Friday, December 11, 2009

Best Protest Signs of 2009

Here are some shots of what the Huffington Post is calling the funniest protest signs of the year:

Wikipedia strikes back :

How dare you say Americans can't spell:

The problem with quoting from the Bible:

My favorites:

You know, you just can’t make this stuff up!

Sanctity of Marriage

John Marcotte is going to take Californian voters at their word. Because they voted for Prop 8, which banned gay marriage, in order to protect marriage, he is working on pushing them to their logical conclusion. He is currently collection signatures for the "California Protection of Marriage Act." If passed it would make divorce illegal in the State of California. Married couples could however seek an annulment. While done more tongue in cheek, it is gaining momentum, although they need 700,000 signatures. But he does address the sheer hypocrisy of the anti-gay marriage movement, which has nothing to do with protecting the sanctity of marriage. Of those I know who are separated or getting a divorce in Massachusetts not one of them is because gays can marry. And as long as the divorce rate remains at 50% the actions are not doing anything to protect marriage. So, if you live in California please sign the ballot initiative so we can protect marriage.

I finally figured it out, part 2

This is a follow-up to yesterday's post. The United Methodist Church's position is for "fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." That, of course, is a position I support. The only mention I can find on a position regarding sex education is some brief lines in the church's stance on pornography which says: "Children, youth and adults need opportunities to discuss sexuality and learn from quality sex education materials in families, churches and schools. An alternative message to pornography, contained in carefully prepared age-appropriate sex education materials that are both factual and explicit and portray caring, mutually consenting relationships between married adults, is needed." What that actually means I think is open to debate.

I know that Pastor Joel did have thoughts about whether to talk about condoms in last week's message on World AIDS Day, but he decided that in the age of AIDS, condoms have to be talked about openly and honestly and that means they must also be talked about from the pulpit. I have two daughters so I can assure you that I want them to know that abstinence is the expectation, but I also know the reality of life and so I want them to know what they need to know about sex as well, including protection not only from pregnancy but also from sexually transmitted diseases. Having had numerous friends and acquaintances die of AIDS this hits close to home.

Education is always the best tool and I believe abstinence only programs simply don't work, either for drugs or for sex. We need to give kids the most information we can with the hope that they will make the right decisions, but with the knowledge that if they don't do what we would like that they are not doing things that will damage them for the rest of their lives, or kill them. The other problem with some abstinence only programs is that sex is portrayed as something dirty and disgusting that "good" people (especially girls) don't do, oh except with the person you love the most. What sort of a message does that send?

Let's be honest. The more we tell teenagers not to do something, the more curious they become in wanting to do it. That's what teenagers do and what being a teen is about. However, that does not mean we have a laissez faire attitude and let them do whatever they want; but let's provide them all the information and then set the bar of where we want the behavior to be and give them the skills and the trust to make the right decisions. Kids know when we are lying or trying to deceive them and when we do that they shut out everything else we try to tell them and discount everything that had come up before that.

In our conversation with the God Squad last year I was amazed at some of the questions they asked, not only that they didn't know some of the answers, but also in their desire to know more information. They do want parents and their church to have a say, and they will listen to us more than we believe they will.

For a good, and scary, look at the modern state of teen sexuality I recommend Unhooked by Laura Sessions Stepp.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I finally figured it out

In the closing section of one of the classes I am taking, the professor, Helmut Koester, was asked about his background and how he ended up where he was today. He was born in raised in Germany and served in the German. Because he grew up under Nazi rule, for most of his life, which included his father losing his job and being imprisoned by the gestapo for a time, he had not had access to anything which the Nazi's deemed "inappropriate" including books, music and art. While he was in the German army during the last two years of the war, they were working out of a building in Berlin which had formerly housed governmental offices. In one of the offices they found a stash of some of those forbidden materials and so the first exposure he had to jazz music was listening to records that had been confiscated by the Nazi's but not destroyed.

This should hardly be a surprise as often those who seek to "protect" us from things hold onto them in order to make sure we don't get them, or even worse watch, read or listen to them (this is not true of all). If you study the anti-pornography movement you will find that some of them have very large collections of pornography. Some who specialize in their distaste of certain types will even have the largest known collection of that type. And of course they have to watch these materials in order to know how disgusting these things are so they know what we need to be protected from. In other words it is not us that have problems but they need to be protected from themselves and their own interests.

Which leads me to this. I think I have finally figured out why conservatives have been pushing so strongly for abstinence only sex education. It can't be because it works, because it doesn't. All the independent studies show this, and reality shows it as well. Teenagers with the highest rates of sexual activity are those that self-identify as evangelical Christians, and areas with the highest religious identification also have the highest teen pregnancy rate as well as out-of-wedlock birth rates. These things shouldn't go together if these programs work. Then today, because of some events in my own life which I won't go into, it hit me. They don't want these programs to work because what they know is that the biggest cause of abstinence amojg adults is children. If teenagers go out and have sex and have children then they will become abstinent because they no longer have the time or the energy to have sex. Of course it's the second child that really gets it going, so the bigger the failure the program is the better it works. They know that if the initial education fails and the kids have children that this will lead to true abstinence, and then the program is a success. It's diabolically genius!

Welcoming and Reconciling Nativity

Here's a funny story from one of the other clergy in Sudbury, which of course also relates to my last post:

Every year they have a living nativity. Last year when the minister went down to see what was going on, she found two girls in the stable with the baby Jesus, but no one else. When she asked which roles they represented, one girl said "I'm Mary and she's also Mary, remember we're a welcoming congregation." Too funny!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Getting Along

Last night in our conflict management training the facilitator had us practice a circle process in which everyone was given the opportunity to say a few words about their feelings surrounding this congregation's decision to become a reconciling ministry and the process that brought this about. Neither Pastor Joel nor I were here for this process, but we have certainly heard the pain that remains on both sides of the issue. I think it was very enlightening for some because they had no idea that people felt the way they did. For others it reopened old wounds and for a few it created wounds that were not there before. But the only way we can get beyond these feelings is to actually deal with them in constructive and positive ways. We cannot just move on because they will invariably come up again.

In hearing stories of past conflicts I would also say that while the issue was different, the story is the same. Each church has a DNA that exists regardless of who is attending, and can span generations and sometimes centuries. People become enculterated into a system and operate the way that system works, even if they might like to do something differently. But this requires someone identifying the system, everyone deciding that a change is necessary and then taking the time to actually make the change. Systems can be changed, but they require us all being open and honest, listening to each other, recognizing hurts and pains and all working to move forward together.

We are all children of God and precious in God's sight and when we forget that, when we move into us versus them, winners and losers, then not only do we all become losers but we also lose our way and our focus on our reason for being, God who loves each and everyone of us.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

You Have the Right....

On Monday the Supreme Court heard a case involving a man who signed a confession, after receiving his Miranda rights, but who said he did not know that he had a right to have a lawyer present when he was being interrogated. According to observers it appears that the justices were siding with the need to have this expressly stated. If this is the way the Court goes, and I hope they do, I applaud them on this change, which could make a significant impact in interrogations.

If you watch enough television, and everything seems to be about crime or medical shows these days, very rarely is there ever a lawyer present during questioning. When they are present they are portrayed as obstructionists who are keeping the police or the DA, the "good guys," from finding out the truth from the "criminal," who is clearly the bad guy and has something to hide because he wouldn't be a suspect if he wasn't guilty (and that was even said by a US Attorney General). But the normal portrayal is the police/DA interrogating someone without a lawyer present, and when the "criminal" asks for an attorney to be present the police either refuse (which is illegal by the way) or they talk them out of it because an attorney will only get in the way and make things worse, or at least that's what they are told. This invariably results in the person saying okay they'll talk without an attorney and then they confess to everything without legal counsel.

