Tuesday, May 29, 2007
Perhaps because it was Pentecost, the "birthday" of the Church, the sense of family and continuity was strong for me. The atmosphere was relaxed and informal, and it was an exceptionally friendly congregation. Yet, in good Presbyterian fashion, we prayed the Lord's Prayer, said the Apostles' Creed, and heard readings from the lectionary. The church used the same hymnal that I remember when I first learned to read the words of the hymns back in Richardson, Texas (which means that the horseperson of political correctness had not yet trampled the lyrics). For a closing hymn, pastor Bill Bless supplemented with a rousing 19th century Pentecost hymn Revive Us Again. People often don't realize that "hymns" of this era were often spirit-filled praise music some 150 years before the first Barco projected words on a church wall.
To the Lamb who was slain
Who has borne all our sins
And has cleansed every stain.
This is a shame, because with their lack of pretension, their authenticity, and their spirit-filled nature, these congregations out to be able to transcend generational worship styles. Churches like First Havana could become some of the most "emerging" communities around. This would be a wonderful "rebirthday" for the church in the U.S..
Monday, May 28, 2007
The term "Greatest Generation" is overused and also somewhat inaccurate. They were not superhuman; some of the excesses of the 1960s are due to the all too ordinary mid life crises of that generation. But when I think of my Mom (age 17) and my Dad (age 20) eloping to Wichita, Kansas, I know that most today would call that foolish or worse. But, somehow I think that it can also be said that they trusted in God in a way that I can only imagine. When Dad died, he and Mom and been married almost 56 years.
I recently bought a canoe. Someone asked me what I'd named it, and I said the "Leutze II". If I have grandkids some day, I will tell them the stories of the Japanese suicide planes, and of Dad foiling the attacks on the American landing parties, and of the trick he played on the new Ensign, and of the young couple with the train ticket to Wichita, Kansas, and I hope that they will remember on all of the Memorial Days to come.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Thursday, May 24, 2007
For a second post on immigration, I would like to turn to a religious issue. It would be almost impossible to post all of the biblical injunctions for
I would like to propose three issues in the current immigration debate that require that prayerful consideration of all Christians. I believe that the Biblical injunctions about justice for aliens should enter into those prayers.
First, there is the fact the illegal immigrants are, well, illegal. This is why the debate over whether particular policies are or are not “amnesty” is so emotionally charged. The same political system that has passed laws that say that we have to pay our taxes and that corporate executives can go to jail for insider trading also has passed laws that say these folks are in the
Secondly, because they are here illegally, these sojourners are often in positions of extreme political, social, and economic vulnerability. These are exactly the types of people Jesus put at the top of the new order in the
Finally, what means and methods should Christians support to avoid a repeat of the current situation, that is to reduce the number of future illegal crossings. Is this simply a matter of border fences or security, or shouldn’t economics tell us that it is a matter also of changing the incentives?
If you thought I was going to provide easy answers, I’m sorry to disappoint you. For those of you who do not live near the Southwestern border, let me give you an example of what kind of really difficult questions can arise. These are classic examples of the secondary effects economists are so vocal in pointing out. When the government increased border security and enforcement around the major cities (e.g.
Question: some churches in
No one said that bringing your Christian values to practical applications was going to be easy.
For a profile of a dedicated Presbyterian pastor working in Southwest border ministry, click here.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
A proposed immigration bill is now on the table in the United States Senate, and it is disconcerting to see so much of the deliberative process has already degenerated in name calling. As I said in a much earlier post, this issue is one that ought to command the prayerful attention of all Christians. I’d like to address some economic and religious issues of the current debate in this and in some upcoming posts.
The economic issue I’d like to talk about today is the effect of illegal immigration on the job market. Supporters of immigration changes often say that illegal immigrants “do jobs that Americans won’t do.” Opponents are incensed by that phrase, saying that all that is going on is that the wages for some jobs are being artificially forced down by illegal immigration. Which viewpoint is correct? Unfortunately, this two-handed economist has to say: “both of them.” Anyone with economic understanding would have to acknowledge that illegal immigration shifts the supply curve of labor out, leading to (as least as a partial effect) downward pressure on some wages. However, it may also be the case that illegal immigrants have different preferences over certain kinds of work and leisure, meaning that they are more willing to accept employment (at given wages) for those kinds of jobs than American citizens. These two propositions should both be duly considered to be a legitimate part of the discussion on immigration policy; they shouldn’t become a part of some kind of “gotcha” debate over slogans.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
What are the characteristics of Paradise? What shape does that take? What is God's will?
God has a heart for the vulnerable: Orphans, widows, sojourners, diseased, disabled, . . . so whether it be physical, emotional, monetary, or otherwise, bringing heaven to earth means caring for the disadvantaged. What does that look like in economic terms?
