Thursday, December 31, 2009

move it, move it

Then go to Move Your Money to find a local community bank near you with a B rating or higher.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

sing! sing! sing!

I saw two quotes today on Facebook...

the first was posted by Len Sweet - “First we sing. Then we believe.” Abraham Heschel

The second was in a comment on Sweets post. "Let me make the songs of a nation, and I care not who makes its laws.” It is often attributed incorrectly to Plato. More likely, it is a variation on a saying from Andrew Fletcher.

Both quotes have me thinking about the way that what we sing... or even listen to... works its way into our subconsciousness and helps to shape who we are, how we think, and how we see the world around us. In church, it is obvious that the songs we sing are very important in shaping our theology. Few people remember a sermon. None speak it as they do the laundry. Many will find themselves singing a catchy tune that they sang in church later on.

But it is true beyond that. The music we listen to on the radio and sing when we aren't thinking says a lot about the way we see and experience the world. I worry about girls who listen to misogynistic rap music, to African American youth who listen to music that repeatedly calls them "niggers," to young boys who listen to music that objectifies girls as nothing more than sex objects. I'm struck by how important the role of the musician is in any culture but especially in one like ours that is so shaped by media.

I've heard Sweet play with the quote from Psalm 139 - "how can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?" asking if maybe the question church musicians should be raising is, "how can we sing a strange song in the Lord's land?" I think musicians of faith should be asking both and framing them in creative ways that both speak to culture and offer the possibility of transformation in and out of the Church. That doesn't mean that as Christians we only sing songs that mention Jesus by name. Instead, it means that we look carefully at the meaning of a song and ask the good questions - is this humanizing? does it push us towards wholeness? does this song communicate something that either makes the world a better place or shines a spotlight on an area where change is needed?

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

genius and craziness

Isn't it interesting to consider the fine line between genius and craziness? Or at least between genius and eccentricity?

I came across the below video which is an encounter between classical guitar player, John Williams and builder, Greg Smallman. Clearly Smallman is a genius and maybe a bt eccentric... He has come up with a revolutionary design for the classical guitar. From about 4:05- 5:00, we see the radical changes in the construction of the guitar's top in a Smallman guitar. Many players prefer the sound of the old style of construction, but his designs have clearly changed that way guitars are heard and built and many top builders emulate his style of construction. That said, take a look at the shop (beginning about 3:25). It certainly doesn't have the clean design, perfect tools, and careful arrangement I expect from a world class guitar builder's shop. But the proof is in the product isn't it?

at about 5:00, Williams begins to seriously play the instrument.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

espresso & coffee

About two months ago, my buddy, Hershey, had to be euthanized. Hershey had been very ill and it was clearly time to say goodbye. He had been part of our family for 17 years and was my cat. 7 years prior, his partner, Lynx, had died. A short while after that, we tried to find a new friend to live with Hershey but he wouldn't accept another cat. I became his only buddy. I miss him purring at the back of my neck when I sit on the sofa and still expect to see him when I walk into the house.

Cheryl and I have been talking about another pet or two and decided on two cats. I like dogs but we think our lifestyle would make caring for a dog too difficult. Cats can get by with a bit less attention. And I like cats too. Plus, Cheryl likes things "in their place" so any animals are a problem. We decided, or she acquiesced, to get two cats so they could entertain one another. So... the plan was to go the shelter and find a bonded pair, preferably about a year old. We didn't want to fall in love with a cat only to have it only live for a few years so we didn't want one too old and we didn't want too young because kittens can be crazy.

We seriously looked at a pair of Bengals from a rescue organization in SoCal but ended up deciding to go to the local shelter. I had scouted things out in advance and I was sold on a pair named Fran & Ollie. They were beautiful little cats and were clicker trained which was just adorable. Cheryl and I took them out of the cage and played with them a bit and... nope. It wasn't them. They weren't particularly interested in us. Tried another pair... and one of them hissed at both of us. Not them. A third pair were too timid. We were getting a bit concerned that we wouldn't find a pair. We began to look at the individual cats, thinking we could pick two but every one that seemed to reach out to us had a note on the cage, "does not like other cats." I was getting discouraged.

Next, we went to the area where the younger cats were caged and saw a pair of black and white siblings. They were cute... so we took them out to play with them. One climbed my leg. Ouch. Then, they just went wild. Typical kitten behavior. Took them back. Last chance was another pair of short-haired black kittens who were a little older than the previous pair. We opened the cage and the larger of the two immediately began to purr and wanted to be picked up. The smaller of the two watched for a few seconds and then stood to join in the fun.

We took them to the room to play and they purred the entire time, enjoyed being held, and seemed clearly to have chosen us. The one small issue was their names - Inky & Stinky. New home, new family = new names. We filled out the paper work, paid the adoption fee and home they came.

They traveled in the cat carrier very well and adjusted pretty quickly to their new home. At first it seemed as if the smaller guy was more active than the larger. And their colors are subtly different with bit more red in the smaller guy. The larger guy is closer to real black. Both have gorgeous golden eyes. Names began to present themselves - Espresso, Cacao, Cocoa, Chocolate, Cafe, Coffee, Cadbury, Beans... (see any pattern there?) Our son liked Espresso for the smaller and Coffee for the larger so that looks as if it will be their names. We still have a day or two before the names will be permanent and I'm not 100% sold on them but the rest of the family seems to be happy so... Espresso is on the left and Coffee on the right.

They're home today, by themselves for the work day. I'm a little apprehensive as to what we'll find when we get home but I am so excited about having a new buddy or two. And Cheryl? She spent most of last evening talking baby talk and scratching and petting espresso who fell asleep on her lap.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Most of us have heard about Steve Anderson - the pastor in Phoenix who has been praying that Obama would die and go to hell. For the most part, people have written him off as being a crazy who is completely on his own at the lunatic fringe. Unfortunately, he is not alone at the fringe. He represents a growing movement. There was a t shirt and bumper stickers being sold on the web with the slogan, "Pray for Obama Psalm 109:8. Sounds innocent enough. Even the verse itself falls pretty squarely in the American tradition of political discourse - "Let his days be few; and let another take his office" (KJV) It becomes much more sinister when the following verse is read - "Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow."

Nobody who purchased that t shirt or bumper sticker did so without reading the verse in its context. Nobody who wore it did so without knowing that they were calling for the death of the president of the United States. Ronald Kessler, who wrote a book about presidential security says that death threats against Obama are up 400% over George Bush. It is no wonder... people are hearing "death to the president of the US" from pulpits... and not only from radical Muslim imams in the Middle East, they are hearing it from "Christian" fundamentalist pastors in the US.

Let me say this as clearly as I can. This slogan is not funny or cute. It is heinous. These people are not "biblical" or "Christian." They are using proof texts to back up political ideologies and trying to bolster their cases by attributing their views to God. And finally, any Christian who does not condemn these misuses of the Bible and of Christian theology is culpable for anything that may happen.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

one voice - wrong voice

In academia, when multiple students hand in papers with identical sections, the automatic assumption is that either one of them copied from the other or both copied from a third source. The best that can happen is an "F." The worst is that the student is expelled from the institution. Imagine what would happen if 20 or 42 students handed in essentially the same paper?

