Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Esther - a dramatic telling

Youth Sunday Esther Skit
Sept. 15, 2019

We begin by each character outlining who she is, in the order in which they first appear in the book.

Ahasuerus (A-ha-SWER-us)
My name is Ahasuerus. I am the great king of an eastern empire, where many Jews live. My word is literally law. But I am not a very admirable character. As the story opens, I am hosting an enormous drinking party in the capital city of Susa. I decide I want my queen, named Vashti, to come in, wearing her crown, and parade herself in front of the party-goers so they may see how beautiful she is.
But Vashti refused. My court nobles were aghast. They said that from now on wives everywhere would disobey their husbands. So I removed her royal title and exiled her for life.
That tells you a lot about me, doesn’t it? I ordered the people of Susa to get drunk, I tried to humiliate my queen, and then I threw her away like yesterday’s news.
This tells you a lot about the danger of the world in which the Jews live. I am the Law, but I hold grudges and am prone to anger. So my law is the same way. My law brings no assurance of stability or justice to those under its mandates. My law is not fair, not reasoned, not impartial. But of course, neither am I.  I am a man with no center. There is nothing I stand for. I personify a Gentile society for the Jews: unpredictable, dangerous, and potentially lethal, all wrapped up in me.
Mordecai (MOR-deh-kye)
My name is Mordecai. I am introduced as a “Jew in the citadel,” of the tribe of Benjamin. I am the guardian of my orphaned cousin, Esther. I am the only character whose Jewish identity is emphasized. In the story, I am a Jew who stands for all Jews.
I am neither stupid nor a fool. I learned of a plot to kill Ahasuerus and told Esther, who had become the new queen. She told the king. So, I saved the king’s life but I also made Esther a real player with the king and court. Already queen, then she became the king’s protector.
Later I learned of Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews, so I asked Esther again to go to Ahasuerus. Her credibility would make it difficult for the king to fail to extend the golden scepter when she approached uninvited.
I value loyalty and constancy of purpose. But I am very private. I do not reveal my inner thoughts. Everyone was mystified why I would never bow to Haman, even at risk of my own life. But no matter: my character is one of total loyalty to the Jews and I represent what the ideal Jew should be living outside Israel.

My name is Esther. I am Mordecai’s cousin. It is true that I was acclaimed as a very beautiful woman, which was the main reason the king selected me to replace Queen Vashti. I contrast with her. Vashti refused to come when the king called, I went to the king without being summoned. Vashti was exiled, I am favored. Vashti was rebellious against the king, but I was humble before him – well, at least at first.
I am a complex character in the story. I start off as an ideal woman of that time, obedient to my providers. Even when I was drafted into the king’s harem I hardly reacted. When I was told to go Ahasuerus, I simply followed instructions. I did and said nothing on my own. I was like a pawn, never taking control of my life, always being acted upon.
However, when I learned that only I could go to the king to beg him not to allow all us Jews to be killed, my passive obedience and submissive nature dramatically changed. I was no longer merely a pretty young thing who was always obedient. I became truly Queen Esther, a strong leader of the Jewish community and in fact, the real royal authority of the whole empire. I became assertive, politically active, and full of self-confidence. By the end of the story, I am one who commands and is obeyed. My beauty, it turned out, was matched by my brains.

My name is Haman. I am the “bad guy” of the story. I am the source of everything that Mordecai and Esther must defend against. I am a harsh, murderous enemy of the Jews. All my energies are directed against Mordecai and the rest of the Jews in Persia.
I am furious that Mordecai never bows to me. I want him to die. I embody power without conscience, and I have no tolerance for the Jews’ obstinate devotion to their God. But in the story, I am not just the symbol of evil. I am a buffoon, a court fool whose every scheme backfires. I have a pompous faith in my derivative authority. Not even my wife really believes in me.
I am a small-minded man who is somehow the prime minister of the whole empire. I have wealth and an exalted position, but they mean nothing to me whenever I see that Jew Mordecai. Hence, I am irrational evil personified.

