Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday with Sampson & Sadie

At rest and at play.

Organ Donation Myths

A friend and member of Liberalchurch found out quite recently that he must go to organ transplant training at the Mayo Clinic. He has disease that is causing his kidneys to fail and at some point, he will need to begin dialysis and get onto the transplant list. I have another friend since preschool days who is a successful kidney transplant recipient. The donor of his new kidney was someone he knew and was found during a local organ donation drive. As you may or may not know, some organs can be donated while you are still living, while others are "harvested" after you are dead. Either way, donating an organ sustains the life of another.

I'm looking into what is required to accomplish an organ donation drive through publicity efforts by LiberalChurch. While doing this research, I came upon this informative article from The Mayo Clinic which busts 10 Common Myths of making an organ donation. In the case of making a kidney donation, please pay particular attention to Myth #8!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gender and Religion

I can't say this Pew survey is much of a surprise. Women are more religious than men. I think the most interesting thing is the difference between those women and men who believe in "God or a universal spirit" and those who believe in a "personal God." Only about half the respondents of either sex have "absolutely certain belief" in a personal God.

Let it Snow

It's pelting it down this afternoon. The goldfinches, redpolls, and the female cardinal are barely visible a few feet away.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Indulgences Are Back

I see the Catholic Church is back in the business of issuing indulgences:
Like the Latin Mass and meatless Fridays, the indulgence was one of the traditions decoupled from mainstream Catholic practice in the 1960s by the Second Vatican Council, the gathering of bishops that set a new tone of simplicity and informality for the church. Its revival has been viewed as part of a conservative resurgence that has brought some quiet changes and some highly controversial ones, like Pope Benedict XVI’s recent decision to lift the excommunications of four schismatic bishops who reject the council’s reforms...

There are partial indulgences, which reduce purgatorial time by a certain number of days or years, and plenary indulgences, which eliminate all of it, until another sin is committed. You can get one for yourself, or for someone who is dead. You cannot buy one — the church outlawed the sale of indulgences in 1567 — but charitable contributions, combined with other acts, can help you earn one. There is a limit of one plenary indulgence per sinner per day.
Purgatory? You can get one for someone who is dead? Personally, if I thought my dead relative was "stuck" I'd rather get help from Melinda Gordon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Making it at Wal-Mart

Aubretia Edick is 58 and works in the pharmacy department of a Wal-Mart in Hudson, New York. Edick's starting pay was $6.40 in 2001; today it is $10.50. With inflation factored in, her wages have basically remained stagnant. She is among several profiled in a Mother Jones story America on $195 a Week. It's not just about Wal-Mart but since the big-box retailer is the largest in America, it features prominently in the story:
In essence, the nation's biggest employers of unskilled labor often leave workers having to feed from the public trough. In 2004, a year in which Wal-Mart reported $9.1 billion in profits, the retailer's California employees collected $86 million in public assistance, according to researchers at the University of California-Berkeley. Other studies have revealed widespread use of publicly funded health care by Wal-Mart employees in numerous states. In 2004, Democratic staffers of the House education and workforce committee calculated that each 200-employee Wal-Mart store costs taxpayers an average of more than $400,000 a year, based on entitlements ranging from energy-assistance grants to Medicaid to food stamps to WIC—the federal program that provides food to low-income women with children.
When Obama unveils his proposals for healthcare reform and universal coverage, I sure hope Wal-Mart is a big public supporter. We are already subsidizing their business big-time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I Like Bacon

But I don't know if I could do this:
RiffTrax boss Michael J. Nelson is about to prove forever the health benefits of cured pork products. Or, he should be preparing his will.

The former Mystery Science Theater 3000 writer and performer has pledged to eat only bacon throughout February.

A long-time fan of salt and nitrates, the RiffTrax head writer chose the unique regimen because "several doubters on the RiffTrax staff had the unmitigated gall to insult bacon by making the outrageous claim that, as good as it is, no one could eat very much of it and live."

