Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hits a Little Close

This guy obviously does not know how to be a team player.  Keep bringing up history like this and you'll have us reflecting on our present practices! Could someone just marginalize this kind of honesty so we can get back to business as usual!

HT: Shallowfrozenwater

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Love Is At The Heart Of Justice

I was flipping stations on the car radio when I came across some fire and brimstone preaching.  The preacher was railing about what sinners we all are.  We are so steeped in sin that god can't stand to look at us. It makes god so angry that his wrath smolders like embers.  He finished it off by yelling, "We shouldn't ask how does a loving god send people to Hell?!  We should ask, How does a just god not send us there now?!"

That kind of preaching is fundamentalist boilerplate. I was actually surprised that preachers are still using that line. But it does say a lot about how this preacher interprets sin and justice; and I believe his interpretation is the opposite of the heart of God.

As my wife and I drove home from the symphony this evening, she told me of an incident that happened between our children today. The two of them usually get along pretty well, in fact I would say that they enjoy each other's company. They like to play together. Today though, there were some harsh words said and it left one of my children hurt and broken hearted.

As my wife told me the story, I felt my heart slowly sinking. I ached for my child that was hurt. But I was also hurting for the one who said the words. Contentment and happiness are hard to find with words like that embedded inside, ready for use. It crushed me that those words could be said. I hope for so much more.

I wasn't angry, I wasn't wrathful. No one had to step between me and my child to prevent me from doing them harm. Justice is not taking vengeance out on one of my children. My desire for justice is a desire to put things right. That things would be as they should be. That my children would be in a loving, happy relationship.  That is when justice is fulfilled.

I think the heart of God broke as he listened to the preacher speak harsh, untrue words to his brothers and sisters.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Personal Choice?

Over on the Facebook side of life, I have been involved in a conversation about.... Health Care. Yep, glutton for punishment. The basic argument there against any health care reform has been that lazy poor people shouldn't be getting handouts. Beyond that, even the working poor are not to be cut any slack because, even though they are working, they obviously have been making poor choices in life... which is why they are poor. The thrust of the opposing argument has been: Outcomes are based on personal choices.

I think this is a very popular argument, because it sounds reasonable on the surface. However, I suspect that it is similar to the pre-Galilaen notion that heavy objects fall faster than light ones; sounds reasonable, but completely untrue.

I touch on statistics in the math I teach, and I did have one class of it in college, but detailed statistics are beyond me. However, it would seem to me that if success were based solely on personal choice (or even primarily) we should be seeing a lot more randomization in our national results. If it was all about choice, we should see fairly even percentages of success or failure regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic status. Though, like in roulette, we may occasionally get "runs"; given 300 million people over decades, we should be seeing a relative balance.

Since this is not what we find, it would seem that there must logically be other system factors that are causing our stratified outcomes. Now obviously, those on the higher strata of these outcomes would love to take personal credit for their outcome.... and they would also like to see that that the system factors stay JUST as they are. To justify their position that it is all about personal choice, the advantaged often find some example of an individual who started at the bottom and ended up at the top - if that person can do it, anyone can.

Of course, to use that approach, one would have to violate a basic rule of statistics. In statistics you have items called outliers. These are items that are so different from the norm, that if you include them, it ends up misrepresenting your data set. In the case of the "bottom to top" individual, they are not only including the outlier... they are basing their argument on it. It would be like assuming that because Einstein could do certain equations, anybody could. The truth is, that person who rose from the bottom to the top was a genius when it came to system-defying. Though fortunate for that individual, it would be a mistake to base our policies on an outlier.

There is probably a mathematician in the audience who is going to spotlight all the holes in my logic, but it was how my mind was working on the issue. :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Good Stuff Coming From Richard Beck

I am very excited about an upcoming series that Richard Beck is going to write about the sermons of George McDonald. In today's introduction he articulated something that had been gnawing at me for years. It all comes down to: What is salvation?

He writes (emphasis mine):

Why did these novels from the dustbin of literary history so affect me? Two reasons. First was MacDonald's view of sin and grace and the refining and inescapable love of God. Many of MacDonald's protagonists make horrible mistakes. And their salvation is this slow journey though the purifying love of God. Sin is "forgiven" in MacDonald's novels when the character embraces the harsh consequences of sin and moves through that painful fire. Salvation isn't a simple "forgiveness," avoiding God's consequences for sin. In fact, the worst thing possible, the real hell, is NOT suffering the consequences sin. Salvation, in short, is about character formation. And this formation must, absolutely must, involve removing sin from our hearts and minds. God, I learned from MacDonald, wants us to be clean. Not pseudo-clean, not bait and switch clean, not imputed righteousness clean, not "God sees Jesus and not me" clean, but really, truly clean. You and I, finally, coming into the love of God and becoming the people we were created to be. And you have to go through the purifying fires of hell to get there. God wants to save us from sin. Not the consequences of sin.

