Thursday, September 30, 2010

More on the Cambridge Drive Concert Series

I'm a lousy interview. I've long known that. Part of it is hubris. I think quickly and can be pretty charming in most settings so, I go into an interview situation without having thought it through as carefully as I should have figuring I can wing it. Part of it is just cluelessness. Enough said. When I was president of the local clergy association, I got interviewed a lot. And when we lived in Albany, NY I found myself on the news or in the paper a few times so I should know better, but too often I don't.

Two days ago, a reporter from the Montecito Journal called to interview me about the up coming Cambridge Drive Concert Series. He asked me the most obvious question of all... "Why are you starting a new concert series?" It was the most obvious question and yet, I wasn't really prepared to answer it. There are a couple of other series that happen in greater Santa Barbara including two that I am aware of that happen in churches, so why another? I'm pretty sure my answer was lame. It did start me thinking though... why another concert series?

I should be honest and say that I've not attended many of the local series. Those in the big venues are frankly too expensive for me. I just can't justify spending $30 or $50 or more times two to see a musical act more than once every few years. The two church based series fly under my radar and I just never know who is performing or when. There have been a few series featuring local acts, mostly in coffee houses, and I try to visit them when I can. All too often life gets in the way and I suffer that loss.

So, here are the niches I think we're filling and I think we're unique in the mix at least. We're trying to bring in very talented regional and national acts who are fulltime musicians. In part, I want to support the musicians. It can be a difficult life and keeping the wolf away is a huge job. I'm hoping that we can provide one more possible venue as they travel around the country sharing their art. We have decided to always have a local opening act. There are some wonderful local performers and too few venues that allow them to play to an appreciative listening audience. Some are as good as any touring artist out there but are constrained for any number of reasons to stay local. Others are just honing their craft. In both cases they deserve to truly be heard and to have the opportunity to share a stage with other wonderful musicians.

Music can build community. I'm hoping that opening our doors to these wonderful musicians and to an audience will break down some of the walls that divide us and build some new relationships. At least for the present, the concerts are not seen as fundraisers for the church although we are also unable to subsidize them beyond opening doors, providing space and staff time, and being as hospitable as we can be.

We are substance free. I have talked to some folk who are a bit put off that there will be no alcohol available. They want a glass of wine while they listen. I understand that... but beyond being against the church by-laws, there are communities of folk who are excluded from venues with alcohol - young folk below the drinking age and folk with addiction issues. So we are substance free... except for caffeine maybe.

And here's the big piece... God's creation is filled with extravagant beauty. The other morning I happened to look out the window as I was spraying my orchid plant and saw a breath-taking sky - pink clouds and robin's egg blue sky. Then the light shifted and the colors faded. How many days have I missed an equally beautiful moment? A few weeks ago, for just a few moments, the light was perfect as I drove through the Gaviota Pass. Had I been 5 minutes later, the view would have been less amazing, or at least completely different. The songs of birds, the majesty of the mountains, the power of the ocean, the laughter of children, the intricate beauty of a tiny flower... God is a performance artist in the most sublime sense of the word. Part of what it means to be created in the image of God is to consciously contribute to this proliferation of beauty. And we will be doing just that at the Cambridge Drive Concert Series on the first Friday of every month. Frankly, there cannot be too much beauty.

I hope that if you are anywhere near Santa Barbara, you will come to the concert tomorrow and/or any subsequent ones. Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon and Rebecca Troon will be making the world a more beautiful place and when the performance is over, it will be gone except in the memories and lives of those who shared those moments...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Politics and Business

We have two significant political races in California this year where a former CEO is running for election - Meg Whitman for governor and Carly Fiorina for senate. I have strong feelings against both of them, but that is another post. The piece I want to raise is that business and government are not the same.

In both cases, their campaigns are arguing that because they were successful in business (perhaps questionable too), they would make great leaders in government. Now, because someone has been a successful business person is no reason to dismiss them as a politician. They may bring some wonderful skills to the job that translate well from one role to the other. The problem comes when folk involved don't realize that government is not business and should not and cannot be run like business. It is a completely different paradigm. The goals are different. The means are different. The metrics for measuring success are different. We simply cannot run government like a business.

