Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eating Jesus Again for the First Time

My kids just asked me whether I was ready to put a treat into the pocket of the #1 on their Advent Calendar which starts tomorrow as the Countdown to Christmas. As you know, today was the first day of Advent.

Here's something that would surprise them! I wonder whether the manufactorer sells only the adult chocolate Jesus--or also the baby Jesus too? I'd think that baby Jesus would be more popular at Christmas and the adult version at Easter. Move over Santa and the Easter Bunny and make room for Jesus--again!

Friday, November 28, 2008

All About Naps

Some people have a day off today and with the aid of the L-tryptophan that is in the meat of turkeys, they may find themselves napping. (Or perhaps they spent a full day catching up with family and friends and or cooking yesterday and could benefit from a nap today.) Here's an article from on how naps work and suggestions on how to make the most of your naptime.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Guilt or Inspiration?

One person's inspiration is another person's guilt.

Recently I have heard people from my spiritual community complain that they feel they are being "guilted" into doing certain things. Personally, I think it is all a matter of attitude. Is perhaps the guilt they are feeling just an uncomfortable nudge from their inner consciousness of a recognition that they could do more, or better, with their lives? Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, here's a news story I just viewed that will challenge you to make this decision for yourself. Does this story shame you or make you feel guilty? Or does it inspire you?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Power of Music

Almost everyone is familiar with John Lennon's line about the Beatles, "We are more popular than Jesus". This article in the International Herald Tribune explains the backstory on this quote and also the effects of it over time up to the present.

What Lennon knew, and everyone with an open heart knows, is that music is powerful and spiritual. However music need not be seen as in competition with religion. Music and religion can "be as one" -- to borrow a phrase from Lennon himself. Imagine that!

Richard Rodriguez on Prop 8

Author Richard Rodriguez is a regular contributor on NPR. Rodriguez is Hispanic, Catholic, and gay. He talks to Salon about what is behind the pro-Prop 8 movement:

American families are under a great deal of stress. The divorce rate isn't declining, it's increasing. And the majority of American women are now living alone. We are raising children in America without fathers. I think of Michael Phelps at the Olympics with his mother in the stands. His father was completely absent. He was negligible; no one refers to him, no one noticed his absence.

The possibility that a whole new generation of American males is being raised by women without men is very challenging for the churches. I think they want to reassert some sort of male authority over the order of things. I think the pro-Proposition 8 movement was really galvanized by an insecurity that churches are feeling now with the rise of women.

Monotheistic religions feel threatened by the rise of feminism and the insistence, in many communities, that women take a bigger role in the church. At the same time that women are claiming more responsibility for their religious life, they are also moving out of traditional roles as wife and mother. This is why abortion is so threatening to many religious people -- it represents some rejection of the traditional role of mother.

In such a world, we need to identify the relationship between feminism and homosexuality. These movements began, in some sense, to achieve visibility alongside one another. I know a lot of black churches take offense when gay activists say that the gay movement is somehow analogous to the black civil rights movement. And while there is some relationship between the persecution of gays and the anti-miscegenation laws in the United States, I think the true analogy is to the women's movement. What we represent as gays in America is an alternative to the traditional male-structured society. The possibility that we can form ourselves sexually -- even form our sense of what a sex is -- sets us apart from the traditional roles we were given by our fathers.

Rodriquez on how his only family reacted to his sexual orientation:

In my own my family, and my parents were not well educated, it would have been impossible for them to have dealt with the words "gay" or "homosexual" in my relationship with them. But there was no way for them to reject me either. I was a member of the family and I couldn't sin my way out of it.

Once my partner became part of my life, he became part of their life too. They didn't want it said, they didn't want it named or defined, but they assumed it and accepted it. At family events, when my partner wasn't there, my mother would get on the phone and call him and insist he come over.

These communities have very intricate ways of dealing with these things and they are not necessarily the highly politicized tactics that you see in traditional middle-class society in America.

I have not been to a Mexican family without some suspicion of homosexuality in children or grandchildren. But people deal with it within the larger context of family. That's why I suspect the revolution will come not from the male church but from how women treat their children, and whether or not women are willing to reject their children. I don't think they are. I saw too many times during the AIDS epidemic that when death came and the disease took its toll, if one parent was there, it was almost always the mother and not the father. That bond is so powerful.

On the feminization of God:

Well, I'm working right now in the Middle East on monotheistic religions because I'm very worried about the direction of religion. Ever since Sept. 11, when I heard that prayer being spoken at the moment the planes hit the World Trade Centers, I realized how much darkness there is in religion compared to how much light there is. I am very much concerned with whether or not these religions can be feminized.

The desert religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- are male religions. Their perception is that God is a male god and Allah is a male god. If the male is allowed to hold onto the power of God, then I think we are in terrible shape. I think what's coming out of Colorado Springs right now, with people like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, is either the last or continuing gasp of a male hierarchy in religion. That's what's at stake. And women have a determining role to play. Are they going to go along with this, or are they going to challenge the order?

Happy Thanksgiving, sort of...

Here's one of Jib Jab's versions of Thanksgiving internet video greetings that you can send to your relatives and friends to mark tomorrow's holiday. I recommend that you check out the other ones too for a few laughs. I'm thankful that there are people who read LiberalPastor's blog! Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Grace at the H.L. Mencken Club

John Derbyshire writes at The Corner, but he has started a new blog, Secular Right, for secular conservatives. Writing there as Bradlaugh, for his home town, he tells the story of being at the H.L. Mencken Club as a guest speaker. Mencken, in case you don't know was a 20th century writer and critic of American culture. He was also an atheist; he famously covered the Scopes Trial where he was very critical of creationists. Here is Derb on sitting down to eat his meal at the Mencken event:

Well, so there I was sitting down to dinner on the first evening of this Menckenfest. Seeing a plate of salad in front of me, I applied some condiments and started eating. In between the second and third mouthfuls I heard an amplified voice coming from the speakers’ tables: “All right, everybody, we shall now say Grace. Bless us O Lord and these thy gifts …” I felt as if I’d been caught picking my nose on live TV.

Somewhat later I got into conversation with the lady who had given out the Grace. She was very charming and friendly, and had been instrumental in getting the conference organized, so is obviously very capable. It emerged, however, in the course of our conversation, that she is a Young Earth Creationist!

What Mencken would have made of this, I don’t know. What I make of it is, that the prospects for a godless American conservatism are not very bright.
I think there are some interesting times ahead for conservatives.

A School Breakfast for Every Child

Hilzoy passes along a snapshot of what the recession is beginning to look like for low income Americans:

Already there are signs that the recession is hitting low-income Americans hard. Between September 2006 and October 2008, the unemployment rate for workers age 25 and over who lack a high school diploma -- a heavily low-income group -- increased from 6.3 percent to 10.3 percent. Yet low-income workers who lose their jobs are less likely to qualify for unemployment benefits than higher-income workers, due to eligibility rules in place in many states that deny benefits to individuals who worked part time or did not earn enough over a "base period" that often excludes workers' most recent employment.

As another sign that poverty is now climbing rapidly, food stamp caseloads have increased dramatically in recent months, rising by 2.6 million people or 9.6 percent between August 2007 and August 2008, the latest month for which data are available. In 25 states, at least one in every five children is receiving food stamps. Because monthly food stamp caseload data are available long before the official Census poverty data for the prior calendar year, rising food stamp caseloads are the best early warning sign of growing poverty.

He suggests that one simple way to ameliorate the effects of childhood poverty is to feed every child in school:
I'd like to suggest one further measure aimed at the kids: universal school breakfasts. (Why universal? It saves paperwork, removes stigma, and makes the program much easier to administer.) Besides protecting kids from hunger, school breakfasts also make them more likely to learn and less likely to have behavioral problems. They seem to increase school attendance. We spend lots of time and energy trying to figure out ways to improve our schools; if what we're interested in is kids actually learning, making sure that they have eaten recently is a pretty good way to start.
I think this is a great idea. I could imagine that there are cereal makers who would be willing to step up to the plate to provide healthy breakfasts for free promotion. It would make mornings easier on parents, and most importantly every child begins the day well-fed.