That is more or less what happened in congress. An article in The New York Times reports that a written statement by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina on the health care bill was identical to one by Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer. And 20 Democrats and 22 Republicans used very similar language in statements they presented. Coincidence? Not likely. It turns out that the language was provided by lobbyists for Genentech, one of the world's largest biotechnology firms that just happens to be a subsidiary of a Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche. Wilson & Luetkemeyer weren't even creative enough to make the words their own. They just parroted the lobbyists. 40 other representatives joined in the chorus.

Now, we wonder why health care reform has gotten nowhere. It is clearly because the discussion is controlled by those with large amounts of money and clear agendas that have little to do with controlling cost or providing the best health care possible. If these representatives had handed those statements in in many universities, they would be out before the end of the week. Let us at least call them on their irresponsibility and push them to represent us rather than the moneyed interests of big pharm and the insurance industry.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Have you signed yet? Affirm the charter here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

little green men

Evidently truth imitates fiction. One of my favorite books of all time is The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It is the story of an expedition mounted by the Roman Catholic Church to encounter intelligent life on another planet. It is a wonderful book that shows how expectations color perception, understanding culture is crucial to meaningful communication, and how badly we can screw things up when we don't fully appreciate those two rules. I think all church leaders should read them both.

The Vatican just concluded its first conference on astrobiology. On the one hand, I more than a little puzzled at why this is a theological issue. On the other hand, I hope, but doubt, they came up with some good answers. At the very least, I am encouraged to re-read The Sparrow and its sequel, Children of God again. - wonderful, provocative books.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Sara Tavares concert review

We saw Sara Tavares and her amazing band last night at the Skirball Center in LA. The short version of the review is, "if you have the opportunity, GO! And be willing to drive a good distance to see her."

Sara Tavares was born in Cape Verde but spent most of her life living in Portugal. Her music is a wonderful blend of African, Portuguese, Brazilian, and US R&B.

The show attracted a very interesting crowd. There were significant numbers of Cape Verdeans there as well as Portuguese nationals - she asked. Then there was a large group that probably reflected the typical Skirball crowd - middle aged and up, middle class and up, white folk. And a smaller group of twenty somethings who know great world music. The venue is a wonderful one with reasonably good sound and a real sense of intimacy. I would guess it seats around 300. Every seat felt very close to the stage. I would certainly go there again to see another show. Every seat was full, at least for the period when people were actually sitting. It wasn't long before everyone was up, dancing to the music.

Her band is a drummer, percussionist, bass, ukulele/electric guitar, and herself on vocals and nylon string guitar. The band is as tight as any I have ever seen, pulling off wonderful polyrhythms without a blink and starting and stopping on a dime. Most important though is that they were obviously having fun. This isn't just a job for them, it is obviously a passion filled with joy and a true sense of community. I've seen many shows with great musicians who each seemed to be in their own world. Things sounded good but I didn't feel as if they were really playing together. It was more like the parallel play child psychologists talk about in young children. This band was a unit and they were playing together.

The ukulele was especially interesting as the player used a lot of signal processing and looped it on more than one song. It added a great sound and texture to the mix. (He has me looking at them online this morning). He played it on well over half of the tunes. The percussion player caused my jaw to drop more than once and he and the drummer seemed almost to be attached to one another.

Sara Tavares is a lovely presence on the stage, glowing... but never overpowering her excellent band. She is also a good guitar player and has a haunting voice. She was obviously having fun too.

Joy permeated the entire performance. Even a soulful ballad (like the one in the video below) exuded a sense of joy and beauty. The upbeat tunes, most of the show, had the entire audience wishing there was a real dance floor available.

I don't know were she is in her tour, but I highly, highly recommend seeing her if you can. And if you can't see her, there is a DVD available of a live performance. I haven't seen any of it other than the three clips on youtube but if her show last night is at all representative of that disk, it is well worth owning.

here's a clip from the DVD of a ballad - Nha Cretcheu

Thursday, November 05, 2009

little things & the melody of life

I'm in the process of changing picks. "What?" you think... "why would anyone worry about something as little as that?"

It makes a difference. The material, the shape, the edge of whatever strikes the string affects the tone and even what you can or cannot play. The little things are important.

I used to play with just my nails most of the time. I'm not a stereotypical fingerstyle player. I don't have the grace and touch that many of them have. Often, I used my nails, especially my index finger, almost like flatpicks. Occasionally, when I broke a nail, I would get an artificial nail applied at the nail salon and liked the sound and feel of the false nail but didn't like what it did to my natural nail or what happened when it was getting to the end of its life and began to catch the string on the trailing edge of the nail. OUCH! So as quickly as possible, I'd try to get back to my natural nail. And that worked OK. I tried fingerpicks and they just don't work and I considered just going to artificial nails as a permanent solution but didn't want to go there...

Then we moved to CA and I found myself playing electric guitar. The strings are much thinner and did terrible things to my nails so I went to a flatpick. Unfortunately, I hold the flatpick very close to the tip and my index finger nail hits the strings along with the pick... which damages that nail even more. So I began using a flatpick on acoustic as well most of the time... which just exacerbates the chips that I get from using the flatpick. So I've been using flatpicks... only they come in scores of sizes, shapes, and materials.

The holy grail of picks is made from real tortoise shell. Of course, it is illegal and immoral so I don't have any of them and never will. Word is that they sound amazing and are the best feel of any pick. Many modern pick companies are trying to replicate that sound and feel without killing sea turtles for the material.

When I used to play electric, I used these wonderful little ivory or bone picks that were made from the tops of old piano keys. They sound very organic and feel good but they are hard to find, break, and can be expensive. And of course, ivory has its own issues of legality and morality. I still have a few and I have a few bone blanks from old piano keys... I may end up going back to them.

I really like the V picks on electric guitar. I love the way they slide through the string and the fat solid pick just feels right in my hand. At $4 they're expensive compared to the $.25 pick you get at the local Best Buy but not compared to some of the other picks out there. I tried them on acoustic and they're OK... but the make a funny chirping sound as they wear so on to something else for acoustic.

I'm waiting for an order of Wegen picks. I've heard good things about them... that they approach the sound and feel of tortoise shell. I'm hoping they work well. We'll see. At about the same price as the V pick, I can easily justify a bunch of them.

There are a couple of companies out there making expensive picks. Blue Chip & Red Bear are the most visible right now and both are generating a lot of buzz and lots of true believers. At $20 for a Red Bear and $35 for a Blue Chip, they aren't throw away picks... but if they do what they say, maybe they're worth it. One of these days I'll order at least one of each. And of course, if I like them, I'll need two for each guitar case...

I could tell you that each material and even the shape of a pick change the sound of your playing and the way you play and I would be telling you the truth. There is more to it though... it is the small things that, added together, make up our lives. It is the little details, the little acts, the daily habits, that make us who we are. So, as I search for the right pick... I'm thinking of it as a metaphor for my life. Each day I make hundreds of small choices, many of them unconsciously, all of which affect the melody that is my life. They dictate who I will be and even who I can be. The little things matter.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


I have been an American Baptist since seminary in the mid 70's. I am committed to the Baptist understanding of the church in what I would call, its best expressions. At the same time, I have little hope for the denomination... for any of the denominations.

Here's a fun video made about the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America but with a few changes in text it certainly could apply to the ABC or to any other current denomination.

We spend soooo much time fighting over issues, writing reports, and forming committees, all the while forgetting to do real ministry or even to take prophetic stands. I worry that none of the mainline churches will make it through the next century.

I don't have any more hope for the fundamentalists, evangelicals, or megachurch movements. They spend too much time and energy on what they perceive to be hot sins and fighting against positive changes in culture, often dress the gospel in the dress of self-help, and in any cases have bought int the most pernicious parts of the current culture - faith as a consumer product, that I don't expect they will make it through the century either.

