Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would you hire a...

If you were in charge of hiring an executive for a company that manufactures automobiles, would you choose an Amish person who believes that cars are an offense outside of the will of God for the world?  Of course not.  The assumption would be that at the very best, that Amish person would do a lousy job.  At worst, he would actively try to sabotage the efficient running of the company.  It would be stupid to hire him regardless of how good a businessperson he had been, his personal character, his other skills, his integrity... you would be hiring him to do something that at his very core he believed is a worthless or even evil endeavor.

Why then would any vote for the current drop of Republicans?  Their philosophy of government goes back to that famous Grover Norquist quote - "I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."  That was underscored by the economic ideas of Milton Friedman who taught that government intrusion in anything is problematic and that free markets always work and are the only thing that works.  The Republicans simply do not believe the government has any role other than the military and even that, they have gutted and privatized to a significant degree, handing off many traditional government functions to private contractors whose primary allegiance is not to the public good but instead is to maximizing profits.  The response to Hurricane Katrina was not ineptitude of the government, it was a logical expression of the idea that private for profit enterprise should do everything and there is no government role. 

Yes, our government is dysfunctional right now... but it large degree that is the plan of Republicans currently in office.  Put in more and things will become even less functional because they do not believe in government.  They want to shred all public safety nets - social security, WIC, welfare, etc. etc. because they do not believe that is the role of government.  They want to destroy public schools and replace them with private ones because they do not believe it is a government responsibility to educate our children.  They want to remove agencies that check our foods and drugs for safety because they believe the free market will take care of that.  They want to gut any support of government sponsored scientific research, allowing companies to research only what is immediately profitable for them.  They want to add more Supreme Court Justices who support a corporatist state where billionaires and multi-national corporations are unfettered.  The list goes on. 

There are Republicans who are good people but as a party, I say this with fear and trembling, they are working to shred everything that makes for a civil society.  I would not hire someone who does not believe in cars to run an automotive company.  Why in the world would anyone vote to put someone in office to run the government when their sole intent is to destroy the government or at least shrink it until it can be drowned in the bathtub?

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Life... Rich... Full...

It has been a while since I've posted anything here.  Life has been full and a bit crazy.  My son, John, got married.  Cheryl and I celebrated our 41st anniversary.  My grandson, Corwin, hit his first birthday.  And life goes on in the midst of all of it.  I am so, so very blessed and so full of joy.

I have to say again that this grand-parenting thing really is wonderful and Corwin brings me more joy than I can say.  I'm looking forward to his cousin Khloe arriving sometime within the next few weeks and watching my heart expand even more.

In the meantime, here's a fun video of Corwin.  A few weeks ago I had a great gig with a wonderful singer named Stefana who pushed me out of my wheelhouse a good bit as she does a lot of Middle Eastern flavored music.  Corwin loved her music.  Part of my process of getting ready was just to listen to the tunes while reading through the charts.  Whenever I would do that, Corwin would sing along.  Here's a little clip of him doing just that.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Gaza, etc.

Yesterday was the anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima.   Saturday is the anniversary of Nagasaki.  Every year I grieve on these days.  I know the argument is that these bombs ended the war... and frankly that doesn't matter.  The bombs were still immoral.  I hear the argument that Israel is protecting itself and if large numbers of civilians die, that is just the cost of war. 

I'm reminded of the words of a wise Jewish teacher -  What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  There are times when survival is not the moral option.  I dare not impose my religious understandings on folk who do not share them, but I can raise the questions... at what point does the cost of survival cause us to cease to be who we claim we are?  At what point does the oppressed become the oppressor?  When does taking on the characteristics of our attacker destroy our soul?

More than once in the history of the United States we have given up our collective soul for profit, for security, to win.  In those instances we have ceased to be the people we claim to be and have lost our best selves.  We have given away our souls.  Dropping atomic bombs on civilians in Japan twice was one of those times.  I believe the continued occupation and settlements in Palestine may be doing the same to Israel.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

bass player or guitar player?

I've been playing bass in the church band since late 2010 or early 2011.  It was a struggle at first.  Guitar players often think they can play bass because they know where all of the notes are but the reality is that it is a very, very different instrument.  Back in March I posted the 10 commandments for bass players which really underscores the role of the bass player in keeping the groove.  Earlier, I posted a piece about the different language that bass players speak vs. guitar players.   I mentioned in one of those posts that I'm actually spending more time playing bass than guitar these days and that it is detrimental to my guitar playing.  That continues to be the case.  At the same time, I do really enjoy playing the bass.  There are these wonderful moments when I find myself connected to the drummer and it is almost as if we are one person/instrument and the groove really does take over.