The Squirrel Board

Several days ago I noticed a squirrel acting strangely under one of my bird feeders. It was unable to stand up without falling over and when it walked on all fours it also rolled repeatedly. It also had a heck of a time climbing around the tree near the feeder. For the last few days I have seen it early in the morning exhibiting the same odd behavior.

So I began searching the internet for answers about what might be wrong with this poor squirrel. Lo and behold I came upon The Squirrel Board, a resource for those who keep them as pets and for those who enjoy watching and/or feeding them.

After I registered and logged into their bulletin board, I found a post about a squirrel exhibiting behavior similar to my furry friend. It was suggested there that the strange behavior might be caused by a head trauma, worms, or poison. I wouldn't be surprised if my squirrel ingested poison as I have a neighbor who puts out rat poison to control chipmunks. Last summer that neighbor's poison nearly took out another neighbor's dog who ate some of it. The dog lived and the owners put up an invisible fence.

In any case I posted a message saying that I had a listing squirrel. And I got several immediate replies. It was suggested that I trap the squirrel and bring it inside, and then once I had it inside let them know and they would tell me how to care for it. When I responded that I didn't think it wise to bring the squirrel inside to join two cats, a cockatiel, and a chinchilla, I was told that there were many animal rescuers in my area who would love to take in and tend to the needs of the squirrel. I was then sent a list of these people, and I called the one who lives not too far from me. I left a message and we will see if she calls back.

I was also strongly encouraged to not call Animal Control, as they would simply destroy the animal. I won't, if I can find someone to help him out. I hate to see him suffering.

The Face of Jesus

I received an email inquiry asking me what Jesus looked like. I remembered that several years ago a magazine had done an article about this and posted a picture. I couldn't remember off-hand what magazine it was, but a Google search took me to Popular Mechanics, of all places, and there it was. The article is here.

Where is the blond hair and blue eyes?

10 Lessons from a Cancer Survivor

New York Times Editor Dana Jennings shares his lessons. Among them:

2) Doctors forget to share the gory details. After my prostate was removed, my testicles swelled to the size of shot-puts — bright, red shot-puts — and stayed that way for days. Nobody told me to expect this condition, and only ice brought relief. (Conversely, now that I’m undergoing hormonal therapy, my testicles are shrinking.)

3) Insurance can cause more stress than cancer. The goal of your insurer — no matter how singular or complex your case is — is to try to turn you into a statistical cliché, a cipher, in the face of your very human flesh-and-blood disease. In the months after my diagnosis, as my wife and I struggled to find the right pair of highly-skilled hands to perform my potentially difficult surgery, wrestling with my insurer caused me more grief, stress and depression than my cancer did. In our modern health-care-industrial-complex — and I’m talking about the bureaucrats who try to herd you into the cheapest cattle car available, not the nurses and doctors who are on the front lines — the emphasis is neither on health nor care, but on the bottom line. It’s our job, as patients, to resist with all our strength.

7) Cancer can be a punch line. I learned pretty quickly, with my wife and sons, that the phrase, “I’ve got cancer,” wasn’t a bad punch line — as in: “You take out the dog. I’ve got cancer” or “You answer the phone. I’ve got cancer” or “I ‘call’ the TV to watch ‘Monday Night Football.’ I’ve got cancer.” They’d all roll their eyes, laugh … then go do what I asked.

8) Home remedies are essential to cancer recovery. There is no better post-op therapy on a sweltering July day than a cold glass of lemonade, a transcendent oldie on the CD player — say, “Doggin’ Around” by Jackie Wilson — a stack of comic books at hand (“The Incredible Hulk,” “The Mighty Thor”) and the grace of a funny and compassionate visitor.

How Well Do You Know Your Civics?

You can take your civics test here and see if you are more knowledgeable than the average citizen. The test was administered to 2500 citizens by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute over the phone. 71% of those tested scored less than 60% on the test. I missed one, but it would have been more challenging to take the test over the phone and not have the multiple choice answers to look at.

Those Christians, 'at it' again!

I see that the congregational sex challenge is back. This time a church in a Texas is "taking the marriage cure" according to this article in the New York Times.

Last year we all read about the 30 day sex challenge another congregation. This new one in Texas was for one week only. The shorter time frame presents so many possibilities for punch lines I won't even bother to go there and let you make up your own!

As I was reading the article about this newest sex challenge, I wondered how this all meshes with The Love Dare premise from the current box office movie Fireproof. I drug my S.O. to see this movie on our date night a couple weeks ago. While the movie's heavy doses of "hellfire and brimstone" theology made it hard to watch sometimes, the underlying premise was a very good one--sometimes you've got to dig very deep to forgive and it almost always requires you to get beyond your own selfishness to look at things from the perspective of the other person in the relationship.

To me, taking The Sex Challenge with your S.O. without first going through The Love Dare, seems a whole lot like church-sanctioned prostitution.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Bible, Racism, and Homosexuality

GetReligion takes note of the changes underway in some conservative religious institutions in regards to their understanding of reading cultural mores into the Bible. At Bob Jones University:

The private fundamentalist Christian school that was founded in 1927 said its rules on race were shaped by culture instead of the Bible, according to a statement posted Thursday on the university’s Web site.

The university in northwestern South Carolina, with about 5,000 students, didn’t begin admitting black students until nearly 20 years after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling found public segregated schools were unconstitutional.

“We failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful,” the statement said.

From Furnam University:

Vaughn CroweTipton, Furman University chaplain, said there has been a long debate about whether the Bible condones slavery or discrimination. Most communities, he said, have decided biblical references to slavery were a reflection of contemporary culture.

“We can say ‘No, that was for them and not for us,’” CroweTipton said. Scholars and the faithful, CroweTipton said, are having a similar debate about the role of women in society. “We struggle to understand which of the texts we read are culturally bound.”

The school had used the Bible to justify discrimination in the past, such as in a 1998 letter to a writer who questioned the school’s ban on interracial dating. Then, school officials noted that God had created oceans to keep men apart, as well as ethnic, cultural and language barriers.

Little by little the circle of God's love becomes more open. For this we can be grateful. Is it not painfully obvious that the biblical passages that talk about homosexuality need to be seen in the same light? There is more biblical justification for slavery in the Bible than there is condemnation of homosexuality. Both views reflected cultural understandings of the day.

Conservative Christians can admit cultural biases regarding slavery and racism today. Thankfully. Let's pray for the day when they "get it" about homosexuality. Sometimes it just amazes me that they don't see the connection.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Ordinary Christian Speaks

To the Onion:

I'm here to tell you there are lots of Christians who aren't anything like the preconceived notions you may have. We're not all into "turning the other cheek." We don't spend our days committing random acts of kindness for no credit. And although we believe that the moral precepts in the Book of Leviticus are the infallible word of God, it doesn't mean we're all obsessed with extremist notions like "righteousness" and "justice."

My faith in the Lord is about the pure, simple values: raising children right, saying grace at the table, strictly forbidding those who are Methodists or Presbyterians from receiving communion because their beliefs are heresies, and curing homosexuals. That's all. Just the core beliefs. You won't see me going on some frothy-mouthed tirade about being a comfort to the downtrodden.

I'm a normal Midwestern housewife. I believe in the basic teachings of the Bible and the church. Divorce is forbidden. A woman is to be an obedient subordinate to the male head of the household. If a man lieth down with another man, they shall be taken out and killed. Things everybody can agree on, like the miracle of glossolalia that occurred during Pentecost, when the Apostles were visited by the Holy Spirit, who took the form of cloven tongues of fire hovering just above their heads. You know, basic common sense stuff.

But that doesn't mean I think people should, like, forgive the sins of those who trespass against them or anything weird like that.

We're not all "Jesus Freaks" who run around screaming about how everyone should "Judge not lest ye be judged," whine "Blessed are the meek" all the time, or drone on and on about how we're all equal in the eyes of God! Some of us are just trying to be good, honest folks who believe the unbaptized will roam the Earth for ages without the comfort of God's love when Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior returns on Judgment Day to whisk the righteous off to heaven.