A few years ago I had hope for the emerging church. I saw a bunch of fearless, committed, young men and women struggling with post modern questions while at the same time being committed to hands on mission in their contexts. They were neither conservatives nor liberals, but had by-passed those energy wasting battles. And they were starting little churches, mostly in urban neighborhoods, and getting on with the work of the church. Unfortunately, the movement seems to have taken a serious turn to the right. Most of the true post-moderns have given up on any institutional expressions of faith. Like many young adults, they seem to have been a bit impatient and overly optimistic about their little movement. It didn't change the world and they got frustrated and gave up or the realities of institutional life were too much. In the meantime, the face of the emerging church has been co-opted by the mega-church movement who treat it as one more franchise through which they can sell a old fashioned conservative gospel. Add some tables, get a bit artsy fartsy, play some techno in the background and maybe even have some litanies from the 12th century church and images of celtic crosses and you can catch a few college students and get them saved and teach them about the evils of homosexuality, women's rights, abortion, etc. It ain't the same movement, friends.

I want to have hope. I am still committed to the institution of the "church," indeed, I don't think it is possible to be a follower of Jesus outside of a community of faith worshiping, serving, and struggling together. I want to have hope... more later.

Friday, October 09, 2009

what's good for the goose

I am absolutely and completely against organizations or corporations defrauding the government. I don't know enough about the complaints against ACORN to have an opinion as to whether they are justified or not. I know there is a lot of ideological stuff going on, but that doesn't tell us anything about the conduct of ACORN.

We do know, beyond a doubt, that a number of large corporations have defrauded the people of the United States. A number were even prosecuted by the Bush administration, not an administration known for being anti-large corporations. Why not hold them to at least the standard being proposed for ACORN. If a company defrauds the government, they are no longer eligible to receive government contracts.

political contributions

Here's a very interesting page with some useful graphics that show how different companies contribute to the Democratic and/or Republican parties.

It will help me decide how I spend my money.

Monday, October 05, 2009

More about being Biblical

I have read that Christianity is the only major religion where the scriptures do not need to be read in the language of the founder. Think of Islam as an example. The Koran is only the word of Allah if it is read in Arabic... and indeed, it should be read aloud to be it's holiest. If it is translated into English or any other language, it is no longer the unadulterated Word of Allah.

That makes sense to me. Language is a way of conceptualizing the universe. The structure of the language both describes the universe and defines the way the individual can experience it. Last year I even heard a story on NPR about disappearing languages that mentioned a language that counts in both base 12 and base 20. Living in a culture that sees numbers in base 10, I automatically translate that idea into one that is completely foreign to them... or am just puzzled that "they" don't see the universe as it really is... base 10.

The semantic range of a word almost never exactly corresponds from one language to another. There is a reference that many pastors have on their shelves called The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament which tries to take important words in the Bible and show their semantic range. The word we translate as "salvation" from the Greek has an article some 70 pages long, explaining what it meant to those who used that term and thought in the original language. And you thought the Amplified Bible was tedious? The Muslims know, and rightly so, that once you translate the text is is not and cannot be the same. Translation requires interpretation. Let me give an example of that. There is a Greek word that is often translated servant - "diaconos." In the early church the term became a technical term, referring to a church officer. We transliterated it to "deacon." When translating, any time the translator comes across that word, s/he has to decide whether the word is referring to a servant or to a church officer. The translators of the KJV had a theological position that helped them. "Women cannot be deacons," they thought, so any time the word clearly referred to a woman, they always translated it as "servant." Their theology dictated the translation.

There were theological decisions made regarding which books would be included and which left out of the Bible. And different traditions disagreed as to which books belonged in which categories.

Finally, even if we agree which books are in and which are out and can make a "perfect" translation, we have literally thousands of manuscripts of the scriptural texts which often do not agree with one another. Those who say that the scriptures are "inerrant in their original autographs" are simply hedging their bets... they want to make a theological statement but it is meaningless. We do not and never will have the original autographs. Some fundamentalists have seen this for what it is and claim that God would not allow us to not have an inerrant word... so it must be the KJV!

OK, so what does this say to those of us who want to be "Biblical?" It tells us that the Christian scriptures are not documents written by the finger of God on stone. They are living words, meant to wrestled with in the context of the community of faith. They are not, God's instruction manual for human beings. They are the history of God's people struggling with their experience of God and trying to live lives of authentic faith in their times and cultures, reflecting both the best and the worst of human nature.

So, do I believe the Bible is true? Absolutely. Do I believe it is historical? Sometimes, but usually I think that is an irrelevant question. Do I believe it is inspired of/by God? Absolutely, but that never means dictated by God. Do I believe the Bible is central to Christian faith? Absolutely, but the Bible is not the object of our faith or devotion, that is Jesus, the Word.

pass it on

then read Paul Krugman's editorial on the politics of spite...

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Are we a "Biblical" church?

this is a slightly edited version of a short article I just wrote for our church newsletter, also called Thin Places.

Is Cambridge Drive Community Church a Bible believing church? That is a question that is often asked, but it usually carries with it considerable baggage. Generally, the question really being asked is something like, "Are you fundamentalists?" or "Do you take the Bible literally?" or possibly, "Are you conservative, like me?" or "Does your pastor use lot of proof texts in his sermons?" or maybe even, "Do you read the King James Version of the Bible?"

When we were visiting Phoenix some time back and looking for a church to attend, we came across the Shadow Rock UCC Church that addressed this question in a way that inspired me. They answered, "We take the Bible seriously but not literally." I think that is a good start, but I want to go a bit further. Taking the Bible literally is not being Biblical. Indeed, I have never met anyone who takes the entire thing literally - check out the wonderful book, The Year of Living Biblically to see what I mean. So to make that claim is to be dishonest at the start. Worse than that, it does violence to the text of the scripture. The Bible is composed of a wide variety of types of literature, written in different times, for different purposes, to different audiences, in different languages that reflect different paradigms of reality. We live in a very different world from theirs and face wildly different issues. Indeed, through the centuries covered by the Biblical text, the writers reflected different cultures and times and issues and answered them in ways that were often contradictory. To be "Biblical" requires that we take all of this into account when we come to the text and form our faith.

So, what does it mean to be a Bible believing church? First, we must look at the scripture for what it is. We do not believe that our scripture was lowered from heaven on a golden cord nor do we believe that a founder discovered golden tablets hidden under a stone which were translated by an angel. We don't believe that God dictated each word to a scribe who copied what he or she wrote. We have a scripture that reflects the differing experiences of men and women through the centuries, wrestling with faith in their contexts, and sharing their experiences. We have a scripture that includes a wide variety of types of literature which are meant to be handled and understood in different ways. And as Howard Moody, pastor emeritus of Judson Memorial Church in NYC, reminds us, the Bible is not the Word of God... Jesus is.

We must remember that truth and historicity are not the same. Whether or not a story took place the way it is reported has little to do with the truth embedded in that story.

Harry Emerson Fosdick spoke of the effective preacher having a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. It is a good metaphor for the task of Biblical interpretation (and we always interpret the Bible - just translating it requires interpretation). It is not enough to even understand all of the setting of the scripture, the original intent of the authors, or the message that was conveyed to the original hearers. We must also ask the question, "how does this word translate to our situation?" knowing that answer may be different today than it was 10 years ago and is likely different than it was 2000 years ago.