Now I know that TV is not real life, but how many people decide what is good or bad, or how things are really supposed to happen based on a TV portrayal? I would guess the percentage is pretty high. All we have to do is look at how many people think that torture is okay because when Jack Bauer does it it always works, the intelligence is good, and the end justifies the means. For those without a good education, who don't understand legalise and who are often scared out of their minds, it is little wonder that we get false confessions. Making clear the need for suspects to be specifically told that they have the right to have an attorney present when they are being questioned. That is when the most damage can be done and often when their advice is needed the most. The right to a fair trial is guaranteed in the Constitution and the framers knew first hand how coercive the state can be through the use of the police and the court and sought to protect this. Now if we can just decide as a society to adequately fund the public defenders office. Unfortunately this does not match up with our "get tough on crime" mentality coming from both the right and the left.

As an interesting aside, Miranda rights are named for after the court case Miranda v. Arizona, in which Ernesto Arturo Miranda confessed to rape and robbery following a police interrogation. Miranda had a long and checkered past with the law, but the case claimed that police should have told him that he had the right not to talk to the police, had the right to an attorney, etc. Federal law enforcement officials had been using a similar statement for years, but most local forces did not until they were ordered to by the Court in 1966. If Miranda thought he had problems with the police before the decision, they were just beginning. Every time that he got out of prison the Phoenix police department would literally follow him around town and stop him for even the smallest infraction, often leading to his arrest. I could tell some good stories that I have heard, not only about Miranda, but others, but I will refrain. Miranda was stabbed and killed in a bar fight at the age of 34. One of his killers was apprehended shortly after and as he was being cuffed he was read his rights which Miranda had won him the right to hear.

Monday, December 7, 2009

I Believe

Here is a great quote about Santa from Readers Digest:
On Christmas Eve, my nine-year-old son, David, put out milk and cookies for Santa, plus an extra treat -- a beer. The next morning, David came tearing into our room. "Santa came!" he shouted. Holding up the half-full bottle of beer, he said, "See? There really is a Santa, because Dad would have drunk the whole thing!"

Is Anyone Listening?

So Tim Donaghy conducted his first interview last night on 60 Minutes about his time betting on games as an MBA ref. Now the question is, will anyone actually pay attention to what he had to say? ESPN and everyone else have been saying all along that he had fixed games and that he was, in the words of the NBA, "a rogue ref."

That of course is not what he pleaded guilty to nor was it what was actually taking place. (If they had paid attention to the case and not the NBA's spin of the story they would have known this). He placed bets on games simply knowing who the refs were going to be (and if there were any last minute injuries). Let me say that again, he could place bets on games, and win an astounding 75-80% of the time, simply by knowing who was refing the game. The NBA, and the sports reporting world, have not wanted to talk about this because the ramifications are enormous. He also said he could bet based on memos sent from the NBA about certain issues, such as that Kobe was not having fouls against him called enough, and so he knew they were going to crack down and Kobe was going to be going to the line a lot. In other words the NBA office was directly contributing to games being changed in one teams favor. Players and coaches have been complaining about this for a long time and the only people listening was the commissioner who would fine them. Is anyone going to pay attention now?

Now what the NBA, as well as the sports media machine, has said all along is that there is no reason to believe this guy because he is a convicted felon and committed the most heinous crime in professional sports of betting on his own sport. We will disregard the fact that the NBA, NFL and MLB love to host events in Vegas, because of course there is no hypocrisy taking place. We will also disregard the fact that the NBA found that most of their refs were gambling in violation of their contract, but no discipline followed because there were simply too many doing it. Instead they just changed the rules.

The problem with saying that Donaghy is lying is that the FBI and the NBA both did investigations in which they found that he did not throw any games he officiated, and the FBI believes he is telling them the truth. If they didn't he would still be sitting in a prison somewhere. The other problem for the sports media is that they believe Brain McNamee, a convicted felon, is telling the truth and Roger Clemens is not. We need a little consistency here. Convicted felons can of course tell the truth or lie, in this they are no different than anyone else, but how we choose who to believe cannot be simply because we want to or don't want to believe what they are saying.

I've been shouting into the wind that what was being reported about Donaghy was not what was taking place but no one seemed to care. Maybe now people will care because this is potentially damaging to all professional sports not just the NBA. The NBA has to finally wake-up and deal with the reality of the claims not simply dismiss them, and I hope that the media finally holds them accountable for these claims. This is not just the rantings of some "rogue ref" this is about the entire system and needs to be addressed.

8:30 pm Update: I think the answer to my question is a resounding "NO". This interview was not talked about on any of the sports programs I watch, including Sports Center (unless I missed it) nor is it addressed on the sports webpages accept to say that he was interviewed on 60 Minutes. No one wants to touch it. What happened to journalism?

Friday, December 4, 2009

What are we doing?

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India. For those that don't remember, a toxic gas leaked out from the plant which was located in a crowded slum of Bhopal. 4,000 people died the first day and another 10,000 died within three days. To put this in some comparison, 2, 985 people died on 9/11. Union Carbide claimed that the leak was caused by a disgruntled employee, although they were never named or charged. Activists and neighbors claimed that it was poor maintenance that caused the leak. I'm usually going to tend to side with activists over the company, especially based on their track record and the reason why they were located where they were in the first place. It is estimated that at least another 100,000 have had significant health impacts from this leak and 30,000 live in the area drinking water still contaminated. The Indian government says they have cleaned up the area and the high incidence of birth defects is from the fact the people live in slums not from the chemical, as if somehow that justifies them and stops the debate. To prove the area was safe, they said they were going to open up the site to visitors, but later changed their minds and the site remains closed but of course perfectly "safe."

Regardless of who you believe or don't believe, this is a clear example of environmental racism. The plant was built were it was for a specific reason, because they could. The same way that BU doesn't want to build their facility dealing with highly deadly bacteria in Sudbury, but instead in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Boston, and the reason that hazardous waste dumping sites are located almost predominantly in areas with high minority populations. Native Americans are particularly hard hit.

When Jesus said do unto others as you would have them do unto you and love your neighbor as yourself I don't think this is what he had in mind.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Prayers for the President

I just heard a very disturbing story last night. Apparently there is a campaign called Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8. If you look up that Psalm you will find it says:

May his days be few, may another take his place of leadership (NIV)

That might seem innocent enough, although I don’t think it is, but it is next verse that is truly disturbing:

May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.

I am a strong supporter of the first amendment and will defend the right of people criticizing the President, but this is a troubling trend because it is beginning to take on the taint of the anti-abortion movement in which killing abortion doctors is justified, even killing them in their church. Obama has been compared to Hitler, Stalin, etc. and even been called the anti-Christ. There can be little doubt that there are some people who view this rhetoric as justification for seeing him dead.

The man who took an assault rifle to an Obama event in Arizona had heard his preacher say just the night before in his sermon that he would “pray for Obama to die and go to hell.” He says that he doesn’t want violence to come to Obama he just wants him to die of “natural causes.”

We as the church need to stand up and say that this is unacceptable. Whether we like the President or not, it is beyond conscionable to be offering prayers like this. It is even worse to be using scripture to justify his removal as being approved by God. Again, there can be little doubt that there are some who will take this reasoning to heart and feel completely justified in killing the President. And not only will they feel justified but will believe that they were doing God’s work.

As Peter Gomes reminds us (I think he was quoting someone else):
“A surplus of virtue is more dangerous than a surplus of vice.” Why we naturally ask? “Because a surplus of virtue is not subject to the constraints of conscience.”

My greatest fear going into the election was that Obama would not survive his term. The secret service is reporting that they are overstretched because the threats to Obama are greater than they have seen for any other President.

We as a church need to step up and say that this is unacceptable. This has nothing to do with politics it has everything to do with who we think God is and what we are called to do as Christians. If you search praying for Obama you will find much of this hate, but you will also find some who are calling for prayers in support, even though they disagree with him. This is what we should be promoting.