 The Skit

Scene 1 – Haman and Ahasuerus
HAMAN: O mighty king, I beg you to hear me! There is a terrible thing going on! Your throne itself is at risk!
AHASUERUS: Wait, let me finish this glass of wine. First things first, you know! Now, what is this terrible threat?
HAMAN: There are certain people scattered among the people of your kingdom. They are called Jews. They follow their own law and they do not keep the king’s laws.
AHASUERUS: That is serious! It must not be tolerated!
HAMAN: Exactly, O great king! As usual, you go straight to the point.
AHASUERUS: What do you suggest? Should we just remind them who’s in charge here?
HAMAN: Well, yes, great king. I counsel a permanent solution. You should issue a decree for their destruction.
AHASUERUS: That will be expensive!
HAMAN: I will pay a million dollars to cover it.
AHASUERUS: Wow! Sounds like a good deal! Here, you take my ring with my official seal and issue whatever order you wish.
HAMAN: I will have the order written in every language of the empire. I will seal it with your ring and send copies to all the king’s provinces, giving orders to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. Then O Great King, you and I will sit down to drink!
AHASUERUS: I am looking forward to that!
Scene 2 – Mordecai and Esther. Mordecai is pacing back and forth, very upset. Esther enters.
ESTHER: Mordecai, dear cousin, what upsets you so?
MORDECAI: Here! Read this edict from your husband, the king! Sealed with his ring! He hands a document to Esther, who takes it and looks it over.
ESTHER: I never knew about this! How could such an order be given? We Jews have never rebelled against the king!
MORDECAI: It must be Haman’s doing! He hates all of us. The king is an empty suit and would never think of this on his own. But he will sign anything that Haman places before him.
ESTHER: What do you want me to do? I cannot go to the king unless he sends for me. Anyone who enters his court uninvited is simply executed unless the king extends his golden scepter. And the king has not sent for me for a month!
MORDECAI: The king does not know you are Jewish. He saw you only as a beautiful woman who struck his fancy. But do you think that will save you? If you enter his court uninvited, he may order you executed. But if you do not enter, you will still die on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar along with all us other Jews! Even if deliverance of the Jews comes from someone else, you and your father’s family will still perish.
ESTHER: I did not think of it like that. Still, I am helpless in the court of the great king!
MORDECAI: But Esther, listen. There is no one but you! Who knows? Perhaps the real reason you have been made queen is for just such a time as this.
Esther paces back and forth for a moment, then:
ESTHER: Here are my orders. Go, gather all the Jews in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf. Neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I am executed, well then, I am executed.
MORDECAI: Yes, Esther, it shall be done as you say. I will do all that you command!

Closing, all four characters
AHASUERUS: Esther did come to see me uninvited. Of course, I held out the golden scepter to welcome her. It never occurred to me to withhold it.
ESTHER: But I did not tell him then to withdraw his order to kill the Jews. Instead, I invited him and Haman to a banquet, which they eagerly accepted.
HAMAN: I was flattered to be included at a private dinner with only the king and his queen. That meant that I was a very important person! I was happy! But later when I saw that Jew Mordecai at the gate, the queen’s invitation turned sour. I decided to build an enormous gallows and hang Mordecai on it.
MORDECAI: It did not help that the king wanted to honor me for saving his life and so ordered Haman personally to lead a procession in my honor through the city, announcing I was favored by the king.
ESTHER: As we reclined at the banquet, I begged the king to spare my life and the lives of my people. I told him that I and my people were to be annihilated.
AHASUERUS: I was stunned! I demanded of Esther, “Who has presumed to do this?” She pointed at Haman and said sharply, “Adversary, enemy, Haman!” 
HAMAN: I knew I was in big trouble. The king left the room. To beg for mercy, I fell onto the couch where Esther reclined. At that moment the king came back.
AHASUERUS: I was already furious that Haman had included my queen in his plot, but when I saw him climbing onto her couch, my rage was unbounded. “You assault my queen as I stand here?” I shouted. “Even in my own house?” I turned to my servants and told them, “Hang him on the same gallows he has had built!” And they did.
ESTHER: My king later awarded me all of Haman’s property, including his servants. I begged him to write an order that the Jews could defend themselves on the day in the month of Adar. And it was done. I also ordered that all Haman’s ten sons be hanged as well.
MORDECAI: The king made me prime minister of the empire. When the day in Adar came, my power was so great that all the governors and officials supported the Jews, who destroyed all their enemies that day.
ESTHER: I decreed among all the Jews that their deliverance would be celebrated for all generations to come as the Feast of Purim, and it was done. Now you know my story.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Ban on driving while using cell phone - just a cash cow?

Last July 1, a law went into effect here in Tennessee that makes it illegal for anyone driving a car to hold a cellular phone in his or her hand. Reports the Knoxville News Sentinel,
The Tennessee law banning hand-held cell phones went into effect July 1. Drivers can eat, drink, converse, sing, look at roadside sights, talk to their kids in the back seat, and it’s all perfectly legal. Pick up a cell phone, however, and you’re a distracted-driving lawbreaker. Law enforcement and first responders, however, are exempt from the safety measure that the legislature and governor determined is required for Tennessee drivers.
The Sentinel is not a fan of the law, mainly because such bans, in effect in some other states for many years, have not once been shown to affect the accident rate at all. They cite a number of such studies.

But it does roll cash into county and state coffers.
At $50 per ticket, the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s cell phone ban enforcement netted, it would appear, a minimum of $21,200 for the 424 tickets the THP wrote in July, Knox News reported. Tickets increase up to $200 depending on the situation.
And yet . . .

