Wednesday, December 17, 2014

NBD (new bass day)

Boy it's been a long time since I've posted anything... and it isn't because nothing has been happening.  Life has been rich, full, and busy.  So this post is going up because it is an easy one...  I'll try to get some other new ones up soon.  There is a lot to write about.

I've always loved the sound of a good fretless bass.  They allow an incredible amount of control over the envelope of the sound from the shape of the attack to the sustain that you just don't get on a fretted bass.  It begins with the singing tone referred to as "mwah" by bass players but goes well beyond that.   All of that control requires... control on the part of the player and there is the issue of intonation.  With no frets, moving your finger a fraction of an inch takes you into or out of tune.

I've owned two in the past.  One simply was a lousy instrument and nobody could have made it sound like what I hear in my head.  The other was a decent bass.  Of course the real piece was that I wasn't really a bass player when I owned either one.  Over the past few years, as I've been playing bass in the church band, I'm becoming a real bass player rather than just a guitar player, playing at bass.  I'm hoping to have some more opportunities playing bass as a backup player for local singer/songwriters.

A second piece has come into play.  Bass guitar builders are much more adventurous than guitar builders and bass players likewise.  This allows the builders to push the envelope a lot further than guitar builders from interesting designs to multi-string extended basses (some of which have as many as 21 strings - here's a link to a video of a Bee Bass 9 string from NAMM if you're interested).

Bee Bass GrooveBee
One company called Bee Bass builds some instruments that really catch my eye aesthetically and sound really, really good.  While I would have loved to own one, even though they are priced reasonably for the quality, they still are priced beyond my budget at this point so they really didn't even inspire any GAS (guitar acquisition syndrome) in me... until I saw that the builder - Fred Bolton - had a demo instrument up on e-bay for a silly good price.  Nobody bid and the auction ended.  Fred posted the bass again at a lower price.  I remembered a similar situation with my first Lowden where it had presented itself when I wasn't looking for a new guitar and that Lowden changed the direction of my playing forever.   I couldn't help thinking that this Bee might do the same thing for my bass playing.  I bid.  I won it and became the owner of a fretless Bee Bass GrooveBee.  It sounds killer and I think it is a beautiful piece of art even before it is played.

I'm in love with it even as it challenges me to be way more careful of my technique and aware of my intonation which was never even an issue with fretted instruments.  I'm working at both.   The bass inspires me to work at both so that makes it easier.   Here's a video of my bass made by the builder... you can hear the mwah.  What you don't hear is how aggressive the low end can be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Would you hire a...

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Gaza, etc.

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

bass player or guitar player?

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Which America

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Hobby Lobby

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Churches and Tasting Rooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Southern Baptists Have Done It Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the text of the SBC statement.

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Obamacare... again

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Red, red wine...

The first wine club that we joined after moving to Santa Barbara county was Beckmen Winery.  They make some very nice Rhone varietals and have even had one of their grenaches chosen as a wine for a white house dinner.   We discontinued our wine club membership a few years ago - not because the wines aren't wonderful but because there are so many wonderful wineries here in the Santa Ynez Valley.  We still have a number of their wines in our "cellar."  They produce some wonderful syrahs and grenaches in their biodynamic vineyards.  They do grow some white varietals and a few other reds as well but are known for the Rhone reds.   If you're ever in the Santa Ynez Valley, their tasting room is well worth a visit.

Tonight for Mother's Day, I made a nice dinner for Cheryl - filet mignon and zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, and Romano cheese.  For desert I made cannoli (I purchased the shells and made the filling). We opened a bottle of 2005 Beckmen Purisima, their flagship wine which is a blend of grenache and syrah from their best grapes, and is only made in the best of vintages.  What a wonderful wine!  It reminded me why we joined their wine club.  We have another '05, two '07s, and 2 '08s.  I expect that each bottle will be wonderful too. 