To avoid dehydration, Nelson will allow non-bacon fluids such as beer, wine, martinis and water. Along the way, Nelson's blog will feature bacon-related updates and possible estimates on heart attack dates and times.

Under the terms of a no-lose bet with RiffTrax co-star Bill Corbett, if Nelson should survive the month, he will receive a prize of five pounds of bacon. If he should not survive, Nelson gets a cremation that smells like your house at brunch time on Sunday morning.

We had an Eggs Benedict and Canadian bacon brunch this Sunday.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday with Samson and Sadie

Sunbathing, with Sadie attempting to get comfortable in a bread basket.

ELCA on Gay Clergy

This seems like a sensible solution:

An ELCA task force admitted Thursday that it could not reach a consensus on the issue that has polarized its members for years. But with the matter expected to dominate this summer's national convention in Minneapolis, its position paper offers this suggested solution:

The ELCA will allow the ordination of gay pastors but will leave it up to individual congregations and synods whether to ordain or appoint pastors. The term used to describe this compromise is "structured flexibility."

While acknowledging that such an intentionally vague policy probably won't play well with "the bumper sticker crowd," the bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod, the Rev. Peter Rogness, said it reflects the ELCA's practice of trying to match ministers to congregations. He compared it to a rural congregation feeling that it would rather call a minister with a rural background, for instance.

This is the way the COB ought to go.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Irrelevancy of Mainline Churches, Continued

Drew was kind enough to continue the conversation about the "irrelevancy of mainline churches" on his blog in this post. Here is my reply:


Thanks for your reply. First, a word about language. I prefer and use the language of transformation, not salvation. If I substitute that word I can agree that "we all need it, the nation needs it, the world needs it." The church, in my view is in the business of transforming people and structures.

Now, a question: a self-professed pagan joins my church and over the course of a number of years experiences profound personal and social transformation. But she never becomes a "Christian." Is Christ behind this transformation? Am I failing in my duty as a Christian pastor to present the essence of the Christ event?

I get a little edgy with the notion that the world would fall to pieces but for the grace of God. Sounds too much like a world dangling by a spider's thread over the fiery furnace. I think the church is unique because it invites transformation and discipleship of people and is clear to say that this is why we are here.

As far as attracting people, if we believe Christ offers something significant and that the world needs transformation, then I fail to see the problem with talking about ways to reach those people.

I would argue that the US is becoming both more pluralistic religiously and more secular. Perhaps secular isn't the best word, maybe profane, I don't know. But my point would be that even Christians live in a mostly non-enchanted, non-magical, world. We live most of our day as if we believe that God does not exist. Our worldview is largely secular.

I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph.

McCants Gone

The Timberwolves just traded Rashad McCants to Sacramento as part of a four player deal. McCants was a first-round pick in 2005 and turned out to be a huge disappointment. He was a fantastic shooter but played no defense and had a terrible work ethic.

McCants has "Born to Be Hated" tattooed on one arm and "Dying to Be Loved," on the other. At least he knows he has a problem.

Calvin Booth was also part of the Wolves trade. Booth is the only Penn State grad currently in the NBA.

If Governors Reject Stimulus Money

Some Republican governors are making noise about not taking stimulus money:
Though none has outright rejected the money available for education, health care and infrastructure, the governors of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alaska, South Carolina and Idaho have all questioned whether the $787 billion bill signed into law this week will even help the economy.
In the end they will take it because their states are hurting too. But wouldn't it be interesting to have a few states take no money and see how they fare compared to those states who take the money. No money for road construction; no extended unemployment benefits. Then we'd have some sort of measuring stick for how much good the stimulus is doing.

I'm a Social Democrat

Sheri Berman has a great article in Dissent Magazine on the history of leftist movement in response to capitalism. The very short synopsis: Marx thought capitalism served an important purpose in bringing to an end a feudal economic system. But he also thought it was a transitional phase on the way to communism. Lenin decided to help the transition along by using force. The rest of the left recoiled at the violence of communism but was split about whether capitalism still needed to die (democratic socialists) or whether capitalism was a good economic system but needed the state to protect its citizens against the worst excesses of Laissez-faire economics (social democrats) as championed by classic liberalism or modern American conservatism.