Yes, the ban here in Tennessee is really just another way to tax people. OTOH, the worst accident scene I ever got called by the sheriff's dept. to go work was directly caused by a young woman driving on a two-lane state highway in Franklin, Tenn. It was before smart phones were invented. She was trying to punch a number into her cell phone and wandered into the other lane. An oncoming 18-wheeler swerved to miss her, bounced back onto the road and went head on into a Chevy pickup behind the woman's car. 

The impact was so violent that it completely separated the truck's body from its frame, knocking the truck body 20 or more feet away from the frame assembly, which was solely occupied by the driver, married only three weeks, on his way home from work. He had been ripped into three separate pieces. The 18-wheeler's driver was injured.

The woman phone caller was wholly uninjured but when I spoke with her she was not very coherent. She was still holding the phone in her hand, up next to her head, though of course there was no call connected, and basically just walking in a small circle at the rear of her car.

A highway patrol trooper told me that in his 26 years in the THP, this was the most violent accident he had seen. After seeing the truck driver's remains, I could see why. Before the medical examiner's team went to retrieve the remains, I held a time of prayer and Holy Communion for them (I always took my Communion kit responding to sheriff's department calls).

So I cannot argue with Tennessee's law.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The latest plan to replace the UMC

It's called this:

The Indianapolis Plan envisions a Traditionalist United Methodist Church that would maintain the denomination’s current restrictions on same-sex weddings and ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.
A separate Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church would remove those restrictions, as well as church teaching that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

The names in the plan are placeholders. Each denomination would decide what it would be called and could incorporate “United Methodist” into that name. 

The Indianapolis Plan also holds out the possibility of a third denomination, a Progressive United Methodist Church that would practice immediate full inclusion of LGBTQ persons.

Significantly, the plan avoids dissolution, suggesting that “legal continuation” and most general church agencies would remain with the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church. ...
The Indianapolis Plan’s basic provisions include:

  • Central conferences could align with either of the denominations or become autonomous affiliated denominations. Those that don’t decide would automatically be part of the Traditionalist United Methodist Church.
  • U.S. annual conferences would decide by majority vote which denomination to join. Those who don’t take a vote would by default be part of the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.
  • Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by majority vote to align elsewhere, retaining their property, assets and liabilities.
  • Clergy would decide on a denomination to join, but by default would go with their annual conference’s decision. Bishops could also choose a denomination.
  • Each denomination would develop a new General Conference, as well as its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity and finances.
  • Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women and the United Methodist Publishing House would be independent 501(c)3 organizations positioned to serve the two or three denominations.
  • All other agencies would be part of the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church.
  • The 2020 General Conference would provide funding for central conference ministries through the 2021-2024 quadrennium, and the separated denominations would share the costs.
  • A process would be devised for dividing current general church assets, including creation of an arbitration board.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Rule Number One: Don't be stupid

One would think that in the wake of the horrific mass murders in El Paso and Dayton, that people would understand that everyone's anxiety is elevated about copycat attackers. But apparently, not everyone thinks about that.

Case number one: Panic in Springfield Walmart as man walks around with tactical rifle wearing body armor in Missouri (CBS).
Springfield, Mo. – Police here say they arrested a man who went into a Walmart store Thursday with a rifle around his neck and wearing body armor and military-style clothes, prompting terrified shoppers to flee. Springfield police tweeted that "an armed individual" was confronted and arrested. No shots were fired.

CBS Springfield affiliate KOLR-TV says Lt. Mike Lucas told reporters police got a call about an active shooter at 4:09 p.m. and arrived within three minutes. According to Lucas, a 20 year old put on body armor in the parking lot, then walked inside with a tactical rifle around his neck and a handgun on his side. He had more than 100 rounds of ammunition, according to The Springfield News-Leader.
The manager pulled the fire alarm and people headed for the exits. Smart thinking. The gunman never pointed his rifle at anyone. He did take smart-phone video of the scene (police think he was Facebook live streaming) and then walked out of the store, where he was confronted by a legally-armed former firefighter, who held him at gunpoint until police arrived about three minutes later. Police have neither released the man's name nor established his motive. The police lieutenant at the scene told reporters, "He is lucky to be alive." And he is right. The armed former firefighter who held him at gunpoint police arrived showed remarkable restraint, IMO.

Here in Tennessee there is no such thing as a "concealed" carry permit. The law requires a permit to carry at all, whether concealed or "open carry," which the term of art for carrying a firearm unconcealed.

Not a long time ago I was in a Best Buy where I saw a man - not a staffer - wearing a full-size semiauto pistol on his right hip, not tucked inside his shorts. When he turned I saw he was wearing another one in the middle of his back. And then by gosh he was wearing a third one on his left hip. Fortunately, he was turning to head for the doors and he left the store.