So let's look at those three categories a bit. What are the goals of business? To make a profit. Obviously there are wonderful businesses out there that are concerned about providing a good product, caring for their communities, making the world a better place... but they only do any of things things to the degree they can do it profitably. A research firm may come up with a product that cures a specific cancer, but if they cannot produce it at a profit, they cannot make it. It doesn't matter that they want to do the right thing, the good thing... they are constrained by what they are to produce profits for their stockholders. And those stockholders, a very specific slice of the population, are the only people they are accountable to in the end. So people continue to die and research continues. Government has a much more nebulous goal - to promote the common good. And the population to whom it is accountable is everyone. Corporate bean counters are accountable to the bottom line. Government bureaucrats are accountable to the people. Huge difference.

How about means? Governments must build coalitions, appeal to common values, find compromises between competing ideas and ideals, and work through a sometimes difficult and complicated process of legislation. In business, many models allow a CEO to change everything with the stroke of a pen. There may be a board of directors who have some say but as likely as not, they rubber stamp most of what the CEO's propose and their role is almost never to be involved in daily decisions. Shareholders may vote, but it is very unlikely that they really have any say in any of the decisions made and likely don't care as long as stock and dividends are going up. Shareholders might be thrilled that a production facility is closed and 1000's of jobs moved overseas if it means higher profits. See how difficult it is to shut down a military production facility and we see the difference in a government setting.

And metrics? You know a business decision was a good one by looking at the bottom line. Did the company make money? Or is it poised to do so because of those decisions? Again, in government, things are not so simple. Let's look at a few actual programs briefly. First, social security. Depending upon whose numbers you believe, either it is solvent for the long term or it is pushing the entire government into a ditch. If it was a business decision, the way you read those numbers would answer the question. In government, the question becomes much more difficult when you look at the ways the program has changed our society. Poverty among the elderly has dropped significantly since the program began and even in our current economy is lower than it has ever been. One could even argue that some of the increase in life expectancy is due to social security and Medicare. So is it successful or not? And let's look at the War Against Terrorism. The Bush administration came into office with a huge budget surplus. They lowered taxes on the wealthiest Americans and went into two wars that cost billions of dollars, putting the government trillions in debt. Some would argue that their actions have made us safer. There is no question that had we not entered those wars, our national budget would be much healthier than it is today. Was it a successful thing to do?

Bottom line... politics is not business and cannot and should not be run like one. If we elect business people who do not understand that and/or expect them to run government like a business, we will all suffer. Are these two women just playing a game and saying what they think people want to hear in order to be elected and then will actually know how to govern vs. running a business? Or are they just caught up in the hubris of their own success and think they can impose a business paradigm where it does not fit? If they win, we will see...

Tea Party again

very interesting... my post on the Tea Party has received about 3X's more hits than any other post I've made. So, I guess if I want my blog to get more readers, I should keep posting on the Tea Party.

In addition to just a few comments, I've gotten some notes sent directly to me so there is a bit of material to which I can respond.

One person reminded me that the Tea Party is not monolithic and that many in that movement would not agree with everything I said. I agree. It is not a monolithic movement... but that frightens me even more. It seems to me that many of the more extreme voices are in positions of leadership and that while large numbers of the participants may not agree with some of the more radical views, they are still supporting and voting for the more radical fringe. For example, there are a number of very visible and vocal folk speaking out against public education. Does that mean all Tea Party folk want to see the public schools all shut down tomorrow? No, but if that vocal anti-public education leader gets elected, you can bet they will run with their agenda and claim a mandate for it. Same thing is true about social security, medicare, unemployment benefits, the FDA, OSHA, etc. etc.

One person chastised me for adding in infrastructure to my argument saying that n Tea Party person is against the government keeping up the infrastructure. Well... if that is true, and I'm not sure it is, then it won't be long. Let's be consistent here. If they are truly advocating that we stop the government from doing anything that is not explicitly outlined in the constitution, then they have to come out against government maintenance of infrastructure. It ain't there. And FWIW, Eisenhower's interstate system is the most "socialist" thing the federal government has ever done.

This same person said to me, "there are those with common sense who simply want to see smaller government and less taxes. We know it will be painful. And frankly we don't care." And that is the difference isn't it? I do care. And there are some pains that I believe we as a society should do everything we can do to alleviate.