I think the evidence is clear that capitalism is unmatched in its ability to lift people out of poverty. It is equally clear, though, that the unchecked invisible hand of the market leads to vast inequality of wealth and power. Conservatives don't care of course; it's survival of the fittest or the will of God for them. I do care. I think in a global economy the state needs to be big and powerful and that it needs to use its muscle to police for the cheaters (and aren't they being forced out of the woodwork right now) and to provide a strong social safety network so that basic needs are taken care of for all citizens. This means that those who have succeeded or been fortunate (by birth) under capitalism need to pay a larger share of taxes to level the playing field. How much is always the big political question. You don't want to stifle the entrepreneurial spirit but you also don't want create a social situation that is so intolerable for the poor that they either give up or rise up in rebellion.

For awhile now in America the invisible hand has been allowed to move without adequate regulation or redistribution and inequality and cheating has been growing. The result is the mess we are in now. Hopefully we will seize this moment of crisis and reintroduce some needed regulations and take care of some serious problems, like our woeful healthcare system. We need some form of universal healthcare.

But we also don't want to go the xenophobic Lou Dobbs route of closing the borders to immigration and buying only American. We want the best and brightest to want to come to America. We want the tired and the poor to have a chance to make it here. We also want the Indians and the Chinese to buy our goods and sell theirs here. We want to lift all boats.

Capitalism can make this happen. With the power of the state to soften its hard edges.

The Irrelevancy of Mainline Christianity: A Response

Drew Tatusko (with apologies for the original misspelling) has a post on his blog entitled: The Irrelevancy of Mainline Christianity. I find myself agreeing with the title but not with the content of his post. It is no secret that mainline Christianity has been in a decades-long state of decline. In my own small denomination, the Church of the Brethren, we have lost nearly 36,000 members in the last two decades, going from 161,824 members in 1,044 congregations in 1986 to 125,964 members in 1006 congregations in 2007. At our denomination headquarters we are going through another restructuring, a sure sign of a lack of both funds and purpose. What is happening to us is happening to other mainline churches. Mainline denominations are still floundering and declining.

Drew notes that conservative churches have a much better rate of retention than mainline churches. In part this is because they tend to have more babies. In part, and I think this is the heart of his post, it is because they have a clearer sense of what their message and purpose is: to proclaim "Christ crucified."

I will return to this latter point in a moment. But first I want to point out that while it may be true that conservative churches have a better rate of retention, it is also true that both conservative and liberal churches are losing ground in America, particularly among young people. The Barna Group has been tracking this trend for some time:
Simply put, each new generation has a larger share of people who are not Christians (that is, atheists, agnostics, people associated with another faith, or those who have essentially no faith orientation)... Among adults over the age of 40, only about one-quarter qualify as outsiders, while among the 16 to 29 segment, two-fifths are outsiders. This represents a significant migration away from the dominant role that Christianity has had in America.
Moreover, the perception these young people have of conservative Christianity is particularly negative. It remains to be seen whether a new generation of evangelical leaders can soften that perception.

It is certainly true that beginning in the 1950's there was a significant migration of Christians out of the mainline churches into more conservative churches. But that migration appears to be over. At the same time there was, and is, a growing migration of people out of churches altogether. One fourth of Americans are not attached to any faith community. Christianity is no longer America's default faith. Among those who consider themselves to be Christian, conservative Christianity is doing better than liberal Christianity. But both are facing significant challenges in an increasingly secular and skeptical culture.

Now I want to get back to Drew's point about clarity of message. Drew says that liberal churches have tended to focus their attention on providing social programs that are increasingly better provided by other religious or secular organizations. And when this is all they have to offer they are in trouble:
When the emotional and social functions of the church are all that remain of the church in its function, it is almost assuredly the kiss of death. The reward for immediate concerns through other social institutions is simply quicker, more efficient, and the expertise of the psychological, social and medical that was once the purvue of the church, is not at the discretion of specialized professionals to take care of the mind, the politics, and the body of those who are sick.
I mostly agree. If all the liberal church has to offer is a spiritualized version of therapy, it doesn't stand a chance. The same goes for spiritual entertainment. For those who are coming from a more evangelical perspective the Willow Creek mega-church-like experience does it better. For those who are coming from a more secular or liberal perspective there are spiritual gurus, psychologists, and football games.