This is not something mentally healthy men do, regardless of having a carry permit or what the Second Amendment says. It was legal, yes (assuming he had a permit, I sure did not inquire) but it was stupid. And there are times when stupidity brings on its own penalty, as the police lieutenant in Springfield implied.

Case Number 2Florida man who asked Walmart clerk about a gun to kill people was 'making political statement'

In Port St. Lucie - at another Walmart (what is it about dumbbells and Walmarts?) - a man identified as Phil Attey, an anti-gun activist, walked into a Walmart "and asked the clerk about a gun to kill people with."
"Can you sell me anything (or a gun) that would kill 200 people?" When the worker replied, "That isn't funny," Attey said, "I know," and asked again if they could sell him anything that would kill 200 people.
Police were called, but Attey had left the store by the time they arrived, so this APB was put out.

Attey was soon apprehended but not charged since he had not made actual threats and no one was harmed.
He admitted to WPTV the remark was in poor taste, but he was trying to make an anti-gun statement because he saw someone who looked like a white nationalist purchase a gun.
If you know what "someone who looked like a white nationalist" means, then you are ahead of me on that.

Case Number 3SunTrust Park worker allegedly threatened to ‘blow up’ stadium, ‘shoot everyone there. That's the Braves' stadium.
A man who worked at SunTrust Park is behind bars after getting into an argument with
Jamar Antonio Golfin, police photo
his boss and threatening to “blow up” the stadium and “shoot everyone there,” according to his arrest warrant.

Jamar Antonio Golfin, 30, has been in jail since Saturday on a felony charge of making terroristic threats or acts, Cobb County jail records show.

Golfin, a temporary employee assigned to clean a seating area of the stadium, got in trouble Friday morning for walking off during a break and was asked to leave the ballpark, according to his warrant.  ...

As he was walked out, Golfin ... allegedly threatened to “kill them all” and told his supervisor he “would come back and shoot everyone there,” his warrant said. Golfin also allegedly said he’d be back to “blow up the place.”
Golfin has been charged with "making terroristic threats or acts," according to reports.

You know, when people do or say stuff like this, it makes me believe the reports that the human race is literally getting stupider every year.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

What next for us?

There is said to be a Chinese curse that simply says, “May you live in interesting times.” Whether a curse or not, I’d say we are certainly living in interesting times!

I think most of you know that the United Methodist Church is facing an uncertain future as a denomination. The General Conference (GC) is the only body that makes denomination-wide policy. It is useful to recall that the UMC is a worldwide church with several million members outside the United States.

Since the GC of 1972, the UMC has been wrestling with what shall be the denomination-wide position regarding homosexuality. Presently, the UMC's position is that homosexuals, like all other peope, "are persons of sacred worth" and are invited to become part of the body of Christ through baptism, to celebrate Holy Communion, and to serve in the church as fully as everyone else, with two exceptions:
  • "Self-confessed, practicing homosexuals" may not be ordained as ministers of the UMC, and
  • No UM minister, whether ordained or licensed, may officiate a same-sex wedding anywhere, nor may such ceremonies be conducted on the grounds of UM churches, no matter who officiates. 
By the time of the 2016 GC, the durability and mounting intensity among progressives and traditionalists had reached the point where a special General Conference was set for February 2019. It was intended that this GC would provide the definitive position of the church, for no other business was to be brought before it.

Last February, the General Conference retained the existing position and strengthened it. Some provisions of what was passed were subsequently nullified by the UM Judicial Council. But the core parts were retained. See here.

Even so, the debate is far from finished. The GC regularly meets every four years and will convene again in May 2020. There is, as of now I think, a widespread belief among all sides of that issue that no compromise-outcome is really possible. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s observation in his 1858 “House Divided” speech, that every solution to the slavery question had been attempted and failed and no more compromising was possible. The nation, he said, would eventually either legalize slavery in every state or in abolish slavery in every state. What it could not do any longer was maintain the status quo.

I think that is what progressives and traditionalists alike are concluding about the UMC’s position on homosexuality. Everything that can be tried has been tried, and the subject is still not settled within the denomination. The One Church Plan, endorsed by the Council of Bishops, was rejected last February and no one today is promoting it for next May.

If I could forecast now the GC will decide next May, I could make a fortune on the stock market. I know that many influential progressive and traditionalist Methodists across the country are in ongoing conversation. I am gratified not have seen or read of spite-filled language or personal attacks by either side.

But what about us?

I echo what Bishop McAlilly told the annual conference in June. I am pastor of all the people of the church and I will not be drawn into partisan positions. Of course, I have my beliefs about this issue, but as I told the annual conference, “I could be wrong” (an admission I wish everyone progressive or traditionalist would also make).