Now, granted, there are some Christians on the lunatic fringe who take their beliefs a little too far. Take my coworker Karen, for example. She's way off the deep end when it comes to religion: going down to the homeless shelter to volunteer once a month, donating money to the poor, visiting elderly shut-ins with the Meals on Wheels program—you name it!

But believe me, we're not all that way. The people in my church, for the most part, are perfectly ordinary Americans like you and me. They believe in the simple old-fashioned traditions—Christmas, Easter, the slow and deliberate takeover of more and more county school boards to get the political power necessary to ban evolution from textbooks statewide. That sort of thing.

We oppose gay marriage as an abomination against the laws of God and America, we're against gun control, and we fervently and unwaveringly believe that the Jews, Muslims, and all on earth who are not born-again Pentecostalists are possessed by Satan and should be treated as such.

When it comes down to it, all we want is to see every single member of the human race convert to our religion or else be condemned by a jealous and wrathful God to suffer an eternity of agony and torture in the Lake of Fire!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Brew Story

The New Yorker explores the rise and fall and resurrection of the craft brew business. First a great opening:
Elephants, like many of us, enjoy a good malted beverage when they can get it. At least twice in the past ten years, herds in India have stumbled upon barrels of rice beer, drained them with their trunks, and gone on drunken rampages. (The first time, they trampled four villagers; the second time they uprooted a pylon and electrocuted themselves.)
Then the brew story:

America used to be full of odd beers. In 1873, the country had some four thousand breweries, working in dozens of regional and ethnic styles. Brooklyn alone had nearly fifty. Beer was not only refreshing but nutritious, it was said—a “valuable substitute for vegetables,” as a member of the United States Sanitary Commission put it during the Civil War. The lagers brewed by Adolphus Busch and Frederick Pabst were among the best. In 1878, Maureen Ogle notes in her recent book “Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer,” Busch’s St. Louis Lager took on more than a hundred European beers at a competition in Paris. The lager came home with the gold, causing an “immense sensation,” in the words of a reporter from the Times.

Then came Prohibition, followed hard by industrialization. Beer went from barrel to bottle and from saloon to home refrigerator, and only the largest companies could afford to manufacture and distribute it. A generation raised on Coca-Cola had a hard time readjusting to beer’s bitterness, and brewers diluted their recipes accordingly. In 1953, Miller High Life was dismissed by one competitor as a beer for “women and beginners.” Within a decade, most other beers were just as flavorless.

Beer has lagged well behind wine and organic produce in the ongoing reinvention of American cuisine. Yet the change over the past twenty years has been startling. In 1965, the United States had a single craft brewery: Anchor Brewing, in San Francisco. Today, there are nearly fifteen hundred. In liquor stores and upscale supermarkets, pumpkin ales and chocolate stouts compete for cooler space with wit beers, weiss beers, and imperial Pilsners. The King of Beers, once served in splendid isolation at many bars, is now surrounded by motley bottles with ridiculous names, like jesters at a Renaissance fair: SkullSplitter, Old Leghumper, Slam Dunkel, Troll Porter, Moose Drool, Power Tool, He’brew, and Ale Mary Full of Taste.

Still true about Miller High Life. Then there is the odd ball angle:

He made a stout with roasted chicory and St.-John’s-wort (“The world’s only antidepressant depressant,” he called it). While other brewers were dyeing their beer green for St. Patrick’s Day, Calagione brewed his with blue-green algae. “It tasted like appetizing pond scum,” he says. “The first sip, you were like, ‘Wow, that tasted like pond scum. But you know what? I kind of want a second sip.’ ”
And the spiritual angle:
The grain had been cooked to mash by now, and a thick, lacy foam had bubbled to the surface. It was here that A. E. Housman’s famous lines—“Malt does more than Milton can / To justify God’s ways to man”—were borne out.
I'm ready for Sunday. But first, today, there is the Penn State/Michigan State game, which will be enhanced by a Sprecher Black Bavarian Lager. It's sublime.

How do Cells Crawl?

From Scienceblogs:
There are so many great stories waiting to be discovered when you approach biology from the view point of the cell. Remember a cell is the smallest unit of life. You cannot divide it further and obtain an entity capable of reproduction and self-renewal. The cell is when chemistry meets biology. Look at every major research institution and there are loads of people working on problems involving cells, in fact there are probably more people studying cells then there are people studying physics and chemistry combined. And the problems addressed by cell biology are the very essence of basic research.

How do cells talk to each other? How do they divide, how do they KNOW when to divide? How do cells commit suicide? How do cells monitor their size, levels of energy, amount of metabolites? What do all of these processes have to do with cancer?

Perhaps one of the most fascinating stories that would be excellent fodder for an article aimed at the lay reader would be how do cells crawl. There is something primal about motion, this process is central to life and it is incredible that a bag of molecules can manage to crawl around towards and away from cues found in the environment that surrounds them. Think of it, a cell is nothing but a bag, densely packed with all sorts of bizarre machines and filaments that act together in concert to propel a cell forward. The writer countered that such an article would describe how protein A binds to protein B that then adds a phosphate to protein C ... and reading the primary literature you would think hat that is all there is. But I have to say that this type of analysis is comparable to describing how a car operates by analyzing every nut and bolt. Biology after all is the study of minutia, and there are so many details that the only way to study cell biological processes is to dissect it down. Very rarely do you have one paper describing a novel finding in cell biology that encapsulates the whole process. You need to immerse yourself in the literature, talk to people doing the work, and all of a sudden a larger picture develops. At that point you realize that there is a better way of describing a motile cell, just like there is a better way of describing how a car works by using broader concepts.

It involves broader concepts such as the flow of actin filaments, the power of myosin motors, and the cellular clutch which involves these huge structures called focal adhesions that mediate interactions between the actin and the solids that are found on the exterior of the cell. To really describe the interior of a cell, we need to temporarily ditch the car metaphor and switch to something much more dynamic the activity inside of a motile cell is comparable to a ocean tide of actin meshwork. Actin filaments are assembled right underneath the leading edge of the motile membrane and are swept back to the rear of the cell by myosin motors. This tidal wave pushes everything including the nucleus towards the back of the cell. The actin meshork then collapses and is contracted together into long filaments called stress fibers. To generate traction the actin is hooked upto these large focal adhesions that line the sides of the membrane and help the cell cling to solids from the outside. The attachment transforms the rearward motion of actin into a forward push on the leading edge. Yes I've just described a clutch - and with that w move back to the car analogy.

At this point you can end the piece. But there is much more. It turns out that this actin flow and the molecular machine that generates it can be found in almost any cell that is responding to some extracellular stimulus The core components of this biological process are used by almost every single eukaryotic cell that wants to change its shape, whether it be a crawling amoeba, a migrating neuron, a budding yeast or even a plasmodium invading a red blood cell. In fact these components accomplish a much more basic task than allowing for cell to move or simply to change shape, this ancient machinery allows cells to reorganize their inner structure in response to a cue coming from one discrete point on its periphery. This process is called cell polarization.
I didn't know that cells crawl. It is really humbling - and scary sometimes - to realize how little I know.

Let Go, Let God

Here's the offering from The First 30 Days newsletter today. I love it! It's worth sharing. I will quickly add as a caveat that you must care that the result doesn't turn out too wrong or you will not be putting any bread on the table, or raising self-sufficient children, etc..! I know so many people (and sometimes myself) who just need to "let go" and get out of their own way. Wasn't there a cute catch phrase back in the 80s or 90s...Let Go, Let God?


Who Cares If It Turns Out Right?

"It is what it is" feels like the most overused phrase of the past couple years, but it's also the most apropos for this idea. When we adopt that kind of attitude in the right circumstance, great things can happen.

Take work, for instance. Much as we try and manage every little detail of every little project, things just don't always go according to plan. Whether you work for someone else or have started your own business, it helps to take the pressure off by remembering that you can't force things to go exactly as you want them to.

It also helps to step away. Many good and even great ideas come from the times when we allow our minds to unconsciously work around a problem. Think about it—how many "A-ha!" moments have come on a long run, in the shower or while you were otherwise engaged?