So here's the thing... I find myself thinking sometimes that I should switch and define myself primarily as a bass player rather than a guitar player.  I am a good, if a little idiosyncratic, guitar player but I'm not getting a lot of opportunities to play.  I'm a reasonably good bass player too... and I think there would be more opportunities for that if I really worked at it and put myself out there.  To do that though, would, by necessity, push my guitar playing even further back on the shelf.  I do miss playing out though and the possibility of getting out more is really attractive.

I'd like to be intentional about the whole question rather than just sliding into it... we'll see.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Which America

A few years ago I was on a flight and got talking with a woman who was an orthodox Calvinist.  Before we left the plane she remarked that we worshiped a different Jesus.  She was probably correct.  There are more than one important areas of life where such a distinction is possible.

I've been thinking a lot about patriotism since a few days before the 4th.  I walk around my neighborhood and see lots of American flags.  I hear the arguments about the flood of child immigrants and what should be done about them.  I read questions about the on-going mess in Iraq, Syria, Israel, Palestine, Ukraine, and more other places than I can name and wonder what we can do, should do in the wider world.   I hear folk of various political stripes claiming patriotism and often accusing other folk of not having any...  I think that we are often talking about a different America.

Now I realize this is a caricature and an over-simplification,  but there are those for whom America is a white, middle class,  Protestant country whose actions in the world are always righteous and good and for whom the free market is the answer to any and all problems.  When one of these folk says that Obama is not a "true American," they are being literally accurate.  When one questions or worse yet, condemns, the actions of the US in the world, they really are being traitorous to this understanding of America.  Likewise when someone who holds this view of the US looks at me and says that I am not patriotic, they are absolutely correct.  Indeed, I have always been wary of calling myself patriotic for fear that I would be seen as ascribing to this understanding of the US.

It is not the only picture of America though.   There is another way to see America, forgive again the caricature.  That vision says that America is a nation of immigrants - all colors, all cultures, all religions - coming together to build a new kind of society.  It is a nation that speaks of justice and mercy and welcome first and foremost and which truly believes the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.  It is a nation where the government is by and for the people, which while imperfect, really does seek the good and is necessary for society to be its best.  To this second vision, I proudly affirm I am patriotic.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby is all over the web these days getting everything from praise from folk who believe in the personhood of corporations to vilification by those who see a war on women coming from the right.

As I watch the complaints from the left, I think most are missing the point.  Yes, I agree there is a war on women being waged by the far right and that the right wing of SCOTUS is clearly leading the charge.  I do not see that as the primary question in the Hobby Lobby case.  While the presenting issue is coverage of contraceptives (and yes, Hobby Lobby did cover most contraceptives and planned to continue doing so), that is not the real issue on the table.  The real question is whether or not a corporation has the right to exercise freedom of religion.  In its continuing expansion of the concept of personhood to corporations, SCOTUS has ruled that yes indeed, corporations, at least "closely held" ones, enjoy freedom of religion.

I can't say how ludicrous that sounds to me.  Corporations do not make religious commitments.  Period.   As conservative Christians, I would expect the owners of Hobby Lobby to laugh at the idea of the company making "a personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savoir and being baptized to show repentance from sin."  Companies simply do not have religion.  So how can they exercise freedom of religion?  Yes, corporations are comprised of people, but under normal circumstances, a religious test is illegal when hiring so we can't assume any particular religious commitments among employees.  It is also true that owners, especially in "closely held" corporations may have some consensus around religious belief, but the entire reason to form a corporation is to move the individuals a step away from the business and limit their liability.  They are not completely identified with the corporation.  Imagine if the owners of Hobby Lobby all died in a plane crash tomorrow.  Would the company die as well?  No, because it is not those owners and it does not even depend on their survival. 