Like a lot of frustration. There is no economic model for the Kingdom of Heaven. There are no trigger strategies (I'll behave this way unless you misbehave and then I'll be forced to change the way I treat you).
There's no fear in being taken advantage of by the disadvantaged. The Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it (Matthew 11:12). Between this and the confession, it's becoming apparent that it takes courage to be a Christian. It takes walking out on a wire, not giving in to fear of humiliation and rejection. Even as I write this these words are hard to digest. But that's real Christianity, it's hard to digest and it's hard to take up our cross daily.
There is a real disconnect between heaven and heaven on earth because in heaven there is a fully transformed population whereas here on earth we're dealing with a partially transforming population.
At some point in each of the next months we will be documenting ideas stemming from our own conversations and from your replies. What all this reminds me of is the old hymn, "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love", in the 2nd verse where it sings, "We'll guard each man's dignity and keep each man's pride."
The Kingdom of God is the restoration to the full glory denied by the fall. Looking forward to it.
Friday, May 18, 2007
I’ve had, for some time, an interest in how Protestant churches address the issue of confession. “Forgive our sins” is one of the passages of the Lord’s Prayer. Confession is also implicit in the command to repent. Jesus minced no words. He said (in Mark): “Repent”. That is why I am so pleased with Doug’s thoughtful post on game theory and interpersonal confession among Christians (below).
Unfortunately, I think that many Protestant churches miss the boat on the matter of personal confession. In much of the Protestant tradition, confession is made to God as a part of the worship service. In many mainline Protestant churches, the “prayer of confession” is a rote prayer written (or taken from a book) by the pastor, which may or may not have anything to do with what I have sinned about.
“Lord, forgive us for our lack of concern about the dolphins and the sea turtles.”
I basically tune out after two or three stanzas of this. The ending of these prayers is usually supposed to be a time for silent personal confession. In a recent visit to a mainline congregation, I had barely begun organizing my list of transgressions for the week when, after about five seconds, the pastor began the absolution. If I was going to engage in serious personal confession, I was going to have to do it on top of the next hymn.
The more evocative atmosphere of contemporary services would seem to make confession easier. However, my experience has been that often there is no formal time for personal confession. It is now so natural to equate contemporary worship music with praise music that we inadvertently downplay the role that songs of sorrow, lamentation, and confession should play. An example of where confession of sins is a beautiful, moving and integral part of a non-traditional service is the Maundy Thursday service at the FSU Wesley Foundation.
A different model is direct confession to other Christians outside of worship, a practice passionately promoted by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together. But as Doug showed, the natural strategic structure of this process is a prisoner’s dilemma (and Bonhoeffer appears to acknowledge this danger). So how are we to deal with the strategic problem? I am not an expert on doctrine in the Catholic Church, but I am struck by how the traditional Catholic practice of the confessional changes the situation. The priest is bound by the confidentiality of the confessional. This removes the prisoner’s dilemma aspects of the situation, and confessing your sins becomes the “best response”. But confession to an anonymous priest falls short of Bonhoeffer’s goal of personal, mutual confession to a known brother or sister in Christ, which is also Doug’s optimum.
The second possibility is an intentional, radical transformation of the Christian community so that the prisoner’s dilemma is eliminated not by an institutional change (the confessional) but by a common awareness that nobody will ever be led to the “don’t admit” outcome. Doug and I are going to be periodically making posts on the topic of the
Thursday, May 17, 2007
Maya Angelou once wrote that she wasn’t a Christian because she was strong; she was a Christian because she was weak. Vulnerability is at the heart of the Christian tradition. Paul writes in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, quoting Jesus:
“My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness.”That’s really awesome, but the next part is more disturbing than exalting. (This is Paul, not Jesus)
- 2nd Corinthians 12:9
“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” - 2nd Corinthians 12:10
As my pastor says, “Who does that?” Who shouts from the rooftops their own sins, struggles and weaknesses? We want to appear strong. We want the people that love us to continue to love us. We want all the people that don’t know us yet to love us when they meet us. (At least all that was true of me) We don’t want to jeopardize all of that. It doesn’t thrill me to tell other people that I struggle with lust, pride, laziness, gluttony, and many, many more sins. That doesn’t even enumerate the specifics, the thoughts that flash into my head that make me scream on the inside, “When will I ever be able to throw off this sinful nature?!”