Neither of our children were with us for dinner as both have partners and they needed to be with their families.  They were all in church this morning though - Alexis, her husband Christian and my favorite person in the whole world, my grandson Corwin, and John and Monique (who is due in September with my second grandchild - a girl who will also be my favorite person in the whole world).  I'm concerned about the future, especially for John, Monique, and Khloe, but I am feeling so blessed to see my family and to know everything we share.  More than anything I am thankful for Cheryl, for all that she does for her children, and most of all just for who she is.  The Purisima is an expensive bottle of wine (at least for us) but it was more than worth it to drink it in celebration of Cheryl and the family she has birthed.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

SCOTUS Got It Wrong (again)

It's no suprise that I'm not a fan of the current SCOTUS.  Indeed, I think they've made one bad decision after another.  As a Baptist, their latest one really irked me.  The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty had filed a friend of the court brief opposing the town of Greece, NY's practice of beginning municipal meetings with prayer, almost exclusively with Christian content. 

I have to admit that I'm more than a little surprised at the support the ruling has received from many right of center Christians.  Justice Kennedy in his opinion repeatedly refers to the prayers as "ceremonial." As a person of faith, my prayers are never ceremonial.  To make them such is to denigrate them and lessen their importance.  On the other hand, to allow me to pray as I truly believe and to give that prayer the place I believe it deserves must by definition offend the conscience of some people.  Also, as a Baptist who believes in Soul Liberty, I believe it is never the place of government to endorse any particular religious belief whether I believe it or not.  All this ruling does is domesticate real faith and force it into the service of civil religion.  For what it is worth, I do not believe that the meetings of Congress should begin with a prayer either.

Back in '07 a Hindu priest, Rajan Zed, offered a prayer in the Senate and this is what happened...

I have to say that I found Zed's prayer less offensive than the prayers shouted by the protestors but I do agree that he should not have been praying publicly.  Of course, they should not either.  And that leads to the second point.  The government cannot stop them or me from praying silently any time or any place we choose including government buildings or meetings.  Those prayers that I have spoken silently at city council meetings were real prayers about real issues and not merely ceremonial ones.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal

Back in October '13, I reviewed  Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal by Milton Brasher-Cunningham.   I picked up the book the other day and have been thinking about it again...

One of my favorite stories in the scripture is the post resurrection story in John 21.  Most of the sermons we hear from this chapter center on the questions of Jesus to Peter - "Do you love me more than these?"  but for me the most important piece of the story comes earlier were Jesus cooks breakfast for the disciples.  It seems to me that the meal is central to who we are as Christians beginning, of course, with communion but also including the other intentional meals of our lives.  There is deep truth in the old joke -
A teacher once asked her 3rd graders to each bring something to their class that represented their religious background.  A Roman Catholic child brought a crucifix.  A Jewish child brought a menorah.  A Sikh boy showed his kara.  The Baptist girl brought a covered dish..."
The book shares a strategy that I want with all my heart to try.  Every Thursday evening the author hosted a communal meal.  Whenever someone would attend, a place card with their name would be made which also served as a permanent invitation to attend every Thursday forever.  All one would need do is call by Thursday noon to RSVP so there will be enough food prepared.  They laughed, cried, told stories, challenged one another, and simply were together.  It isn't clear to me whether the meal continues but what a wonderful way to spend Thursday evening!   If it does still take place, I wish I lived close enough to get my own place card for the meal at his home...  Barring that, I look forward to a time when I can shape my life in such a way as to make this possible.

In these days of fast food when families all too often do not take the time to eat together and food is seen more as fuel for the body than as nourishment for the soul, Brasher-Cunningham reminds us of the holy time we spend with each other around the table.  I only wish the book was longer and shared a few more recipes.

One more story... about 15 years ago we did an exchange with a pastor in Leicester, England and spent a month in each other's homes, serving each other's churches.  We did a lot of day trips around central England and one day arrived back in Leicester too tired to cook dinner so we went to a restaurant.  We arrived about 6:00 and every table was empty.  One of the wait staff greeted us and asked whether we had a reservation.  She looked very troubled when I said "no" and ran off to consult with the rest of the staff.  A few moments later she returned and said, "Well, we can seat you but you need to be finished by 9:00 as we will need that table for another party at that time."  She expected us to sit, talk, and linger over the meal.  This little book reminded me again how important that is to do.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

book review - Theology from Exile: The Year of Matthew, Commentary on the Revised Comon Lectionary for an Emerging Christianity

I've got a number of promised book reviews to get up here on my blog... and here is one.