TNAC 2019 Bishop's Remarks from TNUMC on Vimeo.

"It's tough to make predictions, especially about the future." Even so, here are my predictions:

Our calling to be disciples of Jesus Christ will not change even though our denomination is going through “interesting times.” Jesus’ Great Commandment to go make disciples shall remain before us.

We shall face the future unafraid because
  • we are still united in our baptism even if not by certain beliefs on this (or other) topics,
  • we therefore will continue to worship together and move on to Christian perfection through deeds of devotion, charity, and justice.

These "interesting times" are temporary. Christ’s church is eternal!

Regardless of the future of the United Methodist Church, we remain united in our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.

The Lord is with us! Let’s remain with the Lord -- and with one another!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Doctor shortages and medical-school loan payoffs

The LA Times reports, "California doesn’t have enough doctors. To recruit them, the state is paying off medical school debt."
Federal, state and local governments have increasingly turned to loan forgiveness programs as the competition for doctors has become more aggressive nationwide. Two-thirds of physicians finishing their training said they’d been contacted more than 50 times by job recruiters, according to a 2019 survey by physician staffing firm Merritt Hawkins.

California will spend $340 million paying off doctors’ debts using Proposition 56 tobacco tax revenue. This month, the state offered its first awards — 40 dentists received $10.5 million in debt relief while 247 physicians received $58.6 million.

California’s program is aimed at increasing the number of doctors who see Medi-Cal patients in a state experiencing a shortage of healthcare providers. The number of physicians who accept Medi-Cal patients — and the low reimbursement rate that comes with them — hasn’t kept pace with the rapid expansion of the state’s healthcare program for the poor, which covers 1 in 3 residents in the state.
One of my son's medical degree was paid by the US Air Force. He owes them years of service for the payoff. He is presently an Air Force surgeon, and by the time his years of payback are done, he will have 13 years on active duty - more if he elects to pursue a medical fellowship certification.

The states' doctor shortage (California is not the only one) was fully predictable. I even predicted it 10 years ago in my essay, "Doctor shortages and health-care price controls." (I have to say, though, that I was far from the only voice saying this.)
However one might describe the economic system of American health care, "full free market" ain't it. Probably the best description of how we get medical care is that it is brokered to us: "Health care does not equal health insurance."

The costliness of health care rests largely on the fact that its provision became brokered long ago by insurance companies. We buy "coverage" from insurance companies instead of medical care from providers. The insurance company is intermediate between the consumer and the provider. Unlike say, stock brokerages, which have to compete with each other for consumers and so lower both costs and price, health insurance companies operate in monopolistic fashion. The competition between health-insurance companies is so low that there are no competitive pressures to reduce price, only internal costs. The result? Lower reimbursements to providers and higher premiums to consumers.

We have almost a doubling effect of price controls in play here. First, the government, command rations medical care by controlling the prices its insurance programs will pay, especially Medicaid but also Medicare. Then we have health-insurance companies effectively price controlling medical care because they often, if not usually, tell doctors that they won't pay more (or much more) than the Medicare rate. As Healthsymphony.com puts it, Medicare is such an important part of the health-care economy "because of the precedence set by its claims payment practices."

The inevitable result of price controls, no matter by what mechanism implemented, is shortage of the price-controlled good or service. That doesn't mean that the service is scarcer, that is, physically rarer. Medicaid's low payments schedules have not reduced the total number of doctors. It has produced a shortage of medical care available to patients by halving the number of doctors who will accept Medicaid payments.
We are in the mess we are in because we make two (at least) critical errors of understanding. The first is that health care is a resource that is simply available for those who need it, or that can be made mostly-equally available through proper legislation and regulation. The second error is that medical care and access to it can be rationed by command more equally, economically and fairly than by demand.

But health care is not a resource to be exploited. Medical facilities and doctors are not phenomena of nature, like water or petroleum are. Hospitals don’t just appear. They are produced. Medical care is not a resource that can be "mined" through more regulation to be more plentiful. Medical care is a contracted, individual service.

Hence, before we uncritically head-nod to the claim that health care is a human right, we might ponder what commentator Philip Niles observed: the real question is not whether health care is a human right, but "How much health care is a human right?" Good question, since health care is finite.

Medical care is always going to depend on these three things:

  1. Availability -- Can you see a doctor reasonably quickly and reasonably near?
  2. Quality -- Will you receive good, appropriate, and effective medical care?
  3. Price -- Can you afford to pay for it, either through insurance or through the massively-higher taxes that, for example, candidate Bernie Sanders said would have to be enacted?