Letting go is one of those things you can apply to business and daily life in general. Sometimes, the process is much more exciting and worthwhile than the end result. It's where the real learning is! So worry less about whether something turns out right, and try to focus more on what you're experiencing as you get there.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winter Has Arrived in Minnesota

Just back from a run at Ritter Farm Park and saw people out on the ice at Lake Marion and Buck Hill Ski Resort open for business. Winter is here.

Friday with Sampson and Sadie

Watching a feline intruder in the backyard and lounging in the sun.

Obama's Confusing Speaking Habits

Via ScienceBlogs:

Stunning Break with Last Eight Years

In the first two weeks since the election, President-elect Barack Obama has broken with a tradition established over the past eight years through his controversial use of complete sentences, political observers say.

Millions of Americans who watched Mr. Obama's appearance on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" on Sunday witnessed the president-elect's unorthodox verbal tick, which had Mr. Obama employing grammatically correct sentences virtually every time he opened his mouth. But Mr. Obama's decision to use complete sentences in his public pronouncements carries with it certain risks, since after the last eight years many Americans may find his odd speaking style jarring. According to presidential historian Davis Logsdon of the University of Minnesota, some Americans might find it "alienating" to have a President who speaks English as if it were his first language.

"Every time Obama opens his mouth, his subjects and verbs are in agreement," says Mr. Logsdon. "If he keeps it up, he is running the risk of sounding like an elitist." The historian said that if Mr. Obama insists on using complete sentences in his speeches, the public may find itself saying, "Okay, subject, predicate, subject predicate - we get it, stop showing off." The President-elect's stubborn insistence on using complete sentences has already attracted a rebuke from one of his harshest critics, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

"Talking with complete sentences there and also too talking in a way that ordinary Americans like Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder can't really do there, I think needing to do that isn't tapping into what Americans are needing also," she said.

Amazing Grace in Christmas Lights

A friend thinks we should do this at church as a "church attractor."

If Only We Wished Each Other a Merry Christmas

Daniel Henninger is deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. In a WSJ editorial today he tells us that the current financial meltdown is linked to our politically correct inability to say "Merry Christmas":
Notwithstanding the cardboard Santas who seem to have arrived in stores this year near Halloween, the holiday season starts in seven days with Thanksgiving. And so it will come to pass once again that many people will spend four weeks biting on tongues lest they say "Merry Christmas" and perchance, give offense. Christmas, the holiday that dare not speak its name.

This year we celebrate the desacralized "holidays" amid what is for many unprecedented economic ruin -- fortunes halved, jobs lost, homes foreclosed. People wonder, What happened? One man's theory: A nation whose people can't say "Merry Christmas" is a nation capable of ruining its own economy.
After giving us a a brief overview of the "great unraveling" of the economy he gives us a more serious explanation for his opening remarks:
Amid all these downward-pushing pressures, occurring in plain sight, hardly anyone or anything stepped up to brake the fall. What happened?

The answer echoing through the marble hallways of Congress and Europe's ministries is: regulation failed. In short, throw plaster at cracked walls. Trusting the public sector to protect us from financial catastrophe is a bad idea. When the Social Security and Medicare meltdowns arrive, as precisely foretold by their trustees, will we ask again: What were they thinking?

What really went missing through the subprime mortgage years were the three Rs: responsibility, restraint and remorse. They are the ballast that stabilizes two better-known Rs from the world of free markets: risk and reward.

Responsibility and restraint are moral sentiments. Remorse is a product of conscience. None of these grow on trees. Each must be learned, taught, passed down. And so we come back to the disappearance of "Merry Christmas."

It has been my view that the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.

The point for a healthy society of commerce and politics is not that religion saves, but that it keeps most of the players inside the chalk lines. We are erasing the chalk lines.
Please. One name comes immediately to mind every time I read a conservative, religious or secular, making the case that personal virtue is a sufficient "check" on the forces of the market; if only we had more virtuous people, or in this case more virtuous Christian people, we would not be in the predicament we are in. We don't need government regulation; we just need to make more good people.

Reinhold Niebuhr.

I would suggest Henninger pull off his shelf the great American theologian's Moral Man and Immoral Society and turn to page 73 where Niebuhr explains what it is possible for good Christian people to accomplish in society:
All of which means that religion may increase the power and enlarge the breadth of the generous social attitudes, which nature prompts in the intimate circle; but there are definite limits to its power and extension. All men cannot be expected to become spiritual any more than they can be expected to become rational. Those who achieve either excellence will always be a leavening influence in social life; but the political structure of society cannot be built upon their achievement.
Why? Human Nature. Sin. While it may be possible for many individuals to learn to act virtuously within their intimate circles and for a few to rise to truly lofty spiritual insights and love all of humanity, most of us can't do it. We are prone to self-deception and the "spirit" of group-think.

Niebuhr wrote Moral Man, Immoral Society in 1932, in a day when labor unions were involved in pitched battles with industry captains and when segregation was still the "law" of the land. He described with great precision and insight the ability of the privileged classes and whites to deceive themselves about their virtue, their moral superiority, and how keeping the peace and their place in the status quo was vital to the very preservation of the good of humanity and the will of God.

There was no amount of training in the skills of virtue and love that was going to bring about a change of heart and a change in the status quo:
The fact is that the interests of the powerful and dominant groups, who profit from the present system of society, are the real hindrance to the establishment of a rational and just society. It would be pleasant to believe that the intelligence of the general community could be raised to such a height that the irrational injustices of society would be eliminated. But unfortunately there is no such general community. There are many classes, all of the partially deriving their perspectives from, or suffering them to be limited by, their economic interest. (213)
No amount of Christian education was going to make everything better. What was required was power set against power. Labor needed to organize itself into a sufficient force to challenge the power of industry. And long before MLK Jr. led a non-violent resistance movement to bring equality to blacks, Niebuhr predicted that this is what it would take. His hope was, in this and all cases where power needed to be brought to bear against power, that the training in Christian virtue and love would keep the struggle from descending into a spiral of deadly violence. But he was under no illusion of what might happen, given the realities of human nature, and what could be accomplished. Justice was possible, but a struggle for power would be required to bring about justice.

Niebuhr was also under no illusions that organized labor or the yet-to-be organized civil rights movement would be any less prone to self-deception and will-to-power. In The Irony of American History, he would make the same realistic assessment about American power. Even the most democratic nation on earth, that "city on a hill," was prone to self-deception and will-to-power.

The founders, of course, were reading from the same book of human nature and saw the various branches of government acting as a necessary check upon one another's power. Even "good" government can do bad things. So we should have no illusions that a strong government exercising strong government regulation in the market place is without its dangers. Any concentration of power carries within itself the seeds of its own over-reach and destruction.

The point is, though, that we live in a day when there are enormous global companies and financial institutions whose actions have enormous global consequences. Some of them are no doubt run by personally virtuous individuals. But they are not getting paid to make the world more virtuous or even more just. They are getting paid to make a profit. Sometimes it happens that they use questionable or even illegal means to make that profit. Sometimes it happens that it doesn't seem to be in their best interests to treat workers fairly. If, for example, they can avoid taking any responsibility for paying for the health care of their workers, they will. Sometimes it happens that they bring products to the market that aren't safe.

What is a worker to do? What is a consumer to do? We can appeal to their religious principles. Surely they will act honorably, decently, humanely? Surely they will exercise 'responsibility, restraint and remorse." But what if they don't. They will respond to organized power. The power of organized labor to press for better pay and benefits. The power of the federal government to demand product safety and to regulate the financial markets with the threat of real penalties and punishment for those who cheat.

Now more than ever we need a strong federal government to act as a check on global companies. Now more than ever when it has been revealed that American companies need the federal government and American taxpayers to bail them out, we need to make sure that they use that money not just in their best interests but in our best interests. Regulation is essential.

Do we need more virtuous people? Yes, we always need more virtuous people. They are, as Niebuhr says, leaven in the loaf. But we also need a little dose of realism.