Theology in Exile: The Year of Matthew is volume 2 of a series of commentaries on the lectionary readings.  Let me make a few disclaimers.  I preach from the Revised Common Lectionary almost every week.  For those who are unfamiliar with the lectionary, it is a selection of scripture readings including a gospel reading, epistle, psalm, and history (usually but not always from the Hebrew Scriptures) for every Sunday in the church year over a three year cycle.  The idea is that through that three year cycle all of the major themes of the Bible are lifted up.  The downside of using a lectionary is that there are some passages that are never read in worship.  The upside is that the lectionary pushes the preacher to consider passages which may be ignored because they are difficult or challenging to the preacher's theology.  It also does push the preaching in a certain arc.

some of my commentaries
I also love commentaries.  I understand that the books in the Bible were written centuries ago in situations radically different from the world in which I live.  I need to understand that setting to address those scriptures in a meaningful way.  I also know that men and women of great wisdom and deep commitment have spent centuries wrestling with the meaning of those words and applying them to their lives.  A wise preacher tries to listen for their experiences and advise.  So, I have lots of commentaries.  Some are on individual books, others are series, and I have one series that addresses the weekly lectionary readings.  Some of aimed at scholarly work while others are directed at preaching.  I am always looking for another to add to my collection.  When this one became available for free for review.  I jumped on it.

The author, Sea Raven, is an associate at the Westar Institute (home of the Jesus Seminar) and is part of the Unitarian Universalist tradition.  Her blog is found at

I was looking forward to getting a more liberal perspective as the vast majority of my commentaries reflect a mainline view.  That you get and it is very helpful.  She poses 4 questions that permeate the series and which I find very helpful...
  1. 1)  What is the nature of God? Violent or non-violent?
  2. 2)  What is the nature of Jesus’s message? Inclusive or exclusive?
  3. 3)  What is faith? Literal belief, or trust in God’s realm of distributive justice-
  4. 4)  What is deliverance? Salvation from hell or liberation from injustice?
She does choose a format that I find less than helpful though.  Rather than address the 4 lections for the week individually as is done in the excellent series Feasting on the Word, she treats the readings together, focusing on the common themes which presumably underscore the choices made by those picking the passages.  She does focus more on the gospel readings but I wish she had either just excluded any reference to the other passages or addressed them all separately.

All in all, I found the volume a helpful addition and it will be used when I come around to year two of the lectionary (beginning in Advent of  2014).

Disclosure of material connection:  I received this book for free from the author or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network.  I was not required to write a positive review and the views expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16CFR part 255.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Website... FINALLY!

I finally got the new website up for Cambridge Drive Church.  Constructing a website is an interesting exercise.  I tend to be verbal rather than visual so I would write way too many words and have too few images... which is exactly the opposite of what a website should have.  And then, there is the huge question of what to include in a website.

One of the big questions was whether or not to include a "We Believe" page.  Many/most church pages have them and I have to admit that it is one of the first places I go when I'm looking at a church website.  We did include one but I was hesitant for a bunch of reasons.  Often churches include these statements as a litmus test for members and for staff.    In our Baptist tradition that is a little tricky.  Soul liberty made it difficult to tell someone else what he or she should or should not believe.  Freedom of the Bible militated against someone saying this is what the Bible officially says or does not say.  These two thoughts were the foundation of early Baptist discomfort with creeds.  At the same time, early Baptists did write confessions which were consensus documents that essentially said, these are the areas about which this group of Baptists in this time and place has some consensus.  A few years ago one of our adult studies had the classes write a confession.  My favorite one began, "All confessions of faith must be written in pencil."  That is to say that while there are certainly some pieces that will not change, others will and the confession must be held lightly.  I can't imagine there is much that I could write that every member of the church would agree with 100%.  Indeed, our church board went around a good bit regarding the content of that page.  I'm satisfied with it... but realize it is written in pencil and very well may change at some point.

The second page I visit on church websites is the staff page.  Again I was hesitant to include one and again we did.  I didn't want to communicate the idea that the church is the staff.  We have volunteers who spend more time working on the church property than some of the paid staff and a significant percentage of members who volunteer in a variety of community ministries.   Then there was a real question of who to include even among paid staff and what order to put them on the page.  We have direct church staff - who we included on the page - and we have a nursery school with additional staff - we included only the director.  We ended up putting the staff in alphabetical order mainly because I didn't know how else to order them.  Each staff member wrote their own short bio.  It meant a slightly different voice on each but made it so I didn't have to worry about including something not wanted or leaving something out.

