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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Southern Baptists Have Done It Again

Yep... they've made another statement that is both as mean spirited as it could be and also as naive regarding the real world as it could be.  This one is regarding transgendered folk.  Now, I know that transgendered folk are the forgotten part of LGBT affirmations.  We've had years of positive gay or lesbian models on television and as we've turned on the TV, we've invited them into our homes.  Many of us have family members who are gay or lesbian and more have friends or acquaintances who are.  Many fewer of us know (or at least know we know) transgendered people.  For those of us who are secure in our gender identity, it seems strange that one's body and gender identity might not quite match.  The idea of ambiguous genitalia seems even more odd...  So we don't talk or think about transgendered folk.  When we do, we often conflate them with drag queens performing in Las Vegas and don't identify at all with the very real pain that comes when one doesn't feel right in their own body.  Even less do we understand those who define themselves as something other than the binary condition we call male or female and instead see themselves as something else altogether.

Well, the Southern Baptists released a statement that shows again their ignorance both of science and psychology and worse, their complete lack of compassion or desire to understand the pain of others or the unique experiences that those who are different can bring to the table.  They have in effect said, "You are what you are when you're born and that is either male or female.  There isn't anything else.  And if you ave problems with that, you are basically revolting against God and sinning.  So pray, get converted, come to terms with who you are (and we can see your parts and tell you who that is), or know that you are consigned not only to hell but also to social rejection (and we will work to insure that rejection continues)."

Of course, we know that people are not all born male or female.  There are many that have a variety  or genetic or biologic issues that make them something else, sometimes known as intersex or third gender folk.   We know that there are infants born with ambiguous genitalia and either a physician or their family decides, "You will be a girl..." or "You will be a boy..."  We could go on here but the message is clear... gender is not so simple as the binary division implies.  And of course, there are social and cultural meanings attached beyond the biological as to what it means to be male or female and that complicates things even further.

All I can say to the Southern Baptists is "Shame!  Shame on you for moving so far away from the model of compassion and welcome demonstrated by Jesus.  Shame on you for deciding to hurt a community of people whom you do not understand but clearly fear.  Shame!" 

To my friends in the church who define themselves as allies to LGBT folk.  "Stand up.  Speak for transgendered folk.  Welcome them.  And if you feel that you do not understand them... so what.  They aren't responsible to make you understand and your lack of understanding does not remove your responsibility to live grace towards them."

To  transgendered folk... I am so sorry that once again some, claiming to speak for God, are rejecting you, refusing to see your pain or the unique view and experience of the world that you bring to the table.  I will always welcome you and you are always welcome at Cambridge Drive Community Church where you will experience the grace and love of the God who creates the world in all of its amazing and wondrous diversity.

Here is the text of the SBC statement.

On Transgender Identity
WHEREAS, about 700,000 Americans perceive their gender identity to be at variance with the physical reality of their biological birth sex; and
WHEREAS, the American Psychiatric Association removed this condition (aka, “gender identity disorder”) from its list of disorders in 2013, substituting “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria”; and
WHEREAS, the American Psychiatric Association includes among its treatment options for gender dysphoria cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery, and social and legal transition to the desired gender; and
WHEREAS, news reports indicate that parents are allowing their children to undergo these “therapies”; and
WHEREAS, many LGBT activists have sought to normalize the transgender experience and to define gender according to one’s self-perception apart from biological anatomy; and
WHEREAS, the separation of one’s gender identity from the physical reality of their biological birth sex poses the harmful effect of engendering an understanding of sexuality and personhood that is fluid; and
WHEREAS, some public school systems are encouraging parents and teachers to affirm the feelings of children whose self-perception of their own gender is at variance with their biological sex; and
WHEREAS, some public school systems are allowing access to bathrooms and locker rooms according to a child’s self-perception of gender and not according to their biological sex; and
WHEREAS, the state of New Jersey prohibits licensed counselors from any attempt to change a child’s “gender expression”; and
WHEREAS, the United States Senate passed last year legislation titled the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would radically alter the idea of protected classes in American law, granting sexual orientation and gender identity the same employment protections as sex and race; and
WHEREAS, ENDA would make it illegal for certain businesses and organizations to fire or to refuse to hire or promote an employee because of his or her gender identity that is at variance with biological sex; and
WHEREAS, Although recent formulations of ENDA contain a religious exemption, they do not contain an exemption for rights of conscience or religious freedom to protect businesses with a religious character (such as religious bookstores, publishers, and parachurch ministries) and other businesses with religious owners or managers; and
WHEREAS, Such legislation jeopardizes our First Amendment freedoms by establishing in law the principle that disapproval of transgender behavior is a form of bigotry, equivalent to racism; and
WHEREAS, these cultural currents run counter to the biblical teaching that “Man is the special creation of God, made in His own image. He created them male and female as the crowning work of His creation. The gift of gender is thus part of the goodness of God’s creation” (BF&M 2000, “III. Man”); now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, June 10-12, 2014, recognize that all persons are created in God’s image and are made to glorify Him (Gen. 1:27; Isa. 43:7); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we recognize that the Fall of man into sin and God’s subsequent curse have introduced brokenness and futility into God’s good creation (Gen. 3:1-24; Rom. 8:20); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we extend love and compassion to those whose experience of this brokenness includes a perceived conflict between their biological sex and their gender identity (Rom. 8:22-23); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm God’s good design that gender identity should be determined by biological sex and not by one’s self-perception—a perception which is often influenced by fallen human nature in ways contrary to God’s design (Eph. 4:17-18); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm God’s original design to create two distinct and complementary sexes, male and female (Gen. 1:27; Matt. 19:4; Mk. 10:6); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm that male and female designate the fundamental distinction that God has embedded in the very biology of the human race; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we affirm distinctions in masculine and feminine roles as ordained by God as part of the created order, and that those distinctions should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Tim 2:12-14); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we invite all transgender persons to trust in Christ and to experience renewal in the gospel (1 Tim. 1:15-16); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we love our transgender neighbors, seek their good always, welcome them into our congregations as they repent and believe in Christ, and spur them on to love and good deeds in the name of Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20; Gal. 5:14; Heb. 10:24); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we regard our transgender neighbors as image-bearers of almighty God and therefore that we condemn acts of abuse or bullying committed against them; and be if further
RESOLVED, That we condemn efforts to alter one’s bodily identity (e.g., cross-sex hormone therapy, gender reassignment surgery) to bring it into line with one’s perceived gender identity; and be if further
RESOLVED, That we continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any court or state legislature to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy (Isa. 5:20); and be it further
RESOLVED, That we commit ourselves to pray for and support legislative and legal efforts to oppose the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and other legislation like it that would give gender identity the same legal protections as sex and race; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call upon all judges and public officials to resist and oppose the efforts to treat gender identity as a protected class; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we oppose all efforts by media and entertainment outlets and public schools to mainstream transgender identity in the eyes of our children; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we call on Southern Baptist churches to commit to guard our religious liberty to teach and preach the Bible’s message about sex and gender; and be it further
RESOLVED, That we will to teach and model for our own children the Bible’s message about manhood and womanhood; and be it finally
RESOLVED, That our love for the gospel and urgency for the Great Commission must include declaring the whole counsel of God, including what God’s word teaches about God’s design for us as male and female persons created in His image and for His glory (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 20:27; Rom. 11:36).

