Friday, February 26, 2010

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Please Rob Me

Do you tell your friends on Twitter or Facebook where you are? If so, you may be telling potential thieves where you are not. Please Rob Me calls attention to all those public posts where people are inviting unwanted guests into their homes. Your tweet might be there.

Is It a Waste of Time if they don't Convert to Christianity?

Here is a question posted today at the Christianity Today blog:
If you aided someone for years and years and they never became a Christian, would you consider your efforts wasted?
The back story for this question is an AP report that appeared out of Haiti regarding tensions between evangelical Christians and practitioners of Voodoo. The story included these comments by Frank Amedia of Touch Heaven Ministries: “We would give food to the needy in the short term but if they refused to give up Voodoo, I'm not sure we would continue to support them in the long term because we wouldn't want to perpetuate that practice. We equate it with witchcraft, which is contrary to the Gospel.”

As it turns out the AP report took the comments of Mr. Amedia way out of context and he issued a clarification which you can read on the CT blog post. But he did say that eventually or "long term" as he says, his ministry might stop feeding them if they continued to practice Voodoo.

Hence we get the question from CT about whether our efforts would be "wasted" if we didn't get a conversion. This kind of question is a reminder to me of one of the many reasons I am not an evangelical Christian. I don't even understand the question. If I fed someone who lost everything in an earthquake and they didn't starve to death I would consider my mission accomplished. If I needed to keep feeding them for years in order to keep them from starving I would do it without question and not consider my efforts wasted regardless of whether they ever converted to my faith or not.

I am reminded of going to an evangelism training session many years ago put on by someone in our denomination. The topic was friendship evangelism and they showed a movie where Christians befriended their neighbors in order to get them to convert. Their motives weren't subtle; they - the actors playing Christians in the movie - talked about them in their table conversation as they plotted their strategy with their neighbors. Let's be friends with our neighbors so we can get them to convert. Let's have them over for dinner, go golfing with them, spend as much time as it takes to soften them up and when the moment is right pop the salvation question. I came home from the session feeling like I needed to take a shower.

I am not opposed to sharing my story when someone asks "why are you doing this.?" But the reason I am doing this - feeding the hungry, helping to rebuild homes after floods, sending money or Church World Service kits to Haiti, etc. - is because it is the right thing to do. It is what Christians do; it is what people of other faiths and no faiths do too. With no ulterior motives. I have been blessed. Out of the blessings I have experienced I want to help out others who are in need. It is that simple.

BTW it has been my experience that the AP is a really unreliable source for news, whether it is local, national or international.

She Wore Her Dead Sister's Teeth

I have outsourced watching the health care debate to the progressive bloggers and pundits and have been checking in occasionally to see how it is going. Via Karen Tumulty at Swampland this is the best (worst?) story I have seen. From New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter:

Thank you Mr. President and thanks to my colleagues who are here. I am timely and will not take up a lot of time, but I do have to say some things.

The first is the preexisting conditions have to go. It is cruel and capricious and done only to help the bottom line. This was not even anything we talked about 10 or 15 years ago, but I mentioned that all Americans should be treated the same. Let me give you a history.

Eight states have declared that domestic violence is a preexisting condition on the grounds I assume that if you have been unlucky enough to get yourself beaten up once, you might do it again. Forty-eight percent is the higher cost for women to buy their own insurance. Believe you me that is really discrimination.

In 1991 women were not included in the health trials because we had hormones. It wasn't until we had a critical mass of women here that said this will not do for more than half the population of the United States who pay taxes and we made certain that diseases like osteoporosis and cervical cancer and uterine cancer were looked at. Up to that point, 1991, all research at the institutes of health was done on white males. Think about that a minute, if you will.

We couldn't do that because we said can you stop doing that? It took legislation. Doing this will take legislation. I have been through this before. I was here when we had the Clinton debate. It started some of you will remember by Lee Iacocca who said we cannot export automobiles. There is a $1,000 cost for health care in every one of them. My competitors are way ahead of them. They are eating my lunch. That was one of the main reasons that we decided we had to do something about that. In the 13 to 15 years since that happened, we have done nothing about health care, and don't export so much anymore and the automobile business is basically gone. We have done nothing to encourage entrepreneurs. We need to think about the economic benefits of doing this. They will reduce trade policies and let us make something else in the United States and really want to make sure that it succeeds and this would be a great part of that. I think it's terribly important that we do that.