So, is CDCC a Biblical church? I hope so... Unfortunately, many of those that claim to be are anything but...

Thursday, October 01, 2009


A judge ruled a short while ago that the the US tortured a man whom they knew was innocent but tortured him anyway so they could justify what they had already done.

This action cries out for justice and for anyone involved to be prosecuted.

You can read the entire story here and the actual judgment is here.

I am ashamed that my country participated in this and continues to cover it up...

what is success

When we visited England some years back, thoughtful folk were concerned about some changes they were seeing in their society. Being "on the dole" was a common experience. Jobs were not always easy to find and many people ended up on public assistance at one time or another. For working class people, it was seen as a part of life. Then, US television began to change the image. A person without a job wasn't in that situation because of social forces, they were there because they were lazy. And new tension began to rise and people began to see themselves and one another in very dysfunctional ways.

The reality is that even in the US economy we need to have a certain number of people unemployed for the system to work as it is designed to work. If nobody is looking for a job, productivity goes down, wages go up, and workers' demands increase. But we still bame people for fulfilling a role that we require somebody to fulfill!

this wonderful talk on Ted by Alain de Botton helps us to think a little more about the way we see one another and the way we see ourselves as we look for a kinder and gentler view of success...

Don't fix it?

I've been more attuned to health care recently and have been seeing more disasters. Three quick stories that have taken place in the last couple of months. I'll leave the names out but all three are people I know.

1. a care giver to an elderly woman dropped dead one day. She developed an abscess from a bad tooth. Because of no insurance, she took pain killers and waited. The infection spread to her brain and she died.

2. A young single mother of 2, found a lump in her breast. She works full time in a chain restaurant and has no insurance and no spare cash. Still she was worried enough to scrape together enough to see a physician who sent her straight to an oncologist who felt it was likely cancer and she needed surgery immediately. She went to a surgeon who told her what it would cost and told her to come back when she could pay the bill.

3. a young man, working day jobs and receiving a room in a house in return for work around the property was riding his scooter and hit by a woman in an SUV. He broke both legs and a hip in addition to being pretty generally bruised. In spite of no insurance, the hospital did the surgery on the hip and treated him, allowing him to stay a day longer than would have been typical... because without being able to work, he had lost his place to live. And even though he will likely receive an insurance settlement from the driver's company, no physical therapy facilities will take him without paying up front. Being a young single man, who used to be able bodied, he is not eligible for any government help. He was driven by a friend from the hospital to a county clinic to get pain killers and then to a homeless shelter in his wheel chair. There he had to prove to them that he could get out of the wheel chair to use the bathroom before they would accept him. Presumably, if he couldn't, they would have left him in his wheel chair on the sidewalk.

Yeah... leave the system as it is. Don't fix it. It is too late for these three and for the 45,000 deaths each year due to lack of health insurance. But don't fix it for the 45,000 who will die next year and the year after that...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Birds on the Wires from Jarbas Agnelli on Vimeo.

beauty all around us if only we have eyes to see and ears to hear...

thanks to Fernando for pointing this out

Friday, September 25, 2009


Now, I don't think for a moment that everyone who went to the gathering in D.C. on 9/12 is ignorant, but this video is telling...

There are a lot of folk out there who have been riled up with misinformation or no information. I'm reminded of the book Whats the Matter with Kansas where Thomas Frank talked about an entire population of people being manipulated to vote against their own best interests.

I'm still waiting for an intelligent conversation regarding the health care crisis from a conservative. Here's a short video of a response from Representative Eric Cantor, I believe from Virginia.

So... notice his two solutions - government programs, which he is fighting against, and charity care, which of course, begs the question - who pays then? If a hospital provides charity care, paying customers pay via higher fees, the hospital does not and should not eat the costs. And if the care is provided by some charity organization, those fees are covered by folk who have donated or possibly by government funding. And in either case, care is limited.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Yesterday I had to take Hershey to the vet to be euthanized. He was 17 years old and had been sick off and on for the last month or so. He was obviously in pain and was growing weaker by the hour. It was a very hard thing for me to do and I cried (and felt a little embarrassed to be almost unable to speak to the nurse at the vets office).

Pets become part of the family and after 17 years, Hershey was certainly a part of ours. And he was my cat. When I sat at the table for a meal, he jumped into my lap and sat there through the meal. When watching television, he would sit on the back of the sofa, nuzzled up against the back of my neck. When I was at home, he would follow me from room to room, just to be nearby. The old man was my buddy and I miss him terribly.

He was a York Chocolate - a breed developed outside of Albany, NY and very rare in the US. They're evidently popular in Italy. We got him from the woman who developed the breed but she is no longer breeding them. They are smart, very agile, friendly, easy to care for, and like to be around people. Some have referred to them as the dogs of the cat world. We called Hershey a satellite cat because he was always orbiting around us.

I'm sure I'll get another pet in a few months... but for right now, I can't imagine another buddy like Hershey.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the problem with partisan politics

I live in California. Out state government is completely disfunctional. The state politicians are completely and absolutely partisan regardless of the impact it has on the citizens of the state. We see it particularly focused every year when they form a state budget. The Republicans come to the table with a single mantra - "no more taxes." The only option is to cut programs, and thanks to the state constitution, they can only cut funding on programs that have not come into being via the proposition process, mstly programs for the poor. There is nothing else to talk about. It doesn't matter whether those cuts will destroy lives of real people. No new taxes. Period. And the Democrats come to the table saying "we will not cut programs." There is no room for anyone to compromise and no room for discussion. The result is paralysis. And the ones who suffer are the people of the state.

I fear that is the direction we have gone in national politics as well. I agree with Keith Olbermann in his commentary on Joe Wilson below except that he misses the source of the stupidity... absolute partisanship that puts political ideology above the welfare of the people. My bias is that this is a trait much more common among those on the right than the left, but regardless of that, it is a characteristic that harbors the seeds of the destruction of our political system. When representatives forget the people they are supposed to be representing and put political ideology above the people's needs, we see stupid comments like this, hear outright lies regarding the ideas of the opposing party, and in general see our process break down.

Joe Wilson cannot look at any of the proposals honestly because to do so might require him to see things differently and perhaps even to compromise a bit. His ideology will not allow that. And we all suffer.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

a liberal's pledge to America

I don't know how I missed this after the election... but I could sign this letter