Here’s where my economic mind kicks into play:
This is essentially a prisoner’s dilemma. First let me say that economics doesn’t play into the hands of the vulnerable. Game theory is about choosing the optimal strategy, not putting yourself in the weakest position possible. Okay, here’s how it goes (in the most black and white sense)
You have 2 choices:
Admit weaknesses to the other person / Don’t admit weaknesses to the other person
The other player has 2 choices:
Admit weaknesses to the other person / Don’t admit weaknesses to the other person
The four possible out comes are:
Admit/Admit (Optimal, most mutually beneficial)
Don’t/Don’t (The Equilibrium, Strategically the one that will be chosen)
The safest outcome, the one chosen in the famous economic prisoner’s dilemma game is where neither individual reveals their weaknesses even though they would both be better off to admit their weaknesses. My guess is that this is what happens in a lot of churches. The Body of Christ would be made stronger by the optimal choice (Admit/Admit), not the Equilibrium choice (Don’t/Don’t). The problem is that somebody has to put themselves in a weak strategic position where they will be subject to the slings and arrows of the outside world and potentially the members of the church, unless they are so moved by the player’s admission that they follow suit. That takes courage.
So, let me draw the conclusion that may be obvious at this point. When everyone knows everyone’s weaknesses we’re not wondering “will the same people that are my friends now be my friends if they know XYZ?” Perfect love can begin to take root. We can begin to live more anxiety free, bound together in community by our weakness. We don’t have to have it all together to be good Christians. Jesus didn’t come for the healthy he came for the sick. (Thanks Rob Bell)
Richard L. Walton said today, in an op-ed in the
You see, Mr. Walton believes that the explanations he has heard from other north Floridians about natural wildfire cycles are wrong. He believes that these fires are related to actual climate change.
Which he believes is caused by global warming.
Which he believes is caused by people who overuse air conditioning (something I also don’t like), by people who refuse to recycle (I recycle), by people who drive low mpg cars without an actual “need” (my car gets below 25 mpg gallon strictly because I drive it short distances in an around Tallahassee with its many long stoplights) and by people who “compulsively consume unaccountable hours of electronic media entertainment” (hmmmm does watching Gregory House complain about Lisa Cuddy’s attire count as “accountable”?)
Mr. Walton has acted in this direction. The money quote, in a highlighted box in the article, says: “I hereby object to paying a single additional dollar for the relief efforts in northern
Mr. Walton also suggests that we non-hybrid-driving, video-game playing miscreants are so culpable that the Gospel of Jesus needs to be modified specifically for us: “Perhaps we can still welcome the prodigal sons home. But they shouldn’t expect any parties. The inheritance has been wasted.”
Mr. Walton realizes that this is not going to exactly make him a Welcome Wagon poster-child. He says that “It’s time to prepare for battle.” He notes that Jesus said “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (My Bible says “a sword”, but I am very politically incorrect).
Did I mention that Mr. Walton is identified in the article as an Episcopal priest?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The type of pollution that can be most restricted is business pollution. For example, we set the amount that businesses in a region can pollute the environment to 100 units. Now like a market place where there are 100 bags of apples each bag is up for sale to whoever values a bag the most. Companies can purchase the right to pollute the environment. It limits the amount of pollution, setting it at a fixed amount and encourages companies to reduce pollution emissions via alternative methods of production (or new energy sources) because it costs them something for one more unit of pollution.
Problems: The initial allocation of such pollution permits. How do you distribute these permits initially? On a historical basis? On a pure market basis (this may result in monopoly of pollution permits)? The initial allocation is important.
Another way that the environment is helped is by conservation societies purchasing the land and declaring it a preservation or environmental groups can purchase sulfate emission permits and sit on them. While we can do our part to be good stewards of the environment on an individual basis there are certainly institutional changes and actions that will have substantial impact on this idea as well.
Monday, May 14, 2007
About a month ago ESPN came out with a report about a "scholarly paper" by a University of Penn professor and a Cornell graduate student about racism in the NBA. The academics claimed that white referees are biased to calling fouls on black players. They garnered substantial slant looks because they dug their data out of box scores that had no racial designation on the referees or who called what foul on what player. Only the names of those in the crew were posted below the box score. You would have to go back and watch every game. This was the talk of all sports radio only a couple of weeks ago and cast the NBA officials as bigots. The players didn't buy it and neither did the talk show hosts. That's good, one for common sense and about a hundred for statistics.
Let me take you into a hypothetical situation where the statistical issue is self selection. A study comes out and claims, "Most People Taking Mamograms Find They Have Breast Cancer" and it asks if you've taken your mamogram recently. The knee jerk reaction if you're a woman is "Holy Cow, I might have breast cancer," but it may just be a problem of self selection.
(Also, I just want to point out here that in some situations people think "I don't want a mamogram because that will result in me having breast cancer." This is a problem of causation and causality, a pretty way of saying the two really don't have anything to do with each other)
Most of the women going out and getting mamograms are the people that have a family history of breast cancer or an accute interest outside of the standard normal interest, maybe their friend died or they hear about other people and believe they need to do it. This is self selection. Let me illustrate it another way.
