. Nor should my pastor encourage people from the church to vote for me.

By contrast, it is entirely appropriate for my faith to influence the decisions that I make as city council member. Indeed, it would be impossible for it to be otherwise. As a Christian, I believe that all people are a creation of God, thus I believe in equality. I believe that our salvation is based on how we care for the poor. Thus, I want to ensure there is a social safety net. Likewise, if my faith is going to be worth anything, it needs to address how we live which necessarily includes so-called political issues.

The result is that I can become frustrated by the conduct of people if (1) they misuse their official power to promote their faith, or (2) if their faith properly influences the way they conduct themselves in office, but I find their faith inspired values to be repulsive.

Examples of (1) include printing "In God We Trust" on our money, having a national day of prayer, holding a giant campaign event about prayer, or pastors supporting specific candidates from the pulpit. Examples of (2) include opposing requirements that pharmacists fill birth control prescriptions and opposing gay rights. I actually think (2) is more of a problem in recent politics.

One that sits on the edge for me is teaching creationism. On the one hand, it promotes the creationist's religious views, based on themes similar to those presented in some parts of the Bible. On the other hand, it is an expression of their world view--which is appropriate--but it just happens that their world view is a nonsensical perversion of the faith. Maybe it is wrong on both principles.

Does this distinction work?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Live Encounters

Pat & I went to see some live music tonight at the Rhythm Room . It was really fun even though the music was rockabilly, which neither one of us, and especially Pat, would never listen to on the radio. I don't know exactly why that is, but tonight I wondered if it was because you could sense the joy of the artist or the others in the room.

Last weekend I attended a retreat of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)'s GLAD Alliance leadership council. During the retreat we watched a lecture that evaluated different techniques of addressing prejudice. Sadly for me, research shows that the worst way to move someone from a bigoted position is education. I say sadly because education, or debating, or mocking, is my favorite response to prejudice.

Turns out that what works is contact. While serving on the GLAD council and while working at Chalice Christian Church, and on several occasions in my professional life, I've had many opportunities to work with members of the LGBT community. As a result, it is hard for me to even understand how there are people who can claim that the love these people I know so well is sinful. It seems ludicrous to hold such a belief.

I wonder if there is something similar between the thrill of live music and the intensity of working together with someone that changes your experience to such a degree that your emotion must follow.

The nice thing is that this study suggests there is more knowing contact with gay people than ever before in this country. Maybe this will be a non-issue sooner than we think.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Illiad & Me.

In 1995, I returned from an overseas deployment. It was short even by Clinton-Peace-Era standards, only ten weeks. I got off the boat in my whites, complete with my eagle-adorned cover, to hug and kiss my wife and ten month old son. It was my first such return, and I was as emotional as my wife.
Hector stretched his arms towards his child, but the boy cried and nestled in his nurse's bosom, scared at the sight of his father's armour, and at the horse-hair plume that nodded fiercely from his helmet.
Jimmy clutched his mom tightly and started to cry once he was in my arms. It was clear that he didn't recognize me. We tried to shrug it off, I think, and his mom took him back. But, once we got home, I took out the Dr. Seus book that I had read to him on a video tape--a video tape that he and his mother watched while I was away.
His father and mother laughed to see him, but Hector took the helmet from his head and laid it all gleaming upon the ground. Then he took his darling child, kissed him, and dandled him in his arms, praying over him the while to Jove and to all the gods. "Jove," he cried, "grant that this my child may be even as myself, chief among the Trojans; let him be not less excellent in strength, and let him rule Ilius with his might. Then may one say of him as he comes from battle, 'The son is far better than the father.' May he bring back the blood-stained spoils of him whom he has laid low, and let his mother's heart be glad.'"
Upon hearing my familiar voice and the familiar words, Jimmy recognized me, and I felt our bond as father and son was restored. I prayed a silent prayer of thanksgiving to be home and to be able to hold my son again. I suspect Pat did as well.
With this he laid the child again in the arms of his wife, who took him to her own soft bosom, smiling through her tears.
We still have those videos of me reading to Jimmy, who now goes by James, but since we can't even talk about them without choking up, we haven't ever watched them. Too soon.

I hope things turn out as well for Hecktor as they did for me. I'm only through Book VI.

Monday, January 16, 2012

I like this painting

This painting intends to illustrate this passage from the Gospel of Luke:
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Let's stop here because the painting is intended to show Mary just as the Angel Gabriel arrives. As most probably know, the passage goes on to have the angel tell Mary that, despite her virginity, she "will conceive and give birth to a son, and [she is] to call him Jesus." The passage contains Luke's patented "do not be afraid" admonition, and concludes with Mary's declaration that she is “the Lord’s servant,” and her prayer, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Luke 1:26-38.

So here is what I love about this painting. First, it shows Mary reading a book and older than I think I see her sometimes. I like the idea of her having her wits about her and not being just an empty vessel to be filled by God, so to speak. Second, I love the realism of her expression, and I get the notion that the angel is over her shoulder, and not as the commentaries I have read on-line suggest, directly in front of her. I don't think the viewer is in the place of Gabriel; I think she is looking off or not really looking anywhere like a person does when trying to listen closely. Finally, I love the quiet intimacy the piece conveys. I've come back to this several times and just found it to be really moving.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Fair Wages

Much of my reading last year focused on economic justice. I wanted to write something that addressed many of these primary sources. Also it is sort of a pet topic

There is such a thing as economic injustice distinct from committing fraud. Wages can be a source of injustice; however, it is no easy task to assess a just wage. While Marx suggests we eliminate private property, I think the better solution is to accept the market's poor job of assigning a just wage but to use a social safety net to make the system morally tolerable.