Basically, pick two. Because no matter how medical care is structured, all three will not operating at the same time, and it may not even be two of the three.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The post-2020 UMC

"For now we see through a glass, darkly ... ." 
1 Corinthians 13.12

For those who have heard that two bishops of the UMC have proposed a plan to schism the denomination while trying to maintain some level of connectionalism, here are two good analyses. The plan is the product of Bishops Scott Jones and David Bard. It is proposed for next year's general conference to enacted (or not) by a simple majority vote. The plan envisions “two or three self-governing” denominations being birthed from United Methodism.

First the United Methodist News Service release is here.

Second, "Thoughts on the Bard-Jones Plan," by Chris O'Ritter. 

Third, "The Bard-Jones Plan: 'Cooperative Separation',” by David F. Watson.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

The Theology of America

There are certain occasions when events on the secular calendar give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on religion in America. The Fourth of July is an obvious occasion. I want to take this day to reflect on the religious underpinnings of our country and explain why I believe there is an actual theology of America and what it means.
I think that the theology of America was best summarized by Thomas Jefferson in his 1774 essay, "A Summary View of the Rights of British America." There he stated, "The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy but cannot disjoin them."
Editorialist James Freeman wrote that based on the standards of our day, “Thomas Jefferson was a religious nut.”
   Jefferson was a big believer in religious liberty, but he certainly wasn't shy about mentioning God in official proceedings. In the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson asks twice for God's help in creating the country. And the Declaration was not the only work of Jefferson's in which he gave credit to a higher power. . . .
   In his Notes on Virginia of 1782, Jefferson writes: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?"
If we disregard the Founders’ religious faith, we have no answer to the question, Where do our rights come from? Jefferson's religious ideas, shared by representatives from the thirteen colonies, are the reason we have a United States and the reason that We the People are in charge.

However much it is claimed that Jefferson and most of the other Founders were more secular than religious, there is no escaping that Jefferson's writings are permeated with God consciousness. It's true that Christ does not figure into his political writings, but God does, and frequently. What gave Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries the right to be so, well, revolutionary? Whence came their idea that the people should rule instead of a king or a parliament of nobles? How could they claim that the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was "unalienable," meaning beyond the rightful power of any government either to grant or deny? Why did they talk about human rights to begin with and where do rights come from?
According to Thomas Jefferson and his fellows, the ultimate answer to all those questions was simple: God. Only cynics say that the religious convictions of the Founders were not central to their determination to risk their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor for a single claim: that all human beings are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain rights that may not be rightfully denied them. And yes, the Founders did exclude African-Americans from this claim, but let us also acknowledge that Jefferson, among others, said explicitly that God's righteous day of reckoning and judgment upon slave-owning America would come. And it did.
The whole justification for the American revolution was that the divine rights of the people trumped the divine rights of kings that European monarchs claimed to have. Human rights come from God, not government. When the British government usurped them, it was the God‑given right of the people of America to cast off the that government and form their own. That is what the Declaration of Independence says, and that is what the Founders did. Freeman wrote, "If you could sum up Jefferson's political views in one sentence, you would say: He believed that God and reason allow people to rule themselves."
One of the genius things our Founders did was create a civil society in which enormous numbers of different Christian denominations and nowadays, different religions, find a home. Our history has seen times of sectarian strife, but it never descended to open combat as it has in, say, Northern Ireland. A lot of Protestants were suspicious of whether Catholic John F. Kennedy would cleave to the Vatican rather than the Constitution, but their fears were unfounded. In 2004, orthodox Jew Joe Lieberman ran for president and then was the nominated candidate for vice president and no one worried whether he would cleave to Jerusalem rather than the Constitution.