Occasionally my email backs up, some are kept after their initial reading and some are instantly deleted but I found one the other day from the Templeton Foundation about spirituality among college age students. Likely, they'll use the survey to say something like "College Students Are More Spiritual Now Than They've Ever Been" or "The Death of Religion, The Rise of Spirituality". It was, however, a very long survey and unless you were interested in spirituality you wouldn't fill it out. It took way too long. This is the essence of self selection.
Maybe if Templeton is interested in getting a more accurate cross section of students to ask about their spirituality they would visit a mixture of private and public universities and take a solid sample size from universities in few different regions of the country. Offer money to the people taking the survey, five dollars for twenty minutes. They can't leave before twenty minutes and get the money. That will guard against Christmas tree-ing. That is something they could really use for data.
I'm sure most of us have heard that we only use 10% of our brains. It's not true if you talk to people in the field. It's really only 3%. Just kidding. Truly, our synapses are firing all over our brains. These sort of strange statistics are used all the time and they enter the vernacular and are never cited again until an academic or someone with curiosity decides to search it out. For all we know it could be as unreliable a report as the racist NBA officials. It can really get to be hazardous like the 2004 VP debate. It's just a load of statistical silliness.
We as people have got to start asking some questions and not be taken with fear at the hearing of some number. We have a responsibility to be careful about what we tell others. At the same time, it's our responsbility to verify what someone else says. Let me close with a real example.
Someone said, "The instances of cacerous deaths are going up because we inject our food with growth hormones and it isn't pure." Some notes:
Cancer wasn't as easily detected in the 1950's
People live longer. They don't die of illnesses I became familiar with playing Oregon Trail.
Is it listed in nominal terms? Have the statistics adjusted for a greater population?
What kind of cancer did the person refer to? Skin cancer has been increasingly observed and everytime you get a cancerous spot removed it counts.
There are too many questions with that statement. So don't run out to the store and buy organic tomatoes on account of fear. Buy them because you like the taste or you don't agree with pesticide use, but don't do it because of fear. By the way, does anyone know how Trident came up with the 4 out of 5 dentists thing?
Friday, May 11, 2007
My roommate watches Survivor Man sometimes on the Discovery Channel. This one episode has this guy surviving on only the land in the Everglades but truly he’s not surviving on only the land because he can find foreign objects amongst the land like a spring mechanism in which he twists to make a lure (he also blows some bubble gum and hooks it on some line using the gum as a floating bobber to catch fish). The point is that there is littering even in the most isolated regions. We manage to reach all of these places with our random stuff.
There is a lot more random stuff just lying around. The advances of technology however are a marvel. We can identify illness and treat or cure people. We can trade information at ultra fast rates and see each other from all around the world in a short period of time. We live in a terrific era. The cost of planes, trains, automobiles, cell phones, computers, medical diagnostic equipment, and medicine is the print we make on the environment. (There are other costs we impose but we will focus specifically on the environment.) Are we to forsake and curse these advances because they have some effect on the environment? Even the Amish ride on trains.
We need to find our individual cost and benefit curves. At what point do we say to ourselves the cost of me having this or taking this trip is greater than the benefit I receive from it? Say, like a lighting fixture that we leave on all the time. Most people probably think less in terms of stewardship and more in terms of “Ouch. That utility bill really hurt last month,” but it does the trick. We leave less of an imprint.
A group of people at the FSU Wesley Foundation returned recently from a mission trip to Guatemala. While there for over a week, someone I know came back to a large load of items they needed to move into their new room and told me about how you think that you need certain things but you realize that you don’t need all of the things that you thought you did. It’s a gut reaction when you see people that have little and you realize that you could also live on very little too if you made a concerted effort to try. We are entrusted to be good stewards of all the land, animals, and especially the people. Jesus said that there were no greater things than loving God and loving our neighbors. This is where your definition of who is our neighbor comes into play. Do we see squirrels and rabbits as our neighbors?
Maybe not, but, everyone’s favorite garden statue, St. Francis references an idea that how we treat animals, with compassion and pity, will also be the way that we approach our fellow man. So, let’s realize that we are stewards. There is nothing inherently wrong with technology. Like most things that aren’t given to moderation it can run wild and monopolize our mindset about the way things have to be, but a trip to some other country without very much reminds us that we don’t need all the stuff that we plug in to our walls or that we can get on a bus sometime.
In lieu of pedaling power into our house from a bicycle that’s linked to a generator of sorts maybe we should look more at solar power and other such methods of power generation. Google Inc. is devoting a lot of time and money to alternative energy and making it cost efficient for use. I think that is a beautiful thing but mostly I feel lukewarm about this issue. Still, it's like anything else. If you have a sense that this is something you should care about and you're like me where you feel lukewarm ask God to put a burden on you about it. Ask the Lord to show you how he wants deal with it. As a side note, I just remembered Captain Planet and it made me smile.