For a better more eloquent and more insider perspective on this issue, please watch this interview (it starts 3:30 into it) with Frank Schaeffer, who with his father Francis Schaeffer helped create the modern fundamentalist movement and in particular their opposition to abortion and the rhetoric surrounding that issue.

Here is another good piece on it by Diana Butler Bass, with a great quote from CS Lewis.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I Dare You to Try to Argue Against It

According to the number crunching wizards at the Wall Street Journal, in years when the Yankees win the World Series the economy does well. In fact:

Since 1930, the Yankees — who would clinch their 27th World Series trophy with a win tonight — have been a harbinger of an average of 5% GDP growth in years following a series victory, healthy by any measure. In years in which the Yankees didn’t win the World Series (either they lost or didn’t make it) U.S. output expanded at an unspectacular 2.9%.
When the Phillies win on the other hand, you can be sure that financial disaster is on the horizon. Of course they won last year and look what happened to the economy. In 1980, when they won interest rates were above 20% with high unemployment. The only time Philadelphia repeated as World Series Champions was 1929-1930 (it was the A's then) and I'm sure I don't need to remind you what happened in October of '29.

It should also be noted that the last time the Yankees beat the Phils in the Series the GDP grew the next year at a rate of 7.7%.

You don't have to cheer gratefully, but I do expect some modicum of appreciation for rooting for the financial improvement of our economy.

Learning a Lesson

I think Bill Belichick has something to teach us. There are four things that can happen when we make a decision:

1) We make the wrong decision but get the right outcome
2) We make the wrong decision and get the wrong outcome (or the right outcome for that decision)
3) We make the right decision and get the right outcome
4) We make the right decision and the wrong outcome

Just because the outcome is wrong does not mean the decision was wrong. You can make the right decision and have a bad outcome, just as you can have a good outcome result from the wrong decision.

I personally think that he was right to go for it on 4th and 2 and all of the statistical indicators say that that decision gave him a better possibility for victory. What went wrong was not making sure that his receivers went far enough down field (although Moss was right there and was clearly in first down territory) and they got an absolutely terrible spot from the ref and there was no replay possible because they didn't have any timeouts left. (Those who argue that the MLB should be like the NFL who are said to be concerned about "getting it right" and use instant replay need to reconsider your position. As this play shows us, the NFL is not concerned about "getting it right" but only about having the appearance of getting it right.)

The Colts had just gone 79 yards in 1:40 on the previous drive, and the drive before that had also gone almost 80 yards in less than 2 minutes. What makes you think the defense was going to stop Manning all of a sudden? The truly radical move would have been to have let the Colts score immediately rather than trying to stop them in order to put the ball back in Brady's hands with two minutes remaining know he only had to get in field goal range.

We often judge things based on their outcomes, as is probably a good idea, but let us not forget that the outcome does not always mean the wrong decision was made.

Sunny Days

Last week Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary. This brought out some congratulations but more condemnation. The attacks seemed to focus predominantly on the fast paced nature of the show which it is claimed has led to short attention spans in children. One thing I couldn't help notice was that those who were doing the attacking were all white. Perhaps this is because there are few people of color on television, or maybe because it is a statement of privilege. What they all seem to disregard is what the common thinking was at the time Sesame Street started and the impact it has had on children's lives for the good.

Sesame Street did not create the idea that children have short attention spans. This is what educators believed at the time, including Jean Piaget whose theory of cognitive development was predominant. What the creators of the program also found in their test programs was that after about three minutes the children lost interest, and so they kept the segments short. They were following what the experts were telling them and also what the children were demonstrating. Now were they wrong? Maybe. I still think it's too debatable. My daughters never watch Sesame Street and have very short attention spans.

What the commentators also missed was the fundamental change this program made on television. For one it created children's programming as we know it now, which is focused on learning. Second it gave a positive spin to living in the city. Most shows portray the city, especially large urban centers, as dirty and dangerous places to live. Certainly not the place you want to raise your kids (again think white privilege and white flight). They also portrayed the radical notion that whites and blacks could be seen interacting in positive ways. This was so shocking that many southern PBS stations refused to run Sesame Street.

Finally, and most importantly, was that this program gave inner-city kids good quality television to watch. I cannot locate the statistic at the moment, but it was something like 95% of all televisions in homes with children in urban areas were turned to Sesame Street when it was on. That means that all of those children were being exposed to educational programming and opportunities that would not have otherwise been available. If Sesame Street had not been on then more than likely the children would have been watching a soap opera or some other meaningless program. Something that would not be helping them learn their numbers or letters.

Now wouldn't it be more beneficial if the children were not watching television at all? Of course. But let's not attack Sesame Street for our failure as a society to provide adequate low cost preschool and daycare opportunities for our children. The simple reality is many people cannot afford to send their children to good programs and so for them they need something to help supply what they cannot, and Sesame Street helps fill in some of the gap.

So lay off Sesame Street, for remember Big Bird is bigger than you are!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting Caught Up

So where do I begin to get caught up? The obvious is the fact that my beloved New York Yankees won their 27th World Series title. It’s been a long time and I loved every minute of it. I had also called it for the Yankees in six, which impressed those who heard me say it, although it shouldn’t have. At some point I’ll write about the economics of baseball because it’s of interest to me, but this had nothing to do with the Yankees “buying” another title. (and by the way that claim has been made since Ruth led them to their first title in ’23.) Salary level has little to do with success, just ask the Mets. Many of the players that contributed are also home grown talent, including the “core four” as they are now being called. The first team to win the series without a single player drafted by that team (I have been told) is the 2004 Red Sox. What was also very apparent from revenue and television viewership numbers is that the MLB does very well when the Yankees are very good, and all the teams benefit from that.

Tim Tebow was cleared to play and has been doing well, but there have been more troubling trends on the concussion front since then. Last Saturday, Jahvid Best, the running back for the University of California, was taken off the field on a stretcher after having lost consciousness in a dive into the end zone and suffered a serious concussion. It happened that he has also been diagnosed the prior week with a minor concussion suffered the week before which had not been caught. So, in less than 10 days he has now had two concussions. There has been some debate about how long he will be out for, which is ridiculous. The coaches, the medical staff, the university and the fans should all be telling him that he is done for the season. These injuries are way too serious to be taken as lightly as they are and the long-term risks are terrifying. It is in Best’s best interest to be done. I know that this flies in the face of the toughness issues of football players as well as the win at any cost mentality, but we have to start thinking of what is in the best interest of the players not for the fans, the university and the coach.

If you still don’t think this is a serious issue, please read this article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker. You MUST read this if you have a son playing football, know a friend’s son who plays football, know someone who knows someone whose child plays football, etc. In other words you must read this article. If what the doctors he interviews suspect is true it is terrifying.

LeGarrette Blount, whom I also wrote about, has also been reinstated for this week’s game against Arizona State (Go Devils!). I wrote at the time that I believed that Oregon had made the right move, and I still stand by that. I’m also still waiting for Boise State to make any show of punishment for their player who instigated the whole thing, although I know the wait is in vain; and Florida’s half game suspension of Brandon Spikes for attempting to gauge out the eyes of another player was just ridiculous. I think you can also be sure that had Florida been playing someone good the next week instead of Vanderbilt (sorry Commodore fans) that there would not have been any suspension, because Florida, like Boise, has cleared made it clear that sportsmanship and good play are secondary issues to winning. That is not the statement that Oregon made.