The American ideas of freedom and liberty are drawn from religion. Jefferson was saying that human liberty is inherent in the creative acts of God in bringing forth humankind to begin with. Creation was not a static event, it is a dynamic process of bringing forth the image of God in humankind and the world at large. The creation stories in the book of Genesis show that the realms of the divine and creation overlap. God is powerful, but creation has power too; a certain degree of independence and freedom is built into creation by God's very acts of creating.
In the original paradise, the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given the run of the garden and meaningful work to do. They were free agents of their own will. Yet there were limits. God commanded them that they could eat the fruit of any tree except one. Their freedom had its limits. When they crossed that limit, they were less free, and Genesis relates that as generations passed, humankind became steadily even less free.
Eventually the story leads to Egypt, where the Hebrews found themselves in chattel slavery to Pharaoh. They had no freedom at all.
The twin images of slavery and freedom shape the entire theology of both Jews and Christians. Always God is a liberator. The central story of the Jews is that of Moses leading the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. At their start, slavery. At their ending, freedom. But neither the slavery nor their freedom is the high point of the story. The high point is what happened at Sinai. The high point, the defining moment, was when God gave them the Law.
The Law of Moses defined freedom in two ways. On the one hand, the law defined what was forbidden. On the other, it stated what was obligatory.
There is always a tension between the forbidden and the mandatory. But the Bible seems clear that human freedom is found somewhere between the limits of what may not be done and what must be done. With no limits there is no freedom because there is no orientation on God. Without obligations there is no justice, without prohibitions there is no community. The surest way for persons or societies to fall into bondage is to ignore prohibitions and obligations. Falling into slavery is easy, staying free is hard.
The apostle Paul said that creation itself is in bondage to decay, an amazing statement for a pre‑scientific man to make. Science today confirms that the universe is running down and cosmologists now seem convinced that the universe will keep expanding forever, until the time comes when energy states will be even, and nothing will ever change.
As for we men, women and children, we are born slaves to this decay. At the end lies the grave. We know that. We fear death because our mortality looms over everything we do. Human customs and culture are shaped by the end of life in ways we cannot even uncover, to degrees we do not recognize. Such is our slavery to the fear of death.
Christians have tended to think of Jesus' gift of life as some sort of afterlife, but Christ is concerned about far more of our lives than what happens after they end. Christ frees us not only from the fear of personal death but from our slavery to a death‑shaped culture. With death overcome, the family of God is empowered to inaugurate a new order of living and a new kind of life.
Jesus explained in the Gospel of John (8:34‑36), "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."
Through Christ, we are freed from sin and from servitude to the things of this world which inhibit godly living: greed, jealousy, anger, resentment, racism, selfishness – all the hundreds of things we put under the general label of sin. We are freed from sin and the fear of death.
So liberated, we should be able to live positively in ways not possible before. Justice, the right ordering of things in human affairs, is the result of this spiritual freedom. So the fuller Law of the Hebrews recognized this fact. Deuteronomy 10:12‑13 and 17‑18 says to the nation of Israel:
12 So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well‑being. 17For the LORD your God is God of God's and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, 18who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.
Those are some of the divine obligations people have as they live in community. Yet our nation's founding documents make no mention of the obligations and responsibilities, they seek to ensure only our rights. In fact, Jefferson wrote that the whole purpose of government is to secure the rights that God gave us. He ignored codifying the obligations God lays on us.
I think that is a good thing. I shudder to think what our civil life would be like if our Constitution required things of the people rather than limited the power of government. It is always too easy for the law, whether civil or religious, to cease being a guide and become a slave-master. George Washington warned that even democratic "Government is not reason; ... it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."
In both our civil and religious life, we would do well to remember Paul's admonition to the Corinthians, 1 Cor 10:23: "‘Everything is permissible' – but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible' – but not everything is constructive.'" The absence of limits in America's founding documents is not an oversight. The Founders expected the people to understand the limits of libertine anarchy on the one hand and political slavery on the other.
John Adams wrote in a letter to his wife, "We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Justice William O. Douglas wrote in a majority opinion of a Supreme Court case, "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being."
The Constitution guarantees our rights, but not our liberty. It is our religion under the providence of the God of the Bible that secures our liberty. Liberty is maintained by faith in powers greater than government, by living out God’s call to know the truth of freedom in God’s way of life. When we make government the object of our faith, when we decide that our liberty depends on government, we will live under political bondage.
Various commentators of the American religious scene point out that America is becoming less and less religious. A lower percentage of Americans regularly attend church or synagogue than in past times.
But the fact is that Americans are still just as religious as before, it's just not Jewish or Christian religion they are practicing. Increasing numbers of people are turning to forms of spirituality that are private and personal, not public and social. These forms of religion are, at their base, selfish and self‑centered. While this is certainly their right, I fear that over time the obligations of freedom will be ignored, and the justice of our freedom will be degraded. Self‑centered persons do not prosper, and neither do self‑centered societies or nations. Paul warned the Galatian Christians (Gal 5:13‑14):

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self‑indulgence . . . For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself."                                                          
Freedom is God's will. Certain rights are God‑given and cannot be rightfully denied by human authority. God's gift of freedom carries the obligation to live godly lives under his guidance and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our rights and our obligations reinforce one another, guard one another, preserve one another. Together they comprise our freedom.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Speaking my language

Yesterday in his closing homily of the annual conference of the Tennessee Conference, Bishop Bill McAlilly urged the people of the conference to understand that while times for the UMC today are rocky, we should, "Take a breath and carry on" with the full ministries of the church.

I turned to my wife, Cathy, and said, "That is speaking my language" since I am a retired US Army officer. So that deserves a meme!

Or as we put it in my former career:

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Electric cars pollute more than diesel

So says the University of Cologne as reported by The Brussels Times, Belgium: "Electric vehicles emit more CO2 than diesel ones, German study shows."