Graphics are tricky.  I wanted a clean style that was easy to follow and caught the viewers eyes.  We ended up with some unhappiness about some of the images.  They are there now but can be easily changed.

We were gifted with a new logo from Bill Kole at Digital Media Associates.  Isn't it wonderful!

FWIW, we used WIX to host our site.  Their software is very easy to use, there are lots of reasonably good templates, and the cost was OK.

Check out the page and let me know what you think...

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Eternal Punishment and the local Megachurch

Two pieces came together for me this week that led to this post.  I'm working on a new website for our church, Cambridge Drive Community Church, and a female friend of mine informed me that she and her husband are now attending one of the nearby megachurches with a typical evangelical theology.

I went to that megachurch's website to check it out and found the ubiquitous "We Believe" page.  Included on that page was a statement that all non-believers are going to eternal punishment in hell.  I have to say that multiple times someone has said to me about that church, "I go there... but I don't believe what they believe."  I'm pretty sure that virtually nobody who attends there really believes what the statement of faith says they believe from the pastors and elders down to the newest members.   I know that is true of my friend and her husband.  Let me explain.

If one truly believes that all of their unsaved neighbors, friends, and family members are going to suffer eternal punishment, then their behavior better change.  They literally better be out there doing everything they can possibly be doing, 24 hours a day, to get those folk saved.  There is simply no activity more important than that.  The church ought to have no activities that are not aimed either at direct evangelism or at training their members to evangelize.  Anything else is a betrayal of the billions of people who are not saved.  Telling your members how to have a better marriage is a waste of time when other folk (or some of them) are facing eternal punishment.  Worrying about responsible financial stewardship is irresponsible when something so big is at stake.  If they really believe what they say they believe, then that would define their sole agenda in ministry and in the life of their members.  When your neighbor's house is burning down, you don't teach a lesson about how to have a better sex life, you dial 911.  When your neighbor is facing eternal punishment... you get it.

Or of course, they could actually believe that and not care... but that is not my experience of the folk who attend that church who I have met.  They are good people with compassion and commitment.  They care about the people in their lives and they care about their community.  They think they're supposed to believe their neighbors are going to hell so they pay lip service, but they really don't believe it or they would do something about it.

I guess there is a third possibility... they believe some people have done things that are so terrible that they deserve eternal punishment and they're willing to allow for some collateral damage.  Some relatively good folk will end up burning forever so the really bad ones get their just deserts.  This time they may say that is the case, but again, I don't really believe it.  To make John Doe burn in hell forever just so Hitler can be punished too seems a bit extreme and again, out of character for the folk I know.

Now there is an alternative.  I am a universalist.  Simply put, I believe everyone gets saved.  That is another discussion and it obviously raises some serious questions, but I will point to a short piece quoted from William Barclay's autobiography where he gives his reasons for being a "convinced universalist."   Likewise, I hold those views based on both theology and scripture and believe they are the proper understanding of salvation. 

We won't have a "We believe" page on our website, but if we did, it would say that we believe that God's love and grace ultimately overcome all and all people are welcomed into God's arms.  They'd never say so, but I think that is what the folk at my local megachurch think too.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I'm a guitar player.  I started playing in 1964.  It is a significant part of my self-identity.  It is my avocation, my therapy, and my primary artistic expression.  There have been times in my life when my guitar playing represented a significant portion of our income.  I've played in lots of different bands in multiple styles from funk to pop to singer/songwriter to even a little jazz. 

For about two years, I've been playing bass in the church band.  In spite of the fact that a bass guitar is tuned like the four lowest strings of a guitar one octave lower (which makes it very easy for  guitar player to find all of the right notes on a bass) playing guitar does not a bass player make.  Lots of guitar players think that qualifies them as a bass player but in the end, they sound like a guitar player playing at the bass rather than a bass player.   The bass line requires a different musical vocabulary and needs to be conceptualized in a completely different way than a guitar part.