I am in complete agreement with Beck here, and my acceptance of this view caused my theology to become upended. The whole concept of "imputed righteousness", I believe, has developed a warped and atrophic effect within the ethical standards of much of Christianity. I have written on this topic before, but it is this point of theology that allows many Christians to bask in superiority while behaving in inferior ways.

Monday, March 22, 2010

In Equal Measure

They say that you don't know what is in a sponge until you squeeze it.

Yesterday's health care bill was a big squeeze.

Since then, I have heard joyous elation to enraged frustration.... and everything in-between. I was primarily for the bill, so I realize I have a skewed interpretation.

There are a number of dissenters whose position I can sympathize with. They have technical reasons why they think this is a bad idea. Fair enough.

Then there are the conspiracy theorists who think this is part of a plot that was initiated in the early 20th century. Though annoying, I can't help but feel pity for these folks who are so easily led.

However, the people who make me sad are my fellow Christians who are ANGRY that the poor might receive help. They are worried that these "lazy, non-working, sit on their backside, unworthy miscreants" might get something for NOTHING! For FREE!!

They resent the poor receiving something that, in their opinion, they don't deserve.

Something they don't deserve.... something for free......

Hmmmmm.... I think I have heard of that concept before.

It makes me think of a story Jesus told in Matthew 18. In it, a servant who had been forgiven much by his master failed to show mercy to a fellow servant who owed him little.

23"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' 27The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.

29"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'

30"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."

Jesus said "with the measure you use, it WILL be measured to you".

Christian.... how do you want your mercy measured?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Make a Better Argument

As I sit here watching the congress do their last commentary on the health care bill, and watching the various protesters outside making their arguments, I am struck by conservative tactics. I keep hearing "Freedom" (it is being taken away) and "Socialism" (here it comes). This SO does not work with me.

As I listened to the Republicans, I kept mentally inserting "Military" terms for "Medical" terms.

The government will soon control the Military! If we give control of the Military to the government, costs will sky rocket! The weight of taxes will crush this country if this level of military control is handed over to the government! Imagine the government standing between you and the military!

I just thought it was an interesting academic exercise.

It did make me think of how many things the government controls (and WHY), yet we do not cry "Socialism" there. Roads, police, fire, military, etc... Those have yet to implode us. The sky is falling is a weak way to argue.

I do think the government should control health care. How, I don't know; a little above my pay grade. However, to me it seems to be one of those services like fire, police, roads, and military that should be under their umbrella. It is one of those things one has to have.

Market devices cannot help the person who has to have their appendix removed. They HAVE to have their appendix removed! Market forces work great for how much I should pay for a movie, or how nice a house, or what kind of car, or do I buy brand name shirts. Personal choice.

No family should go broke trying to save their kid's life. These are not matters of choice.

I also think the numbers that are being thrown out by Republicans are a little misleading. Yes, it will add to my taxes. But presently, I am spending nearly 10,000 dollars a year on medical (and rising) ... and that is with "good" teacher insurance. I would like to know the comparison between taxes raised and medical payments forgone (if any).

Anyway, that is where I stand. The Democrat bill is probably not the best bill; but I am pretty confident that the Republicans are full of shit. Let's face it, the Republicans were pretty quiet on the issue when they had the center seat, so their calls of "we want health reform too, just not this" sound pretty empty to these ears.

(Here is an article I wrote last summer which I think fits with today's outcome: Conservatives are usually the last to get on board.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Ezekiel 16:49

This was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy.

Hmmm... under this definition, it would seem that there are a lot of Christians out there practicing "sodomy".

Monday, March 15, 2010

Newsweek's Education Red Herring

Newsweek recently parroted a thought that politicians love to hear: The reason America's schools do poorly is because we have bad teachers. This makes politicians happy because it means they can continue to do nothing about education; all they have to do is say a lot of negative things about teacher's unions. Once accomplished, their work on the issue is done.

Newsweek makes a bold statement in saying that the number one factor in the educational success of a child is the teacher. There are myriads of studies that refute that, but to be honest, we can find a study to back up almost any proposition we like. So let me bring this down to a personal level.

I have been teaching for over 19 years. My first two teaching jobs were at highly advantaged schools. My previous 6 years have been at an inner-city, Title One (poverty) school.

Let's assume the Newsweek proposition is correct: I am the single largest factor in the success or failure of my students. If I am a good teacher, wherever I go my students should be successful. If I am a poor teacher, wherever I go my students should do poorly.

When I taught at advantaged schools, my students regularly scored amongst some of the highest in the nation. Year after year they performed excellently on state standardized tests.

Now that I teach at a disadvantaged school, my students usually score below the minimum requirement on state testing.

Now remember, I am the lynch pin factor. If I am a good teacher, regardless of environment, my kids should do well. If I am a poor teacher, regardless of environment, my students will do poorly.

But am I the causal factor?

If I were conducting this scenario as a science experiment with my students, the first thing I would ask them is: Did we control the variables? Are there other variables that could be affecting the outcome?

Since I have taught in both environments, I can speak to those variables. In advantaged schools, most parents are highly educated; in disadvantaged they are not. Advantaged schools have scores of volunteers; disadvantaged schools do not. The students of advantaged schools start kindergarten 10 times richer in vocabulary than their disadvantaged counterparts – that gap widens exponentially with every year that passes. The children of advantaged families have more opportunities for learning outside the home due to larger disposable funds and higher parent interest. In advantaged homes there is money for tutors and specialists. In advantaged homes, parents are more equipped to help with homework. In advantaged homes there is better nutrition and they are more likely to have set bedtimes and routines. The list can go on and on.

Let me give one example from the article where Newsweek did not control for their variables. In the article they state:

"Generally operating outside of school bureaucracies as charter schools, programs like KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) have produced inner-city schools with high graduation rates (85 percent). KIPP schools don't cherry-pick—they take anyone who will sign a contract to play by the rules, which require some parental involvement. And they are not one-shot wonders. There are now 82 KIPP schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and, routinely, they far outperform the local public schools. KIPP schools are mercifully free of red tape and bureaucratic rules (their motto is "Work hard. Be nice," which about sums up the classroom requirements). KIPP schools require longer school days and a longer school year, but their greatest advantage is better teaching."

But their greatest advantage is better teaching?!

Did anyone spot a rather large variable in the middle of the paragraph? Though Newsweek states that KIPP schools do not cherry-pick amongst applicants, students and parents must sign contracts stating that student will follow the rules and that parents must be involved. Those simple requirements completely change the dynamic of who will attend that school. It only takes a handful of students who do not want to be educated to anchor a classroom. Also, Newsweek makes no mention of what happens to those students and parents who fail to follow through on their commitments. KIPP seems to have options that the public schools do not have - students may be shown the door.

I would say that Newsweek did a poor job on their Science Report. Stay after school and redo it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Bill Maher - Don't Fire Teachers, Fire Parents!

Amen Bill! You nailed it with this one. (His article on this was even better.)

But isn't it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn't us, and the fix is something that doesn't require us to change our behavior or spend any money. It's so simple: Fire the bad teachers, hire good ones from some undisclosed location, and hey, while we're at it let's cut taxes more. It's the kind of comprehensive educational solution that could only come from a completely ignorant people. ~ Bill Maher

Check out my posts on education to get my thoughts on what is wrong with our schools and what needs to change.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Christianity and Social Justice

Social Justice has been a big topic in the Blogosphere and the social networking sites thanks to Glenn Beck. I have been involved in numerous online conversations on this topic, defending the notion that Jesus advocated Social Justice. What surprised me is that I have been defending this notion to Christians. This to me is an indicator that Christianity in America has been reduced to a mere buttress that supports a particular political/economic system. Economics has supplanted theology. It is more damaging to call someone a socialist in some churches than it is to call them a heretic.

To me, people who work toward social justice acknowledge that there are inherent advantages and disadvantages interwoven throughout society. It is not too surprising that the advantaged statistically tend to fair significantly better than the disadvantaged. Also not surprising is the fact that the advantaged would like to leave things just as they are- thank you very much. The goal of social justice is to correct structures that perpetuate the inequalities and to protect the powerless.

To counter the complexities involved in these advantages and disadvantages, oppositional arguments will often try to sift the situation down to: The Government wants to take money from the hard working man and give it to a lazy bum. Who could be FOR that?!

However, there are more facets to life than that. It is a strong human tendency to leverage existing power to take more, more, and more. People with less resources are channeled into positions of having to accept situations that work against their interests. Throughout history, landowners have kept those around them in poverty so as to maintain a cheap and controlled labor force. This history repeats itself in various forms.

I picked up a book in Michigan's Greenfield Village. It is called "The Good Ol' Days - They Were Terrible!" In it, the author describes what working conditions were like prior to contractual agreements and basic laws that protected workers rights and safety. A very sobering read.

I am reminded of David in the Old Testament. He was King over Israel and had everything. Still, he desired the wife of one of his soldiers named Uriah, though the king had many wives already. David knew the only way he could get her was to be rid of him. Killing Uriah would be wrong, so David worked out a scenario guaranteeing Uriah would die in battle. David used his power to leverage the situation, whereby he could get what he wanted, but remain technically innocent.

As Christians have begun to bend the knee more and more to economic systems, we see their ethic changing from justice ... to remaining technically innocent. As they spend myriads of hours listening to the likes of Beck, their contempt and resentment of the poor grows. Their economic conscience becomes numb and the question of how life SHOULD be conducted is replaced with the priority of achieving more wealth. The voice explaining the moral cost fades to a whisper as the Christian population wraps themselves in technical innocence.

In the years to come, will the powerless, the hungry, and the lame find they have to protect themselves from those who should have been their greatest defenders?

He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him. Proverbs 14:31

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Beck Is After Me Now.....

The Facebook version puts my picture in there too. Very Funny.....

A Little More on Glenn Beck's Church Advice

One of the statements you will hear from some Right Wing conservatives is that they are FOR charity and helping the poor; they simply do not want the government telling them they HAVE to do it. On the surface that sounds legitimate, and in some cases it may be true; but I have always felt the declaration was probably a polite fiction.

I have heard Glenn Beck make similar statements on his show, but this week he opened the door of his conservative heart and has shown us what he and many of his followers really think. If it were just about government compulsion, then we would not have heard his statements regarding "running" from churches who are concerned about issues of social justice. It is not merely the government... he does not want voluntary organazations participating in the issues of social justice either. He feels that "they" got to our government, and now "they" are getting to our churches.

Well Glenn, "they" seem to have gotten to Jesus too.

"For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."

They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

Monday, March 08, 2010

Christian Relativism and Glenn Beck's Call

Christians will often state that relativism is a bad thing. However, many believers have a very relativistic ethical code. For example, there have been a number of Christians picking apart the movie Avatar. I heard one Christian say of Avatar's message of environmental and corporate responsibility:

"Yeah, they try to portray it as good, but it is just paganism and they are trying to trick us."

Here the Christian states that something seems good, but because it is being portrayed by another belief system, that makes it bad.

This was also demonstrated today by Glenn Beck. He warns Christians to abandon churches that focus on "Social Justice". Glenn said:

"I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!"

Social Justice would normally be a good thing. It sure was a biggie on Jesus' list. However, because "liberals" are for it, that makes it bad.

Religion can cause people to develop very dubious ethical systems. Good and bad become relative to who is doing it. Loving your neighbor becomes valuable if you are a Christian, but if the same behavior is exhibited by an atheist it becomes "nice" at best and deceitful at worst. God forbid we should think well of the Muslim who loves his neighbor.

Glenn knows this phenomenon personally. Many Christians are "rah-rah" Glenn. Go Glenn go!!

Then they find out he is a Mormon.

Suddenly Glenn doesn't sparkle so brightly.

Here are some other blogs I follow that have weighed-in on Mr. Beck's view of churches that work for social justice.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hell: The Oxymoron of the Christian Faith

For the past few weeks, Out of Ur has picked a famous preacher each week and shown a clip of their explanation of Hell. This week they featured Greg Boyd.

I generally like Greg Boyd. I think he has been an important voice when it comes to getting Christians to see that the way they have interwoven Christianity and American politics into a single entity is nothing short of idolatrous.

In the video, I see Greg do what many good-hearted Christians do: go into theological contortions to accommodate Hell. One of those contortions is to suddenly make goodness and right behavior into vague, amorphous notions. It is the only time Christians do this; any other time, they are loud and specific with their opinions about goodness and right behavior. This line of argument does not get made often, and usually the Christian is uncomfortable while they make it because they know it renders any further discussion on ethics completely meaningless.

Hell goes against everything we know about goodness, parenting, love, and forgiveness. The evangelical view of Hell leaves most of Jesus' teachings empty. It is the oxymoron of the faith. It makes a lie of every good thing one might declare about God.

When I watch the video, I see a good man who is trying to make an evil notion fit into his worldview ... because he believes he has no other choice.

Related Posts with Thumbnails