I have no illusions that government can fix everything or save us from all ills. I see the problems, the corruption, the game playing, and the cronyism. I do believe though, that there are some things that only government can do and, that if this is to be the kind of society that I believe God yearns for us to be, then, government must do those things. Yes, it needs serious reform. Yes, we need to hold our elected officials accountable, but making government so small and weak that we can drown it in the bathtub is exactly the wrong answer. Again, I don't want to live in a Tea Party world and I would bet that most folk at the rallies wouldn't either if they really thought about the implications.

Finally, I've gotten a few comments about the "fruits and nuts of California," obviously putting me in that crop (sorry for the pun). By way of bio, I grew up in a blue collar family in Pittsburgh, PA and lived 18 years there, 3 in central PA, 13 in Philadelphia, 14 in Albany, NY, and 8 in CA. So, I'm not quite a Californian despite being seduced by the weather, the produce, and the beauty of the place. That said, the common misconception that California is a bastion of liberalism is just silly. Think about the last two presidents who came from CA - Nixon & Reagan. Instead, California is a polar place with lots of extreme liberals and lots of extreme conservatives and they never talk to one another or work together for the common good. The end result is an extremely dysfunctional state government that does next to nothing. Add in the system of propositions and you have a real mess. Unfortunately, I think that California model is the one being adopted on a federal level. That does not bode well for anyone.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Laughing Jesus

As you enter our church office, the first thing you see is a painting of Jesus in the middle of a deep belly laugh. Virtually everyone comments the first time they see it... "I've never seen a picture of Jesus laughing like that..."

That says something about our theology. We see Jesus in prayer, in tears, dying on a cross, throwing over tables in the Temple, fighting with the religious hierarchy, even with children on his lap or a sheep over his shoulders, but never really laughing, never deeply enjoying anything. If Jesus lives that way, then we think we should too. Life is full of suffering and conflict with little room for joy, wonder, or genuine encounter of the other.

Mt friend Jon, posted this irreverent video the other day. When I saw it on his site, there was only one comment, complaining that a post like this doesn't take Satan seriously enough. I won't go down that path, but I will say the comment missed Jon's point. The folk who made the video obviously have encountered a Christianity in which Jesus never laughs, doesn't enjoy much at all, and interfaith relationships are always framed in terms of violent conflict. What a sad and empty version of the Christian faith that is...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

International Day of Peace

Today is the UN designated International Day of Peace. What a dream that is...even one day of peace all across the world...
today I pray... and I cry...

(thanks to the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America for the graphic.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Tea Party World

I understand the allure of "small government" - indeed, there are areas, specifically around military expenditures where I'd like it to get a lot smaller - but in general, it is not a world where I want to live.

The arguments for small government come from two general directions. First, that people should be responsible for their own lives. What they earn, they keep. Where they stumble, that is their problem. They make their choices and live with them. This argument, in its best incarnation, assumes that everyone has equal access. This is, blatantly untrue. Some people are recipients of the hard work, good luck, or unlawful activity of their ancestors while others suffer because of mistakes made in previous generations or as the result of injustices suffered in years before. And of course, there are cultural differences, often related to the above issues, that come into play as well. Some people run the entire marathon with no training and no shoes while others start 10 feet from the end and could crawl across the line and still win. In its worst incarnation, the argument doesn't care that things aren't equal. "I got mine, so screw you."

The second direction is tied to the first, that people should not be forced to help others. Some would argue that they will do it on their own without the government interfering. In the case of businesses, the free market will push them to ethical behavior. In the case of individuals, compassion for others will push them to build a more just society. Beyond the fact that history shows otherwise, this argument requires a belief that human beings are by nature altruistic, compassionate, far sighted, and interested in the needs of others. There is no doubt that we see hints of this and that there are individuals who exhibit those traits, but as a species... I wouldn't count on it. The Christian tradition has a theological concept that applies here - original sin. I do not believe that people are by nature depraved or evil, but I do believe that when push comes to shove, most people put their own needs first and most people are predisposed to ignore the needs and pains of others. How many times have we heard someone ho has returned from a trip to Haiti or India or Africa or even some of the US inner cities or the Gulf Coast and remark, "I never imagined such poverty." Well, if you never imagined it, it was only because you closed your eyes. It has always been there. And of course, there is the second thread in this argument... people should not be forced to help others because they are where they deserve to be.