by Michael Moore
I know you are dismayed and disheartened at the results of last week's election. You're worried that the country is heading toward a very bad place you don't want it to go. Your 12-year Republican Revolution has ended with so much yet to do, so many promises left unfulfilled. You are in a funk, and I understand.
Well, cheer up, my friends! Do not despair. I have good news for you. I, and the millions of others who are now in charge with our Democratic Congress, have a pledge we would like to make to you, a list of promises that we offer you because we value you as our fellow Americans. You deserve to know what we plan to do with our newfound power -- and, to be specific, what we will do to you and for you.
Thus, here is our Liberal's Pledge to Disheartened Conservatives:
Dear Conservatives and Republicans,
I, and my fellow signatories, hereby make these promises to you:
1. We will always respect you for your conservative beliefs. We will never, ever, call you "unpatriotic" simply because you disagree with us. In fact, we encourage you to dissent and disagree with us.
2. We will let you marry whomever you want, even when some of us consider your behavior to be "different" or "immoral." Who you marry is none of our business. Love and be in love -- it's a wonderful gift.
3. We will not spend your grandchildren's money on our personal whims or to enrich our friends. It's your checkbook, too, and we will balance it for you.
4. When we soon bring our sons and daughters home from Iraq, we will bring your sons and daughters home, too. They deserve to live. We promise never to send your kids off to war based on either a mistake or a lie.
5. When we make America the last Western democracy to have universal health coverage, and all Americans are able to get help when they fall ill, we promise that you, too, will be able to see a doctor, regardless of your ability to pay. And when stem cell research delivers treatments and cures for diseases that affect you and your loved ones, we'll make sure those advances are available to you and your family, too.
6. Even though you have opposed environmental regulation, when we clean up our air and water, we, the Democratic majority, will let you, too, breathe the cleaner air and drink the purer water.
7. Should a mass murderer ever kill 3,000 people on our soil, we will devote every single resource to tracking him down and bringing him to justice. Immediately. We will protect you.
8. We will never stick our nose in your bedroom or your womb. What you do there as consenting adults is your business. We will continue to count your age from the moment you were born, not the moment you were conceived.
9. We will not take away your hunting guns. If you need an automatic weapon or a handgun to kill a bird or a deer, then you really aren't much of a hunter and you should, perhaps, pick up another sport. We will make our streets and schools as free as we can from these weapons and we will protect your children just as we would protect ours.
10. When we raise the minimum wage, we will pay you -- and your employees -- that new wage, too. When women are finally paid what men make, we will pay conservative women that wage, too.
11. We will respect your religious beliefs, even when you don't put those beliefs into practice. In fact, we will actively seek to promote your most radical religious beliefs ("Blessed are the poor," "Blessed are the peacemakers," "Love your enemies," "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God," and "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."). We will let people in other countries know that God doesn't just bless America, he blesses everyone. We will discourage religious intolerance and fanaticism -- starting with the fanaticism here at home, thus setting a good example for the rest of the world.
12. We will not tolerate politicians who are corrupt and who are bought and paid for by the rich. We will go after any elected leader who puts him or herself ahead of the people. And we promise you we will go after the corrupt politicians on our side FIRST. If we fail to do this, we need you to call us on it. Simply because we are in power does not give us the right to turn our heads the other way when our party goes astray. Please perform this important duty as the loyal opposition.
I promise all of the above to you because this is your country, too. You are every bit as American as we are. We are all in this together. We sink or swim as one. Thank you for your years of service to this country and for giving us the opportunity to see if we can make things a bit better for our 300 million fellow Americans -- and for the rest of the world.

what might it look like...

first off, I didn't get to hear Obama's speech, haven't read it, and have only heard a little commentary about it.


OK... lot's of folk are afraid of "government interference" in their health care. I'll drop the arguments about Medicare, the VA, and government employee's health insurance... I still think the best solution is single payer like the Canadian system but it isn't the only way to do it. Let me just throw out some suggestions of what a private option might look like and actually work.

Let the insurance companies continue to run the system but put these brakes on it...

Everyone must be insured at the same price for the same coverage. Nobody gets excluded because of pre-existing conditions, nobody has to pay a higher premium, and nobody gets dropped. The company comes up with its plan, prices it, and anybody can purchase it at that price.

Right now, the average US insurance company pays out less than 80 cents for medical care from each dollar that comes in. Medicare is about 97 cents. The French system, that cultural model of efficiency, is about 96 cent. Let's put a cap here and heck I'll even compromise some... say93 cents out of every dollar must go out for medical care. That eaves 7% to cover administrative costs and if they choose, profit. Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with making profits... except when people's lives are at stake. So why get into that business? Look at the European system where private insurance companies have not for profit sections for health insurance but use that to build their business in other for-profit sections such as home owners, auto, and life insurance.

No deductibles. Either no or very small co-pays.

a single billing structure across all of the companies. A person visits the doctor and a single reimbursement form goes out to whatever company it is and they all pay the same thing. If the company does not pay the physician's office within a certain number of days, the company is fined.

Everyone must be insured. Who pays or how is it paid for? That could go any number of ways, but it must be structured to be affordable for everyone whether that is through taxes (my reference), government subsidies for those who cannot afford it or some other scheme.

move to a new community and need insurance? You don't need to wait for an "enrollment" period. If your old company doesn't do business there, you get insurance from another, no problem, no hassles.

Are there other requirements? Maybe, but these are a good start. Or just go with a Canadian style single payer system.

Monday, September 07, 2009


On July 31, Investors' Business Daily had an editorial against health care reform in which they said that under a "socialized system" like the one in the UK, a brilliant man Like Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance. The system would judge him as too handicapped and essentially worthless and so would deny care to him and allow him to die. Unfortunately, the writer was a bit more concerned about making an argument than checking facts. Stephen Hawking lives in Great Britain and is alive because of the British system, the most socialized health delivery system in the world.

So, the very illustration they used proved their argument is wrong. So you'd expect an apology or a re-evaluation of their stand, right? Nope. Instead they removed Hawkings name and kept the exact same argument in spite of knowing they were wrong. Here is the current version of the editorial. So, what can you say about such folk except they are liars.

Now, I did run into a situation that proves the brokenness of our current US system. A friend of mine has a "daughter-in-law" (she and the son were never married but she is the mother of my friend's grandchildren. The son died two years ago). She found a lump in her breast. She went to the doctor who feels pretty confident that it is cancer and sent her off to see a surgeon. He agreed that it is likely cancer and that surgery needs to happen as quickly as possible... the problem is, she doesn't have health insurance. She works as a waitress n a chain restaurant and makes about $7 a hour to support herself and her two children. She was told that she would have to pay the bills - surgeon, hospital, anesthesiologist, etc. - up front before she could have the surgery. So while she is trying desperately to come up with the money, the cancer grows and her chances diminish. And this is the best we can do?

Many people who hear her story are incensed that the physician etc. don't just do the surgery and either swallow the costs or work out some kind of payment plan. Well, if they "swallow" the costs, we all end up paying anyhow, you can't reasonably expect the doctor to personally swallow the costs and the hospital would just pass the costs on to other patients... and she can't possibly afford even a small payment with her income and her situation. So, she is scrambling. You can play out the possibilities.

We need reform NOW

and we're back to health care

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I love it

Facebook Passion

for something completely different

I think the health care reform debate is he most important issue on the table right now... but sometimes, it just get's tiring. So...

I have really mixed feelings about this little video. On the one hand, the sheer joy and abandonment of the kids is wonderful. I wish I had that kind of freedom to just let it out. On the other hand, watching some of the moves the kids are trying to do, it is clear they've been watching videos and I can't help but think that most of those videos just aren't appropriate for children to be watching. And I don't know if it is challenging me to be more childlike or trying to make this children be more grown up than they should be.

So enjoy it, or be worried by it, or be inspired to be a little more childlike, or to be sure your children are children. And I'll be back on health care later on.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

start over

I'm more than a little frustrated at the way things have gone with the health care reform initiative. The bills are too complicated, they have left too many easy targets for the Republicans who have no reason at all to pass a positive reform bill, and the dems have allowed the discredited losers - ie the Republican Party - to set the terms of the discussion. They have done so in a way that is marked by misinformation and outright lies, aimed at frightening people and stopping needed reform. As things are, I don't see a way for the dems to change the discussion short of starting all over again.