At the time I also wondered were forgiveness came into the picture. That is where we are now. We have to give applause to Blount for dealing appropriately with this issue. He could have just walked away from everything and gone back home to wait for the NFL draft, but he didn’t. Instead he continued to go to school and to practice in order to prove himself and show that this was a mistake which he was aware of and wanted to atonement for (one of those big church words). And apparently he has done that and more, to the point that not only Oregon but the PAC-10 were willing to change their minds and reinstate him. I again applaud Oregon for their original stand, for giving him the opportunity to change his ways and earn a place, and for changing their original position when there was a new reality. If only other institutions would operate the same way. You have been given another chance Mr. Blount, make the most of it.

Navy beat Notre Dame again for the second time in three years, both times on Notre Dame’s field, and also for only the second time in the last 46 years. I used to be a Notre Dame fan, but now I root against them every chance I get. When they fired Bob Davie after the 2001 season, they interviewed Tyrone Willingham, who had turned around Stanford’s football team (Stanford has a much higher academic acceptance level than Notre Dame by the way), but instead decided to higher George O’Leary from Georgia Tech. When it turned out that he had lied about not only his playing career but also his academic career, he was forced to resign, and they then hired Willingham.

In his first year Willingham had a better record than Weiss, although in Weiss’ first year he was given a ten year extension. (Willingham also gave credit to Davie for the players he had that he was succeeding with. Weiss took all the credit for himself because he was such a great coach.) At the end of his third year, before he had his recruiting classes playing for him as seniors, Willingham was fired with a record of 21-15. At the end of Weiss’ third year he had a record of 22-15, but he was not fired. There were lots of reasons for this, the money left on the stupid contract he had been given in the first year being one of them, but when you look at the numbers, which are basically the same, and how one man was treated against the other the only differences are that one is black and not an alumni, and the other is white and an alumni.

I do not believe that the alumni piece plays all that big of a role, so that leaves race as the defining difference. This is only substantiated by comments made by the president of Notre Dame, Rev. Edward A. Malloy, at the time that Willingham was fired who said that the most embarrassing thing to happen under his leadership at Notre Dame (he was also leaving) was the way that Tyrone Willingham was treated, and he had been there since 1987. Here is a good editorial on the issue. Go Pitt!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Has it been that long?

I can't believe that my last post was on October 1, but life has been pretty crazy. But what's even harder to believe is that yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the end of the Berlin wall. It really shouldn't surprise me since my 20th high school reunion is in February, but I just hadn't connected the two. I can still remember were I was and what I was doing at the time, and I didn't believe it when I heard it. It also happened that we had an exchange student that year from Berlin and she couldn't believe that she wasn't there for the most significant event in the past two generations of Germans. In college I had a friend who was the opposite; she was an exchange student in Berlin and went down and partied at the wall even taking a piece off with a sledge hammer. I wonder if she still has it?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Can we get serious?

So, apparently Urban Meyer "saw" (his words, not mine) Tim Tebow and "he looked fine." For those unaware, Time Tebow, the Heisman trophy winning quarterback for the University of Florida, suffered a concussion during last week's game. The problem with the coach's statement is that a concussion has nothing to do with how someone looks, which is part of the problem. The other problem, which we are finding out through painful experience, is that we don't understand as much about concussions and their long-term impact as we thought we did. Tebow is still suffering severe headaches and isn't able to read, but it's okay because "he looks fine." I know the idea of student-athletes is just a charade at most D1 universities, but how is Tebow doing any class work when he can't read?

The other problem is, what was Tebow doing in a game that Florida was dominating and up by 24 points in the third quarter when he was already sick to begin with? Now coaches are coming to Meyer's defense and saying that he should have been there, because the game was still within reach, yadda, yadda, yadda. This is exactly the response you would expect and part of the problem with big-time college athletics. There was absolutely no way that Kentucky was going to catch the Gators. The problem is that these programs like running up big numbers and scores against these teams because it makes them look better and they are rewarded by the pollsters and sports reporters. Until that second part changes, the unsportsmanlike nature of the first part won't change.

What Meyer now has to consider, and I truly hope he does, is that we are talking about Tebow's long-term future here, not about just winning some more football games. As I already said the studies being done on concussions, most of them related to football, show that there are serious long-term consequences resulting from multiple concussions and we simply do not know what all the ramifications are. Now some reporters are saying he'll be okay because this is only his first one. Tebow has been playing football, and playing quarterback, for the majority of his life. The likelihood that he has not had a concussion before this is almost zero, it's just that it was never diagnosed.

Don't get me wrong. I love football, especially college football, but we as a society owe something to these kids to protect them. They are not just gladiators to be thrown out whenever we are done with them.

And as long as we are talking about ridiculousness, what is the President doing trying to get the Olympics to come the United States? Doesn't he have more important things to be worried about, like say health care or the economy? It's not like the US absolutely needs another Olympics. For some countries this is not the case.

China wanted the Olympics for political reasons, and they pulled out all the stops to make that happen. I can even see Brazil's interest in highlighting their country, but what does the US get out of this? Do we need a higher profile? Do we need to make some political statement? I just don't understand it.

It's time to show some leadership Mr. President and going to Copenhagen to bring back the Olympics is not it. I'm sure that someone told you it will make the country feel good about itself and give you a big "win," but that's not leadership, that's pandering. Don't stoop below yourself; be what you promised us you would be, a leader. The Olympics in Chicago is not change we can believe in, it's just more of the same.

Snap Judgements

Last week in God Squad one of the topics we were dealing with was snap judgements that we make about people and how accurate, useful or destructive they are. Today on the train as I was heading into Harvard, the guy sitting across from me was reading a fairly thick book with a black cover and he was moving his lips and moving his fingers around to different parts, like he was trying to figure out something, like an equation. He also happened to be Indian and so I jumped to the conclusion that he was a grad student at Harvard and he was reading a physics book.

As we kept going he shifted and lifted the book up and it turned out to be a Bible, which totally blew my first impression and brought up a whole new set of ideas about him. It also happened to be the NIV which tends to be the "conservative" translation, so now I also had to weigh thoughts about conservatives who would be reading their Bible in public.

We make snap judgements all the time. I think it's impossible not to, but we have to be aware of them as well so that we can get past them in order to see everyone as a child of God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing...

In honor of last Sunday's music ministry presentation, I'd like to share this piece. It was written by Rev. Johanne Dame who was my supervisor when I did my internship.

Why don’t we sing more?

Music is one of our natural, God-given graces. We begin to sing as a very early age. Mothers and fathers croon to infants. The rhythm of music soothes babies by reminding them of the rhythms of the heartbeat in the womb…. Music connects us to the rhythms of life.

But all too son, somebody – who? Society? – says we should only sing… if our songs are good… if our voices are perfect. We become, those of us not gifted with exceptional voices, self-conscious. This is why so many of us will only sing in the shower. We sound better there and no one else will hear us! We beat down the songs embedded in our souls.

Worse, we come to an acceptance that only “professional” music will do. Radios have replaced work songs in most of the cultures of the world. We have radios in our homes, our cars. At great and important occasions in our lives, we hire people to sing for us. They have beautiful voices! But we cannot sing for ourselves or together, we must hire someone to do it for us.

And in church. Well, there is singing in church, but not much in white protestant churches. This is a shame, because the hymns of the church are a great gift to us, a great resource. For most protestant hymns are a means of prayer and dialogue with the Spirit. They are what icons are to the Orthodox and stained glass windows are to cathedrals in Europe – windows into the soul.

We have big debates now in the church about what to sing, the older style music or the newer style. But mostly music scares us these days in the church. Because through it the Spirit catches hold and moves us, changes us. Enough of that kind of singing and we might be dancing in the aisles.

But dancing in praise of God is throughout the Bible. We read this morning a snippet of the oldest song in the Bible (Exodus 15:20-21), sung by Moses’ sister Miriam after the defeat of Pharaoh’s army. And we read that beautiful song, the Magnificat of Mary. Remember these words from the NT letter of James? “Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry – let him sing!”