Where I disagree with this point is that in an America where we are increasingly "bowling alone," the local church often provides the only real "community" that many Americans know. There are many liberal Christians I know who come to church looking first and foremost for community. In fact, in my congregation there are a number of non-Christians who are a part of our church for this reason. Someone once made a comment to me that our church was nothing more than a social club. They were wrong about that. But my first response to that statement is "so what." For some people this is the only social club they have and it is important to them. And there is still no social club in America quite like the local church with its ability to bring people together from a variety of social and economic backgrounds and its mission to get them to play nice together.

As to Drew's statement about the importance of preaching Christ crucified, here is what he says:

Liberal Christianity loses its soul when it ceases to stake its claim on the centrality of Christ crucified. Any church that wants to retain members has to place demands on them as well. These do not have to be theologically or biblically conservative demands, but even as Christ demands that we seek the outcast, seek justice, love mercy, and hate evil, so must the church. If Christ is the most important message in Christianity, that is what must be preached with verve and vigor, and what must always be at the center of what the church has to offer.

Without Christ crucified, the church will cease to exist; it will be as a droplet into the vast sea of secular conscience. With Christ, there is nothing but an irreducible tension that the church will have with the prevailing normative society because Christ demands that those in the church change it. It is not a matter of if people need a savior. It is to claim the conviction that people do need a savior and there is only one social institution that can offer it. This is the one unique calling of the church in a secular world. May the church of Christ live up to its calling and purpose for its existence.

I find this statement both confusing and wrong. It is confusing because I am not really sure what he means by "Christ crucified". Is it all about the demanding life that requires us to "seek the outcast, seek justice, love mercy, and hate evil?" Or is it about the message that we need a savior? The two are not necessarily the same. It is possible to believe the one and not the other.

It is possible to preach Christ crucified and focus on the kind of demanding life, the life of discipleship, the kind of life that got Jesus crucified and that that ought still to have us living in constant tension with our culture. It is also possible to balance that challenging message with the good news that we are unconditionally loved by God and to frame the Christian message first with the good news of God's love for us and then with the invitation and challenge to take up one's cross and follow Jesus.

It's also possible to preach Christ crucified and focus on the magic of the resurrection of Christ and the good news that God loves us and sent his son to save us but if we don't believe that Jesus is our savior and if we don't believe that we need a savior, then we are going to burn in hell. And, by the way, it so happens that we have the only institution that offers this message.

It seems clear to me that the conservative churches have focused on this second interpretation of the definition of Christ crucified. And they have also added a piece regarding the demanding personal moral life that is expected of Christians. It is not so clear to me that they have always maintained much of a tension with the predominant economic and militarist bent of our culture. (And could it be that this also helps to explain their "success?")

What isn't so clear to me is a future where this message retains its ability to attract an increasingly secular and educated population. The world is getting smaller. It is virtually impossible to grow up in America today and not know Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, athiests, etc. They are our neighbors and friends, at least they are in urban America. Fewer and fewer of our children are going to buy the notion that their religion is the exclusive domain on truth and eternal life. Fewer are going to buy the notion that they need a savior. America didn't experience the rush to secularism that western Europe experienced, but it is coming.

My own belief is that liberal Christianity is uniquely positioned for this movement. Drew is right that liberal Christianity needs a clear message, and that message needs to be Christ crucified. But the attraction of that message is going to be the kind of demanding and rewarding life that one experiences when you live in the way that Jesus lived. It requires transformation; it brings a rewarding life; it could conceivably get you killed. You don't need a savior, but if you choose to live this way your life will never be the same.

It is also possible that I will be proven wrong about this movement towards secularism. But even if I am wrong and America remains a bastion of Christian conservatism, there will still be a place for a liberal Christianity that has a distinctive mission and purpose. Our mainline denominations are not there yet. There is still a lot of dying that needs to be done. But there are many thriving liberal congregations who are there.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bible and Great Literature Quiz

United Kingdom Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has raised concerns that students of English literature are struggling because they don't understand Biblical references. Is he right to worry? Test your knowledge with this quiz.

I scored 7 out of 10.

Faith of Britain Day

If Britain pulls out of its economic slump we may have found our answer:
Faith Of Britain Day is a day that focuses all of the positive energy in the country towards achieving our hopes and aspirations. For exactly two minutes on March 6th at 11.00am our consortium of psychics and healers will act as a channel for the positive thoughts of the entire country.
HT Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Flowers for Valentine's Day?

Not sure what the message is behind those flowers you are sending/receiving for Valentine's Day today? Well, here's the old and new versions of the decoded messages behind certain types and colors of flowers that will leave you laughing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Evolution of Life in 60 Seconds

A cool video at Seed Magazine.

Happy Birthday Charles Darwin!

The Vatican has apparently given a 200th birthday gift to Charles Darwin according to this article from Newser.

Fondly Do We Hope...

...fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war economic turmoil may speedily pass away. From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
One wonders what Lincoln would have to say about our precipitous economic decline.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Best in Show

The 133 Meeting of the Westminster Kennel Club is now history. I won't spoil the suspense and announce the winner. Instead I will post a link to the WKC website which shows the opening video of the t.v. broadcast of the event which has aired the past two nights. This video not only introduces this year's competition, but also highlights last year's winner, Uno, the beagle. After you watch this video clip you can look on the website to see the winners of each of the groups and the winner of Best in Show.

If you still need more cheering up on this gloomy day in February, go rent the video of the mockumentary "Best in Show". You will laugh until you cry!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Change We Can Believe In

Steve Benen notes that something happened today at a Presidential town hall meeting that hasn't happened in more than eight years: a President took a question from someone who disagrees with him:

Throughout George W. Bush's presidency, White House staffers implemented what were generally called "Bubble Boy" policies. The goal was the shield the former president from those who may have disagreed with him or might ask him questions he didn't want to answer. The anti-dissent policy was often taken to comical lengths, including blocking people from attending public events based on their bumper stickers, requiring loyalty oaths for tickets, and in at least one instance, rehearsing a town-hall meeting a day in advance.

In contrast, consider Obama's approach to diversity of thought. The new president traveled to an economically-depressed community that voted heavily for his opponent in November. Tickets to the event were publicly available to anyone, no loyalty oaths or Democratic fealty required. White House staffers didn't check bumper-stickers for conservative messages, and there was no "blacklist" of Republicans who would be denied entry. There were no hand-picked questions and no hand-picked questioners.

So this is what it's like to have a president with the courage of his convictions, and the confidence to talk to Americans who may disagree with him. I'd almost forgotten.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

All That Matters

To the Congressional Republicans:
Obama "could have had a very, very impressive victory early on," said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who heads the Senate Republican campaign committee. "But this is not turning out to be an impressive victory. it is turning out to be a little bit of a black eye."

Friday, February 06, 2009

Postpartisan vs. Bipartisan

Diana Butler Bass on the difference between being postpartisan and bipartisan:

President Obama campaigned as a postpartisan candidate. Postpartisan means that politics must move beyond the current party structure. A postpartisan vision recognizes that there are many voices in the larger body politic--and that a good number of those voices have never been heard in the American process. Thus, postpartisan, a sort of generational mantra for those under 40, is an attempt to create new relationships, draw diverse people and perspectives to a table, and develop innovative possibilities to address social and political issues.

In case no one in Washington has noticed, postpartisan does not mean bipartisan. Yes, the root word--partisan--is the same, but the prefix is different. "Post" means "after, beyond, or subsequent to;" "bi" means "two."

Now, folks in Washington are a very smart group--they attended lots of private schools and good colleges and most of them probably studied Latin. Yet, every time the new President says "postpartisan," they substitute "bipartisan." For nearly two weeks now, pundits have been fuming about the failure of "bipartisanship" on the recovery package. Republican politicians have asserted that because they didn't vote for the act, President Obama's attempt at bipartisanship has failed a mere ten days into his administration. "He's just like Bush," some say. "Bush came to office calling for bipartisanship, but he was really just the old politics of division." In other words, bipartisanship can never work in our political system. Someone has to take charge--be a leader--and enforce their party's will on the other side.

The new progressive vision is not based in the idea that there are TWO parties. "Progressive" is not simply a linguistic find-and-replace for "liberal" as in "liberal" versus "conservative." Emerging progressive politics--and religion as well--insists that there are more than two voices. The voices of the common good and the voices of vibrant faith come from multiple traditions and perspectives, and all of these voices matter. Progressives, unlike old-style liberals, approach this multiplicity with a certain degree of modesty. Progressive politics isn't about winning nor is it about balancing two agendas. Progressive politics is about setting tables, about hearing and listening, about constructing new possibilities where none currently exist. It is pluralistic and adaptive, not dualistic and winner-take-all. Progressive politics is not a zero-sum game.

Well, yes, but Obama won an election. McCain lost. It is true that all voices matter, and that progressives including Obama have a certain modesty about their aims and claims. Obama has been very clear that he is open to listening to all ideas and he has gone out of his way to include some from the Republican side. But in the end, whether there are two parties or ten "voices," when votes are cast there are going to be winners and losers. No one know this more than the Republicans who stand to lose a lot if Obama wins and is successful.

Bass is right, though, that Obama won as a postpartisan candidate. He was able to draw into his winning coalition young people heretofore uninterested in politics, disaffected Republicans, Independents, as well as the usual progressive suspects. But Washington is not postpartisan; it is intensely partisan in large part thanks to the tactics of Karl Rove that thrived on a winner-take-all, no compromise philosophy. The 24-hour media thrives on the partisan battle too. You'd never know there was an economic crisis in the country by watching CNN; it's all about the politics.

If Obama is going to succeed as a postpartisan President he is going to have to get outside of Washington and use the bully pulpit of the Presidency to re-mobilize his coalition. They need to hear from him words of encouragement and marching orders on what to do next. He needs them and they need him if there is any hope for change in the way things get done in this country.

A Moderate Republican

Susan Collins of Maine is one of the "moderate" Republicans working with a group of moderate Senators to make the stimulus bill more palatable to some Senators. Here is the kind of change she wants to make to the bill:
She proposed eliminating money in the bill for K-12 education while boosting funding for Pentagon operations, facilities and procurement by $13 billion.
Pathetic. Just pathetic.

The Science of Kissing

Via Scienceblogs:
Given up to ten percent of humanity doesn't even touch lips, should we accept it's actually a cultural phenomenon? I'm not convinced. You see, kissing undoubtedly allows us to find out all sorts of information about our partner. We're exchanging pheromones. In fact, when we're engaged, our bodies release a cocktail of chemicals related to social bonding, stress level, motivation, and sexual stimulation. We become, in effect, 'under the influence.' It's powerful. The right kiss boosts feelings of euphoria stimulating pleasure centers in the brain leading me to suspect there's something to kissing that goes beyond social mores. While it may have evolved from primates feeding their babies mouth-to-mouth (I know, how terribly unromantic!), other scientists suggest it's crucial to the evolutionary process of mate selection.
I just thought the xray picture was cool.

Thank God for the Enlightenment

Or we'd still be doing this kind of stuff:
No one knows who brought the book to the mosque, or at least no one dares say.

The pocket-size translation of the Quran has already landed six men in prison in Afghanistan and left two of them begging judges to spare their lives. They're accused of modifying the Quran and their fate could be decided Sunday in court...

The clerics said Zalmai, a stocky 54-year-old spokesman for the attorney general, was trying to anoint himself as a prophet. They said his book was trying to replace the Quran, not offer a simple translation. Translated editions of the Quran abound in Kabul markets, but they include Arabic verses.

The country's powerful Islamic council issued an edict condemning the book.

"In all the mosques in Afghanistan, all the mullahs said, 'Zalmai is an infidel. He should be killed,'" Zalmai recounted as he sat outside the chief judge's chambers waiting for a recent hearing.

It's bad enough condemning the book. But then they are going to kill the people who created it. Why are we helping these people?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Why Tax Cuts Won't Cut It

Robert Reich talks some sense about why government spending is so much more effective than tax cuts at this moment:
First, most people who receive a tax cut don't spend all of it. They use part of it to pay down their debts or they save it. Most of us did one or the other last spring with that tax rebate. From the standpoint of any particular individual, paying down debts or saving may be smart behavior -- even commendable. But what's intelligent for an individual does not necessarily translate into what's good for the economy as a whole. The only way to get businesses to create or preserve jobs is through additional spending. And unlike tax cuts used to pay down personal debt or add to savings, every dollar of government spending flows directly into the economy and adds to overall demand.

Second, even that portion of a tax cut we might actually spend doesn't necessarily go into the American economy. It goes all over the world. I have nothing against creating or preserving the jobs of Asians who assemble those flat-panel TVs you see at the mall, for example, but right now we're trying to create or preserve jobs here in America. Sure, the retail workers at the mall who sell the flat-panel TV's might benefit, but remember we're talking about how to get the biggest bang for every dollar. When government spends to repair a highway or build a school or help pay for medical services, the money and the jobs stay here in America.

Finally, those who say cutting taxes on businesses is the best way to create or preserve jobs forget about the demand side. Even with a tax cut, businesses won't hire workers unless there are customers to buy what those workers produce. A government stimulus that creates jobs is a necessary precondition.

Every cent of our last stimulus check went to paying bills and debt. Every cent of any new stimulus check we get will go in the same direction. We are glad for the money and sorry we won't be spending it to help the economy. But that is the reality of our economic situation. My guess is you can multiply that thinking by millions.

Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast

From the Economist:
We know too that whatever our differences, there is one law that binds all great religions together. Jesus told us to "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam, there is a hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." And the same is true for Buddhists and Hindus; for followers of Confucius and for humanists. It is, of course, the Golden Rule - the call to love one another; to understand one another; to treat with dignity and respect those with whom we share a brief moment on this Earth.
And this:
I was not raised in a particularly religious household. I had a father who was born a Muslim but became an atheist, grandparents who were non-practicing Methodists and Baptists, and a mother who was skeptical of organized religion, even as she was the kindest, most spiritual person I've ever known. She was the one who taught me as a child to love, and to understand, and to do unto others as I would want done.
A President who speaks for all Americans and who knows that it takes more than saying the name of Jesus to make one a good person. More evidence that in small but important ways the country is in better hands.

The Source of Republican Economic Advice

Leading Republicans in Washington are claiming that government spending doesn't create jobs. In Newsweek, Daniel Gross tells us where they are getting their economic advice:
There's plenty of legitimate argument over the stimulus—too much, too little, not fast enough, too fast, the proper mix of tax cuts and spending. Alan Blinder's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is an excellent guide to some of the debates. But the Republicans in Washington aren't reading Blinder. And it's almost impossible for the Obama team, or anybody else, to engage them in serious discussions. Virtually all the prominent Republican economists who were associated with the Bush administration in any way have fled Washington for the private sector or academia. Today, the congressional Republicans are taking their advice from Joe the Plumber.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Two Takes on Obama and the Stimulus

One, he is screwing up:

A changed tone in Washington, if costless, would be a wonderful thing. But voters put Obama and Democratic majorities into office in order to get results. If Obama chooses to embrace Republicans even as they actively work against the interests of the vast majority of Americans, then we have to question his judgment. It takes two to change the tone. Republicans aren’t interested, and they’re using his overtures to undermine the American economy and the Obama presidency. Obama’s mandate is his to deploy or squander, and the speed with which he has lost control of the storyline on stimulus suggests that he has miscalculated in figuring how much magnanimity that mandate affords him.
Two, he is doing exactly the right thing:

For me, that is simply a relieved expectation that a) this president understands that change is a process in which other actors and interlocutors need to be heard from; b) his team seems able to take constructive criticism and adjust; and c) this president is not fazed by much.

The issues in the stimulus bill are real ones - the Goldilocks question of how to put together a counter-cyclical measure that will be neither too small nor too big requires some healthy to-and-fro (even if a lot of it is above my professional pay-grade). Leonhardt's column this morning is, as always, clarifying on this.

But I'm not worried yet that no bill will pass. Of course, Obama could get a partisan bill immediately if he wanted to. But he's letting the process take its (still-limited) time and work. Not a "Decider", remember. A presider.

I am not sure right now which is an accurate assessment. It certainly hasn't been pretty.

Grieving Over a Lost Jesus

I have been somewhat quiet in the blogosphere recently, in part because I have been preoccupied with my wife's job loss and then transfer, fortunately, to a new position in her company. I have also been busy with church stuff.

But I have also been digesting a number of the blogging posts recently on the state of the Jesus Seminar and what is being called the new Jesus Project. The Jesus Seminar is familiar to everyone in my congregation as I have been talking about it and reading books by its authors with groups for 15 years. You can read some about the Jesus Project here, and by following some of the links there.

I have been particularly struck in recent days by a series of posts by April DeConick entitled The Jesus Seminar Jesus is Bankrupt. What DeConick does in these posts is take on the method used by the scholars of the Jesus Seminar to paint its picture(s) of Jesus and suggest that while the method has value, it doesn't necessarily lead us to the historical Jesus.

I enourage you to read DeConick's posts for a good short summary of the scholarly method employed by most biblical scholars and her critique of it's assumptions. If you read through some of the other links mentioned above you can see some of the other critique of the work of the Jesus Seminar.

I have to say that I find myself entering a state of grief over the Jesus Seminar and its apparent demise. I have always been aware of the criticisms that the Jesus Seminar set out to find the historical Jesus and instead found a cool California Jesus. I began to read some of Dale Allison's writings a few years ago and found his arguments for an apocalyptic Jesus strong and at least worth considering. It has also been obvious for a number of years that the scholars of the Jesus Seminar themselves essentially changed the subject of their inquiry and moved onto early Christian origins, either because they had run into a dead end or knew that there were problems with their Jesus.

But for at least 20 years my thinking, preaching, teaching, and faith have been informed and inspired by the work of Jesus Seminar. There was a time when I looked forward to every book that came out by Crossan and Funk and Borg and others. The Jesus Seminar Jesus was very much alive for me. And now I feel like he is dying again.

It's probably a healthy thing, but I am not too happy about it right now.

Moving in a Better Direction

There are some things, like the stimulus bill, that are going to require tough sledding. But it is nice to see Obama moving quickly in other areas that require only executive action:
In its first action to overturn Bush administration policies on energy, the Obama administration on Wednesday said it will cancel oil drilling leases on more than 130,000 acres near two national parks and other protected areas in Utah.
The country is already moving in a better direction.

Shrike Attack

I looked out the window into my backyard yesterday and saw something I had never seen there before. A Shrike was feeding on what appeared to be a female Cardinal. I have seen Shrikes in the wild before. I have never seen them in my yard and never seen them carrying out their distinctive kind of predatory behavior. Shrikes are predatory songbirds that often impale their victims on thorns. They will leave them there to return later to feed.

There are two varieties: Northern and Loggerhead. Northern Shrikes winter in Minnesota so this is likely what I was watching in my yard. We have had extensive rabbit damage of our shrubs this winter - I wish we had more large predators in the neighborhood - and the Shrike had used the chewed-off stem of a Chokeberry as its thorn.

I watched it through my binoculars for a few minutes then attempted to take a picture out the back door of the garage. It eyed me for long enough to capture two shots with my very inadequate (for nature photography) camera and then it pulled the Cardinal off the stem and flew off.