I think Obama should sit down with the democratic leaders and say, "OK, scrap everything that was done and start over. Here are the non-negotiables: the bill must be simple. everyone must be covered and nobody can be excluded nor can conditions be excluded. whoever does insurance, it must be not-for-profit. The rules must be the same across the board, ie. there must be a simple system for reporting/billing/sharing information. Administration must be simple and cannot cost more than X% (something well under 10). Whoever pays, it must be affordable. Here's what it would look like if I was writing the bill (and he hands them an option). We must pass this or nothing. Any bill that doesn't meet these non-negotiables is not acceptable. If the right bill fails, so be it but as Bill Moyer said, 'a half a loaf of bread still doesn't feed the people.'"

"We need to frame this as a moral argument. It is immoral for this nation to have people who are uninsured or underinsured. It is immoral that some Americans do not carry their part of the load we must all bear as a society. It is un-american to allow a neighbor to suffer when we can do something about it. And we must remind people that even those with insurance under the current system are at incredible risk. Medical expenses are the #1 cause of bankruptcy. Lack of portability hurts our competitiveness as do the incredible costs of health care on responsible businesses that provide insurance to their employees. The current system is unacceptable to me and it should be unacceptable to everyone in our nation."

"As a second bill, we must address the need for physicians and deal with their concerns around malpractice insurance, cost of education, and job satisfaction. Then we need to do the same thing with other medical practitioners - nurses, technicians, etc."

My preference is for a govt. run single payer, but I can see other ways to accomplish the non-negotiables. Get this kind of a bill out there and then let the Republicans fight it if they want. Let them defeat a bill that this nation critically needs and then let them explain why they acted in an immoral way, but do not allow them to set the terms.

Start over. Define the terms. Present a simple bill. Get it done, President Obama. I voted for you, in part because I wanted to see this change take place.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

political process

Watching the political process these days has me frightened. It seems that there are folk on the right who are pushing things far beyond what is acceptable. I know that when Bush was in office there were those who compared him with Hitler and did and said some things that were inappropriate. Still, things have gone far beyond that at this point when people who call themselves Christians are praying for the death of the president.

I'd like to share a blog I read the other day from Harold's Left. I think he did such a good job that rather than just link it, I'd like to just quote the entire blog entry... I think it is an important read.

Harold's Left:

There is a silent group of American citizens who are set to launch a campaign of hate and possibly terror against the American government. Pastor Steven Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona is one of the leaders of this new movement of hate. From his pulpit Anderson spews words that are vicious by any qualification, lulling hundreds of followers into believing a rhetoric that is not only violent, it's treasonous.

"Nope. I'm not gonna pray for his good. I'm going to pray that he dies and goes to hell. When I go to bed tonight, that's what I'm going to pray. And you say, 'Are you just saying that?' No. When I go to bed tonight, Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell."

These words, in and of themselves, are not illegal. The problem is Anderson is amassing a hard-core group of "New Christian Soldiers" who believe it is their duty to save America from the devil that is Barack Obama. These "soldiers" are not carrying the Bible or scripture to rallies and protests, they are carrying AR-15's and pistols. Anderson went on to say:

"And yet you're going to tell me that I'm supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children and he wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion and all these different things -- you're gonna tell me I'm supposed to pray for God to give him a good lunch tomorrow while he's in Phoenix, Arizona."

During this visit that Anderson refers to last week, in which the president was in Phoenix to discuss health care reform, one of his followers brought an AR-15 to the event. Okay, so lets connect the dots a bit. Hate spewing pastor preaches consistently that Barack Obama is the devil, wishes him dead, and one of his followers brings an AR-15 to a presidential event... Not sure about you, but that sounds like an extremely threatening posture. Moreover, this group of protesters, most of whom were armed, went on long monologues right outside the security perimeter about how Obama is an imminent threat to America. The critics on the Right claim that he was "outside the security perimeter", therefore he is legal in his actions. True, his actions were legal, however we need to rethink the security perimeter. An AR-15 assault rifle is essentially the same rifle I have used for years as an infantryman. It has a maximum range of over 3000 meters (nearly 2 miles) and a maximum effective range of 500 meters (over 5 football fields). Is it acceptable to have these weapons anywhere near the president? If there is legal justification to stop all air traffic near the president, is it not equally permissible to stop assault rifles? Where does that boundary begin? Are we going to allow right-wing lunatics to set up machine gun positions with anti-tank mines outside of presidential events too, all in the name of the "2nd Amendment"?

Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks asked a particularly important question on his video blog this week. First it was one guy with a pistol in New Hampshire, now 12 fanatics with pistols and assault rifles in phoenix. What do we do if 200 people show up with semi-automatics weapons to a presidential event? According to Sean Hannity these protesters are just "honest Americans upset by a leftist administration".

I'd like to counter Hannity's garbage logic with a fictitious, but analogous situation. Let's say it's 2005 and a group of Muslims does not agree with the policies of the Bush administration in Iraq. Bush had Biblical verses on his daily intelligence briefing, which this Muslin group took as the president attempting a holy crusade against Muslims. So the Imam at a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan, all of his members being American citizens, spews vicious hate against Bush and the current American government. He spews this hate by advocating for the death of the president, saying he should go to hell. Furthermore, this Imam rallies his followers to take up arms. Consequently, at a Bush event in Ann Arbor 15 Muslims from this mosque show up with AK-47's and pistols, right outside the event. At the event they are chanting "Allah hu Akbar" and telling the press that Bush's administration must be stopped at all costs. Sound familiar? Only difference is that we can all agree that the reaction by the government, the people, and the media would be vastly different in my scenario. There would be arrests, indictments, and full use of the Patriot Act. Fox News and the Republican Party would be branding this as a new threat to American security, just as I suspect MSNBC and the Democratic Party would as well.

The blatant hypocrisy in this debate does not make this threat by Christian extremist groups like NCS any less deadly. In fact, it may only heighten the threat because these groups are allowed to operate so freely. The alignment of Christian extremists, right-wing militias, and white nationalists is mixing to form a undeniably dangerous threat to American safety. Especially since many of the people in these groups are armed, fanatical, and truly believe that they are patriots. I still believe that Muslim extremism is indeed a threat to our national security, that is evidenced by 9-11. However, in the future our gravest threat may by from a group of people that come from within our boarders and who some on the Right call "true Americans"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

why we need universal health care

here's a simple explanation of why we need government provided health insurance

if you have a blog, add this to it. If not, e-mail it to all of your friends. we need to get the message out there.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

socialist fire departments

The question regarding health care continues to be the same... is it a right or a privilege.

I came across a wonderful group on Facebook - 1 Million Strong Against Our Socialist Fire Departments.

Evidently, prior to the Chicago Fire, fire protection in most or all of the USA was not "socialized." Individuals paid monthly fees to private, for profit, fire companies to protect their homes. For your monthly fee, you got a badge that you placed in the window. If a fire started and the company responded, they would fight the fire if they saw the badge. If you didn't have the badge but your neighbor did, they would hose down the neighbor's house to keep the fire from spreading. If neither had a badge, they returned to their station and let the fire burn. After the Chicago fire, it was decided that there was a better way to protect people from fire and fire departments became "socialist."

I have to say that as I have watched the fires in the hills above Santa Barbara over the past year plus, I am glad for socialism.

Why is fire protection a responsibility of the government and health care is not? We all pay to make sure our neighbor's house doesn't burn down, but if they are suffering from illness, we turn away. Doesn't make sense to me.