But it’s a funny thing. We really don’t celebrate singing in church. In preparation for today I was researching prayers, and I could not find any about music! Listen to this list of titles of prayers for special times in the lives of congregations: Before a budget or business meeting; installation of a pastor; dedication of church doors; prayers for annual meeting…. There were no prayers about music or musicians or singing……..

But music, the urge to praise God through music is so deeply imbedded in us! Joyce Blackburn says “as ancient as our race is the urge to sing, to perform on instruments. Why, who knows how old cymbals may be? This morning here we used a tambourine, a timbral… and timbrals are mentioned in the Song of Miriam…. Music is an expression of the joy we have in living, in the joy we have in faith, in the joy we have in the gifts of God.”

She continues, “let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Because you are, you can respond! Praise is response, the voluntary response of our total selves or even a part of our selves to the presence and doings of the Lord, Creator, Redeemer, God. Praise is the astonishment we express when touched by His infinity, by His intimacy, by His attention concentrated on each of us. Praise is the silence of awe we feel when we recognize a miracle, the wholeness we feel in the arms of Almighty Love, the freedom we know, once captured, changed, kindled. Let us respond to the One in whom we live and move and have our being. Let us praise the Lord!”

Music is praise, praise in honor of the One who loves and sustains us. We need to sing more!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Say it aint so Joe....

It's a sad day in the Yankee Universe. Peter Abraham, who is a beat writer and writes the best blog on the Yankees, is leaving to come back home to Boston and cover the Sox for the Globe. While I wish him all the best, now I'll have to figure out another way to waste my time when I'm supposed to be working or writing a sermon. For all the Sox fans out there, you will simply have to follow his writing and his blog. He's the best!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

It's begining to look a lot like... wait it's September

If you've seen my front yard in the last few years you know that I love Christmas. I've already begun thinking about this year's display, planning it out and looking through catalogues about what might be added, and I like seeing things in the stores so I can get new ideas.
In the next few weeks I'll also have to start pulling out pieces to make sure they are working properly and fixing things that need to be fixed. For those who are really serious about decorating (and that phrase really scares Linda) they've been at work for a while and will start putting things up in the yard at the end of October.
But, when I hear Christmas music playing in stores before Halloween I go a little crazy, and this story is just over the top.
The picture to the left is from a town outside of Manchester, England, which put up their Christmas decorations in August! Now, that is going a little too far.
I don't want to be rushing too far forward, so rather than discussing all the problems with this I will leave that to Advent when we can talk more about the rush to jump forward and the need to refrain.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Now I feel old...

Each year Beloit College in Wisconsin puts together a list of what the entering freshmen class have always known (or not known). Here is this year's list:

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013
Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991.

1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
3. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
5. Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
7. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
8. Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
9. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
10. Rap music has always been main stream.
11. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
12. Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
13. The KGB has never officially existed.
14. Text has always been hyper.
15. They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
16. Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
17. They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
18. Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
19. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
20. American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
21. Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
22. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
23. The European Union has always existed.
24. McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
25. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
26. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
27. Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
28. The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
29. Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
30. Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
31. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
32. The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
33. Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
35. Women have always outnumbered men in college.
36. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
37. Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
39. It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
40. Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
42. Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
43. Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
44. There have always been flat screen televisions.
45. They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
46. Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
47. Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
48. Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
49. Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
52. They have never been Saved by the Bell
53. Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
54. Most communities have always had a mega-church.
55. Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
56. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
57. Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
59. For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
60. Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
62. Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
65. Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
66. NATO has always been looking for a role.
67. Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
68. Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
69. The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
71. Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
73. Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
74. Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
75. There has always been blue Jell-O.

Now that's something you don't see everyday

I know I am running woefully behind on posting, and my ideas for posts are backing up. Once my schedule becomes a little more squared away with school, work and family I promise to keep back on top of things, but I have to share this.
The above picture is of Harvey Cox and a cow grazing in Harvard Yard. (The cow was grazing not Dr. Cox.) Dr. Cox is the Hollis Professor of Divinity, which is the oldest endowed professorship in the country. Established in 1721, part of the gift stipulated that the holder of the chair would have the right to graze his cattle in Harvard Yard. As Professor Cox is retiring, he decided to claim this right and acquired "faith" (her actual name is pride, which of course is a sin everywhere else but at Harvard) in order to graze his cow in the yard.
One of the lessons to be learned here is to think very carefully about what you want people to be doing in perpetuity. I'm sure that Mr. Hollis never even imagined that people would not still need to graze their cattle in the future, but look at what's happened. It would be like saying a professor had a guaranteed parking space (thank you Professor Gomes) and then not knowing what to do with that 300 years in the future.

Friday, September 11, 2009


Congratulations go out to Derek Jeter for tying the all-time hits record for the New York Yankees, held by Lou Gehrig. With all of the amazing players who have been with the Yankees it's surprising that we have never had a player with 3000 hits. What was great about the moment was not only the classy way that Jeter handled it, as he always does, but also the way the Rays handled it. The players in the dugout all came to the top and joined in applauding Jeter on his accomplishment. That is the sign of a well managed team and credit goes out to Joe Maddon. This is what he had to say about Jeter: “I’m very happy for him,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said. “He carries himself in a manner that’s worthy of passing Gehrig.” So do you Joe. During the game Maddon also removed BJ Upton who was not hustling after balls hit to center field. It's nice to see managers let the entire team know that inferior play will not be tolerated and removing them to make the point.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A Message

On Saturday I presided at the memorial service for Joe and Muriel Plonko. During the graveside service, after I had said the words of committal, I began the prayer which thanks God for their presence in our lives and commends their souls back to God. As I began, a beautiful dragonfly flew over and rested right at the top of my book and sat there until the prayer was done, then flew away. Now it could be that it just happened that the dragonfly needed a place to stop for a moment, but with the love that Joe and Muriel had for nature and God's creation, I took it as a sign to me and to all of us that they are okay and just wanted to let us know.

Crime and Punishment

Let me applaud the University of Oregon for their handling of the situation regarding LaGarrette Blount. For those unfamiliar with the situation, following Oregon’s loss to Boise State (I didn’t know Boise was a state, but I digress…) Blount sucker punched Byron Hout, a player for Boise. Later he had to be held back from going into the stands after being harassed by some fans on the way to the locker room. Oregon immediately suspended Blount for the season. This is not just any player on the team. This is the starting running back, someone people had mentioned in pre-season Heisman discussion. This is going to hurt the team, but Oregon made a clear statement that they are not going to tolerate this type of behavior regardless of the consequences. This is an action rarely seen at any level of competitive sports.

Boise State, on the other hand, is going to privately discipline Hout for his actions after the game. It was Hout who sought out Blount, then proceeded to taunt him and hit him on the shoulder pads to make sure that he heard what was being said. This behavior, which is totally unsportsmanlike as well, should be treated much more harshly than merely having “a private conversation with the coach.” Boise State should have also suspended Hout for a minimum of one game, but apparently their concern for what they will and will not tolerate is not as clear as Oregon’s. The commissioner of the WAC said they will leave the review open for further study if the case warrants it. That means he is sticking his finger in the air and if he thinks something needs to be done for PR purposes that they will follow-up, but if no one is up in arms they will let it pass. Nice to see that the conference also supports the wishy-washy tactics of their schools.

While I do think Blount’s punishment is appropriate (and the severity deals from him wanting to go into the stands, not from the punch) I am also still troubled. This is his senior season which means his college football career is done, and there is no means for getting back in anyone’s good graces. Most analysts are also saying that there is no way he will play in the NFL anymore either. Where is forgiveness found in this situation? Where does rehabilitation play a role? This is not the first trouble Blount has been in, which also played into the severity of the punishment, but maybe this is the incident he needed to realize he needed help and needed a new path. I don’t have any easy answers for this.

I hope, for his sake, that he has taken his class work seriously and will graduate with a good education and be able to do something else with his life. But I fear that he is like so many Division 1 athletes that he has put all of his eggs in one basket, and now that the basket has fallen apart has nothing left. (The coaches, colleges, the NCAA, television networks and all of us are just as responsible for this situation as the athletes themselves are)

On one other note, I was telling someone else about this situation shortly after it happened and my disgust at what Boise State was doing/not doing, they said, “let me guess, one player is white and the other is black, and it is the white player who is not being penalized.” I told them they were correct, not having seen the racial ramifications myself, and they responded “when will they ever learn.” (In my non-existent free time I’ll try and find a study conducted in California of the language differences used by teachers in relation to black and white male students and post some information on that)

Labor Day

I greatly enjoyed my day off yesterday, although I actually did do some work and was even at the office for a brief period. But I can’t help but marvel at the irony of so many people enjoying a day in honor of the labor movement, especially given the sentiment towards unions these days. Strangely I have heard no business, who routinely denounce labor unions and how terrible they are, decrying this day and demanding that it be taken away. Nor have I heard the same from regular people who see no use for labor unions.

Even if we are just to see it as a nice remembrance of when unions were needed would be to recognize that capitalism has some serious issues, the business does not always do the right thing, that unions were needed and useful (once upon a time) and that workers need to be protected. Even that recognition I think would be impossible for some conservatives to agree to or even to recognize.

Now I will admit my biases here. I come from a pro-union family, although I think I am the only member of my family from the last two generations to actually belong to a union, and was one of the union reps the Harvard University Clerical and Technical Workers Union when I was at Harvard. The United Methodist Church also recognizes and supports the employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively.

But do you know how Labor Day came into existence? Here is a brief story:
The first labor day was celebrated in New York in 1882 after labor organizer Peter McGuire witnessed a celebration in Canada, which had passed the Trade Union Act which legalized and protected union activity in Canada in 1872. But the US did not recognize the celebration until 1894, when President Cleveland pushed for legislation recognizing the day in order to appease the labor movement. This was not done out of the goodness of his heart, but instead to try and quell any upheavals after he ordered the US Marshall’s to interview in a strike at the Pullman Palace Car Company (manufacturer of the Pullman railway car). Their strike, caused as a result of cuts in pay due to a down turned economy (sound familiar), resulted in 125,000 railway workers refusing to handle any Pullman cars. Under the guise of saying the strike interfered with the delivery of the mail, President Cleveland ordered the US Marshalls, along with 12,000 members of the Army, to stop the strike. In the end, 13 strikers were killed, when they were fired upon, and 57 were wounded. Putting labor at the top of his agenda, President Cleveland pushed through legislation creating the holiday just six days after the end of the strike, and was unanimously approved by Congress. September was chosen not only because that was when Canada celebrated, but more importantly to keep it away from May 1 which is the international date to celebrate labor movements.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Football means it's fall and blogging!

Coming in a distant second to my love of baseball is college football, which officially began the season last night. What football season also means is that my favorite non-baseball blog also starts. Tuesday Morning Quarterback, which comes out on Tuesday's (I know shocking) covers the weekends NFL games, but more interestingly also covers everything else going on in the world. The author, Gregg Easterbrook, is a fellow at the Brookings Institute and a contributing editor for The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly and The Washington Monthly. Even if you don't like football it is a must read, and you can skip over the football parts. You can find him here.

Here is a bit from one of his most recent postings:
A Cosmic Thought: Researchers led by Swinburne University of Technology, in Australia, released this map of the "nearby" cosmos. The map contains about 100,000 dots. The dots are not stars; each dot represents a galaxy, and galaxies are thought to average about 100 billion stars each. Thus the area depicted contains holds roughly 10 to the 15th power stars, a number far too huge to bother attempting to fathom. And the map merely shows galaxies nearby. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is at the center of the map. On the cosmic scale, a place with 100 billion stars is a dot.

His book The Progress Paradox is excellent. Read it some time when you are pessimistic about the world. Go here for some of his other writings.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Some people have asked what I did on vacation, and one of the most important things, besides trying to get some down time, was eating Mexican food. Although to be specific in this case it was to eat New Mexican and Sonoran food. I know people will disagree but you can't find good Mexican food in New England, and here is the perfect story to illustrate the point:

Before moving to New England I was working for Kinko's and so I transferred to work at the Coolidge Corner location in Brookline. Shortly after I started the two brothers who run the Phantom Gourmet came in to have some work done. Of course, since I was new to town, I had never heard of them so they began telling me all about what they do and their new television show. Since we were new in town and didn't know where to eat I decided to ask them where to go for good Mexican food. They both began to rattle off four or five restaurants and then they asked me where I was from. I said New Mexico, and they then told me "oh, never mind, your not going to like anything here." So there you have it, not only do I say you can't get really good Mexican food here but so does the Phantom Gourmet; and so while on vacation we ate really good Mexican food almost every evening. Besides for wide open skies it is what I miss the most about the Southwest.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Catching Up

Well I'm back at it. With more than 210 emails waiting for me yesterday, as well as a memorial service to plan I did not have a chance to write.

What's happened since I've been away: The Yanks took 2 out of 3 from the Sox, we saw an unassisted triple play (the 15th in history and only the second to end a game), and Andy Pettite flirted with perfection. Like I've said every time you go to the ballpark you have the chance to see something you've never seen before, and here is the perfect example:

We went to see the Diamondbacks play the Astros in Phoenix. In the bottom of the sixth inning, John Hester, who was just called up from the AAA team, came in to pinch hit for his first major league at bat. With a full-count he smashed a home run to center field. With that swing he became the 101st player in major league history to hit a home run in his first at bat. With nearly 17000 people having played major league baseball that means that 1/2 of one percent of major leaguers hit a home run in their first at bat. I had never seen it before and will probably never see it again. (of those 101, 3 hit grand slams, and 19 never hit another homer).

The weather's getting cooler and the sun is going down earlier, which means the season is winding to a close. But, nothing like a September pennant race to get your blood warmed up....

Saturday, August 15, 2009


For the second time in a month I will be working on a wedding and a funeral in the same day. As you might guess this is not the easiest thing to do. I've only been at this for a short time and I hope this does not become a regular occurrence because the emotional swing is very exhausting to the system and I don't usually have enough time to recuperate. But I am off to vacation on Monday so I don't know when my next post will be. Definitely check back after the 31st when I return to work.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Making Changes

Here is my pastoral letter from this week's Chronicle:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Sudbury UMC is becoming known as one of the most exciting churches in the community. There is a Jewish real estate agent who is telling her clients that if they are looking for a Protestant church that they need to give us a try. We recently had some visitors who were told by someone in a coffee shop in Concord that if they wanted to attend a vibrant church they needed to come here. And we had another person say they wanted to attend on Easter but didn’t stay because of the crowds, so they came when we were a little slower. These are wonderful comments and are a great indicator that we are doing the right things.

A recent study found the median church in the US has a regular Sunday attendance of 75 people. The study also found that 50% of people who attend church go to ones that have more than 350 in attendance. We stand on the precipice of church sizes. We are obviously bigger than 75 and on many Sundays we have more than 350. We are no longer small but not quite large. The problem with this, learned through experience, is that churches cannot stay in this in-between position. We either have to decide to get larger and make the changes necessary to facilitate that change, or we can begin to get smaller and put up with the changes that will also bring.

This is not the first time this congregation has stood on the precipice of change, nor will it be the last. In the 1950’s and 60’s a vision was set which brought us to where we are today. Some were happy with this vision and others were not, but change came regardless of what people thought. Change will come to us as well whether we like change or not and even whether we want to deal with these changes.