So what do we hear from the Tea Party, the bastion of small government thinking? I have heard arguments that we should terminate unemployment benefits, social security, welfare, and Medicare. There is no question that these kinds of programs cost significant money. Terminating them would shrink government significantly. Imagine our nation without them. Picture a time without social security. I know many elderly folk who live off of that small income alone. Without it, they literally would have no income. And if you take away their Medicare, many would face astronomical medical bills. And, given their health issues and age, no other insurance would ever take them. That would be a stupid business decision. So what happens to them? They would die miserable deaths in abject poverty. So the argument might go, "that is their fault. They should have saved for retirement." All well and good unless during your working years you live so close to the edge that you must make choices between food and heat.

Imagine if we did away with unemployment, as meager as it is, for that 9+% of people who are not able to find a job? What would happen to them and their families? Our current economic structure requires that somebody be out of work... what should happen to those people?

Imagine an infrastructure that has completely disintegrated as government spending on roads, bridges, public transportation, etc. disappeared completely.

Imagine nobody ever checking food or drugs for safety. Every trip to the grocery store might be a game of Russian Roulette. Think of cars without any safety features. Imagine no public utilities. Picture businesses polluting communities and poisoning workers with no constraints because no government agency is looking over their shoulders.

Imagine no public higher education and perhaps even no public schools at all.

Those are all scenarios that Tea Party candidates have endorsed.

Yes... taxes would be much lower... but it is not a world where I want to live.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Cambridge Drive Concerts

Isn't it wonderful when a number of threads converge? One thread... When we lived in Albany, NY, I was on the board of Directors for The Eighth Step, America's longest continuously running non-profit coffeehouse. It was great fun. I got to hear some amazing music, played with some wonderful people, and got to open for acts as different as Patty Larkin, The Nields, and shared stages with Tony Trischka and others. We had one of the best open mikes I've ever participated in and did some fun programing like Music from a Fishbowl (hopefully more about that at a later date... think of it as a teaser).

Thread two... I am pastor at Cambridge Drive Community Church at 550 Cambridge Drive in Goleta, CA where we have a wonderful commitment to opening our space to the broader community. We have three buildings on the property and they are in constant use by a variety of groups from AA to children's programs to yoga to a Japanese language class to student recitals. We have a nice room for gathering with a great sound system.

Thread three... I really miss thread number one.

weave them together and you get The Cambridge Drive Concert Series! You can follow us on Facebook here.

We're beginning with one show a month on the first Friday, beginning on October 1, 2010. I am really excited about the folk we've booked so far.

Our first show will feature Bev Barnett and Greg Newlon. I heard them at a Songwriters at Play show and loved them. Gorgeous harmonies, mature songwriting, and stellar guitar playing. What more can you ask for? Check out the free download Love Can Change the World on their website. Just beautiful! Opening for them will be a local musician named Rebecca Troon who is way above the local level in talent. Reserve tickets for $10 at 805 964-0436 or purchase at the door for $12.

Our second show is booked for November 5 and will feature Anna Coogan with her Roots and Urban Americana. Opening act will be Christina Grimm. The December show is scheduled to be a multi-performer Christmas/Solstice/Seasonal show. In 2011 we will be presenting the Jewish Soul of Soul Aviv, Ali Handal, and a bunch of other wonderful performers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

too much

It has been a while since I've posted to my blog. It hasn't been because I had nothing to say. Actually, I've had too much... and wasn't quite sure how to say it.

I wanted to write about Glenn Beck and how his connection with right wing Christians puzzles me when he is a Mormon. I wasn't sure how to say that without sounding like a religious bigot so I didn't finish the post.

Then I wanted to write about the Koran and a crazy who certainly got his 15 minutes of fame by threatening to burn Korans. I didn't want to give him any more attention than he was already getting... Just one piece I was going to say - many Americans see the Koran as being parallel to the Bible, a book that tells us about God's self-revelation. That is not a good analogy. Actually, as I understand it, the Koran is more parallel to Jesus than to the Bible as it is the revelation of God, not a book that points to that revelation. So burning Korans is not the same as burning any other book.

And I wanted to write about 9/11. I've been reading some of the 9/11 Truth stuff and I have to admit that I find at least some f the arguments pretty convincing that, at the very least, we are not getting the whole story. In my very core, I don't want to believe that my own government had anything to do with the horrors of that day but I wonder... and it makes me really, really depressed. So, I didn't write about that because I was afraid that some folk would think I'm crazy... and that if I wrote it down, I'd need to look more carefully and maybe make a decision about it.

So... no posts... but later today I'll write about the Cambridge Drive Concert Series. and that excites me!