Perhaps we need to resubmit Teddy Kennedy's 2007 bill that would have extended Medicare to all Americans?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Billionaires for Wealthcare

Watch the stats as they go by on the bottom of the screen. Those plus the $1.4 million a day paid by the insurance industry to lobby against healthcare reform ought to raise some eyebrows.

I like the idea and wish they weren't quite so silly with it... and I hope it is helping some people to think a bit more about the issue. I really like the additional tactic of having waiver forms at town meetings for people to sign up to opt out of medicare, after all it is a single payer, government run insurance program. So if they are against a public option, they should be against it as well. And ditto for the Congress people. If they are so against the public option, let them tell their constituencies they want to abolish medicare. If they aren't willing to do that, then they are liars. We need a strong public option or better yet, a single payer system.

And yes, I know there are problems with Medicare (many of them caused by the same lobbyists) but it is an effective and necessary program, without which many of our seniors would be unable to have any healthcare because they would be unable to get insurance from any for profit company. They bring too much risk to the table. So fix it... and enlarge the improved version to be available for all citizens.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Guitars & Poverty

Jay Duncan, a luthier from Canada has done one of the coolest things ever... as a way of helping some folk in Uganda to become self-sufficient, he has taught them to build guitars and is selling them through the the Duncan Africa Society. The prices are reasonable for a handmade guitar and the cause is amazing. I hope they're able to really get this project off the ground.

And if you are looking for a guitar AND a way to make a difference in an individual's life along with all of that person's network of relationships, look into one of these guitars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

racism in US politics

here is a wonderful short article by Tim Wise on the role of racism in the current yelling from the right wing.

Red-Baiting and Racism: Socialism as the New Black Bogeyman

well worth a read

Jon Stewart on the town hall meetings

I especially like the hypocrisy around 5:00...

Mon - Thurs 11p / 10cHealther
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorSpinal Tap Performance

Monday, August 10, 2009

the real issue

I often listen to talk radio as I drive and for part of my commute to church, the only station I can get is right wing talk radio. So, for fifteen or twenty minutes, I listen to whoever is on. Today, I came to work a bit late as it is normally my day off, and I turned on Rush Limbaugh. I have to say that I find him one of the most obnoxious people alive. Still, in listening to him, the real issue in the debate about health care became clear.

It is not about freedom of choice. Anyone who raises that issue is either naive or lying. The only people who have freedom of choice are those who have enough resources that they can afford to pay, out of pocket, for any health care they desire. Everyone else, regardless of what kind of insurance or lack of insurance they have is at the mercy of the system. If you have private insurance, they make the choices. If you have a government sponsored insurance like Medicare, they make the choices. If you have no insurance, there are no choices to be made.

It is not about the slippery slope to socialism. This morning, Limbaugh tied what he referred to as socialized medicine as Hitler's first step to taking over Germany and implied that if we go that way, we will face the same fate that Germany experienced in the 30's. Of course, that argument ignores the evidence that every other industrialized country has a system that Mr. L would call socialist. They haven't all followed in Hitler's footsteps.

No, the issue is whether or not health care is a part of the commons. Does everyone have a right to health care or is it a commodity to be purchased only by the rich. In other words, do we as a society owe health care to the poor. The question is that simple. How one answers the question determines where one can come out on this argument. If health care is a right to be enjoyed by everyone, then the government must become involved. If it is not, then our current for-profit system is fine.

As a person who tries to follow Jesus, the answer seems pretty clear to me.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

health care again... until we all get it

In his periodic personal reflections, Roy Medley, the General Secretary of the American Baptist Churches, USA (my denomination) addresses the health care crisis. He begins with these words...

Health care needs to be affordable. For too many it is not.
Health care needs to be portable. For too many it is not.
Health care systems need to be more efficient. Too many are not.
Health care should not involve profiteering. For some it does.
Health care needs to be available. For too many it is not.

That is the key isn't it? The current system is broken. (I encourage you to read his entire article linked in the first sentence...) Anyone who argues against a single payer system comes back to those five simple facts and cannot adequately address them. There is no other way that I can see that addresses all of the concerns. To leave any of them unaddressed is unjust and poor stewardship of the resources of our nation. As a person of faith I would say that to leave any of these issues unaddressed is sin.

write you legislators and tell them to get on board with a strong public option, or better yet to remove the insurance companies altogether.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Generally, I'm not crazy about doing weddings. They tend to be high pressure, low integrity events. Now, I have participated in some that were wonderful but that tends to be the exception in my experience.

This one looks like fun.

Just think... dancing into marriage rather than marching. Sounds good to me.

health care - 2 arguments

I am fascinated that there are two arguments circulating against a government sponsored health care plan... two arguments that conflict with each other. Let me address both of them.

The first is that the government can't do anything well so we can't allow them to do something as important as health care. A sub argument of this is that or system is already "the best in the world."

Let's get rid of the sub argument. According to the World Health Organization the US ranks37th in the world, just between 36- Costa Rico and 38, Slovenia. France is 1 and Italy is 2. We are still behind such countries as Singapore (6), Morocco (29), and Chile (33). We have huge number of folk uninsured who have no access to health care at all until they go into the emergency room and then are paid for by the rest of us. And very few of us have adequate health insurance. A few years ago my daughter needed surgery. Without it, she would have chronic pain in her jaw, eventually would lose her hearing, and would have her jaw lock occasionally which would have to be broken to unlock. Our incredibly expensive insurance didn't cover the procedure regardless of the prognosis without it. We were faced with the decision of paying out of pocket or watching that unfold. My daughter carries a new BMW in her mouth. In 2007, 62% of bankruptcies are related to health care costs.

I am always surprised that the same folk who argue against government sponsored health care are happy to rely on government sponsored police protection, fire protection, military, and roads. You can't have it both ways. Either the government is completely inept and shouldn't be doing those things either or you have to allow that government can do some things well. Indeed, there are some things that only government can do well.

Now some would say that they don't want a government bureaucrat making decisions regarding who gets what tests, etc. The problem is that under the current for profit insurance system, a bean counter makes those decisions. For the government employee, at least the primary concern is the public good. For the bean counter, the only concern is maximizing profits. At the bottom line, and it is about the bottom line, they are trying to cover as little as possible so as to spend as little as possible and keep as much as possible of your and my insurance premiums. We learned that with Alexis' surgery. Give me the government bureaucrat any day.

Will some decisions be made that we don't like? Yes. Will some procedures be denied? Yes. Is that different than now. No. The difference is the motivation for denial. Currently it is because of a profit margin. Then, it will be because of projected outcomes.

The second argument against a public option, is that the insurance companies won't be able to compete. Understand that. The government program will be cheaper and better so the insurance companies will not be able to provide the same service at as low a price. I love it. The government program will be too good. And that is an argument against government sponsored health care?

OK, the argument is a little more subtle than that. It goes like this. The government program will be so good and so cheap that the private companies will no longer be able to compete and will go out of business. Eventually there will be no competition and the government program will become sloppy and quality and price will suffer. This argument again ignores the current reality. Almost none of us shop for insurance. If you get it through your employer, they provide what they provide. Take it or leave it. And in large degree, they make contracts based on cost or availability. I get my health insurance through my church. It is ridiculously expensive. It s also the only option we have. If you don't get insurance through an employer, I'll bet you don't have any. Likewise regarding physicians, labs, etc. I get a list... a small list from my insurer and that is where I go. Sometimes there is one name. Sometimes, for some specialties, there are none. I know nothing about any of them and have no way of knowing anything about any of them. So much for choice or competition.