Pastor Joel and I, of course, are in agreement of which direction we would like to see this congregation go, and you’ll be hearing more from us in the coming months and years about how we carry this out, what it might look like, and what it means. One of the biggest things that will change is how we do things around the church. So, for example, we will not often be able to have only one event scheduled at the church during key hours, but instead will have several events taking place at the same time. There are many advantages to this especially in being able to show our size and vitality, but there are also some disadvantages which are sure to leave some people upset.

We will also have to have much greater and more deliberate conversations and interactions between groups. We can no longer afford to be siloed in our activities. Church growth will need to be working with worship, membership needs to be working with stewardship, education needs to be working conflict management, social justice needs to be working with health ministries, and on and on. We all need to be in greater communication in order to make sure the parts are all working together effectively and efficiently. In other words we have to work on becoming greater than the sum of our parts.

All of these things will require us to think of things in new ways, to stretch beyond our comfort zones and work to live into a new vision. What the future holds for us is unknown, but let us never forget what God is calling us to, that the Spirit is moving amongst us and that with Christ all things are possible.

Grace and Blessings,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Yankee wins good for America

Just saw this on another blog:

Yankees in First Shows Winning Plan Without Bonds: Chart of Day 2009-08-12
By Mason Levinson and Jeff Kearns Aug. 12

(Bloomberg) -- The New York Yankees' front-running status might lead to
some joyous months in the Bronx and profitable ones on Wall Street. 'The CHART
OF THE DAY compares the historical performance of the S&P 500 Index, the
benchmark index for American equities, from Aug. 12 to year's end when the
Yankees are in first place, as they are today, to when they trail.

During the 33 years since 1928 that the Major League Baseball team led its
division on Aug. 12, the S&P 500 had average gains of 3.3 percent for the
remainder of the year. That's five times higher than the 0.64 percent average
gains the index had during the 48 seasons the Yankees weren't in first place.

"As a Yankees fan I can tell you why that happens: because the Yankees are
always in the lead and the market goes up two-thirds of the time," said Richard
Bernstein, chief investment officer of New York-based Richard Bernstein Capital
Management LLC and former chief investment strategist of Merrill Lynch &
Co. "You can put it up there with such other notable buy signals as who
wins the Super Bowl."

"One shouldn't underestimate the strength of spurious correlations."

The Yankees, following a four-game sweep of division rival Boston last weekend, led
the Red Sox by 5 1/2 games through Aug. 10 in the American League East.

Of the team's 26 World Series titles, 22 came after holding a first-place
lead on Aug. 12.

With assistance from Rodney Yap in Los Angeles. Editors:
Michael Sillup, Jay Beberman

So apparently the Yankees winning is good for the economy which is good for America. What do you think of that Red Sox Nation? (LOL)

Religious Illiteracy

Currently reading a book by Stephen Prothero on religious illiteracy in America. This is more than just not knowing about other religions but also the lack of knowledge about Judaism and Christianity. Here is a literacy quiz that he gave to his students :

1. Name the four gospels. List as many as you can.
2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism.
3. What is the name of the holy book of Islam?
4. Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?
5. President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road. What Bible story was he invoking?
6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament?
7. What is the Golden Rule?
8. "God helps those who help themselves": Does this appear in the Bible? If so where?
9. "Blessed in the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God": Does this appear in the Bible? If so where?
10. Name the Ten Commandments. List as many as you can.
11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. List as many as you can.
12. What are the seven sacraments of Catholicism? List as many as you can.
13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each it's own "clause." What are the two clauses?
14. What is Ramadan? In what religion is it celebrated?
15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear. Hint: Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa.
Adam and Eve Exodus
Paul Binding of Isaac
Moses Olive Branch
Noah Garden of Eden
Jesus Parting of the Red Sea
Abraham Road to Damascus
Serpent Garden of Gethsemane

How do you think you did? Email me for the answers and scoring.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Legionnaire's Disease

Just saw in "today in history" that on today's date in 1976 the bacteria causing Legionnaire's Disease was identified by the CDC. (it's good when you read what's on your own page.) In what could have been a very different scenario, the MLB had used this hotel just a few weeks before as their hub for the All-Star game which was held in Philly that year. If the All-Star game had been a few weeks later, or the bacteria had spread a few weeks earlier we could have had a differently named disease. Major League Disease? Baseballitis? (Linda would say I have both of these)

Something else to note is how different the AIDS outbreak might have been had the health community, the CDC and the rest of the government focused as much attention on that disease and finding its cause as they did to finding the cause of what was killing the Legionnaires. Would it have made a huge difference, maybe not, but my guess is that it would have, but no one outside of the gay community was concerned about gay men dying. You know that whole "it's forbidden in the Bible and they deserve their punishment" thing.

Until very recently I have had more friends and acquaintances die of AIDS than from anything else, so it's of interest and concern to me. For what I think is the best treatment of the AIDS epidemic in the 80's read And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts, who himself died of AIDS. When I saw Milk and then read Shilt's biography of Harvey Milk (The Mayor of Castro Street)I couldn't help but wonder if the epidemic might also have been different had he not been assassinated.

Here is a prayer from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops on HIV/AIDS (altered):

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
you are the God of health and wholeness.
In the plan of your creation,
you call us to struggle in our sickness
and to cling always to the cross of your Son.
Holy God, we are your servants.
Many of us are now suffering with HIV or AIDS.
We come before you, and ask you, if it is your holy will,
to take away this suffering from us,
restore us to health
and lead us to know you and your powerful healing.
We ask you also to be with those of us who nurse your sick ones.
We are the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers,
children, and friends of your suffering people.
It is so hard for us to see those whom we love suffer.
You know what it is to suffer.
Help us to minister in loving care, support, and patience
to your people who suffer with HIV and AIDS.
Lead us to do whatever it will take to eradicate this illness
from the lives of those who are touched by it,
both directly and indirectly.
Trusting in you and the strength of your Spirit,
we pray these things in the name of Jesus.

In Decline

There has been a lot of talk in most mainline churches (including the UMC) lately about decreasing numbers and what this means for the future of these denominations. But contrary to popular opinion, some recent articles indicate that these denominations are not alone in these declines.

A recent statement by Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention said that if nothing is done, they will lose 22,000 churches by the year 2030. No, that is not a typo, he did say 22,000 churches. That is half the churches they currently have. This year they also had their third year of decline in baptisms, reaching the lowest number since 1987. Since believers baptism is the key piece of how Baptists identify themselves this is a crucial statistic.

While current membership stands at just over 16 million, many people believe this is an inflated number. There have recently been several motions to have churches purge their membership roles of inactive people, but these have been rejected for fear of what the true numbers would like look. They, like the Methodists of years past, like being the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

Another conservative denomination has also seen a drop-off in membership. The Presbyterian Church in America (this is not the PCUSA which is the one most people are familiar with) saw their first numerical decline last year since their founding in 1973. The moderator said this loss was attributable to a purge in membership rolls from a megachurch in Florida, but that they should be concerned about deeper trends. The PCUSA also recorded their largest one year loss ever.

So what do we do about this? That is a topic we will spend a lot more time discussing in the near future.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh the cost...

The USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion just published a report estimating the cost of raising a child from birth to age 17. According to the study, a two-parent family that earns less than $57,000 annually will spend $160,000, those with incomes between $57,000-$99,000 spend $221,000 and those higher than $99,000 will spend $367,000. (Median family income for 2008 for a 4-person family is $67,019.)

Since the USDA began tracking these figures in 1960, the largest growth has been in the cost for child care, although no costs are given for this amount. The fact that this issue is not more of a public debate is very strange. Linda and I pay more than $28,000 a year to send the girls to daycare. In other words, we spend roughly what I make as take home pay to send them to daycare. We are not in the lowest costing daycare in the area, but we aren't even close to the highest costing. We could be spending a lot more if we wanted to, but we simply can't afford it. We could also be paying less, but we weren't happy with those programs. These are incredibly important years in their lives and I want to have them working with the best we can afford. I don't want our daycare to be competing with McDonald's as an employer. (no offense to those who work at McDonald's. Linda and I both worked there.)

Why aren't we as a nation talking about affordable, quality childcare? Why aren't we talking about getting good teachers teaching our infants and toddlers just as we are talking about for the regular school system? Why aren't we up in arms about how people of lower incomes aren't able to afford childcare for their kids? When I write my check every month I wonder how people making minimum wage or just a little above are able to pay someone to take care of their children and still have anything left to pay the other bills.

The simple fact is many of them can't. Every year there will be a story in the news about a child who died from exposure in a car while their parent, usually a single mother, was inside working because they couldn't afford to send them somewhere. The response is usually two-fold. One group will talk about the need for affordable childcare and the other group will blame the parent and say they just didn't try hard enough to find a place for them to go. But, the news is quickly forgotten and we move on to the next news cycle. Well the problem is not going away, in fact, it's probably getting worse, and we are going to have to confront it sooner or later.

To show you how much this problem seems to be ignored, I looked in the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions for what the UMC has to say about this issue. While a resolution says "The church has important responsibilities in initiating, encouraging, and participating in the highest quality of child care for children and families, not only in the local community but also nationwide," there is not a direct call for groups to deal with this directly other than to be "diligent advocates." There is not even a call for greater funding for Head Start. To be honest, I'm a little stunned by this and will be thinking about how we should approach this, and what should be submitted, for the next General Conference.

Sunday Schools were originally started in order to give children a place to go to learn how to read and write on the only day they had off from working. The church was instrumental not only in getting child labor laws instituted but also in pushing for universal education. Often the first hospital, school and college built in a town were built by the Methodist church. Why are we silent on this issue? I think some of it is because people who don't have small children do not realize how insanely expensive child care is, and I think there is also the traditional argument that if society helps assist with these costs more women will go out to work and their place is in the home.

As I already said this is not an issue which is going to go away, and unfortunately it is probably waiting for a tragedy to happen before it is addressed.

This will be an issue I will address again. I will also discuss the $207,000 gap between those at the top and those at the bottom. I would venture to guess that a large portion of this is directly attributable to educational issues.

A Whole New Ballgame

While the nation mourns the universe rejoices. But before either side gets carried away, let's remember there are still more than 50 games left to be played. There are also still 6 games left to be played between these rivals, including a three game set at Fenway in just two weeks. Baseball is a marathon not a sprint.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


0-0 through 14 1/2 innings. All that can be said is "wow"! Anyone who didn't like that game does not like baseball and definitely doesn't understand what makes baseball so great. Two incredible offenses were shut down for almost two complete games. Yankees pitchers held the Sox to 4 hits over 15 innings, 4 hits! And none of them were for extra bases! The Yanks were held to 9 hits, and four of those were in the 14th and 15th! Remember that just the night before the Yanks had 18 hits in 8 innings. Both teams were an unbelievable 13 for 82 (a .159 average). Incredible! In real estate it's all about location. In baseball it's all about the pitching and that changes each and every day.

This was the longest scoreless game the Sox-Yanks have played in their history, and it will go down as one of the all time greats in the series. That catch by Drew in the 14th was fantastic, Melky came within inches of a hit to win, and A-Rod breaks the longest homerless streak of his career. It was only the 5th time in major league history that a game scoreless in the 15th or later has ended on a walk-off homer. This is why baseball is the greatest game of all. Of course I'm happy with the outcome, but it would have been a great one even if the Yanks had lost. All I can say is "Wow"!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Here comes the judge, here comes the judge

Sonia Sotomayor was approved by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 68-31, and becomes the first Latino judge to sit on the Court. Judge Sotomayor's background is very impressive and she deserved the position. In fact, she has more time as a judge than anyone else currently serving on the Court had when they were appointed. But there are several things that I am troubled about or find puzzling in this nomination process.

The first is the fact that everyone keeps talking about an "impartial judge" and justice being "blind." Of course that is the ideal and what everyone wants, but the simple reality is it is impossible. Judge Sotomayor cannot see the world through anything other than the lens of being a Latino woman, which is what everyone was so upset about from her comments which were taken totally out of context. She can't do that just as Chief Justice Roberts cannot see the world through the eyes of anything other than a white man. That is his and her experience of life. While they certainly try and see things impartially it is impossible to ever fully do so. And why is it that we only ever try and apply this standard to minorities? We never talk about whites, or for that matter men, having to move beyond these categories in order to judge fairly. Why? Because our society expects people to see things like white males do.

Which brings me to my next point. If true impartiality was possible, there would be no question or debate about who should serve on the court. But, everyone brings with them a personal vision of the law, of justice and the role of the court. That means from the start that none of the judges are impartial because they all view what they are doing and how to interpret things, the Constitution in particular, very differently. That is a given from the start, and therefore indicates partiality. Another thing that is given is that ALL judges are "activist" judges.

Judges are activist by the very nature of what they do. If they strike down a law or ruling by a lower court, it is activist. If they uphold a law or ruling by a lower court it is activist. That is the way our courts are set up, and have been since Chief Justice John Marshall ruled in Marbury v. Madison that the court had the right to decide constitutionality. That little fact is not contained in the Constitution; the courts decided they had this right. Now if that is not judicial activism I don't know what is, but I don't hear anyone decrying this role of the court. Instead it is all about how people feel the Constitution should be interpreted, and again that is where no one is impartial. Everyone brings their own theory of interpretation to the court.

The other thing that is interesting is the Republican Party's take on Sotomayor. President Bush was trying to court the Hispanic vote, and many feel they are necessary for future victories. But for some reason they voted in large numbers against Sotomayor. This includes Senator McCain, who has talked about the need for the Hispanic vote, and then for the first time in his career voted against a Supreme Court nominee. First time, against Judge Sotomayor. How well do you think how she was treated will play in the Hispanic community? I could be totally wrong, but I don't think it has gone over very well.

Everyone has to realize that sometime in the next forty years, whites will become the minorities in this country. This scares many people. I think it is the reason so many people are throwing up ridiculous ideas against Obama. He doesn't look like them. Instead he looks like the future, and that is terrifying, and they don't know what to do about it. The time of white privilege and white majority is passing, which is all for the good, but any time there is change people become edgy, especially those who benefit the most from the status quo.

My final issue with this whole process is how ridiculous Supreme Court nominations have become. For the first time ever the last three Justices have been approved with more than 20 Senators voting against them. This, in and of itself, is not the problem. The problem is that rather than voting whether someone is qualified for the court or not, they are voting whether they like them ideologically (which again shows how ridiculous the whole idea of impartiality is).

What's worse is that most of the "ideological" requirements for serving on the court have little to do with what they will actually rule on. Since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 the Court has ruled on only a handful of abortion cases. From the importance everyone puts on it you would think they issue numerous decisions every year, but they don't. They take up many issues regarding the death penalty every year, but this is never discussed. They also issue few decisions regarding affirmative action, but again this gets lots of attention.

What we should be focusing on is their partiality. How do they view the court? What does stare decisis mean to them and how do they use it in making rulings (ie is it of primary importance or just another consideration)? What do they think the courts role is in relation to the interstate commerce clause (which gets many more rulings)? In other words, lets ask them about the real issues they will be ruling on, not the things that are important to others but which the court rarely addresses.

And this is true for both Republicans and Democrats. I might not like Justice Scalia's view of the law, but I do not doubt his intelligence or his ability to serve on the Court. To me that should be of primary importance, because ultimately you never know what they are going to do once they get to the court. And if you don't believe me, look at Chief Justice Earl Warren who led one of the most "liberal" courts in history, even though he was selected by Richard Nixon for nomination by President Eisenhower.

It's time to move past petty party politics and begin working again on deciding what is best for the country.