Electrics' killer? Life-cycle pollution, compared to diesel cars - what it takes industrially to obtain the raw materials and turn them into finished, operating vehicles, operate them during their life span, and dispose of them when the reach the end. And the core of the problem is batteries.
When CO2 emissions linked to the production of batteries and the German energy mix – in which coal still plays an important role – are taken into consideration, electric vehicles emit 11% to 28% more than their diesel counterparts, according to the study, presented on Wednesday at the Ifo Institute in Munich.

Mining and processing the lithium, cobalt and manganese used for batteries consume a great deal of energy. A Tesla Model 3 battery, for example, represents between 11 and 15 tonnes of CO2. Given a lifetime of 10 years and an annual travel distance of 15,000 kilometres, this translates into 73 to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometre, scientists Christoph Buchal, Hans-Dieter Karl and Hans-Werner Sinn noted in their study.

The CO2 given off to produce the electricity that powers such vehicles also needs to be factored in, they say.

When all these factors are considered, each Tesla emits 156 to 180 grams of CO2 per kilometre, which is more than a comparable diesel vehicle produced by the German company Mercedes, for example.

The German researchers, therefore, take issue with the fact that European officials view electric vehicles as zero-emission ones. They note further that the EU target of 59 grams of CO2 per km by 2030 corresponds to a “technically unrealistic” consumption of 2.2 litres of diesel or 2.6 litres of gas per 100 kms.

These new limits pressure German and other European car manufacturers into switching massively to electric vehicles whereas, the researchers feel, it would have been preferable to opt for methane engines, “whose emissions are one-third less than those of diesel motors.”
ZeroHedge explains:
A battery pack for a Tesla Model 3 pollutes the climate with 11 to 15 tonnes of CO2. Each battery pack has a lifespan of approximately ten years and total mileage of 94,000, would mean 73 to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometer (116 to 156 grams of CO2 per mile), Buchal said. Add to this the CO2 emissions of the electricity from powerplants that power such vehicles, and the actual Tesla emissions could be between 156 to 180 grams of CO2 per kilometer (249 and 289 grams of CO2 per mile).
An electric car such as a Tesla is not powered by electricity. It is powered by coal; the electricity is just a means of transfer.

The same problem, btw, exists in the nearly-mythical hydrogen-powered car. The hydrogen has to come from somewhere. Atoms of H It do not exist in nature unbound to other elements. And you always use more energy to obtain free hydrogen than you get from oxidizing it. Guess where that energy comes from?

Here is a good video that explains hydrogen's potential advantages but very present difficulties very well.

And then there's this:
GAO: "Biofuels Don't Lower Gas Price or Emissions" But biofuels give so much political mileage that this report will disappear without a sound.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Slavery and abortion - what's the diff?

What's the difference in the arguments offered today supporting abortion and the arguments used to support slavery until 1861?

None really: "Arguments for Abortion Mimic the Arguments for Slavery Before the Civil War."
Both the arguments for slavery in the 1800s and the arguments for abortion rely on a central claim: that a human being is less than human. The dehumanization of black people relied on pseudoscientific claims that they were inferior. The dehumanization of unborn babies relies on claims that they are "just a clump of cells" or part of a woman's body. In both cases, a growing movement of moral clarity demands that the dehumanized be granted a fundamental right long denied them: freedom and life. (Note: I am not saying abortion and slavery are the same, only that the arguments for them are similar.)
Read the whole thing.

In his debates with Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln said, "If slavery is not wrong, then nothing is wrong." Slavery was the brutal exploitation of one class of human beings by another. Abortion is the actual destruction of one class of human beings by another. But that's different, we are told, because abortion is medical care.

God save us.

Update My colleague, Rev. Allan Bevere, links to a column by Frederica Mathewes-Green, whom he accurately says,
... is one of the best moral theologians alive today. She is substantive and nuanced in her arguments and is not carried away by the temptation to offer theology and ethics in quaint clich├ęs and social media memes, which is sadly so prevalent today.

This is a must-read.
Here: "When Abortion Suddenly Stopped Making Sense"

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Monday, June 3, 2019

Surprise! Parents are the key influence on children

From the United Methodist Church News Service, "The secret to faith after high school? Parents!"
Parents’ faith is key 
The National Study on Youth and Religion found a factor that is “nearly deterministic” in turning this around. Eight out of ten (82%) young adults ages 24-29 who were still participating in their faith after being active in high school, had one thing in common.

The secret? Their parents.

Youth leaders agree. “Parents are the critical discipler, period,” said Seth Martin, former Lead Student Pastor and now Lead Director of The Road at Faithbridge United Methodist Church in Spring, Texas. “Student ministries aren't (or shouldn't be, rather) the primary spiritual mentors of students, but should instead subsidize the discipleship already taking place in the home.”
Read the whole thing.

And this, from Harvard University: "Kids Raised Going to Church Are Happier Adults, Study Finds"

But don't be these parents: "After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter's Lack Of Faith"