Another piece is the "bad word" - socialist. We can't have socialized medical care. First off, the only country I'm aware of with true socialized medicine - that is where the government owns the hospitals and clinics and the physicians and nurses are government employees - is Great Britain (number 18 on the list). Other countries have socialized insurance where the government provides a single payer insurance and the physicians/hospitals/etc. are private vendors. The difference is one insurance company with all of the economies of scale and the motivation of the public good vs. a system of multiple insurance providers with different rules, providers, and the primary motivation being profit rather than the public good.

There is another argument... and it is the saddest one of all. If we suddenly provide health care for everyone, there won't be enough doctors and facilities. This is always an argument from someone who has health insurance. The bottom line here is, "I have mine, so *%#* you if you don't have yours." It is a real concern but the answer is not to ignore the needs of so many, it is to change the system so we train more healthcare professionals. They do it in every other civilized nation in the world. Why not here?

Thursday, July 16, 2009


On Tuesday I visited Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park for the first time. It was a wonderful trip with my friend, Rasul.

We hoped to see some whales in the Santa Barbara Channel but didn't have any luck. There are blues and humpbacks in the channel but none along our route. I really hope to see a humpback breach someday. We did see a few hundred common dolphins though...

so, whales have been on my mind lately. My friend Ashley Smith posted a link to this wonderful story in the NY Times on the
"friendlies" of Baja.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Back east, we called this kind of dancing "the Bennington Noodle" after the sort of hippie dancing we imagined students at Bennington College did and which we often saw at jam band concerts... It is less than rhythmic and certainly not graceful, but it is filled with joy.

A week or so ago, Len Sweet posted a link to Eugene Cho's blog with some discussion of the above video. Sweet tweeted that an entire theology of evangelism could be written from the video. (thank to both of you for sharing this fun video)

I think he's right. I think there is lots here to talk about. I think the video really points up the need in younger generations to be a part of something bigger than they are and to experience a sense of community. It points out the need to stand up for what is in our hearts even when it looks silly... and if we do, it might just become contagious. It underscores the need for a few early adopters. Most importantly for me though, it points to the deep down joy of just letting loose and experiencing the moment. That thought is underscored by the Old Testament reading in this week's lectionary readings - 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19 where David dances before the Ark.

In my sermon prep I read that the word in Aramaic for dance is the same as the word for rejoice... So let us rejoice! or dance! or noodle! and not be concerned if it looks silly.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Michael Jackson

there's been way too much said already... but John Mayer's version of Human Nature at the memorial service is just wonderful. I love the tones he gets out of his guitar and the arrangement with only background vocals is just perfect for this setting.

Friday, July 03, 2009

It's Time

It is time... time for a public option national healthcare plan. Frankly, I don't care whether or not the option of private insurance continues but there must be a public option now.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Her Morning Elegance

a beautiful video and a great song...


ever think about the way that one culture translates into another?

take a look at the opening sequence of The Cosby Show as it is seen in India.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why I'm a Baptist

I write this to remind myself... because I'm not happy with the directions the tradition has taken nor with the choices that have been made by my own denomination - The American Baptist Churches, USA.

Walter Shurden in his book The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms, says there are four distinctive commitments that define what it means to be a Baptist.

1. Freedom of the Bible - the idea that scripture speaks for itself and the individual believer is obligated to study it using the best possible tools. There is no "official" interpretation of the Bible. Nobody can definitely say, "this is what the Bible means" and therefore there are no creeds or doctrinal checklists.

2. Soul Freedom - Each individual is both able and required to work out his or her own faith and relationship to God with no interference by clergy, church, hierarchies, or state. Nobody can tell you what your relationship to God is supposed to look like. That is between you and God.

3. Freedom of the Church - It is the responsibility of each congregation to work out the shape of its faith and its ministry in its context. No outside body can tell a church what they must believe or how they must do ministry.

4. Freedom of Religion - The state has no power to impose religious tests on anyone or shape religion in any way. The idea of separation of church and state in the US came primarily from the Baptists and the Quakers.

Obviously, Shurden says more about these distinctives than I have shared in 4 short paragraphs but you get the picture and can sense the radicalness inherent in these four commitments. They leave the door open to incredible diversity from TULIP fundamentalists on the right to unitarianism on the left and everything in between. Indeed, the Baptist tradition in the US includes the whole of that diversity. It is that wild and wide tradition that caught my imagination and continues to insire me. It is that crazy mix that seems to me to be the most viable shape for Christianity to take in this post-modern world. It is also a tradition that is frightening to many and seems to me to be being abandoned by almost all Baptist groups.

Let me give one simple example. In the ABCUSA, they are talking about a "common table," i.e. when representatives gather, each of the participating bodies agrees not to send a representative that another body would exclude. Left out are GLBT folk because some of the more conservative folk in ABC will not sit at table with them. How can we claim to be Baptists and then tell a church or group of churches that they cannot send an entire class of people as representatives to our gatherings? What about the first three freedoms? It was in that rough and tumble mix of differing ideas and interpretations that I most clearly heard the voice of the Spirit. And now we move to the lowest common denominator?

I am still a Baptist. I want to remain a Baptist and I dream of a day when some Baptist body stands up and clearly says, "THIS IS WHO WE ARE!" I fear it will never come and the tradition will morph into something it is not, and then disappear completely.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Father's Day

My father died on May 27, 2006. Below is the post I put up that day. I decided to copy it here rather than just link to it.

I still miss him and wish that things had been better. I'll think of him a lot tomorrow.

May 27, 2006
in memoriam George W. Donkin jr.

Some of you know that both of my parents were admitted into hospice in February. Both had severe emphysema and mom has an abdominal aneurysm as well. Dad died peacefully in his sleep this morning. I got to speak to him yesterday on the phone and assured him that we love him and it was OK to let go, we would see that mom was cared for.

Growing up we had the ambiguous relationship that children often have with their parents. Dad never showed his emotions very well and wasn't there a lot. He was a diesel mechanic and worked hard all of his life. He left for work before I got up, came home, often after a stop at a bar for a beer and talk with friends, took a hot bath, ate dinner, and went to sleep. Saturdays, he slept half the day. Sundays, we went to church and then to my grandmother's for Sunday dinner. Friday and Saturday nights were often cards with family or, for a few years, my parents went bowling. I never remember him missing a day of work for any reason. In his late 30's he had back problems... he wore a brace and went to work and when he came home he could barely stand, I would pull on his legs to relieve the pressure. The next day, he went back to work.

It was later that I began to realize that the hard work was his way of showing love. He understood his role as providing for his family and he did that the best he could as a blue collar worker for as long as he could. He probably should have died a few weeks ago but he hung on because he didn't want to leave mother alone.

When I turned 18 I learned that he was not my biological father. My mother married right out of high school, had my older sister, divorced, met my biological father & married, had me, and when I was 9 months old, he died. George Donkin, in his mid 20's, married Jean with a 6 year old daughter and 1 year old son. Three years later George and Jean had a daughter. My biological father was in many ways a fantasy - he was a first mate on an oil tanker and spent much of his time away at sea. When he was at home, it was all gifts and parties and the realities of living together never intruded. George competed with that image all of his life. I know it was difficult for him but he hung in there.

It wasn't until I was well into my adult years that I began to understand more of him and appreciate his love and the faithfulness with which he expressed it. I hope that I have learned that from him.

I love you, Dad. Peace be with you and may God hold you in the palm of his hands.