Here is the piece that really worries me.  When you take a concept as central to our identity in the US as Freedom of Religion and apply it in such a stupid and inappropriate way, it damages the concept and will only give fuel to those who already think freedom of religion should be freedom from religion.  This case will come back to bite those of us who take freedom of religion seriously and will hurt those for whom it really is an important issue.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Churches and Tasting Rooms

I live in wine country.  Within walking distance of my home there are 4 or 5 tasting rooms and if I drive 20 miles, I will pass a combination of about 140 wineries and tasting rooms.  If you saw the film Sideways, you saw the area where I live.  They grow and make some great Pinot Noirs on the western end of the valley and mostly Rhone varietals to the east.  The wines range from OK to spectacular with many being in the good to very good.  (If you're ever in this area, I can point you to the spectacular ones).  Going wine tasting is a common recreation and we do it a few times a year, usually when friends are visiting and when we have a pickup at from a wine club (we're members at Loring, Evans Ranch, and L'Aventure).  We had a friend visiting and did a few tastings this past weekend.

I'm always fascinated at the differences from one tasting room to another, the clienteles, and the overall atmosphere of the different settings.  It has to say something about churches, who a specific church attracts and why.  Two experiences stood out for me on Saturday.

from their website
The first was Brewer-Clifton, owned by two experienced and respected wine folk in the area.  Greg Brewer is the wine maker for Melville and Steve Clifton is one of the owners of Palmina. The room is minimalist as you can see from the photo to the right - mostly white and stainless steel.  It is located in an area of Lompoc where there are three other tasting rooms I think.  Lompoc is a less expensive town about 50 miles from Santa Barbara with an up and coming wine scene.  The background music was "Chill" from some satellite provider... electronic with a light beat.  I liked it a lot and  I think I heard a tune by an artist I like, Rhye.  There was nothing I could have sung along to.  The wine was excellent to spectacular.  It was also expensive with the least expensive bottles being $40.  I didn't purchase any but it was tempting.  Our friend bought an excellent pinot priced at $74.  The wine was worth the price.  The tasting was also on the upper end of the price scale for Santa Barbara County but it included a small cheese plate with excellent cheeses, dried fruit, and a piece of dark chocolate.  I thought the pourers were warm but our friend experienced them as being a bit standoffish.   It was a place that I will go back to and if I was looking for another wine club to join, Brewer-Clifton would be in the running.  I liked the space, enjoyed the music, and I really liked the wines.  We were the only people there.  Was it because the space doesn't fit in Lompoc?  Was it just because we were early in the day and more folk would show up later?  Price?  Got me.

from their facebook page
At the end of the day we stopped at Casa Dumetz which is owned by Emilio Estavez's spouse, Sonja Magdevski.  She is also the wine maker and is a very warm and outgoing person who has been there the two times we've visited.  She is passionate about her wine and is simply a delight to be around.  They are in a tiny town called Los Alamos which is about half way between the Santa Ynez Valley and Santa Maria, right off the 101.  There are a few restaurants and one or two other tasting rooms but that is it in the maybe 6 or 8 square block town.  We parked about a block away and could hear the laughter and loud talk as soon as we got out of the car. The atmosphere of the room is much warmer, a bit "lived in," with eclectic decor.  I couldn't hear the music playing most of the time but it was a mix of a wide variety of styles from 80's R&B to pop to crooners.  When you could hear the music, you likely could have sung along.  While we were there, we were clearly the oldest folk present.  The pourers were warm and friendly and in spite of being very busy, took the time to engage us.  I was surprised that one of the pourers and the owner both touched my shoulder at least once.  The wine was priced at about 1/2 of Brewer-Clifton, maybe a bit less than that.  It was good... I certainly wouldn't turn my nose up at the wine, but I also didn't purchase any and wasn't  really tempted to.  It was a fun place and I will go back there just to be there.  The only reason I would join the wine club would be to get to know Sonja and the pourers (Grace and Chris) better.  They really were wonderful.

So what does it say about churches?  I'm not entirely sure.  Clearly the experience was more important than the content.  The content - the wine - was clearly superior at Brewer-Clifton (at least to my palate.  Yours may vary).  It was also priced at a point that would exclude all but serious wine folk but for that matter, Casa Dumetz prices - $20 - 34 - would also exclude many.  I enjoyed the pourers both places but Chris and Grace really did make us feel welcome at Casa Dumetz.  So I'd say my takeaway is that the welcome is the most important piece.  Content can't be bad, but great content won't make up for a lack of connections.  And maybe something about context...

All in all though, both were positive experiences for me and I will go back to both tasting rooms.