Friday, May 16, 2014

Obamacare... again

As I understood it, the Republicans were afraid that once Obamacare really got going, there would be no turning back.  Well, it has taken hold.  Clearly there have been problems and there are some folk, a small percentage in my understanding, who were truly impacted in a negative way by the program.  One might even argue that it was not the best solution for the problems or that some of the biggest problems in our healthcare system were not even addressed as directly as they could have been. 

Still, the ACA accomplished a number of things that I believe we as a nation needed to accomplish.  It removed pre-existing conditions as a barrier to getting health insurance.  It expanded the pool on which rates are based to include the entire community rather than a small slice or individual family.  It removed the lifetime cap that insurance would be responsible to cover.  It made insurance available and affordable to everyone (except in those states which have refused to expand Medicaid and continue to exclude the poorest folk from health insurance) and procvided health insurance to millions who did not have it before.  And it standardized what an insurance policy must cover.

My family were serious beneficiaries of the ACA.  For a whole variety of reasons my medical insurance, which was paid by my church, was insanely expensive.  It was one of the largest line items in the church budget and was getting to the point that it was becoming unaffordable.  A pre-existing condition made it impossible to get any other coverage at any price.  Under the ACA, the church was  able to get another policy with roughly the same coverage and save some $15K a year.  My 25 year old son, working at a just above minimum wage job,  had not had insurance for 4 years.  He has it again.  My daughter, son-in-law, and grandson were on an absolutely unaffordable COBRA plan after Christian lost his job, 2 months before the baby was expected.  They couldn't get any other plan because of a pre-existing condition - pregnancy.  To make things even more complicated, the company he had worked for changed their insurance 1 month before he lost his job.  Simply put, the ACA saved their butts and things would have been even better had it been available 6 months earlier.  I can tell multiple other stories of church members, friends, and acquaintances who were saved by the ACA.  I can also tell stories of folk who suffered significantly and some who even died because of lack of insurance. 

Of course there are the two big complaints... that everyone must purchase insurance and that some folk are having to purchase insurance for things they either will not use or even have some moral objection to using.  The entire system falls apart without those two criteria though... so it becomes a choice between the keeping the positives or disposing of the negatives.  As a country, I cannot see how we can morally even consider the latter.  Indeed, that will kill people.  I guess there are a small number of folk who actually do believe that poor people do not deserve health insurance and that the current system of going to the emergency room when things are dire is enough for them.  I don't think that viewpoint is even worth discussing it is so immoral.

Here's the surprise.  Over the past few weeks I've seen advertisements for two local politicians running for the House and promising to work to repeal Obamacare.  Invariably, they always back-pedal when asked and say they only want to repeal the mandate and the government requirements for what an insurance policy will cover... but given the current system, that literally cannot work.  Those two features cannot be removed without causing the rest to be unworkable. What they are really saying is that the poor need to be kicked off Medicaid, those with pre-existing conditions are on their own, and that any company can decide what it will or will not pay for via insurance for any reason they want and that if that happens to be the way you get your health insurance... too bad for you.  And we cannot forget that in '09 a study showed that 45,000 people died annually in the US due to lack of insurance.  I cannot imagine how anyone can think that is a good idea to repeal the ACA and I cannot imagine how anyone with a conscience would ever vote for a representative with that as a significant part of their agenda.