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grappling with The Death of a Friend

Susan Shaughnessy went to bed one night with the flu. She never woke up. She was 30 years old. Writing in the Washington Times, Julia Duin grapples with the question of why bad things happen to good people:
We who miss her terribly have been consumed by theological debates as to why this evil was allowed to happen. She'd gone to a doctor, complaining of the flu and headaches, and was sent home to rest. After she went to bed the evening of Oct. 25, she never woke up. Her frantic housemates rushed her to the hospital, where doctors discovered Susan's autoimmune response to a freak virus had wiped clean her brain.

The technical name is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. A neurologist from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told the family her case was the worst he had seen. None of the doctors held out any hope.

When word went out last Saturday that the family was disconnecting her respirator, I rushed to Fairfax Hospital's neurological intensive care unit. She lay, silent, one hand clasped about a rosary. Her hands were warm as I held them. Her parents, brother and Eduardo sat there, numb.

"God had a reason for this," a friend told me later over the phone.

"No, He didn't," I responded. "This was the devil."

Who was responsible for the fact that Susan, who wore a long, sweepy red dress as maid of honor at a friend's recent nuptials, will never attend her own wedding? Was it her doctor, who could have noticed something was gravely wrong? Was it God or Satan who structured - or interfered with - Susan's body so it would attack itself thus?

We struggle in the dark. The Jesus that Susan believed in was a healer. He never told people to wait or be content with dying. Two thousand years later, that power is missing. All the prayers, fasting and Masses offered for Susan did not prevent her death...
There is no answer. It is not the will of God that people die. There is no power of God that can magically step in and heal a sick person. And what kind of God would it be that listens to the prayers of some and ignores the prayers of others? Nor is there any Satan causing sickness, cancer, or evil.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people. We want to understand. It is human nature to want to understand. What we can understand, thanks to science, is what it is that made her sick. But that doesn't necessarily make it any easier. What we can do is weep with those who are weeping and surround them with love and care. And resist the temptation to tell them that it was the will of God.

Via GetReligion

Progressive Brethren Summit

I was working on this for my church newsletter article but went another direction, so I thought I would post it here.

Recently I attended the Progressive Brethren Summit in Indianapolis. It was a joyful experience to be surrounded by 200 progressive Brethren, to attend worship services that had life and theological integrity, to be part of the first-ever large gathering of progressives in the denomination.

One of the highlights of the event was the presentation by Robert Miller on Jesus and the parables. Miller is a member of the Jesus Seminar. He shared some interesting and highly relevant comments on Jesus and his vision of the kingdom of God. For Jesus, Miller said, the kingdom of God is not a place or a future state of affairs. It is a present reality for all who choose to live as if it is present in their lives: "For Jesus, the kingdom of God exists whenever and wherever people dare to live as if God's will (not Rome's) governed the world." Miller likened Jesus' message on the kingdom to Gandhi's work in India. Gandhi told his fellow Indians that if they ignored the British and acted free, they would be free. They needed to stop fighting the British and begin living out of a vision of a free, self-determining people. In the same way Jesus challenged his listeners and followers to imagine what the kingdom of God would like like if it were there in their midst, and then make it happen.

I thought Miller's comments set the right tone for progressives in our denomination. For too long we have been arguing with conservatives about the future direction of the denomination, trying to change minds that can't be changed (on either side), fighting for power in a denomination that is in steady numerical decline, devoting too much time and energy playing inside baseball and not enough on service and progressive evangelism in the world around us.

What would happen if we just ignored the denomination and acted as if we are already free to be a progressive Christian presence in the world? Why not ordain LGBT people who want to be ordained and marry LGBT people who want to be married? Why not begin to pool some of the outreach money being sent to the denomination and begin using it to support progressive education, conferences, training, and church planting? Why not shift our focus to growing the progressive Christian movement? We can continue to cooperate and participate in the denomination where we share common interests, but our primary focus is not saving or changing the denomination but fully living out our vision of what it means to be a Jesus presence in our world.

At the workshop I led I heard fear expressed about the consequences of dividing the denomination. The denomination is already divided. Our fixation on needing to "fix" this problem is contributing to denominational decline and a waste of energy among progressives. Let's stop worrying about holding the denomination together and start reaching out to our neighbors with the wonderful welcoming message of Jesus. We might actually discover that there are people looking for progressive Church of the Brethren congregations that offer the best of our Anabaptist (community) and Pietist (spirituality) heritage. What we offer is more relevant today than ever.

Prayer for Today

In a bit of serendipity (see my previous post this morning), here's the today's prayer from asking for guidance from the Grandfather Spirit.

Great Spirit Guide Us
Grandfather, Great Spirit, you have been always,
And before you nothing has been.
There is no one to pray to but you.
The star nations all over the heavens are yours,
And yours are the grasses of the earth.
Grandfather, Great Spirit, fill us with the light.
Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.
Help us, for without you we are nothing.

- Black Elk (1863-1950)

They Are Coming to Your Town

The American Family Association has a new video out:
Residents of the small Arkansas town of Eureka Springs noticed the homosexual community was growing. But they felt no threat. They went about their business as usual. Then, one day, they woke up to discover that their beloved Eureka Springs, a community which was known far and wide as a center for Christian entertainment--had changed. The City Council had been taken over by a small group of homosexual activists.

The Eureka Springs they knew is gone. It is now a national hub for homosexuals. Eureka Springs is becoming the San Francisco of Arkansas. The story of how this happened is told in the new AFA DVD “They’re Coming To Your Town.”
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

A Party with no Brains

The Economist on the Republican Party of today:

The Republicans lost the battle of ideas even more comprehensively than they lost the battle for educated votes, marching into the election armed with nothing more than slogans. Energy? Just drill, baby, drill. Global warming? Crack a joke about Ozone Al. Immigration? Send the bums home. Torture and Guantánamo? Wear a T-shirt saying you would rather be water-boarding. Ha ha. During the primary debates, three out of ten Republican candidates admitted that they did not believe in evolution.

The Republican Party’s divorce from the intelligentsia has been a while in the making. The born-again Mr Bush preferred listening to his “heart” rather than his “head”. He also filled the government with incompetent toadies like Michael “heck-of-a-job” Brown, who bungled the response to Hurricane Katrina. Mr McCain, once the chattering classes’ favourite Republican, refused to grapple with the intricacies of the financial meltdown, preferring instead to look for cartoonish villains. And in a desperate attempt to serve boob bait to Bubba, he appointed Sarah Palin to his ticket, a woman who took five years to get a degree in journalism, and who was apparently unaware of some of the most rudimentary facts about international politics.

Republicanism’s anti-intellectual turn is devastating for its future. The party’s electoral success from 1980 onwards was driven by its ability to link brains with brawn. The conservative intelligentsia not only helped to craft a message that resonated with working-class Democrats, a message that emphasised entrepreneurialism, law and order, and American pride. It also provided the party with a sweeping policy agenda. The party’s loss of brains leaves it rudderless, without a compelling agenda...

Why is this happening? One reason is that conservative brawn has lost patience with brains of all kinds, conservative or liberal. Many conservatives—particularly lower-income ones—are consumed with elemental fury about everything from immigration to liberal do-gooders. They take their opinions from talk-radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and the deeply unsubtle Sean Hannity. And they regard Mrs Palin’s apparent ignorance not as a problem but as a badge of honour.

Another reason is the degeneracy of the conservative intelligentsia itself, a modern-day version of the 1970s liberals it arose to do battle with: trapped in an ideological cocoon, defined by its outer fringes, ruled by dynasties and incapable of adjusting to a changed world. The movement has little to say about today’s pressing problems, such as global warming and the debacle in Iraq, and expends too much of its energy on xenophobia, homophobia and opposing stem-cell research.

The Great American Smokeout

Saturday would be my father's 81 birthday, having been born on November 22, 1927. It was my dad's 35th birthday the day JFK was assassinated in Dallas, TX in 1963. An OSU Law School alumni, dad's favorite day of the year often fell on his birthday--not because it was his birthday--but because it meant his alma mater would be playing "that school up north" for the Big 10 Championship.

Today is approximately the 18th anniversary of the day my father was diagnosed with esophageal cancer just before Thanksgiving in 1990. He underwent surgery on December 5 and died of a massive heart attack 3 days later while still recovering in the hospital. Dad was a chain smoker and an in the closet (or more accurately in the basement) alcoholic. Until recently it was always my belief that the combination of the cigarettes and alcohol that killed him based upon the intense research I did the week following the Saturday morning call when he informed me of his cancer diagnosis and his upcoming surgery. Stunned from the news I first cried and then called 1-800-4-CANCER and went to the library to look up the characteristics of this type of cancer in the references books. It was clear that his days with me/us were short and as it turned out, much shorter than any of us could have anticipated.

Within the past 5 years, I realized that the hiatal hernia and acid reflux he endured most of his adult life probably weakened the walls of his esophagus allowing the smoke and alcohol to do it's cell altering work to create the cancer. That newer understanding has helped me to ease my anger over his participation (or lack of prevention) in his death.

Each year for the first 10-12 years following my dad's death on the day in November that the American Cancer Society sponsors The Great American Smokeout, I wrote a personal letter to a friend or relative who was a smoker asking them to try yet again to stop smoking. I told these people that I loved them and I wanted them to live a longer life than my father. I don't know if any of these letters were effective--I know some of them were not which attests not to my lack of persuasive powers, but more to the addictive power of nicotine--10 times more powerful than alcohol say brain biochemists. Some of these folks have received more than one letter from me over the years.

I had to smile this morning as I read my offering from "The First 30 Days" about creating positive changes in your life. Today's piece was about a new Nintendo DS game that helps people quit smoking. I started to imagine my daughters teaching their grandfather how to play the Nintendo DS and help him quit smoking. (Much the same way I did when I started throwing out his cigarettes after the U.S. Surgeon General issued the statement that they were hazardous to your health. (Didn't go over too well with my father.)

But the mental fiction of my daughters playing with my father will never come to pass because, in fact, they never got to meet Papa Jim who died nearly a decade before their birth. In lieu of their ability to interact live with my father and teach him how to play a Nintendo DS, I will instead get out the audiotapes that I asked a few of my family and friends (many of whom are now also deceased) to make remembering my father about 10 years ago so they could have his oral history. Last year was the first year I played these tapes and now it will be a tradition on or about November 22.

For everyone else, I will simply ask you to urge a friend of yours who smokes to try to stop--if only for one day...or better yet, if only for one day at a time!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Why Bail Out GM? It Works in the Defense Industry

Via Matt Yglesias, an interesting counter-thought to the argument that the government shouldn't be involved in bailing out the American auto industry:

Why does the United States have one of the most robust aircraft-manufacturing industries in the world? The answer is not that pure free markets have, through the workings of a natural law, granted us such a bounty. Yes, Boeing has been disciplined and strengthened by global-market competition, particularly with Airbus, but large-scale federal spending on defense contracts has crucially strengthened Boeing’s position as a locus of human capital, design experience, and innovation. In 2006, the federal government spent more than sixty billion dollars on aircraft manufacturers. Boeing received $20.8 billion, according to Government Executive magazine. (Lockheed-Martin received $27.3 billion, and Northrup-Grumman $16.7 billion.)

Why does the United States have one of the most sophisticated, innovative electronics industries in the world? Raytheon’s take from the Pentagon in 2006: $10.4 billion; Computer Sciences, $2.7 billion. And so on. General Motors received $806 million dollars that year, mostly from the Army, enough to make it the fortieth largest defense contractor on the list, just ahead, startlingly, of Johns Hopkins University, which received more than seven hundred million dollars, most of it from the U.S. Navy. (Note to self: Why?)

So we have an outsized industrial policy, centered on our national-defense strategy. General Motors receives a lot less than Boeing because our current strategy favors aviation over ground transportation. This strategy has shaped our patterns of employment and innovation—the subsidies do not remain only within the military, but spill across the civilian economy as well. Our industrial policy has also given us less inspirational national capabilities such as world-beating personal-security and mercenary services (Blackwater).

Why do we have the best killing machine in the world? Because our government funnels billions into the private industries that make the machines that do it. Somehow this massive government intrusion into the free market doesn't stifle innovation or creativity. It ensures that these companies have the funds to invent and bring a superior product to market. ( I am not saying it is a good thing.)

Why can't it be done with the American auto industry? We say to them that we are going to fund the innovation for them to make the most fuel efficient cars in the world. No money to save their butts unless they agree to make these cars. The winners produce cars that the world actually wants to buy. They keep the profits. We get the jobs. The earth gets a little greener.

Would You Want This on Your Front Lawn?

The American Family Association is selling these five and a half foot crosses as Christmas decorations. What would come to mind if you were driving down a street and saw this in someone's front yard? I know, context is everything, and if it was surrounded by other Christmas lights on a house it might not stand out. But still... what kind of message is it sending?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Obama Babies

The Newsweek headline, Change You Can Conceive In, is great:

The theory is almost too perfect to be true. Barack Obama, the son of politically progressive parents, was born Aug. 4, 1961—almost nine months to the day after John F. Kennedy was elected to the White House. Is it possible Obama was conceived on that historic night?

And if so, could history repeat itself? In the hours and days since Obama's victory, many of his exhilarated supporters have been, shall we say, in the mood for love. And though it's too soon to know for sure, experts aren't ruling out the possibility of an Obama baby boom—the kind of blip in the national birth rate that often follows a seismic event, whether it's scary (a terrorist attack) or celebratory (the end of World War II). "The mood of the country and the optimism about leadership is always somewhat related to birth rates," says Dr. Manny Alvarez, chief of reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "I'm gearing up for a healthy increase."

Hope and euphoria, says University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz, are a serious aphrodisiac. And voters under 30 went for Obama by a margin of 2 to 1. When you combine those two elements—randy people of child-bearing age—the likely result is what the online Urban Dictionary has already dubbed "Obama Babies" : children "conceived after Obama was proclaimed President, by way of celebratory sex." "If the amount of alcohol, happy people and major functions on election night is any indication, I suspect we'll indeed see a boom," says 25-year-old Brandon Mendelson, a graduate student in Albany, N.Y., who says he changed his vote at the last minute because "I wanted to be able to tell our future children that we voted for Obama."

Think Good Thoughts!

I really could have used this article a week ago today and throughout the past week. My karma seems to be slightly out of sync!

A 66 Million Dollar Mistake

I grew up in Pennsylvania cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Penn State Nittany Lions. It was a glorious time to be a fan of these two teams as the Steelers were winning Super Bowls and the Nittany Lions were perennial national powers.

I am still a fan. Yesterday I wasn't able to watch the Steelers game because the local network carried another game. So I missed the historic game, historic because it ended 11-10, a score never achieved (?) in a professional game before. I also missed the last play of the game, a play that would have changed the score if it had been upheld by the officials. Peter King of Sports Illustrated tells the story:
With five seconds remaining, trailing 11-10, the Chargers, on their own 21, tried one of those wacky, multiple-lateral plays to keep the ball alive. LaDainian Tomlinson caught a pass, flipped it to Chris Chambers, who then tried to pitch it to a teammate. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu broke it up, scooped up the football and ran in for an apparent TD. After a review, Green announced the play was upheld and the TD counted. But the officials huddled again before the Steelers extra-point attempt and changed the call, declaring Tomlinson's lateral to be an illegal forward pass which should have ended the play.
So the 11-10 score held up. No big deal. The Steelers won with or without the late touchdown. Afterwards, though, the league admitted that the call was wrong. There was no illegal forward pass; the touchdown should have counted. How big of a mistake was it? $66 million. The Steelers were 4-point favorites and the touchdown would have allowed them to cover the spread on the betting. $100 million was bet on this one game; $66 million of it was bet on the Steelers to cover the spread. There are a lot of unhappy gamblers.

I am glad I am not that big of a fan. I don't get Fantasy Football either.

If You Want to Play the Game

Kevin Drum gets it exactly right here in commenting on the Mormon Church's involvement in the Prop 8 battle in California and the subsequent protests against them:

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From the Mormon church, reacting to protests against their campaign to pass Proposition 8 in California:

"People of faith have been intimidated for simply exercising their democratic rights. These are not actions that are worthy of the democratic ideals of our nation. The end of a free and fair election should not be the beginning of a hostile response in America."

I'm afraid the church elders have it exactly backward here. Churches have every right to involve themselves in political issues, but if they do then they're going to be treated as political actors. Protests, boycotts, op-eds, blog posts, and marches are exactly the democratic ideals of our nation, and being on the receiving end of them is what happens to anyone who enters the political fray. It's a little late to pretend you didn't know this.

While I am not a big fan of protesting in front of churches and definitely do not agree with disrupting services as a political tactic, when a church gives in the political arena it can expect to take as well. You can't have one without the other.

Obama and the Apocalypse

Via Andrew Sullivan I see an American Cardinal, James Francis Cardinal Stafford doesn't think too highly of Barack Obama's election as President, calling Obama "aggressive, disruptive and apocalyptic."

Stafford was speaking at the Catholic University of America. From the student paper:

“For the next few years, Gethsemane will not be marginal. We will know that garden,” Stafford said, comparing America’s future with Obama as president to Jesus’ agony in the garden. “On November 4, 2008, America suffered a cultural earthquake.”

Cardinal Stafford said Catholics must deal with the “hot, angry tears of betrayal” by beginning a new sentiment where one is “with Jesus, sick because of love.”

Eat, Pray, Love ... an update with the author.

If you are one of the millons who has read the memoir Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (and if you aren't I recommend it for both men and women) you probably have a least a small curiosity about where the author's life has taken her since she left Malaysa at the end of her book.

Well, here's some answers to that question and more from an interview posted in Beliefnet.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bush Wants Automakers to Get Money Without Strings

From the Wall Street Journal:
Complaining about what it termed partisan "gridlock" in Congress, the White House late Friday called on lawmakers to let U.S. auto makers get quick access to a $25 billion federal loan program, by dropping a requirement that the money be spent on converting to fuel-efficient vehicles.
I think not one red cent should go to the automakers unless it has strings attached which require them to begin making fuel efficient cars. I am of a divided mind about how catastrophic it might be for the economy to allow the Big Three to fail if it comes to that; it depends on which economist I read. But if we are going to go down the road to a bailout the end result has to be a completely retooled industry. There can't be any debate about that, can there?

Teacher's Unions Are Not the Problem

Andrew Sullivan gets an earful about his blast against teacher's unions:

A reader writes:

Knocking teacher tenure is easy but simplistic. There would be some specific gains from eliminating tenure -- getting rid of (or re-motivating) some deadwood. But you're ignoring the real systematic costs. Tenure is a form of compensation: it gives teachers job security and some degree of classroom autonomy. If you already think that teaching is not attracting enough quality candidates, why would you propose cutting compensation? If you really believe in market economics, you have to grapple with the likely effects of making the job even less attractive than it already is.

There are also reasons why tenure should be attractive to anyone who is suspicious of big, centralized government. As far as I can see, tenure -- to the extent that it promotes classroom autonomy for teachers -- is one of the few things cutting against the movement to turn our schools into federally- directed test-prep centers. The relentless pressure to focus on short-term test-score improvement, even if it gives kids an impoverished understanding of what learning is and why they should ever want to pursue it, is killing my daughters' school. If tenure helps a few teachers resist that pressure, then more power to it.

Another reader adds:

I have to disagree with you on your position on tenure. It isn't that the tenure system is by any means perfect, but it is a fallacy to lay the problems of schools at the feet of that alone.

I will concede that there are a ton of teachers that I work with daily that have no business being teachers, but what people tend to forget is that teachers aren't hired with tenure. Teachers have to earn tenure through the merit you are claiming they should have; we are scrutinized for three years before it is given to us. So if your taxes are going to a crummy school full of bad teachers, then why is it the union get all the blame and not the administrators who grant unqualified or incompetent teachers tenure?...
There is more. Many good points made. I think that in the grand scheme of things teachers' unions and tenure have very little to do with the quality of education. Any system is going to have its share of good and bad teachers. I think teachers should be paid more. But to think that turning the free market loose on the education system on the theory that the cream would rise to the top and only the best teachers would be left teaching is to ignore human nature and any business - in the "real" world - where lousy CEO's and managers manage somehow to hang on to their jobs. It shouldn't happen there but it does. It happens everywhere.

I favor tenure because I think it promotes and protects academic freedom, which is essential to good education. But something even more essential for good education is children ready to learn, children who are fed and not hungry, children supported by parents who care, children who are disciplined at home in the skills of reading and study, children who do not fear for lives. For these children there is no one, two, or ten bad teachers who can get in the way of their ability to learn. And for these children it will take only one or two really good teachers to set their minds on fire.

Quality teachers are important. Quality homes are crucial.

Buddhist Origins of Christianity - Jesus of the Gaps

I have recently been reading The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault. There is much that I like about Bourgeault's attempt to bring out the wisdom aspect of Jesus' teachings and to place it in the context of wisdom teachings from the east and west. For me this is the most meaningful way to understand the message and the life of Jesus.

But I don't think it helps the argument to try and fill in the gaps of our unknowing with speculation that we find attractive. Here is Bourgeault on the significance of Jesus growing up in Galilee:
We tend to think of Jerusalem as the cultural center and that going up to Jerusalem from the Galilean lands was like going from Appalachia to New York City. But in point of fact, it was the other way around. Far from being a cultural backwater, Galilee was actually the more cosmopolitan environment because it lay on the Silk Road, that great viaduct of human commerce which from time immemorial has connected the lands of the Mediterranean with the lands and culture of Central Asia and China. The Silk Road went right through the city of Capernaum, where Jesus did a lot of his learning and his teaching. It was an environment in which he would have been fully exposed to a variety of ideas that could be seen as the New Age of his time. And Jesus evidently soaked up spiritual teaching like a sponge. While he was definitely his own person, he was not operating in a cultural vacuum. hes teachings show clear areas of overlap with the great stream of sophia perennis flowing through other spiritual traditions, particularly Buddhism and Persian light mysticism.
He also likely spoke multiple languages and spent time with the Essenes. The passage above is footnoted with a reference to a friend of Bourgeault's who has not yet published his findings.

Here is Crossan and Reed (Excavating Jesus) on Capernaum:
First-century Capernaum was a modest Jewish village on the periphery of Antipas's territory relying chiefly on agriculture and fishing. An oppressive heat hovers over Capernaum during the long summers, and fields nearby are rocky and difficult to work, and in Jesus's day it was off any major trade route...
There were maybe 1000 residents and there has been no archaeological evidence of pagan artifacts or any evidence of eastern influence dating from the time of Jesus.

Who you gonna believe? This is not to say that Jesus could not have had encounters with ideas outside the world of the Judaism of his day. There were Roman built cities in Galilee where there would have been more cross-cultural exposure possible. But we don't know if Jesus visited Tiberias or Sepphoris; they are not even mentioned in the gospels.

It doesn't do the wisdom Jesus any favors by filling in the gaps of our unknowing with stories about Jesus that fit nicely with our picture of the "dream Jesus." It is enough to allow him to be a brilliant and visionary man fully immersed in his own Jewish culture, which has its own rich wisdom tradition. Future archaeological or textual discoveries may very-well reveal that he spoke five languages fluently, travelled to India on a spiritual pilgrimage and spent time with the Essenes. Until then, it is more than enough to try and plumb the depths of the wisdom of Jesus that we can speak of with some certainty.

Bourgeault's book is actually my second encounter with a Buddhist-inspired Jesus in the last week. Last weekend I attended the Progressive Brethren Summit in Indianapolis (with ProgressiveChurchLady and 200 other progressive Brethren). The keynote speaker was Robert Miller of the Jesus Seminar. He spoke on the parables and the wisdom Jesus and was very good. But I attended a workshop led by a person who used one book as his source (I don't remember the book) to make the case that Jesus was heavily influenced by Buddhist teachings. The workshop leader had the misfortune to have Robert Miller sitting in on for the session. Miller gave a civil but direct point-by-point rebuttal at the end of the workshop, and urged us all to stick to the facts about Jesus as we can discover them, and a method of finding those facts that has intellectual and scholarly integrity.

Words of wisdom.

It's in Our Nature to Be Intolerant

Here is Craig Alan Myers of the BRF explaining why conservative Christians won't fully accept gays:

Put aside, for the moment, the double-speak of believing that homosexuality is a sin, and allowing–or forbearing–it openly. One of the whole obstacles to liberals understanding conservatives in the church is that liberals want conservatives to act like good liberals. They want us to accept liberal presuppositions. One of those presuppositions is inclusiveness. Conservatives do want to be as inclusive as the New Testament, but we also understand there are some exclusionary principles as well. For example, those who do not trust Christ do not go to Heaven, based on John 14:6. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 also speak of those who formerly practiced gross sins, and would not have entered the presence of God if they remained in their sins, and now have been saved from those sins.

Liberals have tolerated conservatives–and you might want to check how much conservatives have been tolerated (it may not be really as much as you believe)–because it is a liberal value to be inclusive. To exclude us would go against a liberal core value, and be perceived as “intolerant.”

Apparently it is a conservative core value to be intolerant.

We Are One

Here's a prayer from Beliefnet member FaeAisling

I pray we, all children of the earth, no matter our path to enlightenment, come to realize that we are one. We may walk our own paths, but we are not alone, for we walk at the same time, toward the same end/beginning. From our individual perspectives, be we Pagan, Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddist, Taoist, or Hindu, are the same. I pray that we all feel the love of our Creator(s) and by example learn to see each other as brothers and sisters, allowing the boundary lines of religion to fade away. May the Lord and Lady bless your path. May you always have enough, and may you give enough in return. Blessed Be.

I also hope that the boundry lines of sex, race, nationality, class, and physical and mental differences fade away too. We Are Indeed One!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

It's a SAD time of year for me. What about you?

Are there any other SAD sufferers out there? I'm one. Here's an article with a symptomatic diagnosis and some tips/suggestions for relief.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jump into the Fire!

This song popped to the surface from the depths of my memory today. I wanted to hear it again, so I Googled it. There it was on You-Tube! I'm glad I don't have to go wading in my album collection of the 60s-80s. So here's a song by Harry Nilsson to get you fired up on this Monday afternoon!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Everyday Change

I subscribe to a free e-service called "The First 30 Days". Here is what the offering is for our collective today which--like each and everyday--is the first day of the rest of our lives...


At Last!

[Insert collective sigh of relief here.]
Decision 2008 (or Indecision 2008, depending on where you get your news) has come and gone. Barack Obama is the 44th President-Elect of the United States. And whether you voted for him or not, change has happened and will continue to happen on a global and country-wide scale.

But that's not what today is really about. Today is about remembering change starts at the granular level. It begins with you. The change you seek might be intensely personal. Perhaps you want to improve your health, become more spiritual or work at making your relationships better. Maybe you want to see change happen within your community, seeing the poor served or your local government do more good. Either way, there is something you can do to "be the change you want to see" in your own world.

Change does happen everyday. It happens when we make choices to be positive and optimistic in the face of adverse odds. It happens when we choose to love and respect, rather than degrade and tear down. Each day, we each have the power to choose to contribute well, rather than contribute ill (or worse, not contribute at all.)

How are you going to "be the change" in the coming year?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes, he could. Yes, we can.

Today has been one of those days where your perspective shifts and you have a kind of 'out of body' feeling. It is the sense that time is moving in slow motion and you feel like you are a passive observer to what you are watching going on around you.

Today was a day to try to take everything in moment by moment because you know history is being made.

I'm glad to have been alive to witness it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Blue and Red Teen Sex

An interesting article in The New Yorker on red and blue state teen attitudes towards sex. A few key paragraphs:

Of all variables, the age at marriage may be the pivotal difference between red and blue families. The five states with the lowest median age at marriage are Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho, Arkansas, and Kentucky, all red states, while those with the highest are all blue: Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. The red-state model puts couples at greater risk for divorce; women who marry before their mid-twenties are significantly more likely to divorce than those who marry later. And younger couples are more likely to be contending with two of the biggest stressors on a marriage: financial struggles and the birth of a baby before, or soon after, the wedding.

... “the paradigmatic red-state couple enters marriage not long after the woman becomes sexually active, has two children by her mid-twenties, and reaches the critical period of marriage at the high point in the life cycle for risk-taking and experimentation. The paradigmatic blue-state couple is more likely to experiment with multiple partners, postpone marriage until after they reach emotional and financial maturity, and have their children (if they have them at all) as their lives are stabilizing.”

Some of these differences in sexual behavior come down to class and education. Regnerus and Carbone and Cahn all see a new and distinct “middle-class morality” taking shape among economically and socially advantaged families who are not social conservatives. In Regnerus’s survey, the teen-agers who espouse this new morality are tolerant of premarital sex (and of contraception and abortion) but are themselves cautious about pursuing it. Regnerus writes, “They are interested in remaining free from the burden of teenage pregnancy and the sorrows and embarrassments of sexually transmitted diseases. They perceive a bright future for themselves, one with college, advanced degrees, a career, and a family. Simply put, too much seems at stake. Sexual intercourse is not worth the risks.” These are the kids who tend to score high on measures of “strategic orientation”—how analytical, methodical, and fact-seeking they are when making decisions. Because these teen-agers see abstinence as unrealistic, they are not opposed in principle to sex before marriage—just careful about it. Accordingly, they might delay intercourse in favor of oral sex, not because they cherish the idea of remaining “technical virgins” but because they assess it as a safer option. “Solidly middle- or upper-middle-class adolescents have considerable socioeconomic and educational expectations, courtesy of their parents and their communities’ lifestyles,” Regnerus writes. “They are happy with their direction, generally not rebellious, tend to get along with their parents, and have few moral qualms about expressing their nascent sexuality.” They might have loved Ellen Page in “Juno,” but in real life they’d see having a baby at the wrong time as a tragic derailment of their life plans. For this group, Regnerus says, unprotected sex has become “a moral issue like smoking or driving a car without a seatbelt. It’s not just unwise anymore; it’s wrong.”

...The “pro-family” efforts of social conservatives—the campaigns against gay marriage and abortion—do nothing to instill the emotional discipline or the psychological smarts that forsaking all others often involves. Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers. Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality—indeed, they may feel that it’s unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle-class morality is squarely pro-family. Maybe these choices weren’t originally about values—maybe they were about maximizing education and careers—yet the result is a more stable family system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents’ economic circumstances. The new middle-class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it’s pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity may be one reason that teen-agers from close families see child-rearing as a project for which they’re not yet ready. For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn’t true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.

How the Other Half Thinks

Craig Alan Myers is a Brethren Revival Fellowship (a conservative faction in our denomination) leader. He relays these worries about an Obama victory:
IN CONVERSATION WITH VARIOUS BRETHREN, there is an air of unease. One very faithful sister, who has always voted “D” in Presidential elections since That Man, fears that Mr. Obama will fill the White House with Muslims. Another wonders whether there will be persecution of Christians because of our stance against homosexuality and other perversions. It’s no wonder. In Alberta, Canada, one pastor is already under governmental inhibition (forced silencing) on saying anything or publishing anything against homosexuality. The speed with which “Joe the Plumber’s” background was illicitly checked by government officials in Ohio was unnerving. The congregations which Mrs. Palin have been a part are under intense scrutiny and criticism for their “standard-issue” Pentecostalism and basic Bible teaching. (Meanwhile, Jeremiah Wright and Trinity U.C.C.–where Mr. Obama was once a member for 20 years–have been largely off-limits during the general election.) One newspaper is publishing addresses of homes in its area that have conservative or Republican signs in place.
I certainly hope Craig responded to the woman worried about Muslims in the White House: why not? If there are Muslims who are most qualified for the jobs to be filled then they should get the jobs. I note that there is no link to the charge that a "newspaper is publishing addresses of homes in its area that have conservative or Republican signs in place." I'd like to see the evidence and know what kind of newspaper would do this.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Happy Dia de los Muertos!

Today is the Mexican holiday The Day of the Dead where folks go hang out at the graves of their loved ones and celebrate and remember them and picnic and offer food to their deceased loved ones. Here's an article with a few interesting recipies to help you celebrate the "holiday de jour"--or should that be "holiday de dia"?--I don't speak Spanish.