I knew that going in and worked very hard to actually learn to be a bass player rather than just playing at bass.  I think I've done a pretty good job at that.  Playing bass is fun.  The fact that we have a couple of great drummers to play with makes it even more fun.  And having a good bottom end is really important for the church band.  There are negatives though.  I miss playing guitar.  Playing bass has impacted my guitar technique in a negative way.  And because I have limited time to spend on playing anything, putting time on the bass takes away time from guitar.

About two months ago that led me to place an ad on Craigslist for a bass player for the church band.  That would allow me to move back to guitar.  It is a volunteer position so we've had trouble finding someone.  In the meantime I came across the 10 Commandments for Bass Players.

  1. Thou shalt not *%$* up the groove.  *%$* up the notes if thou must but not the groove
  2. Thou shalt not lust after the guitar player's part.  He keepeth the fun.  Thou keepest the groove.
  3. Be thou not swayed by a drummer with crappy time, for thou art the keeper of the beat.
  4. Be thou not led into temptation before the gig.  After is cool.
  5. Thou pushest thy luck with 5 strings. 6 is a mortal sin, for thou hast no business in the upper register.
  6. Thou shalt not thump with thy thumb nor honk with a pick when thy fingers are the way of truth.
  7. Thou shalt not fear whole notes for they can be the way and the light.
  8. Thou shalt leave the fancy #$@% to thy bandmates so they might wrestle with their own bad taste.
  9.  Thou shalt change they strings once a decade whether they need it or not.
  10. Thou shalt tune thy bass before each and every gig even though it was in tune when last thou  put it away.
A couple don't really apply unless for example the temptation referred to in #4 are the cookies next to the coffee pot.   1, 2, 3, 7, & 8 did remind me of how important the bass part really is... and how much fun I have playing bass.  So, I'm not looking as hard for a bass player.  Who knows maybe I am a guitar player and  a bass player...

Tuesday, March 04, 2014


The American Baptist Churches, USA was one of the first denominations to found a retirement plan for its clergy.   In 1911 a number of Baptist leaders, including John D. Rockefeller contributed seed money to start a fund for the "better maintenance of the ministry" and the Ministers and Missionaries Benefit Board was founded.  When I was ordained in 1978, the clear expectation was that every congregation in the ABC would contribute the equivalent of 16% of the pastor's salary & housing to a fully funded retirement account, death benefits, and disability insurance.  That meant that 13% of salary and housing went into a 403B account.  My salary was paltry in those days but thanks to the wonders of compound interest and the general upward trend of the stock market, I have a fairly healthy retirement account these days.  Last week, I received my annual report for that account along with a projection of what my retirement will look like in seven years.  At the same time we received my wife's report, which while significantly smaller than mine for a variety of reasons, makes a nice addition to mine.  I don't know what Social Security numbers are but after making a conservative guess, I felt quite confident about the future for my wife and me.  We won't be rich, but we will be OK and could even afford to stay in our home with a Central Coast sized mortgage payment.

Then I thought about my children... and I worried.  Neither of my adult children have begun retirement accounts and neither has a work situation that provides one.  My daughter is saddled with significant educational debt that precludes the possibility of saving for retirement even if she was foresighted enough to plan that far ahead.  My son's income is not adequate to provide for housing and food let alone for long term planning.  Clearly demographics will not allow Social Security to provide adequate retirement income for them unless there are significant changes made.  I worry for both of them and their families. 

So... dreaming of changes...  I'd like to see a restructuring of the way that college debt works, freeing an entire generation of those terrible burdens.  At the very least, it should be treated the same way as other debt.  At the very most, educational costs should be seen as a social investment in the future of our country.  After all, historically we have provided for free the amount of education required to be a productive member of society.  Today that includes either college or trade school following high school.  A high school education is simply inadequate these days.  Then, for social security... remove the cap.  Social Security is not a retirement plan.  An individual is not making contributions to an account from which they will draw.  It is a tax that funds an important safety net that currently is applied in the most regressive way possible.  And perhaps there should be a means test in receiving the benefits.  Those with income or assets beyond a certain level do not receive Social Security benefits...  Of course, there is the conservative solution for the problem - cut the benefits and push many seniors either into poverty or back into an anemic workforce which already penalizes those with the the least amount of skill or, as Dave Ramsey says, "economic value."