Also since the Clinton health care plan, we have seen awful things. We saw hospitals abandoned to the streets. Critically ill, elderly, mentally ill persons and there was no great cry out there. Now I understand there is actually a proposal which god knows I hope never sees the light of day that shot down Medicare and turned it into a voucher system. Obviously we were not paid the full cost health care as they go to the public market to try to find something. What are we going to be doing then? Once again abandon our elderly and mentally ill and our seriously ill to the streets. We are better people than that. It would be a good thing for us while we are here in this room together to think about what's important here. Not nitpick, but think about all the people out there every day, the number of people that have excess deaths because they have no health insurance.

I have a constituent that you won't believe and I know you won't, but her sister died, this poor woman had no dentures. She wore her dead sister's teeth which of course were uncomfortable and did not fit. Do you believe that in America that's where we would be? This is the last chance as far as I'm concerned on the export business. We have fallen behind and no longer the biggest manufacturer in the world and lost our technological edge. We have an opportunity to do that, but the major part of the success of that is getting this health care bill passed. Thank you very much.

You can watch the video at the link. Another video worth watching is Congressman Anthony Weiner on the floor of the House yesterday calling the Republican Party a "wholly owned subsidiary of insurance companies." Republicans moved to have the language stricken from the record so he came back and repeated it in a different way. Happened again and he came back for a third time and gave it another twist. It was pretty amusing. Video here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keeping It Together After a Tragedy

I haven't watched much of the Olympics but upon reading about the performance of Canadian skater Joannie Rochette after her mom unexpectedly died of a heart attack two days earlier, I watched the performance online. I found it to be moving.

It's Great to be One of the Chosen Ones

Amusing quote from my reading today:
As a general proposition, of course, it remains true that the majority of humankind is destined for damnation, and that the minority of the saved are very lucky; but in practice, we are confident that we belong in this minority; and that the universe is unfolding as it should. (From A Secular Age by Charles Taylor)
Taylor is talking about the unfolding Protestant reformation, especially the Calvinist variety, as it grew increasingly confident in its own ability to do the inner personal work of salvation and order society for the common good. So the next sentence after this quote is: "The declarations that we are helpless sinners become more and more pro forma."

But I am proof-texting here because the quote made me laugh. And... because lot's of Christians still believe it to be true that the vast majority of the world is going to hell but they are not.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Hometown Skier Wins Gold

If I wasn't so lazy I would walk up the street and take a picture of Buck Hill which is not far from my house. It is just a little ski hill. But somehow it turns out Olympic caliber skiers. Lindsey Vonn, who just won the Gold Medal in the Alpine Skiing Womens Downhill at British Colombia, grew up here in Burnsville and learned to ski at Buck Hill. The 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, saw two Buck Hill skiers on the US Olympic Team. Both Kristina Koznick and Tasha Nelson started their skiing careers as members of the Buck Hill Ski Racing Team. Ski Magazine calls Buck the "Legendary capital of American ski racing."

It's just a little hill. Pretty amazing. Congratulations to Vonn.

Monday, February 15, 2010

There is No Global Warming - NOT

Global warming deniers, including one in my denomination, have been all over the news that a prominent expert scientist on global warming supposedly says there has been no warming since 1995. Not surprisingly, it turns out the scientist was quoted out of context:

The scientist in question is Professor Phil Jones, who is the head of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. Suffice to say, this has made quite a hubbub around the blogosphere. The article is based on an interview that Jones gave to the BBC. Of course, delving into the article itself, it’s clear that Professor Jones did not say that there is no global warming since 1995. He says that there is no ’statistically significant’ global warming since 1995. Which still sounds bad.

Unless, of course, you actually read the interview.

B – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

That’s hardly the same as “no global warming since 1995″ and certainly does not represent a “retreat” or a “U-turn.” (For a good primer on statistical significance and what that means, check out this link).

There are several other flagrant misinterpretations of Jones’ statements in the Daily Mail article, as well, but they’re pretty easy to spot simply by comparing the article to the interview and its companion piece.

Heck, reading the Daily Mail, one might come away with the impression that Jones was renouncing the hypothesis of anthropogenic climate change. To correct that impression, let me just quote one more part of the interview:

E – How confident are you that warming has taken place and that humans are mainly responsible?

I’m 100% confident that the climate has warmed. As to the second question, I would go along with IPCC Chapter 9 – there’s evidence that most of the warming since the 1950s is due to human activity.

This is what happens when you get your news from FOX and Drudge. Facts are fungible. Scientists are only quoted if a portion of their quote can be twisted to match a preconceived ideology.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

God's Presence in a Good Cigar

Norman Lear on where he finds God:

I consider myself deeply religious. I was born a Jew and I love my people and our culture. I could not be prouder of what, in our long history, we have brought to the world. But that is not what makes me religious.

What makes me religious is the way I experience life and the way I try to live it. In his book "Edith the Good," Spencer Marsh's thesis was that, although she never spoke of it per se, Edith Bunker's every reflexive reaction to any situation was what the writers thought Jesus' reaction would be. Marsh had it right; that is the way Edith was conceived. I'm not in that league by any means - Lyn and our children will certify that - but everything tells me that the world would be an exquisite place to live if we were all able to respond to life as Jesus did.

That is "mamaloshen," a Yiddish word describing the understanding that comes when one's common sense derives as much from the soul as the mind. The Sermon on the Mount is simple mama-loshen. And anything that ain't mama-loshen doesn't square with my religious sensibilities.

Of course, to most religionists these observations are dismissible. To them my words lack scriptural, theological and ecclesiastical weight. Still, ever since my early 20s when I smoked my first good cigar, I have felt that if there was no other reason to believe in God, Havana leaf would suffice. I've had similar epiphanies while biting into a ripe peach, a just-ready piece of Crenshaw melon or a great ear of corn.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Smart Cat Owners

Via Kevin Drum

And in other news, we have this:

A poll of 2,524 households found that 47.2% of those with a cat had at least one person educated to degree level, compared with 38.4% of homes with dogs.

"We don't know why there is this discrepancy," [said Dr Jane Murray, a lecturer in feline epidemiology at Bristol University]...."Our best guess is that it's to do with working hours and perhaps commuting to work, meaning people have a less suitable lifestyle for a dog."

Pshaw. It's because people of discriminating taste prefer cats. Let's not sugar coat this in order to be politically correct.

It's Getting Harder and Harder to Hate Walmart

So says Michelle Harvey, who is in charge of working with Walmart on agriculture programs at the local Environmental Defense Fund office. This article in the new edition of The Atlantic tells the story of Wal-Mart's big move into supporting local farmers to bring fresh and local produce to its stores:
I started looking into how and why Walmart could be plausibly competing with Whole Foods, and found that its produce-buying had evolved beyond organics, to a virtually unknown program—one that could do more to encourage small and medium-size American farms than any number of well-meaning nonprofits, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with its new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign. Not even Fishman, who has been closely tracking Walmart’s sustainability efforts, had heard of it. “They do a lot of good things they don’t talk about,” he offered.

The program, which Walmart calls Heritage Agriculture, will encourage farms within a day’s drive of one of its warehouses to grow crops that now take days to arrive in trucks from states like Florida and California. In many cases the crops once flourished in the places where Walmart is encouraging their revival, but vanished because of Big Agriculture competition.

As the article points out it remains to be seen what affect this will have on local economies and other grocers but if there is any business with the heft and the skill to make bringing local farm produce to grocer work on a massive scale it is Walmart. And if they do it will be good for the farmers and for our health and wallets. It is getting harder and harder to hate Walmart.

Egg in Plastic

I read the blog of Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein for his political commentary, but a couple of days ago he posted this video of how to poach an egg in plastic wrap. I tried it this morning. I learned that it is important to drop the egg into the middle of the pan of water without letting the plastic touch the side of the pan because when I wasn't careful about this the plastic melted against the pan and the egg slipped out into the water. It is amazing to me that the plastic doesn't melt in the boiling water. I will try it again tomorrow morning.

Snow Days

Heavy snow in the east makes the evening news, but here in the north snow is a minor nuisance for driving when it is falling and otherwise a part of everyday life. I love the snow. I can't imagine living in warm climates where there is none. This is my idea of a white sandy beach:

I was out snow-shoeing at Ritter Farm yesterday. The temperature was 15 degrees. The sun was out. There is nothing quite like the feel of cold weather. You know you are alive when you feel the cold air on your face and in your lungs as you inhale. And you also know that without proper clothing and protection you could pretty quickly not be alive. My hands were numbed in just the few minutes it took me to get my snow shoes on. It didn't take long walking to warm them up and by the end of my walk I was wet with sweat and carrying my gloves.

Our snow of a couple days ago had freshened everything up. I should have had my camera along the day before when there were no other tracks and when the groomed trail had just been refreshed.

I spooked a deer out of its bed but couldn't get the camera on it before it was out of sight. I apparently missed an angel touch down as well.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

What Does CBS Stand For?

Let's hear it for the raging grannies:


Caucus Lite

Two years ago I was a precinct organizer at my local caucuses and there was no parking available at the high school and it was standing room only in the classroom where members of my precinct gathered. Last night in the same classroom I was joined by 6 others from my precinct. I guess it can't be Easter Sunday every week.

It's Not All About Us

One of the bloggers I read is Drew Tatusko. Yesterday he had a post on the subject of original sin, raising the question of how Christian theology frames the doctrine of original sin when we no longer believe as the ancients did that sin was in some way biologically passed from generation to generation.

I am not much interested in arguing about original sin. What caught my attention was this part of Drew's post:
Time to get rid of total depravity and listen to the restoration movement and the teaching of John Cassian which offer a more elegantly simple and rational explanation for why we are so mean to each other sometimes and why animals have to survive by eating other animals and having lots of sex. Simply put, only God is perfect and so, the world and all that is in it was never perfect.
I am not familiar with the teaching of John Cassian. But I am interested in thinking about the question why if God is perfect the world is not perfect? Why if God is perfect, did this imperfect world happen? Why did God let it happen? I asked this question in comments on Drew's blog:
What I am missing here - and I am probably just dense - is how we get from a perfect God to an imperfect world? Not just fallen humanity, but earthquakes in Haiti. Did God just light the spark to start it all and then sit back and watch for humanity to get here billions of years later? Letting us evolve with the freedom to not be who we were created to be is somewhat troubling but workable. We at least have some choice in the matter. But what for God is the joy, point, purpose of being perfect and allowing or creating a universe to go on for billions of years that is so unpredictable and that involves so much suffering for all God's creatures.

Or is the perfect God just a metaphorical opposite of all the world is not?
There was no response to this question; the comments focused on the question of original sin, which was after all what Drew had posted about. The issue of original sin is important in Christian history and theology. Sometimes when I read these discussions, though, I think back to having toddlers in the house and those moments when they act and think as if they are the center of the universe even though they have only been on the planet for two years.

The earth is 4.5 billion years old. The first reptiles appeared 300 million years ago; mammals 75 million years ago; apes 35 million years ago and apelike humans 10 million years ago; homo sapiens a mere 200,000 years ago. Sometime in what seems like our distant past modern humans became aware of our mortality, our propensity to do harm to ourselves and others, and the idea that there might be a God up there who made us. And we began to wonder why God made us this way and whether we did something wrong somewhere along the way to screw things up.

But long before we were here - and I mean long in the sense that if you are thinking of the passing of a 24 hour day and at one minute before midnight we showed up thinking of ourselves as if the world revolves around us - there were plants and animals and there has been one very long history of life and death and suffering in our world. That predates us and our johny-come-lately worries by millions of years. Why? If God is perfect and God created it all, why?

By focusing on the question of original sin and what part we might play in our own suffering, I think we too easily let God off the hook. God gave us a choice and we made a mess of things, and so in some cosmic scheme of justice it makes sense that we are getting what we deserve. Or so the thinking goes. Even this idea is problematic but at least we can understand the kind of thinking that suggests that our suffering is somehow the result of our own bad choices. It is not God's fault; it is ours. God doesn't want to punish us, but has to be fair. It is for our own good, but God really loves us. That is why he sent us Jesus. And so it goes on and on and it is all about us.

What about the suffering of animals? What about that lamb that experiences a moment of fear and then intense pain when the lion bites into its neck? Did the lamb do something to deserve this fate? Why must it suffer? Where is God in this suffering?

To me this is a much more profound line of questioning to pose to and about God than why we humans are so nasty to each other. Why would a perfect God create a world where for millions of years on end all God's creatures endure pain and suffering? What is the joy in that? Is it really all for the glory of God?

In any case, it's not all about us.