Economic Systems Can Be Unjust

When there is no economic system, any party takes possession of what he or she wants. If more than one person wants the same possession, the strongest will prevail. Rousseau addressed this state, and whether there existed a right of the strongest, by writing, "Suppose for a moment that this so-called 'right' exists. I maintain that the sole result is a mass of inexplicable nonsense" The Social Contract, Book I, Section 3. He explains that force has nothing to do with morality. I agree with Rousseau, and so does Jesus. He reserved his blessings for the weak and his curses for the mighty. For example,
Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
. . . .
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Luke 6:17-26. I do not think this is a tough conclusion that the strong exploiting the weak is not a moral economic system, although I do not know what Ayn Rand or Rand Paul would say. Without regard for these potential objections, let proceed to the next idea.

The next system is one in which any agreement is allowed. In this system, the collective force of the society is used to ensure compliance with the binding agreements. Montaigne recognizes that agreements tend to have winners and losers, writing that "no profit whatever can possibly be made but at the expense of another." Essays, Book I, ch. 21. Scripture condemns economic systems that exploit the poor. See, e.g., Amos (condemning those who tax the poor); Proverbs (condemning exploiting the poor in court). Indeed, when the Israelites returned from exile, Nehemiah scolded them for engaging in some exploitative property deals that actually sounded like they might be similar to practices of lenders today.
Now the men and their wives raised a great outcry against their fellow Jews. . . . “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards and our homes to get grain during the famine.” . . . “We have had to borrow money to pay the king’s tax on our fields and vineyards." . . . When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest! . . . What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? . . . Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the interest you are charging them—one percent of the money, grain, new wine and olive oil.”
Nehemiah 5:1-12. So we have an Ancient Palestine loan modification. Note, exploitation does not necessarily mean cheating, which is condemned in other places. See, e.g., Proverbs & Micah, Clearing the Temple. This leads me to the conclusion that it would be desirable to have a method to assess whether a wage is fair, beyond simply asking whether either party lied to each other.

An Honest Day's Pay for an Honest Day's Work

First, it is worth reaching all the way back to Locke's comments on work. Locke attributes the creation of private property to the work individuals put into raw materials, which Locke believes were all given equally to all humans. As for the balance of the value, Locke writes, "It is labour then which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would scarcely be worth any thing." Concerning Civil Government, Ch. V , para. 43. From Locke's comments a fair wage could be derived from considering the amount value of any service or product and assuming that the vast majority of it should be transferred to the wage earners. There are problems with this conclusion. Not least of which is that Locke was referring to land, and that Locke recognized that property rights have since been set up by conventions and are no longer a direct product of labor as in the natural state.

Adam Smith considers wages more directly in the context of a component of the cost of any item, along with rent and the cost of capital. Smith believes that the market creates two limits on wages. For a floor, "[a] man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him . . . in order to bring up a family, the labour of the husband and wife together must, even in the lowest species of common labour, be able to earn something more than what is precisely necessary for their own maintenance." Wealth of Nations, Book I, Ch. 8. Marx states it more bleakly, claiming that "[t]he average price of wager labour is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer." Communist Manifesto, Ch. 2. The slight difference between Marx and Smith in defining the minimum possible wage is that Smith assumes that worker can negotiate and as such will not take less than what they need to live on. Marx recognizes the power differential.

Of course, this is only the minimum. Smith also puts forward some expectations for what will actually drive wages. Smith cites five factors in Chapter 10. (1) The job that is more difficult, less desirable, and less honorable will pay more. (2) The job that it cost more or is more difficult to be qualified to do will pay more. (3) The job that has less job security will pay more. (4) The job that requires the public trust will pay more. (5) The job will pay more if success is less certain. I can say that I personally have not found this to be an accurate list. At least, it is not good enough to predict for example the pay received by someone operating a civilian nuclear reactor versus a naval nuclear reactor. Similarly, it doesn't seem to work for school teachers versus insurance underwriters. It doesn't work for firm lawyers versus attorneys general.

I would add to this list the amount of money that flows through a given field as a determiner of wage. More broadly, however, I think the list illustrates how difficult it is to quantify what is a just wage. It doesn't include the social value of the job being performed, and probably a dozen other factors that most people would believe should be a component in determining what one should be paid. So, what is there to do if it is so difficult to fairly compensate people? Marx has an answer.
The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.
We know a couple things about this idea. One, the violence can by plenty real. Two, the economic losses are tremendous.

I think the best solution is to let the market set the wages. Rather than attempt to address the problem by ensuring fair wages, we should instead put in place a social safety net such that we are comfortable that even if someone is working in a job that should be more greatly compensated, they will not do without being able to live an acceptable lifestyle. This allows us to enjoy the maximum productivity of a capitalist society, without the moral dilemma of disparate compensation and wealth distribution. My idea is not without precedent, even in the Bible. For example, farmers were required to leave behind the grain that fell to the ground for the poor. It was their right to have this grain. Not a matter of charity. See, e.g., Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Ruth. Thus, the social safety net is necessary for Christians to accept the injustice of wage assignment found in our system.