Sunday, January 26, 2014


We've been struggling with an interesting question in the Santa Ynez Valley that frankly, about which I don't quite know how to feel.

first some of the details...

Some time ago the Chumash people purchased a large tract of agricultural land (2.2 square miles) in the Santa Ynez Valley, near their reservation, and then proceeded to apply to annex the land to their reservation.  There is no question that the Chumash people lived here before Europeans arrived and while I think their cultural understanding of ownership of the land was very different then, it doesn't seem too far off base to say that they were the owners until the Spaniards confiscated it. 

Centuries passed and much has changed.  The Santa Ynez Chumash band has a small reservation in a very expensive part of the country... and a casino.  Annexing the land would move it into the Chumash Nation and remove it from the property tax rolls and from the zoning restrictions of the county.

The members of that small band own the casino and each individual member receives payments from it each year that today's local paper says are $600,000 annually. (I have heard smaller numbers from other sources the smallest being $100,000 per person, per year)

Building is highly regulated and controlled in this area for a variety of reasons, one being that water is a very precious and rare commodity.  Infrastructure in the area of that land is limited and would struggle to support a significant influx of new residents.

The Chumash say they want to build homes for tribal members.  Local residents fear a second casino.  In any case, if the land is annexed, the Chumash can do whatever they please with no say from anyone else.

The Chumash could own the land without annexing it and go through the normal permitting process to build the homes they want, keeping them on county tax rolls, and their members could easily afford to purchase the homes.  Indeed, many currently live off of the reservation.  The tribe also owns businesses and hotels outside of the reservation.

The federal annexation law requires the tribe to have an "immediate need" or "necessity" for housing or economic development.

It does not look to me as if there is any real immediate need or necessity involved but it feels as if maybe there is room to reimburse the Chumash for all that was taken from them.  On the other hand, they have benefited significantly by the development of the broader community and have incomes significantly above the rest of the community.  Is it just to allow them to skirt laws that the rest of the community must observe while at the same time increasing stressors on the infrastructure and the environment without sharing any of the costs.  I have to say that the thought of displacing the cattle feeding on those rolling hills and adding more houses, aimed at wealthy folk who can afford to live basically anywhere they want makes my heart ache.

And I am sure there are complexities I do not understand.

So what is just?  What is right?  What should I think about these possibilities a few miles down the road from me?  I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Wow... it's been more than a month since I've posted...

I finished reading Reza Aslan's book Zealot a few days ago.  If you haven't heard of it, it is an attempt to place Jesus in an historical context and thus make him more understandable.  I have to say I have very mixed feelings about the book.

The pros - If we believe in the Incarnation, we have to see that Jesus was not only a man but a man in a very specific time and place.  We could argue over what that specificity has to do with God's self revelation, but in any case, we cannot divorce that revelation from that setting.  We cannot understand Jesus without placing him in his context and we cannot understand incarnation without understanding contextualization.  Aslan does a good job at explaining the social context in which Jesus found himself as well as the particular profusion of Judean self-styled messiahs, gathering followers and calling for the overthrow of Rome.  A thorough understanding of the setting is critical for understanding Jesus and his teaching.  Aslan helps make that possible.  He does the same to a lesser degree for Paul.

The negatives - Aslan aknowledges that Jesus does not quite fit the common models of his day for the messiah but still tries to pigeon hole him into those models, dismissing any possibilities of Jesus bringing anything really unique to the discussion.  He goes on to say essentially that Christianity as we know it is an invention of Paul that has very little to do with Jesus. 

Additionally, Aslan picks and chooses his scholarship to fit his presuppositions. For example, he refers to Jesus' parables as incomprehensible when scholars going back to Jeremias' seminal 1947 book The Parables of Jesus, says that the parables were stories that used everyday experiences to reinforce a single message to the audience in a way they would understand.

And of course, he writes not as a person of faith but as a scholar looking for a more accurate picture of the historical Jesus whom he distinguishes from the Christ of faith.  I think there is great value in this approach both for academia and for people of faith all the while knowing that for many Christians, such a differentiation is offensive.

So... my short review is that it is a worthwhile read but do not expect it to be a devotional book nor the best scholarship.  It is however a fairly easy read that will help to enlighten the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth.